Madison Square Garden, New York City

Madison Square Garden opened in New York City on February 11, 1968.  It was built on the former site of the grand upper portion of the Pennsylvania Station train station that was torn down in 1963.  Although the name suggests that it is square, it is in fact round, looking somewhat like a propped-up circus tent inside without the pole.  Nor is it in a garden or even on Madison Avenue, but in bustling Midtown Manhattan along 7th Avenue.  So, what’s up?  Well, until 1925, the first Madison Square Garden arena was located down from an area of the Flatiron District that is still in existence called Madison Square.   The Square was named after President James Madison.  The current building is the 4th Madison Square Garden.  It is said to be “the world’s most famous arena”, as numerous famous concerts and events have taken place there, making the name synonymous with important dates in rock ‘n’ roll history.  John Lennon made his last on-stage appearance here, George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh was held here, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same was recorded and filmed in the arena, and on and on.   The Grateful Dead made MSG famous by playing extraordinary shows and holding legendary runs in this space.  The band played their first show at MSG ( in the “big room” of MSG, not counting their earlier shows at the Felt Forum) on January 7, 1979, the first of a two night run.  The first performance was originally scheduled for November 30, 1978, but Jerry Garcia came down with viral pneumonia a few days before the show.  The last show was October 19, 1994.  As a teenage Deadhead in middle of nowhere Western Pennsylvania, Madison Square Garden and the Grateful Dead was legendary to me.  My first Liquid Blue t-shirt featured the big purple bear climbing up the Empire State Building proclaiming “New York City Dead” on the front, on the back two skeletons “Dancing in the Streets” of the City.  How I wondered what it would be like to see them there every time I looked at that shirt!  Every Deadhead knew that was the place to be.  The Garden itself  is a cable supported structure.  It is said that when the band would really get rockin’ and Deadheads started getting down, that the place swayed in time.  The roof does not sit upon interior supports, but rather is suspended by circular cables that are supported by a central tension ring and an exterior compression ring, creating an unobstructed view.   It also sits on top of the busiest train station in North America.  Part of the experience of going to MSG is taking the train and walking directly up into the arena from the station, like a magic ride that takes you to a mythical place.  Entering from the street seems so, well, boring.  The first picture shows the entrance to Penn Station and the arena  entrance from the street.   The second picture shows the exterior of the arena itself.  So far Madison Square Garden has survived the wrecking ball, unlike many of its sister arenas of the same era.   Rather than demolition, the owners have decided to have the building undergo a multi-million dollar renovation that will expand and update the building.  A most famous arena in rock ‘n’ roll and Grateful Dead history, hopefully it will stand for many more generations of fans to experience its legendary history.

  

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Raceway Park, Englishtown, NJ

Raceway Park!  Be there!  Over 150,000 people were there when the Grateful Dead played Raceway Park on Labor Day weekend, September 3, 1977.  Raceway Park is located in Englishtown, NJ. The park was open by brothers Vincent and Louis Napp and Sons in July of 1965 as a mecca of drag racing in the New York City/New Jersey area.  The venue is still run by the Napp family, maintaining a racing schedule from March to November that now includes various other forms of racing such as motocross and quad racing.  It is located in a somewhat rural and picturesque (for New Jersey) location, although the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike are nearby.  Think Woodstock, but with the buzz of race cars zipping around the track! According to audience accounts, the atmosphere was that of a shortened version of Woodstock: mud, traffic jams, even a baby born.  Two things that it did not have in common with Woodstock was that it was disgustingly hot and that there were no gate crashers, a  large ring of shipping containers (like you see on railroad cars or in Elizabeth NJ) stacked two high ringed the field and kept the ticketless out.  The show even made the news it was such a scene.  This was a major gig for the Dead after coming off an almost 4 month hiatus from touring and by all accounts the energy from the crowd was high and the band responded in return.  The New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Marshall Tucker Band opened the show, so by the time the Dead had taken the stage, it had been a long day of partying and anticipation.  You can hear this show on Dick’s Picks Volume 15 and see some really  cool photographs of that day at www.photog.com/gdead/70s/77/09-03/index.html.    The first of my photographs shows the entrance to Raceway Park as it looks today, the race track behind the sign.  The next photo shows the field adjacent to the race track.  Based on accounts that I have read, they say that the concert was held in the adjacent field next to the track,  so I assume that this is the field.  If anyone out there knows this is wrong, please let me know!  You can see that this portion of the field has been converted for motocross competition.  So, break out your Englishtown recording this Labor Day weekend (interesting that September 3rd falls on a Saturday during Labor Day weekend as it did in 1977), have a cold beer in the sun, and sing along!   

  

1st Mariner Center (Baltimore Civic Center), Baltimore, MD

The 1st Mariner Center was opened to the public in 1962.  First known as the Baltimore Civic Center, it was renamed the Baltimore Arena in 1986 after a major renovation, only to be rechristened with its current name in 2003. As with many arenas today, it is named after a bank, the Baltimore-based 1st Mariner Bank.  Don’t you miss the days when venue names were interesting, had some meaning, and didn’t change every 5 minutes?  Yeah, me too.  Anyway, the venue has been in continuous use since its opening, hosting a variety of events from car shows to sports events.  It has also hosted a number of great musical acts.  The Beatles played twice in 1964.  Led Zeppelin played the venue several times in the 1970s, using footage from the arena in The Song Remains the Same.  Then there was this other band that played there a few times, the Grateful Dead.  The band played the venue only throughout its time as the Baltimore Civic Center, beginning in ’72 and alternating between it and the Capitol Center in Landover (with the exception of one gig at the University of Maryland) before switching over exclusively to the Cap and the Merriweather-Post Pavilion in Columbia during the early part of ’82.  The September 17, 1972 gig from the Civic Center was released as Dick’s Picks Volume 23, included in it an epic 40 minute long version of The Other One.  In The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium Volume I, Robert Goetz reports that, “[a]fter inspecting and locating alien lifeforms Garcia begins communication” and “upon reentry into the Baltimore Civic Center Lesh lets rip a massive blast of feedback,” during the song.  Take that Edgar Allen Poe!  In the first photo, we see the main entrance of the venue, the pointed roof sprouting above.  The new name does fit the architecture, as the roof resembles sails of ships (Ship of Fools?) in the nearby Inner Harbor.  The second photograph depicts a side view of the arena, providing another view of the roof and most unfortunately, the large distasteful billboards that line the outside building.  There has been talk among the city fathers about replacing the current structure, but mostly due to the poor state of the economy, these plans have been placed on the back burner.  So, until things turn around, we can enjoy this interesting and historic structure that housed so many great moments in Grateful Dead touring history.  Before I close, I must thank my Cousin Tammy and Aunt Jackie for navigating the wilds of downtown Baltimore with me just so I could get these pictures for my blog—love you guys!   

   

Tompkins Square Park, New York City

Tompkins Square Park is located in the Alphabet City section of the East Village of New York City.  It was named after Daniel D. Tompkins, former governor of New York and Vice President under President James Monroe. The park has a long and storied past of being the location of many historic events, mostly political in nature. Labor riots in the 1870s, Vietnam War protests in the 1960s, and homeless riots in the 80s and 90s occurred here.  Allen Ginsberg and A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought some peace to the park when they chanted the first Hare Krishna mantra outside India under the elm trees in 1966.  Just a few blocks down the way, Bill Graham opened the Fillmore East a few years later in 1968.  A band shell had recently been built there, so the groups that played the Fillmore would go there to jam.  Jimi Hendrix, the Fugs and the Jefferson Airplane stopped by in their off time.  But, before Bill and Company moved in, the Grateful Dead played their first East Coast gig at the band shell on June 1, 1967.  They had been booked to play some gigs in New York City that June that would introduce them to the local hippie scene, the Tompkins Square concert placing them in the center of the East Village hippiedom.  I hoped to find the band shell still standing as I did with the Naumburg Band Shell in Central Park.  Much to my dismay, I learned that the band shell had been torn down in 1991, due to neglect and that, according to the perception of local authorities, it was the rallying point of much of the trouble that happened there.  Like many neighborhoods in the City, The East Village has been gentrified and so the park and its surroundings is the not the area of unrest that it use to be.  That edginess is still present though, I could feel the old vibes still coming through as I walked down E. 10th Street, imaging myself processing with the hippie parade that had taken place that day before the concert.  The first picture here is a general picture of Tompkins Square Park, sans band shell.  The second picture, a sign at one of the entrances to the park.  Despite the invasion of yuppies and tragic hipsters, great vibes still abound here in the place where the Grateful Dead began their East Coast/New York City trip.

  

Harrington Auditorium, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA

Let’s return to Worcester MA , this time to Harrington Auditorium, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  Harrington Auditorium opened on February 27, 1968.  It is named after two former student athletes, Charles and Frank Harrington, two brothers that funded the construction.  The venue serves WPI as both a gymnasium and a place for concerts and other events.  The Grateful Dead played there on May 9, 1970.  This concert was noteworthy for a few reasons.  The first is that not all of the band managed to show up for the gig, Bobby and Jerry announcing to the crowd that the remaining band members are in Upstate New York  “giving a speech”.  A “heady” speech I am sure.   Although I think it is probably one the shortest recorded Dead shows, it is (sorry tapers) one of my favorites, the recording of the pared-down band sounding like an old Alan Lomax recording.  Another interesting note is that this was part of an event by MIT called the “Freek Weekend” (no, not ‘freak’, play on works for ‘geek’), a similar weekend to what Princeton held for its students.  It included movies, music, and other student activities.  And, of course, this performance was  held the same week as the legendary concerts that the Grateful Dead performed at MIT in Kresge Plaza (5/6/70) and DuPont Gymnasium (5/7/70), the student killings at Kent State on May 4th sparking the Kresge performance and overshadowing all of proceedings.   Nonetheless, with the combination of the MIT/WPI crowd, it was no doubt a far out geek/freek-fest, worthy of note in any Mensa newsletter!  Here we see a side entrance to Harrington in the first photo, the front main entrance of the building in the second picture.  An example of a kind of typical 1960s architecture, the roof gives it that space-age look, adding some interest to an otherwise plain façade.  As with most of the stops at these college venues, the Grateful Dead (some of them anyway) played here only one time, producing a short, but memorable show.

      

Dillon Gym, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

Let’s continue on our college tour with the Dillon Gym, located on the campus of Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.  The gym is named after its principal donor Herbert Dillon, a former football captain.  It was opened on June 14, 1947, replacing the old gym that was destroyed by fire in 1944.  The Grateful Dead played here 40 years ago on April 17, 1971.  The show was part of a “free” weekend for students on the campus, although the show itself was not free, due to what the University said at the time were quote “prevailing financial circumstances”.  Hmmm.    According to ads placed in the Daily Princetonian, the campus newspaper that still exists today, it was quite the event on campus.  One ad begins with “America has produced two great rock bands.  This is one of them” and at the bottom warns it is “THE Concert.  Don’t say you weren’t there.”  As the concert drew closer and things became more desperate, an amusing ad popped up in the March 1 issue stating that, “McCarter Theater and the Grateful Dead announce A Reprieve:  We have EXTENDED the sale of Grateful Dead tickets to Princeton students for one more week…”  before the tickets went on sale to the general public.  They added, “…and Après le deluge, Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”  (All of this is online, go to http://theprince.princeton.edu to check it out.)  The Dead were originally supposed to play at the McCarter Theater (hence the theater mention in the ad), the main campus performance space, but the theater proved to be to be too small a space for all of the Deadheads!  The first picture here is of the main entrance of the gym, a traditional example of the collegiate gothic style.  The second picture is a side view of the gym (in the last winter storm!), the secondary  entrance encased in  a beautiful gothic arch and tower.  The Grateful Dead made only one appearance here at Princeton, although Bob Weir did make an appearance with his band Kingfish on March 30, 1976.  Alas, it was not THE concert in 1971.  Were you there?

    

Richard C. Daniels Theater, Atwood Hall, Clark University, Worcester, MA

The Richard C. Daniels Theater is located in Atwood Hall on the campus of Clark University, Worcester MA.   Atwood Hall was constructed by  G.  Adolph Johnson in 1938 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 for its many cultural and educational figures that have appeared there.  The Grateful Dead played this little hall exactly 1 and a half times, or perhaps more accurately a half and 1 time.  The first time the band played here they blew out the circuits and had to abandon the performance.  The date of this performance is unknown, but it is speculated to be sometime in late 1967.  Circuits fixed and ready to go, the Dead hit the stage on April 20, 1969.  This marked the first full performance for the band in Worcester MA, a town that they would play in for much of the 80s.  Although small, this performance space is no stranger to the greats of the psychedelic  scene, as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin also played here.    The main entrance to the theater is depicted here in the first picture, a fine example of the collegiate gothic style of architecture, a style that permeates the Clark campus.  Most of the buildings that I have visited have not been open (with the exception of the Naumburg Bandshell, which is always open), but this was my lucky day!  A talent show was scheduled for later that day and so the doors were open.  I met a very nice gentleman inside whom, upon my explanation as to what my purpose was in being there, allowed me to look around and take some pictures.  He even closed the stage curtain for me, so the talent show sign was not in the way–thank you!    So, the second picture (sorry it is rather grainy) shows the theater inside.  Can you imagine seeing the Grateful Dead in such a great little space?  Well, you older folks can (and did), but for a child of the Mega-Dead era, this would have been a dream.  I want to dedicate this post to two gentleman that were there that night in 1969, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Augustus Owsley “Bear” Stanley III, two people who left us in the month of March and far too soon.

          

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