Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast
Season 6, Episode 2
Sunshine Daydream: Veneta, 8/27/72, part 2
JESSE: August 27th, 1972 dawned in Lane County, Oregon at a pleasant 60 degrees but heated up quickly.
KEN BABBS [Sunshine Daydream]: Bring in summer, please…
JESSE: It would be a legendary day in Grateful Dead history — and, we contend, the broader history of music. By the time the gates opened at noon for the Springfield Creamery’s Pot-Luck Picnic with the Grateful Dead, it was over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and still climbing. The concert film Sunshine Daydream would be drawn from this day, but some of the audio would be added later, as we’ll learn.
KEN KESEY [Sunshine Daydream]: Listen, did you know that if it keeps going like they say it’s gonna keep going that it’s liable to match the all-time Oregon record of 105?
JESSE: When the New Riders of the Purple Sage began their opening set, the temperature was still a bit tolerable.
AUDIO: “Truck Drivin’ Man” [New Riders of the Purple Sage, Field Trip] (0:05-0:35) - [Spotify]
JESSE: That’s from the archival New Riders’ album titled Field Trip, released in 2004 by Omnivore. We went a bunch into the background for the Creamery benefit in our last episode, in case you’re just joining us. The concert field was filling up. David Koranda.
DAVID KORANDA: This field is full of Dead Heads and fun people who just went out there to listen to the music and hang out and support the Creamery. It had that same kind of feeling when I went to Woodstock — we got there a day or so early, and there were maybe 100 people there at the time. And then as people started coming, it felt like: holy shit, what's happening? I felt that same sense of ‘here we go again,’ as we were on our way out there, of like: I think we've created something new here. I think there's something happening in our culture that's never existed, and that is a sense of fun and freedom that we've never had before.
JESSE: The Dead had come to save the Springfield Creamery. Michele Lefkowith was living on the non-commune nearby called Adytum.
MICHELE LEFKOWITH: It was a big friggin’ deal for the whole community of Eugene and Springfield, ‘cause I think Springfield Creamery… some folks got in a little bit of hot water. So everybody was rallying around them to try to salvage their business.
JESSE: At the front gate, you might’ve had your ticket taken by Nancy Van Brasch Hamren, the namesake of Nancy’s Yogurt, still available in dairy cases nationwide.
NANCY HAMREN: I was up front helping with admissions and stuff like that in the beginning, then going backstage to see if there are things that could be helped with. Then everybody was out on blankets out front dancing — so, you just moved about.
JESSE: Camille Cole would shortly join the mobile commune known as the Bus Farm.
CAMILLE COLE: I am willing to bet that there were all kinds of vans and trucks in all kinds of reconstruction and painted wildly, parked all around that big field there.
JESSE: One of those Volkswagens belonged to Dave Tharp. He’d been an East Coast head before heading west.
DAVE THARP: I moved out west to Moscow, Idaho. There, I met a friend named Bruce who told me about a show that was in Oregon. He rode his motorcycle, I took my Volkswagen van, and we went over near Eugene, Oregon to a place. And, lo and behold, that was the Creamery show. It was extremely hot. I had a Volkswagen van that was full of water—it was a camper van—and we packed extra water, so we didn't have to worry that much about water and wherever we were going to stay. I thought it was amazing. A West Coast show was a completely new experience to me. I was used to seeing them in great rock halls.
JESSE: The Oregon Daily Emerald reported, “People everywhere roaming around the huge rectangular grass field west of Elmira. Wine, beer, dope, Coca Cola, ice cream sandwiches and free food. A 10-foot high stage. A water truck full of drinking water which ran out. Good times.”
Mango Man didn’t make it to the show, but left us this message at stories.dead.net.
MANGO MAN: It was the summer of ‘72 — [that was] the summer I would have been going into freshman year. My buddy Joey wanted me to go. There were about four or five of us that were always hanging out, doing crazy things. They're all trying to convince me to just go and deal with the consequences later… which, I didn’t. My dad, those guys just couldn’t understand my dad. Anyway, so they did go. Joey, he’s one of those kids, the first kids to grow the long hair — super cool looking. He ended up on the 11 o’clock news, had a beer in one hand and a joint in the other. They were talking about the decadence of the hippies and everything down in Eugene.
JESSE: Which means that at least one local television station covered the event. Maybe that tape is still out there somewhere. David Koranda.
DAVID KORANDA: It was, in a way, like a gathering of the tribes so to speak. The one thing that was in common was listening to the Dead and then, as a sideline: ‘Okay, this is important — we’re going to support the Creamery.’ Everybody felt that too.
JESSE: In the years after Woodstock, there’d been many attempts to find festival magic, as the rock festival became an increasingly regimented and regulated cultural form. The Springfield Creamery benefit followed its own path. Another factor in the day, perhaps, is that—by some accounts—August 1972 was the exact peak of LSD use in the United States, and perhaps the world. Only a few weeks earlier, there’d been a massive multi-state bust of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the world’s preeminent hash and LSD smuggling non-organization. Some half a million hits of acid were confiscated. But there was no drought in Oregon. The members of the Dead would long acknowledge the importance of the venues they played in shaping the music they created and they would find a freedom at the Veneta fairgrounds that was disappearing quickly from their itinerary of theaters, arenas, and stadiums.
DAVID KORANDA: It had a higher level of joy. I mean, everybody who went to any concert felt like, this is awesome and I'm happy to be here. But that one had a far more celebratory feeling. You felt it in this caravan going out there — it was as if we were all little kids going to a circus together. I don't remember feeling that from any other concert. Not that they weren't great, but it was an extremely positive party kind of feeling I think.
JESSE: Don Witten.
DON WITTEN: There [was] a lot of Frisbee-playing going on. In fact, there was a girl that I went to high school with — she was a year younger than I was. But I just remember her, out there, topless, playing Frisbee. And when she saw me, she came over and gave me a big hug and everything, then went back out to playing Frisbee. So yeah, people just hanging it out, trying to eat a little bit, drinking water. It was just one of those places to just hang out. We had never been to anything like that before. So it was an eye-opening experience.
JESSE: True to the event’s inadvertent mission of being nothing like an actual rock concert, the band was preceded by Merry Prankster Ken Babbs.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Before we introduce the band—
BOB WEIR [8/27/72]: I don’t know who this guy is, but he ain’t no Bill Graham…
JESSE: Who took the liberty of spending a few minutes mumbling band introductions while—one by one—bestowing each individual musician with their own gift. Phil Lesh received walnuts. Even Ram Rod, the chief of the Dead’s road crew, got a present.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Okay, I got one more and then we’ll begin, which is for the man who has come straight out of our area—from Pendleton, Oregon—to go down and coordinate activities in the Bay Area, with lifting equipment to the point where I gave him my bad back. Now, he takes it over, so I’m gonna give him a present for that occasion. I’m speaking of none other than… Ram Rod!
[band plays joke-y award recipient music]
JESSE: And now…
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Here ya go, the Grateful Dead!
JESSE: The cameras were rolling for what was supposed to be the first authorized Grateful Dead concert film. Documentary producer Sam Field.
SAM FIELD : My job as producer was to make sure that the whole thing happened. So no, I was not a cameraman. My actual concert job was to make the 2-track recording of the show from the board feed, so that we had something to edit to. I actually stood over by [Steve] Parish’s corner, over on the Jerry side — I had a 10-inch reel 2-track recorder with a sync track. It was like a Nagra, but it was a Stellavox brand, as it turned out. So we had our sync pulse on the tone track of that recording so that we had something to sync up film to, to listen to and edit to. So I would start at the start of a set. The reels were… whatever they were, an hour and a half long. So I didn’t really have to stay there and watch the meters. So I would make sure that the film loading crew was cooperating with the cameramen, and that the cameramen were getting enough water or whatever they were drinking.
JESSE: Adrian Marin helped the filmmakers restore the film in the 21st century.
ADRIAN MARIN: They never had enough money to buy enough film stock to shoot a three hour show, right? That was out of the question. That would have been tens and tens of thousands of dollars. Sam had just enough money to buy, oh, I don't know, something like 27,000 feet of film. By the time they got up there, they had immersed themselves in the music to the extent that they could trust their own radar. John was the guy who was in charge of that, so when it came time to shooting songs in Veneta, nobody rolled unless John's hand gave the signal. As each song was about to be played, it was John's word as the director to say, “We're shooting this one” or “We’re not shooting this one.” Out of something like, what — how many songs performed that day? They only got eight of them. But they got the right eight I think.
JESSE: The two stage cameras were operated by director John Norris and editor Phil DeGuere.
ADRIAN MARIN: John's camera is the Camera A. He's the one shooting Jerry straight on. And then Jerry and Bobby. Then Phil's camera, Phil DeGuere’s camera, is what would be called the B camera — he's the one shooting Phil Lesh. Joe Valentine—he's still up in Eugene—was probably one of the most essential folks who jumped on board to help John and Sam. He built the standing tower, the crow's nest, on which he shot much of the crowd and band.
JESSE: Also helping with the construction and occupation of the crow’s nest was the architect Al Strobel, a resident of the nearby Church of the Creative commune, who went on to play Mike, the One-Armed Man, on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, as well as playing a righteous role in the more recent Twin Peaks: The Return. This audio was recorded backwards and then reversed. Please welcome back, Al Strobel.
AL STROBEL: I had helped build one of the camera towers, stage right. Then I sat up there for a good portion of the concert with my little Bolex and filmed a bunch of it, some of which I think was actually used when they made the film. Then [I] went backstage and filmed a bit of that too. The Super 8 was a lovely little kind of pistol grip camera that took beautiful pictures. I actually took a picture of a live birth with that once.
JESSE: Miraculously, our friend Adrian Marin has located some footage of Al Strobel helping Joe Valentine to build the crow’s nest. The Dead also presented the documentary filmmakers with a gift of sorts. After its triumphant tour of the Continent, Alembic’s Ampex MM-1000 16-track console returned home to the sound company’s Brady Street headquarters, around the corner from the former Fillmore West. The Alembic crew had set it up to finish the overdubs for Europe ‘72 on the same gear on which the band recorded the music. In late August, they packed it up and sent it back into battle in the Oregon heat, along with Bob Matthews, Betty Cantor, Europe ‘72 recordist [Dennis] “Wiz” Leonard, and Alembic’s own Ron Wickersham. Grateful Dead archivist and legacy manager David Lemieux.
DAVID LEMIEUX: 16 tracks, same tape reels as the Europe ‘72 tape reels, the big blue tape reels with the Alembic logo with track 1 through 16, of which vocals and instruments were assigned to which track. The Alembic went up, and it was the same crew. I know Bob and Betty were involved in that recording.
JESSE: When Alembic had acquired the MM-1000 in 1969, they’d scrapped the album they were working on and started again, making Aoxomoxoa. The MM-1000 was what allowed them to record Live/Dead, Skull and Roses, and Europe ‘72. Veneta was perhaps its last hurrah recording a live Dead show.
DAVID LEMIEUX: They did record a multitrack of New Year's ‘72, Winterland. Presumably… I don't know if they were Alembic tapes, but there is 16-track of some of that show, and then absolutely nothing in ‘73 and ‘74. What they built for The Grateful Dead Movie in ‘74 was drastically different than the Europe ‘72 setup.
JESSE: In Veneta, lots of decks were rolling.
DAVID LEMIEUX: There was a 2-track, made live. There were cassettes made live. There was… I don't know what it was, something that was made live specifically as a very rough guide track for the film project.
JESSE: Not only that, but Alembic’s Ron Wickersham designed a primitive device for the filmmakers to be able to sync their picture with sound.
ADRIAN MARIN: God bless Ron Wickersham and his genius. He created almost like a little black box, with a digital numerical readout, and that was placed with a bit of a shading cover over it — because the sun was so blistering bright and hot that day, it would be very hard to see any kind of digital readout on any device. So that was placed where mainly John could see it. Then, with every song, there would be the need to shoot that with the film camera, and then in the editing room the film—with the film stop number on the side, near the perforations of the film—could be matched up with the number that was presented on the analog device, digitally. So this was an early sync sound system, designed by Ron Wickersham.
JESSE: The 2-track tapes are the source of the Veneta recordings that have circulated since the late ‘70s, some with a characteristic and strange echo effect.
DAVID LEMIEUX: There were some weird-sounding tapes from there, and there were several masters made. Bear had just come back at the end of July, so he now had some influence on the 2-track stuff being recorded. nothing to do with the multitracks. So I really don't know what we were hearing, because so many different iterations of the master were made. I don't think the multi was mixed down until Jeffrey did it in 2012 or so.
JESSE: Those 16-track masters were recently accessed again to create Playing in the Band, a web app where you can isolate tracks and jam along with the Dead. We’re able to showcase some of the isolated instrumental tracks from the Veneta show, which we’ll highlight throughout today’s episode. We’ll start with just a tiny taste, listening first to Bob Weir’s guitar introduction to “Playing in the Band.”
AUDIO: “Playing in the Band” [Guitar 2 mix, 8/27/72] (0:17-0:37) - [dead.net]
JESSE: And now how Jerry Garcia ornaments it with a harmony part.
AUDIO: “Playing in the Band” [Guitar 1 mix, 8/27/72] (0:17-0:37) - [dead.net]
JESSE: One musical footnote we’ll add here. At the end of the Europe ‘72 tour, Jerry Garcia’s ‘55 Stratocaster given to him by Graham Nash gained a sticker that gave it a new name: Alligator. But, Alligator spent a lot of time on the Alembic workbench, and the summer of ‘72 was one of those periods. In August and September, Garcia played a ‘57 sunburst Stratocaster that, because of this show, has been dubbed by gear-heads as the Veneta Strat. We’ve linked to Mike Clem’s Jerry Garcia instrument history.
DAVID LEMIEUX: Somebody said, and I agree, that this was pretty much the last Acid Test: it had the same vibe, you could freak freely, and the band—just like an Acid Test—could play, or not. So they played three sets, and they were incredible sets. There's slightly less pressure to put on the best show ever when you're doing it as a benefit, but more pressure to put on the party of the year — because people have come and they're expecting this big party.
JESSE: And back on the party planning committee, so to speak, was one Augustus Owsley Stanley III, known to friends as Bear. There are some great fragmentary shots of him in the Sunshine Daydream and Grateful Days footage. He’d been in prison for two years, from early August 1970 to late July 1972. He’d worked Dead shows right up until the time he went away, and returned to the crew within days of his release. We’ll have a lot more to say about Bear’s return in the future, but it’s a good bet that he’s also the reason that Jack Casady flew to Oregon to hang out in between Jefferson Airplane tour stops in the midwest. Some of the tracks from their Chicago shows turned up on 30 Seconds of Winterland. If someone had a third eye for a good time, it was Jack Casady. Things in Veneta were aglow. Johnny Dwork was a founding editor of Dupree’s Diamond News.
JOHNNY DWORK: The Grateful Dead is, especially at that time, a psychedelic band. They were ambassadors for the psychedelic experience. And so I think we need to talk about the psychedelic experience.
JOHNNY DWORK: Environmentally speaking, August 27th was, to say the least, a very challenging day for both the audience and performers alike. Amazingly, it was 108 degrees on stage at the peak of the sun's arc that day. Until recently, that was actually the hottest day in Oregon's recorded history. The sun was so intense that for a lot of the show, many audience members actually had to retreat into the shade of the woods that surrounded that beautiful field.
BOB WEIR [8/27/72]: That ol’ sun’s making our instruments get mighty strange, so they’re gonna be out of tune for a little while…
JESSE: Two days later, the Oregon Daily Emerald would report the heat as only 98 degrees, which still sounds like a mighty intense way to experience a show. Chuck Kesey.
CHUCK KESEY: The ticket takers were all volunteers. As soon the band [struck] up, all the volunteers went to the band! We lost our whole staff.
JESSE: Lawrence Roberts is the author of Mayday 1971: A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America's Biggest Mass Arrest.
LAWRENCE ROBERTS: It wasn't really a traditional rock concert, but it started to look like it pretty quickly after the band started playing. Everybody moved up the stage.
JESSE: Michele and David and the Adytom gang were pretty close.
MICHELE LEFKOWITH: I don't remember even being able to get out because we were close to the front. It was friggin jammed. There were thousands of people there.
DAVID KORANDA: It was very hot out, and it was pretty packed. Just a very, very friendly atmosphere, and then just kind of funky that way it was all being set up — people hanging around, trying to get the equipment set up, still getting the sound system set up. I was standing up somewhere about the first third, and there was a guy in front of us who had a trash can filled with ice and bottles of beer. He said, “I'll trade you guys some weed for beers,” and we traded. He shortly passed out and we finished the trash can. That’s pretty much what it was like: people dancing around, drinking beer, smoking weed, listening to the music, greeting each other, laughing a lot, and getting sunburned.
MICHELE LEFKOWITH: So we just drank beer, did our hippie spins, arms up in the... I know that sounds cheesy too, but it was kind of a physically freeing experience for me, as well as feeling a part of something. At the time, I wasn't quite sure… it was certainly during the women's movement, the feminist movement. It was the first time I heard concepts like co-op or a collective. A lot of the people there were of that mindset. I was thinking that it’s too much to say for the first time, but it definitely left an impression on me: I felt happy for a time. I was just free there. It was so much fun. I laughed my ass off. It was such camaraderie at this thing.
JESSE: Larry Roberts.
LAWRENCE ROBERTS: Amazing. Amazing. To me, it was not only the sound system I remember being excellent, but I was just wondering how they could play with such intensity and precision. I I kept thinking, aren't Jerry's fingers gonna slip on the strings? It was so hot, so sweaty. But somehow ,they just really rose to the occasion, as they so often do.
JESSE: Camille Cole.
CAMILLE COLE: This sense of family — we all just found each other. Because this is really early on, I would say, in this sort of alternative lifestyle. So many people came to Oregon, to California, to the West Coast, and sort of found each other like family in those days. That particular day, and many days from then, I felt that I had somehow found the family that I had been missing. I think many people would agree with that. And the Grateful Dead… they were our band.
JESSE: Michele Lefkowith.
MICHELE LEFKOWITH: I'd never seen anything like it. Because I grew up in a double-wide trailer, and I had a military father. The long and short of that is I had a really volatile childhood. But here I am, where everybody is just digging on each other — peace, love and sisterhood. I actually was really in my element. It changed my life.
JESSE: Danno Hikinin was a serious Dead freak, but he was having a hard time with it.
DANNO HIKININ: I knew that the playing was just off the map — the playing is so superb in that show. I really cherished my CDs and my DVD of that boxed set. But I did not have a good time at that show. It was so hot that I was forced… even though my friend [Strider] is crazy — he was always right down in front, other friends of mine were down in front, jumping up and down. I couldn’t handle it — I had to move to the back of the crowd, into the shade under the trees. Maybe I had a gallon banjo canteen and I was just nursing that all day long until it was coming out hot. But I sure knew it was historic.
BOB WEIR [8/27/72]: We’re changin’ our name to the Sun-Stroked Serenaders…
DANNO HIKININ: I knew that the material that was being presented was some of the best playing that I've ever heard, and I was astounded. I couldn't believe those guys could even maintain up there on the stage, in the heat.
JESSE: Danno certainly wasn’t alone in seeking shade in the woods.
DANNO HIKININ: I think a lot of them didn't even know how serious it can get. I know now a lot more than I knew then because of many, many years of outdoor life in the desert. But at least I had like a gallon banjo canteen around me and I knew I had to keep drinking it, whether it had gone hot or not. I think there was one point where I was looking to refill my canteen with cold water and I couldn't. I just had to drink the hot water.
JOHNNY DWORK: Almost everyone at that show—the band, the crew, the Pranksters and the audience—was tripping that day, including the filmmakers, who were dosed. But out of that struggle is born the classic hero's journey. And that's why the audio and the film of 8/27 are so especially exhilarating for us Dead Heads to witness. You can hear the band give all of their attention to playing and singing in tune in those challenging moments.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: I told ya, my friend Durango would be back before we knew it. And here he is now with a report of the water situation, which has become very dry in the area — with probably still another three hours to go, with the intensity. So there’s gonna be, uh, according to his report, if they get it going, a fire truck will move slowly along there and spray out from its nozzle.
[crowd erupts with cheers]
JESSE: “Durango” was otherwise known as Wavy Gravy, aka Al Dente, aka Dimensional Creemo, aka Hugh Romney.
WAVY GRAVY [8/27/72] : So hang in, and we’re gonna move with the truck. Just so you know what you’re getting hit with, so nobody thinks it’s something weird comin’ down on ‘em. It’s just water from the creek.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Now, ya dig, the water coming by is not drinking water. So save your drinking water and use this for the rubbery water, the body-soothing water. So you save a little, conserve… this has been the report from Action Central. Conserve your water!
JESSE: Gotta watch out for that rubbery water. David Koranda.
DAVID KORANDA: There really wasn't any way to get out of it. You had to leave or go pretty far away to get away from the sun. I'm sure that there are plenty of people who had some pretty bad sunburns when it was all over.
JOHNNY DWORK: Beginning that day, on the first set, it obviously represents the gestational stage of that day's great journey, in which the band is trying to get used to the unusual heat of that day. For the first songs of the show, it’s not really that much different than a normal show. But for anybody who's had a strong psychedelic experience, it's undeniably obvious that on 8/27, the band starts to get high during the “China Cat Sunflower.” There’s a point right after the jam between “China Cat” and “I Know You Rider” where the initial “China Cat” jam levels off a new, very trippy level.
JOHNNY DWORK: You listen to Jerry's playing during this sequence as he starts to get high and the music starts to brim with this electrical exuberance — this expanded Chi energy that starts flowing through anybody who's starting to trip. His noodling just becomes, like, electric. This accelerated noodling continues through the next few songs, which, to me, represents the unbridled wildness of the childhood phase of the archetypal journey.
JESSE: Adrian Marin helped restore Sunshine Daydream and is the director of Grateful Days, a wonderful documentary about the event. The creators of the Sunshine Daydream concert film have since passed, but Adrian is here to speak for them.
ADRIAN MARIN: They weren't pros in the sense that they were going to be able to shoot under the challenges presented by acid. So that was the big thing, because the acid was just flowing that day, so incredibly through everything. Were you going to be able to keep it together? And so John, obviously, kept it together, I think better than anybody. He told me that, during “China Cat”/“Rider,” he was probably peaking the most. The camerawork during that is just so sensitive and astounding.
JESSE: Meanwhile, the Far West Action Picture Services team was out in the field.
ADRIAN MARIN: There were probably about five or six cameras total at any given time. There were really much more than you would think, based on the image represented in the film. But again, that's because everybody was just tripping so hard, right? A lot of the footage, unfortunately, isn't useful.
JESSE: AI has been pretty good at restoring bumpy silent film footage from a century ago. Maybe someday it will be sophisticated enough to correct the wild zags of a bunch of dosed Pranksters and pals.
JESSE: Things were getting intense out there. Sunshine Daydream producer Sam Field died in 2019, but I interviewed him a few years before that for my book, Heads.
SAM FIELD : Even if you were prepared with the sunblock—if that was even invented then, I don't think we knew what SPF meant—even if you were prepared in that way, it was hot. It was hot! And so there was plenty of reason to dress appropriately… or, undress appropriately.
JESSE: As we said, some of the radio dialogue in the Sunshine Daydream concert film was added later in the process. Like Kesey wrote in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — it’s the truth, even if it didn’t happen.
KEN KESEY [Sunshine Daydream]: Women and children are going to have to be taken care of first. I mean, I was just back there, you know what I mean? At the truck, the water truck, what happened? It was the women and the children, one woman coming up out of the inside of that water truck, and the babies rollin’ around, and her, thirsty, and then people underneath looking at the bottom of the water truck, and there’s one skinny dude coming up from inside the water truck with a t-shirt full of water and squeezing it into a jug and saying, “That's all there is, sister.”
JESSE: But the water situation was pretty dire and suitably weird.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Wooo woo woo woo… okay, Chuck Kesey, Chuck Kesey, you all know him, he’s the host here today — go to the water tank, truck, the pump is no longer working. As the host, you have to fix it… ha! Okay, you got that, Chuck?
JESSE: Chuck Kesey to the Deadcast, please.
CHUCK KESEY: There was a moment in there [of] health and safety — do we have enough water? That's a good question. I brought in a milk tank truck full of water and figured out how many people there might be and, if you were dispensing water, how much water there would be, and whether or not it would be enough. As I went around, worried about things, I came to the water truck — I looked over and they were taking showers underneath the water, instead of drinking it. And I thought: holy smokes, we're gonna run out of water! About that time, the hatch of the tank truck flopped open, and out of the water truck came a nekkid hippie! I thought, whoop, we lost the water! The Dead said this was the naked-est concert they’d ever been to. It was really hot, and… everybody was naked. [laughs]
JESSE: Camille Cole.
CAMILLE COLE: People were sweating and taking off their clothes, which is sort of tradition out at the Country Fair site anyway, so no one noticed that.
JESSE: Nancy Hamren of Nancy’s Yogurt has this observation about the film.
NANCY HAMREN: You look out over this sea of people, and what's astonishing is that nobody has tattoos. A sea change, in 50 years. It was so hot that everybody took their shirts off — and there were no tattoos.
JESSE: Larry Roberts.
LAWRENCE ROBERTS: A lot of people stripping off their clothes because of the heat. It's another thing about… added to the veggie burgers and organic food and music and everything. There was much more casual nudity in the Oregon commune world at the time, right. It wasn't shocking at all.
JESSE: Well, maybe to a few people. Don Witten.
DON WITTEN: My wife always tells this story. This girlfriend of hers that was there with us — there was this guy that came walking up and he's just naked as a jaybird. He's carrying a salad with him, and he just plops down right next to Donna, this girl that we were with. And she just had this look on her face, like: oh my god! We’re just innocent little southern Oregon kids, never been at this kind of thing before.
JESSE: It’s funny cuz it’s salad. During the “China Cat Sunflower”/”I Know You Rider” sequence in the original cut of Sunshine Daydream, there was a fair bit of nudity — edited down a bit for its official release several decades later. Producer Sam Field.
SAM FIELD : We were in our early 20s and single when we did it. As we grew older and realized that maybe this will have some cultural legs, it just seemed appropriate to take a little bit of the leering aspect out. It just wasn't necessary. So we did find some other shots that could replace some of it. The way we’ve got it now, it's a little more tasteful — I hate to say a little more adult, but a little bit better for the years to come. It just didn't need to be that.
JESSE: Good call, guys. Though to be fair to the filmmakers on two points — first, it was an accurate representation of the day. The next day, the Eugene Register-Guard went with the headline, “The bare look was in evidence at Sunday rock concert.” And secondly, while I’ve not done a proper survey, though there is certainly much gratuitous nudity in many documentaries about rock concerts of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Sunshine Daydream has a far higher balance of naked dudes than most. The purple sock rule did not apply.
JESSE: While we’ve got these multitracks, let’s listen to a tiny bit of the peak between “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider.” Let’s start with Bob Weir.
AUDIO: “China Cat Sunflower” [Guitar 2, 8/27/72] (6:19-6:50) - [dead.net]
JESSE: And this is what Garcia’s doing over that.
AUDIO: “China Cat Sunflower” [Guitar 1, 8/27/72] (6:19-6:50) - [dead.net]
JESSE: But, of course, the propulsion of the jam comes plenty from the rhythm section. Let’s check in with Phil Lesh. Over to you, Phil.
AUDIO: “China Cat Sunflower” [Bass, 8/27/72] (6:19-6:50) - [dead.net]
JESSE: Can’t forget Keith Godchaux. The piano pickup was a bit crunchy, one of the Dead crew’s current tech battles in 1972.
AUDIO: “China Cat Sunflower” [Piano, 8/27/72] (6:19-6:50) - [dead.net]
JESSE: David Lemieux got a copy pretty early in his tape collecting career.
DAVID LEMIEUX: It would have been fall ‘85, early ‘86, I got Veneta. You know that moment in “Bertha” when they just go flying off?
DAVID LEMIEUX: I had never heard anything like this. By this point, I probably have three or four 1972 shows. So I knew the ‘72 sound very well, I knew Europe ‘72. This was so dramatically different. [I was a] naive 16 years old, 15 years old I guess — I didn’t know why, I didn’t know that they were maybe super on that night. But that “Bertha” just started soaring.
JESSE: No doubt, a super intense “Bertha,” and extraordinary ripping from Garcia. “Bertha” is one place where I feel like the Dead’s rhythm section dug in hard. It entered the band’s repertoire just as the Dead became a one-drummer band again in early 1971, and “Bertha” is one of the deepest grooves that Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann built together. Let’s start with Phil Lesh, keeping the pulse but also throwing lots of his own ideas in a way that makes it more than a guitar solo.
AUDIO: “Bertha” [Bass, 8/27/72] (3:44-4:14) - [dead.net]
JESSE: And a bit of Billy the K on drums, the gang of one, sounding pretty ferocious and also adding to the conversation.
AUDIO: “Bertha” [Bass and drums, 8/27/72] (3:50-4:20) - [dead.net]
JOHNNY DWORK: However, the combination of the band obviously trying to settle into the peak of their own psychedelic trip that day, along with the challenge of keeping their instruments in tune, obviously proves to be challenging. And so, they wisely take a break. Everybody, with the sun at its apex at that point, needed a break.
BOB WEIR [8/27/72]: Hey, we’re gonna go take a short break and drink something, ‘cause it’s real hot up here and regain our energy. Yeah. Cop a couple salt tablets and, uh, try again.
JESSE: According to historical data from the website WeatherUnderground.com, who are uncomfortably literal about telling you which way the wind blows, the temperature reached its peak around 5pm, when it hit something like 98 degrees or even hotter around the time the Dead started the second of their three sets. Chuck Kesey.
CHUCK KESEY: I was on the crapper truck with Babbs and Ken. Luckily I thought — Oh, what kind of water have you got? They were ready, they weren't ambitious.
JESSE: Yikes. Ween freaks might recognize this as pretty close to a concept that Dean and Gene Ween joked about in the liner notes for their live album Paintin’ the Town Brown, in which a giant shit mister would slowly spray the audience during the live epic “Poopship Destroyer.”
AUDIO: “Poopship Destroyer” [Ween, Paintin’ the Town Brown] (4:39-4:45) - [Spotify]
JESSE: We can thank Chuck Kesey for keeping the poop ship away. The heat was still an issue, but it was time for the jams to really get going. Johnny Dwork.
JOHNNY DWORK: When the band returns, and they launch into a “Playing in the Band” that starts apart from all others — wow. This “Playing in the Band” is so unusual. It’s every bit as psychedelic as a “Dark Star,” but it’s also really distinct from any other “Playing in the Band” that I know of. When the band launches into it, the tempo is incredibly slow. It might be the slowest start to a “Playing in the Band” that they ever played.
JESSE: And he’s right, that’s pretty slow. Weirdly, though, “Playing in the Band” had just undergone a tempo shift — but in the exact opposite direction. The Veneta version is around 116 beats per minute. When the song debuted in 1971, it was around 124, though settled back down to something like 120 bpm by the time the band recorded it for Ace and toured Europe in the spring. When they started playing over the summer, though, the tempo crept back up, including the performances at the Berkeley Community Theater just a few days before Veneta, like the August 25th tape, now Dave’s Picks 24.
AUDIO: “Playing in the Band” [Dave’s Picks 24, 8/25/72] (1:09-1:28)
JESSE: But in Veneta, it was nearly 10 clicks slower than that.
JESSE: When they played the song again the next week in Colorado, the tempo was back up again, and it would continue to get faster and stay in that range for the rest of the Dead’s career. And before you ask, yes, Dead & Co. play it just a little bit slower than the Veneta version, around 113 bpm.
JOHNNY DWORK: As soon as Bobby finishes singing the lyrics, and the musicians enter jam space, any sort of normal time based reality vanishes instantly.
JESSE: It’s truly an otherworldly “Playing in the Band,” the dawning of a two-year period where the song entered wild realms nearly whenever they played it, which was most shows in that era. But go check out the 8/27/72 version, as dreamy as they come. And if you’d like to break it down into components for yourself, check out the Playing in the Band web app.
JOHNNY DWORK: To me, this, this “Playing in the Band” and then the “Bird Song” and the “Greatest Story [Ever Told]” to follow — this represents, to me, the archetypal life cycle that's about coming of age. It's the thing that happens to us where you reach the pinnacle of your life force. You could argue that “Playing in the Band,” that “Bird Song” and that “Greatest Story” are as great as any version that they’ve ever played.
JESSE: One song at a time, dude.
JESSE: Dave Tharp.
DAVE THARP: I remember this floating dragon. Well, quite a few years later, Sunshine Daydream comes out and I realized my paper dragons in the air were actually a naked man.
JESSE: Good news, Dave. Check out Adrian Marin’s amazing short documentary Grateful Days and you’ll totally see a big floating dragon over the crowd. But there’s definitely a naked man in the concert film, and one specifically that most people remember.
If you watch Sunshine Daydream carefully, it’s during “Jack Straw” that one of the day’s most infamous figures earns his name. I wrote a bunch about the Creamery benefit and what happened next in my book, Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America, so we’re going to use a few short excerpts from the new audiobook, read by me. It’s available from Hachette Audio wherever you get your audiobooks.
JESSE [Heads]: Naked Pole Guy, ascend! In a hairy sun-stroked flash he bounds from the roof of a backstage equipment truck and scampers to a sweet perch behind the Grateful Dead while the band plays "Jack Straw" in the melting Oregon heat. At this moment in late August of 1972, more vividly than any other, the Grateful Dead's territory is completely manifest in front of them as they play for 20,000 people at a hippie-organized benefit in the Oregon countryside.
JESSE: Sunshine Daydream producer Sam Field.
SAM FIELD : If you look closely, he goes through the arc of his day, because I think there's a place where you see him sort of before he climbs up the pole, just sort of sitting on a platform back in that corner of the stage. And then of course you see him go up there and then you see him put his pants on and then fade away. I guess we called him Pole Guy, but I don't think I don't ever remember anybody ever calling him Naked Pole Guy. It was just sort of part… he just came with the territory, part of the ambience.
JESSE: And back to Heads.
JESSE [Heads]: The Dead are already midway through the second set of the afternoon when Naked Pole Guy arrives in the frame, but it's been a magical day already. Jerry Garcia spoke of the presence of "invisible time-travelers" at Woodstock, and the Dead's gig at the Oregon Renaissance Faire-grounds has its share, too. For starters, there's the crew of tripping longhairs capturing just as much as they can on their limited film-stock. Naked Pole Guy will become legend! A human freak flag boogieing in the breeze while, just below, the Grateful Dead jam incandescently for the Oregon heads! Go Naked Pole Guy, go!
SAM FIELD : During the edit, he was there. And so did we choose to keep him in more shots, or take him out? Like, ‘Hey, do we have enough of him? This is gonna be a distraction.’ It could have been a cloud or a redwood tree. In a way, it was just part of the environment. Once we realized that, it was kind of cool. We certainly kept it, but there was nothing we really went for or meant to minimize. It was just sort of there.
During our focus groups, we were aware that it got an audience reaction, as people saw it for the first time or wondered where it was gonna go. But I think even people seeing it for the first time are barely noticing him as he gets to the end of his supporting role.
JOHNNY DWORK: I've heard tell [that] he was actually embarrassed about his being shown naked on the pole that day. While I can appreciate that, oh my golly, that's just so perfect for… like, he was the representative of the Holy Fool, which was a key part of both the Merry Prankster and the Grateful Dead ethos. He’s the Holy Fool that gets injected, or the Trickster, into the most serious moment. I think it’s really perfect. Jerry's playing the most serious music of his life, and there's some naked guy riding behind him. It's a perfect juxtaposition.
In some ways, he's the sacred mirror reflection of the experience that many of us have when we're listening to that music — when we're all melted down and metaphorically naked. He's the actual reflection of what we feel like inside, right up there on the screen.
JESSE: One thing about Naked Pole Guy is that, from the angle the cameras were shooting—that is, upwards from the front of the stage—some objects might be further away than they appear on the screen. As the concert film circulated in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s, Naked Pole Guy became something of a reluctant underground film star. Ultimately he was pretty embarrassed about the pole that made him a star. Lots of people have questions about him, and we’ve got a few answers.
SAM FIELD : I didn't even know his name until a couple years ago, or even much of his story.
JESSE: We’ll let Strider Brown do the honors of giving Naked Pole Guy a name.
STRIDER BROWN: Gary Jensen, the gentleman who was up on the Douglas fir post — I don't think people were paying too much attention to that, but it was the film that made him notorious or famous or infamous or however that works.
JESSE: Sadly, Gary Jensen went to the great pole in the sky about 15 years back. When Adrian Marin was working on his crucial short documentary Grateful Days, he was able to find him, still in the Springfield area, and it’s Adrian that’s going to now humanize Naked Pole Guy for us.
ADRIAN MARIN: Somehow, one day, I was able to get Gary Jensen on the phone. I thought maybe I'd get to go meet him or something, that it would be a very brief conversation, but we ended up talking for hours. He did not want to meet because he'd fallen off the wagon: his health was precipitously getting worse, and I think he knew he was on the way out. He didn't want to be presenting himself that way. It was really sad, it was really intense. But, man, it's almost like he encapsulated the themes that are involved with this so much, about sticking together and showing support for your community; looking back on things with somewhat of the bittersweet nostalgia of idealism and youth and realizing, though, that you wouldn't maybe do things any different, even if you had a second chance at it. So he really waxed poetic to me something fierce, Gary Jensen did. [It] was so inspiring, and yet, really sad.
JESSE: It was Gary Jensen, Naked Pole Guy, who helped Adrian connect with many of the figures that ultimately appeared in Grateful Days.
ADRIAN MARIN: God bless Gary Jensen. Without Gary, we wouldn't have our little rinky dink documentary that helps tell so much of the story behind the film. I really owe him so much and I miss him. And, of course, every time I watch the concert film or the documentary, I miss his voice and wish he could have been included. But it's still there in my head.
JESSE: Make no mistake about it, Gary Jensen was a serious head.
ADRIAN MARIN: Gary Jensen was, obviously, quite a dashing figure in the hippie sense. He was somebody I think who clung to and defined and explored the tenets of psychedelia as much as anybody at that time and in that place.
JESSE: That’s not all he clung to!
ADRIAN MARIN: I believe he was known as the Mushroom King, because he probably was a big aficionado of mushrooms, of course. It's where it kind of all begins, right? And so Gary was known for exploring not just some of the deeper recesses of the mind, but doing so in some of the harder-to-find recesses of the natural world. He was quite familiar with the natural territory there in Oregon, and he would explore it while on these psychedelic adventures. So he was really kind of a hippie’s hippie. He had his own little scene for a minute there — he had a wife named Maria Mushroom. That was her name.
JESSE: If you rewatch the moment during “Jack Straw” in which he gets up on the pole, pause to ponder that this almost certainly wasn’t dude’s first nude psychedelic ascension.
ADRIAN MARIN: You don't make a move like getting on the top of that pole unless you're a figure of some renown who can get away with it. And he did. It kind of makes the show all the more exciting when you think he's along the ride with you.
JESSE: Okay, maybe it’s a little understandable that he’d be embarrassed, or transmogrified into the Holy Fool or whatever, and we’re definitely not done talking about that. But, y’know something? He might’ve been naked on a pole, but dude was there to see and hear this.
JESSE: Also up front to see “Bird Song” was Don Witten.
DON WITTEN: I went back to the shade for a while and then I mosied on up to the crowd again. I was the only one of our entourage that day who left the shade, got up. I wanted to see what was happening up close. As I walked up closer to the stage, looking at that ramshackle tower thing that they had built out in the crowd, I just thought: how in the hell is that thing standing up? There were a couple of dozen people hanging onto it. I thought, I'm not gonna stand underneath that deal there… but it made it through the show!
ADRIAN MARIN: The crazy tower thing. I think that was a Chuck Kesey production somehow. I think Chuck kind of oversaw that.
JESSE: And survived for many years thereafter, as we’ll learn.
DON WITTEN: And I got up there just before they started “Bird Song.” And I just fell in love with that tune, and that version. It was just so melodic.
DON WITTEN: I didn't know the backstory about the lyrics for that, dedicated to Janis and everything. But it was just so… I just loved it.
JESSE: We talked about the writing of “Bird Song” on our episode last year about Jerry Garcia’s solo debut. It went through a few iterations in the spring and summer of 1971 before disappearing for a little bit, coming back into the Dead’s repertoire just after their return from Europe, when it finally found a beautiful new form.
DON WITTEN: That's probably the closest I got to see the Dead and Jerry playing. It was just magical.
JOHNNY DWORK: Anyone who's tried to sing in tune while tripping hard will instantly recognize this distinct tripper’s warble in Bobby and Jerry's voice, when they're striving to sing in tune, especially during the hot second set.
JESSE: Lawrence Roberts.
LAWRENCE ROBERTS: I took a couple of guys who I knew from back east, but I also brought my new girlfriend, who was not a Dead Head, didn't know much about the Dead at the time. She was completely transported by “Bird Song, “Dark Star,” some of those songs. She was pulled into the community from that.
JOHNNY DWORK: It's crisp, it's electric. It's brimming with youthful vibrancy, sort of like a flower in peak summer fluorescence. You listen to the arc of how they work the “Bird Song” jam over that period of their career. That's the version where all of the different parts—the part before the drums segue, and then the jam at the end—everything falls into perfect alignment.
JESSE: Many people call this the arrangement of “Bird Song” with the false ending jam, and it’s pretty pronounced here.
JOHNNY DWORK: In classic trickster irony, when the Pranksters built the stage, they didn't position it so that the band would be properly shaded from the sun, the result of which is that it was challenging for the guitarist to keep their instruments in tune — which is why the Dead, I think, resisted releasing the show for many years. On the other hand, the tone of the guitars—especially Jerry's guitar during the pinnacle of the sun's arc, specifically during the “Bird Song” and the “Greatest Story”—has this ethereal timbre to it, with some notes almost seeming to mysteriously float in and out of existence in a very ephemeral ghost-like or angelic manner that I've never heard in any other show that they played. And as much as they may have been challenged, that unusual tonal quality I think is really part of what makes this performance singular.
JOHNNY DWORK: It's also incredible to watch the “Bird Song” sequence, and to see the brilliant sky and the infamous Naked Pole Guy, Nick and Jerry, beaming. It's beatific.
JESSE: There were a lot of ways that the Springfield Creamery benefit wasn’t like other rock concerts. At most normal rock concerts, a security guard would’ve told Naked Pole Guy to, like, not be naked and not be on the pole, and probably would have enforced both those things. But Naked Pole Guy’s not trying to bug the band, he’s just up on a pole, naked, and that’s cool. So he’s in. If you’ve listened to the old circulating recordings, you’ll surely observe that Ken Babbs interrupts the band constantly with stage announcements. It can be annoying to listen to, but it might be thought of as well as a failed innovation — send Wavy Gravy into the crowd with a pen and paper as a way to create an open line to the stage. Listened to that way, it’s a fascinating form of aural bulletin board.
AUDIO: “Sugar Magnolia” [8/27/72, 2-track version] (10:33-10:58)
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Dan Hill to the tower. If anyone finds keys on a leather string, please bring them up front; they’re for Kay. Jim Greenhill, meet Cliff on the dance floor by the [unintelligible] tower. There’s a guy with a cut leg behind the white Volkswagen van, and a doctor’s needed for him.
JERRY GARCIA [8/27/72]: Where is it, where’s the van?
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Where is the white Volkswagen van on the… okay, it’s over here on the north side of the field.
BOB WEIR [8/27/72]: Hey, if y’all refrain from trying to hop this fence, you wouldn’t fuck yourselves up.
JESSE: For obvious reasons, this system didn’t become the norm. The Dead were very often an energy source for various groups, but it’s fascinating that—for one afternoon—those groups were able to use the Dead’s mic to organize.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Dominic of Rainbow Farm wants to meet brothers and sisters at entrance of back of van. Any brothers, sisters, or owners of land, brother freaks, come to back of van. Om Shanti, spare love always for a hippie.
JESSE: As we discussed last episode, yes, it’s that Rainbow Family, the og branch. If you were getting sick of Babbs’s announcements, allow Bob Weir be your avatar.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Oh right, right, the kids’ tent for you guys that don’t know about it, it’s, uh, located down there at that end —
BOB WEIR [8/27/72]: Ah, If you don’t know about it, you don’t wanna!
JOHNNY DWORK: You can listen to how “Greatest Story” evolves over the Europe ‘72 tour. And it's not until the end of the Europe ‘72 tour that they start to put in that “St. Stephen” jam. And in that “Greatest Story” on 8/27, that “St. Stephen” jam is perfect. It's as rocked out a moment as the Grateful Dead ever played. It’s exultant, epic, thoroughly awe-inspiring.
JESSE: For the record, I’m of the school that doesn’t think of the middle jam in “Greatest Story Ever Told” as actually, literally “St. Stephen,” but I hear the resemblance and the name has stuck with tapers.
JOHNNY DWORK: So wisely after the “Greatest Story,” they take another break. And this is a really, really great performance strategy, because it gives people another break. But it also sets up the third set to begin at sunset.
BOB WEIR [8/27/72]: We’re gonna take another break, let the sun go down a little more, come back and play some more.
JESSE: Some heads’d had enough. Don Witten.
DON WITTEN: I hate to admit it, but we left before the show was even over. It was just so damn hot. We said, “This has been great, but we're burning up here.” We split after the second set — that's blasphemy, I know. We went swimming after the show. It’s called Fern Ridge Reservoir. It’s only a couple of miles from Veneta.
JESSE: By then, Strider had become friendly with members of the Dead’s family.
STRIDER BROWN: I run into Frances Carr and I said something to her about, “Hey, would it be okay to come backstage?” And she goes, “Well, just stay out of the way.” And so I run into my brother and he goes, “Hey, Bones”—my old original nickname—”I got a spot up here in front of the stage, check it out.” My brother had spent, I believe, the second set on the platform that was below the front of the stage. It was about three to four feet above the ground, and then you could stand up chest high, and look right at the stage.
JESSE [Heads]: And there's Naked Pole Guy bearing bearassed witness to one of the most spectacular sights on the best of all possible galactic planes.
STRIDER BROWN: I was able to stand right next to cameraman John Norris; he was right on my left, and Garcia was approximately six feet in front of me. That's how I experienced one of the most phenomenal “Dark Stars” of all time and space.
JOHNNY DWORK: And as the day begins to fade, the music turns heavy — unfathomably mysterious, like death approaching. “Dark Star,” especially at that time in their career, it feels like, when they start that “Dark Star” like a ship, setting out from port to sea.
JESSE: If you listen closely, you can hear a dog barking just offstage just as they start, though it’s more obvious on the fan circulated versions.
JESSE [Heads]: The sun melts over the planetary rim while the Grateful Dead unfurl their jam epic “Dark Star,” 31 minutes of shining free-flight flowing through gentle modal waves and intricate piano runs, shifting and swelling scenes and high-speed pursuits down wormholes, all brushed in Garcia’s soft-hued wah-wah guitar. It is a wondrous improvised achievement out there in the heat.
JOHNNY DWORK: It's really the Zen essence of Buddhism in jazz music. Accordingly, I don't know of any other improvisational music where we listeners can witness the miracle of musicians being fully present in the moment, channeling wisdom that is beyond that which we can think of before we can speak it, than that which was played during the “Playing in the Band” and the “Dark Star” that day. Whether or not the wordless wisdom that is obviously flowing through the band during those jams actually means anything, it is at least truly awe-inspiring. And seeking communion with the great mystery is an ancient perennial quest of humanity, a quest that was obviously achieved that day back in ‘72. And amazingly, we can now re-experience it through listening to the audio or watching the film. It's just such a blessing that we have this.
JESSE: Larry Roberts.
LAWRENCE ROBERTS: We were generally toward the back, trying to stay in the shade. We would work our way up during some of the show. I remember, was it the third set when they started with “Dark Star”? That was such an amazing, miraculous version of that. I remember kind of wandering closer up to the stage during that.
JESSE: Mike Sherwood.
MIKE SHERWOOD: I stuck out the whole thing. I'm pretty much… if I can get up front and close, I want to be where the people are. [It was] not only my first show, but it was my 19th birthday. It was a great birthday party. I liked the first album. I just fell in love with Skull and Roses — that was just burned into my brain. But Live/Dead just never really caught me. It started off with 23 minutes of “Dark Star” and I was like, “It’s not very poppy.” I wanted something a little faster. By Set 3, you're just you're pretty burnt out on the day; it’s been pretty intense at that point. And they start to fade in at Set 3, and it goes into a 30, 31-minute “Dark Star.” I wasn't ready to hear it with Live/Dead, but at this point, fully present, I decided to stay for the whole thing. I was absorbed by it all — it was a very jazzy, long piece, but it’s like… wow.
JESSE: It’s easy to get lost comparing different versions of “Dark Star.” But it’s also worth thinking about “Dark Star” in terms of other musicians on similar quests and the vehicles they manifested. It’s true, not a lot of it’s on film, but one example might be John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and most especially the recently discovered live version from Seattle in 1965, recorded the night before Coltrane reportedly took LSD for the recording session that became the posthumous album Om. More than any other song, to my ears, performances of “Dark Star” in this era move the band out of rock and roll and into the kind of music played by the Coltranes, both John and Alice, La Monte Young’s Theater of Eternal Music, and other quite intentional pathways to ecstasy.
JOHNNY DWORK: Watching Jerry in the film of this show, looking so vibrantly healthy and playing so impeccably, so beautifully, while obviously being so high — the film sequence of Jerry staring out into some other dimension while he's playing that otherworldly “Dark Star,” as the sun is setting and everything is glowing, is so beautiful and so magical and so utterly enthralling.
JOHNNY DWORK: And there's this one point where they're all playing as… golly, I'm not even sure you can put this into words properly. But there's this sense that they're being pulled towards the mystery, almost like you can imagine what our astronauts would feel as they are pulled into the event horizon of a black hole.
JESSE: The version of “Dark Star” in Sunshine Daydream has a suitably trippy animation sequence, perhaps influenced by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, featuring surrealist birds and a giant hand reaching down from the sky. Adrian Marin.
ADRIAN MARIN: The animation is a whole story unto itself. It was created by Charlie Barecca and a couple of associates of his, and they had done it kind of for another project that they were working on. As you can tell, it's all this amazingly collaged imagery from National Geographic. The other project that they had created it for kind of stalled and, all of a sudden, they realized they had this giant chunk of nobody recording during “Dark Star,” because everybody was so completely dosed to the gills. They were all just completely zonked and gone — nobody had reloaded film or anything like that. And so that's why, thank god, Charlie thought of this animation and really saved the day.
JOHNNY DWORK: There's this extraordinary moment where they then… golly, there’s this moment where, after the incredible drum and bass duet, where they launch into what is not as fully articulated of a “Feelin’ Groovy” jam as you might hear on 2/13/70 “Dark Star” or 4/14/72. But it is a “Feelin’ Groovy” jam.
JESSE: Sometimes it’s the “Feelin’ Groovy” jams you don’t play, though the changes are almost implied at various points as they launch.
JOHNNY DWORK: It's as though it's a “Feelin’ Groovy” jam from outer space. It's less melodically focused, but it's definitely that same feeling of exultancy. It’s as though that’s the astronaut waving back at the rest of us, right, having seen what's on the other side of the event horizon. It's like that final, like: “It's incredible!” And then they turn back towards the mystery, and they then are drawn into the mystery.
JOHNNY DWORK: It's like meeting death. And this is really an incredible thing when one experiences this music either in a Holotropic breathwork session, or a shamanic session, or a psychedelic session where one is faced with the unknown, or the inevitable. We have the opportunity, when we're faced with that event horizon, to either run away or to take a breath and go through that portal and join the mystery. There's this one point where Jerry teases “Morning Dew.” We almost get a “Morning Dew.”
JESSE: Weir says “no.”
JOHNNY DWORK: And yet, Bobby then brings us into “El Paso.” And the interesting thing to note about that “El Paso” is that it's a song that's about death.
JESSE: Not to deny a single thing about what Johnny’s saying about the symbolic flow of this set, nor even to criticize the choice of “El Paso,” but I’ll point out that there are number of songs that could’ve fit been combined here to land with similar existential oomph, like, say, a gnarly “Other One” meltdown jam into “Black Peter” or the brand new “Stella Blue.” The day already had a pretty high body count between “Me & My Uncle,” “Mexicali Blues,” and “Jack Straw,” and that’s not even counting the more symbolic “Bird Song” and “He’s Gone.” Lotta death out there. And there’s no denying the heaviness of what comes next.
JOHNNY DWORK: When that “El Paso” is done, Jerry adds to that conversation about death. And he launches into one of the great, great moments in all of what I call Grateful Dead church.
JOHNNY DWORK: It's the same thing that happened when the Grateful Dead played a really good “Morning Dew.” When they played that gospel “Sing Me Back Home” — which is literally about facing your death, it's a real-life story about Merle Haggard being on death row, and watching a two-bit criminal being led in chains by the warden to the electric chair.
JESSE: The band had debuted the song the previous spring, but put it back in the closet pretty quickly, at least until reviving it with Donna Jean Godchaux in Europe.
JOHNNY DWORK: And what happens next, after death? Rebirth. The Grateful Dead launched into one of the great “Sugar Magnolia” / “Sunshine Daydream”s of their career. And hope is born anew.
JOHNNY DWORK: I onced played this music for a very wise woman, an accomplished yoga instructor who is not a Dead Head. When the “Dark Star” and the “El Paso” concluded, I turned to her and I inquired, “So, what do you think?” She thought, and she replied, “Wow. It's as though Jerry Garcia was having a conversation with God on God's level of conversation.” I don't know of any other music the Grateful Dead played where the conversation that's happening is on that level — that mysterious, that awe inspiring, and that thoughtless. It just flows. It's channeled music.
JESSE: Being a Sunday in 1972, the Dead finished with “One More Saturday Night,” now with the new answer vocals they’d added when doing the studio overdubs a few weeks previous.
JESSE: You can hear a group chanting, “we want the Dead.”
CROWD [8/27/72]: We want the Dead! We want the Dead! We want the Dead! We want the Dead! We want the Dead!
JESSE: Not to be, and c’mon, you guys already got a lot of Dead. But who doesn’t want more Dead? One other way this benefit was different from the consensus reality version of a big rock show: after the gig, a few kids commandeered the stage microphones.
KIDS [8/27/72]: assorted noises [kids make assorted noises on-mic]
JESSE: Just as it was more or less Ram Rod’s call for the Dead to play the gig, it was probably also Ram Rod’s call to start packing in the gear.
RAM ROD [8/27/72]: The way things is pickin’ up and moving out, they’re shutting down the microphones and everything, today’s performance is coming to an end. And I’m sorry you’ve made an earnest plea, but the time has come to say that today’s performance has been unexcelled.
JESSE: Strider Brown.
STRIDER BROWN: The band did not have the lights to go past the final song.
JESSE: Sue Kesey.
SUE KESEY: Because we didn't have any lights, I don't believe. So we pretty well had to be done before it got dark. But dark here at that time of year is nine o'clock.
JESSE: David Koranda.
DAVID KORANDA: It was slow, but everybody was very cooperative. And it was just a trickle leaving, like air leaving a balloon, slowly moving out, and people enjoying that process too, but very tired. I don't remember what time it was — it was dark, but I don't remember what time it was. I just remember that there was just a feeling of: that was awesome.
JESSE: It wasn’t too late when the show ended. Sunset was around 8pm. It was back down to a more reasonable 86 degrees. Chuck Kesey.
CHUCK KESEY: The thing about the concert was that nothin’ bad happened. There were no fights. There were no bad, disgruntled people. The neighbors didn't care. Everybody had a good time, and that was our target.
JESSE: Justin Kreutzmann was at the Veneta show. Welcome to the Deadcast, Justin.
JUSTIN KREUTZMANN: I remember absolutely nothing about that trip. Let's see, I was two years old. Yeah, so I mean the only way you know is photographic evidence. It's like Woodstock: I wouldn't have believed it unless you showed me in the footage.
JESSE: There might’ve been a kids tent, but Justin wasn’t in it.
JUSTIN KREUTZMANN: Kids tents are for wimps, man! There was no kids tent when I was a kid. Steve Parish was the minder when I was a kid. It was like: “sit on that road case until ‘Dark Star’ is over.” There's a famous—well, famous in my own mind—shot of me from The Who / Dead shows in ‘76, and I've got a big “Justin” on my t-shirt. And that's not out of ego: that's just so my mom could find me, because I would wander off into the stadium. It's like finding your car keys when you go back, making sure that it matches up this kid with that car.
JESSE: The Veneta tape pretty much holds up to Justin’s memory.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: I just got a report from the kids’ tent that there’s all kinds of kids, little baby kids out there, along that string of stuff over there that are…where? Oh, they’re in the kid tent? Oh, they’ve just been left in the kids tent, and now they want their mothers.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [8/27/72]: And they’re crying like crazy, so you mothers, get out there and collect your herds right now.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Mothers, arise! Pick up your kids!
JESSE: A tiny bit of Veneta shows up in Justin’s new film, Let There Be Drums, in theaters this fall.
JUSTIN KREUTZMANN: I probably use the shot of Dad holding me at the very end, which was in the rough cut of Sunshine Daydream, but I noticed I got axed when they did the reissue. So they were very nice to send over that clip, and it's just a nice little post-show moment of Dad and I. So that made the drummer doc.
JESSE: The show was gone on the list of all-timers for many heads. Strider had been seeing the Dead pretty hardcore since early 1970 and had a good bit of perspective on their music already, and it definitely made his list.
STRIDER BROWN: It jumped out as an exceptional Grateful Dead concert, because of, partly, the setting. It was my second outdoor Dead show. My first outdoor Dead show was at Yale Bowl the year before, but there was just something about seeing it out in an open field with a very open-air atmosphere that has never been topped. Even seeing them 10 years later, when they played at the opposite end of that same field, the ‘82 Veneta Dead show, it was great, it was fantastic. But there was something about the ‘72 era, that it was, at least for myself, it was a feeling of innocence. Even if that was just my own naivete.
JESSE: For Michele Lefkowith, the Dead’s Springfield Creamery benefit and her first commune summer were tied together as part of the same broader transformative experience.
MICHELE LEFKOWITH: I really see that as a big catalyst in my life. I don't think I even had read a book in my life at that point when I was living there. We tooled around in that and we spent a lot of time at the Springfield Creamery, big supporters of the Springfield Creamery and Ken Kesey and his brother. So essentially, I became part of that community, a sense of belonging to that broader sort of collective counterculture. Since I was 12, I started smoking weed and went to school and took LSD most of my high school years. [I was] kind of not political, not really a conscious awareness or broader awareness of things. I guess maybe you could call it somewhat self-medicating. But once I was down there, things started to kind of shift for me: being part of that community, being around people that actually read meaningful books and thought of the universe in a much more esoteric kind of broader sense. I had never even thought like that until I was down there. All of a sudden, I'm, like, reading books. When I was on Adyton Eton. I was reading Gurdjieff, The Fourth Way; Uspensky; I was a die hard Rumi fan. I was like suddenly this new, free spirit adventure-some person, coming out of just a horrifying, horrible backdrop to actually feeling peaceful and happy.
JESSE: Michele and David moved to the Bay Area, but her path took her to India and then back to Eugene, where she took on one of the world’s most noble occupations.
MICHELE LEFKOWITH: A friend of mine’s name is Eric Ward. And he started a grassroots organization called Communities Against Hate. And so I started volunteering and basically what I became was a Nazi Hunter in Eugene, Oregon. We're really up and down the I-5 corridor. I just have a knack for finding them.
JESSE: Fuck yeah, Michele. We’ve posted a link to an interview with Michele conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It was an epic day that nearly every attendee remembered or will remember for the rest of their lives. Some 20,000 attended. But it didn’t exactly turn a profit.
CHUCK KESEY: We didn't make any money after all this effort. The creamery needed money. The Grateful Dead felt sorry for us and gave us $10,000. Yes, that was that, that got us into the yogurt world. That was all we needed.
SUE KESEY: It basically got us over the edge of where we were.
JESSE: It did, however, save the Creamery. Thanks Grateful Dead!
JESSE: After the Springfield Creamery benefit, the crew packed up the Ampex MM-1000 mixing console and sent it back to Alembic headquarters in San Francisco. Four days after the show in Oregon, before heading off to Boulder for the next gig, there was one last overdub session for Europe ‘72.
JESSE: As we got into in our Season 5 Epilogue episode, this was the final piece of their triple LP. But, while the Dead got on to their next orders of business, the legend of Veneta was only just beginning. The first thing to make it out were the stories. Please welcome to the Deadcast, Jay Kerley, old school Dead taper and trader.
JAY KERLEY: My next door neighbor had been at the show, and he and Strider actually were some of the people that helped get me into the Dead. That, plus New York FM radio. They said it was “the best show they had ever seen,” that they were very much psychedelic and very sunburned. Yeah, they were just raving about it. It was at least another year so I got an audience tape.
JESSE: Tapes were a little harder to come by in 1973. It was a fantastic score. Currently, no audience tape of the Veneta show surfaces. If you happen to have one, please get in touch at stories.dead.net.
JAY KERLEY: It was a bit muddy — I’d give it a B, B-minus audience tape. But again, I was hungry for every bit of Dead I could get. I’d listen to it just a couple of times, really, because then I started collecting soundboards, which sort of pushed that out of the way.
JESSE: There were actually very few photographs of the Springfield Creamery benefit. There were, however, multi-track recordings — and a documentary waiting to be finished. Producer Sam Field.
SAM FIELD : We moved to Eugene for a year and stayed there through September of ‘73. Then we actually went to Los Angeles for three months to do some of the other post production that you need to go to Los Angeles to do. But while we were in Eugene, we became mildly integrated into whatever mini filmmaking community there was there and with a bunch of the other people. Well, with about one week's notice, I don't know that we even had a plan, but it turned out there was an editing facility, a flatbed machine there — which was exactly what we needed, and it was available. The other people that had only used it occasionally, so it basically became ours for the year. So it seemed perfect, and it was also apparent that we would need to, that it would benefit us if we could befriend some of the community and get input, even narration and things like that. So it just all of a sudden instantly seemed like the sensible thing to do. We were all mildly nomadic — no problem moving there, if that's what we have to do. It was a pretty cool place anyway, so we did.
ADRIAN MARIN: John stuck around for some of the initial post production, but he was out of there pretty quick. Phil and Charlie and a couple other folks really stuck around during the initial attempts to edit something. Unfortunately, they didn't get very far because there [were] a lot of people hanging on. There was a lot of, as I say, editing by acid on committee. It was a real machismo scene too. This is one of the things that so frustrated John, is that the scene in Oregon was very kind of alpha male. But like any film, it's a collaborative piece of work, and once all these other people got involved, and they realized they captured lightning in a bottle, you can imagine it was just impossible for that kind of personality. While everybody went to lunch one afternoon, he climbed out to the bathroom window of the editing suite, and just was out of there, because he couldn't handle these personalities anymore.
JESSE: According to Blair Jackson’s 1986 interview with Sunshine Daydream editor Phil DeGuere, they spent three months getting everything transferred and synced, and another six months making a very rough first assemblage of the material — after which they made the fatal mistake of bringing the rough cut to the Bay Area to show to the Dead, sometime in the spring of ‘73.
DeGuere told Blair, “We made arrangements to show it to the band and a couple of the business people, but it turned out to be a screening for 70 or 80 people – wives, girlfriends, friends – all of whom expected to see a movie, which it definitely was not at that point. This was the raw stuff accompanied by a basically unmixed 2-track. We hadn’t even touched the 16-track tapes yet. Well, not surprisingly, the general impression was very negative. We heard a lot of grumbling along the lines of ‘Oh, this was a mistake, we never should have done it.’ And the band complained that the heat that day had made their guitars go out of tune. So basically we were discouraged from working on it more.” But of course they did work on it more.
ADRIAN MARIN: Sam, to his credit, paid everybody at the time [what was] a very fair weekly salary for that kind of post production work.
JESSE: Paul Foster of the Hog Farm and the Acid Test era Merry Pranksters had drawn a poster for the show, and now contributed titles to the film. The Kens, Kesey and Babbs, added some new narration.
ADRIAN MARIN: They would show some of the rushes, and Ken and Ken would sit down with an audio recorder and just riff, right. So that's where a lot of that came from, a lot of the K and K rap that's used in the concert film.
KEN KESEY [Sunshine Daydream]: Bring up the lighting backstage, please, bring up the lighting.
KEN BABBS [Sunshine Daydream]: Alright, if you can, bring up the lightning, bring down the sound. The sound, that’s it. Lighting coming up, sound going down…
KEN KESEY [Sunshine Daydream]: Roger, understand.
SAM FIELD : Every once in a while, we'd work up a workprint version of how far we had the film at the time, and we'd show it once or twice in conjunction with the band, just to sort of vaguely gauge presentability or audience reaction, something like that.
JESSE: Strider Brown caught one of them.
STRIDER BROWN: ‘74, there was a Xerox notice around Eugene that said: “A screening of the film made at the Renaissance Faire-grounds with the Grateful Dead.” So my friend Win and I went to the University of Oregon room to see the early cut version of Sunshine Daydream. I don't think it even had that name yet. There was only one or two other people in the audience. I'm pretty sure there was the native guy, Jerry Lahey, who used to live in Eugene. And there's like four of us there. And that was my first time seeing the film, one of the two or three versions that are out there.
JESSE: An addendum is that the Prankster-adjacent Far West Action Picture Service soon evolved into the Oregon Film Factory, playing a direct role in the production of Animal House a few years later — definitely outside our range today.
GUITARIST [Animal House]: [sings] I gave my love a story that had no end… I gave —
[Bluto smashes guitar]
JOHN “BLUTO” BLUTARSKY [Animal House]: Sorry…
SAM FIELD : Our original plan was to get the film released relatively soon: “Sure, in ‘74, ‘75,” we thought. And then after the band saw it and liked the concept so much, they decided to make their own — they kind of delayed the release, shall we say. So at some point in there, we were a little disappointed that we didn't get the quick release that we thought was going to happen.
JESSE: It’s hard to reconstruct exactly what happened and when. I’ve found some ads for Sunshine Daydream screenings in summer 1975 in the Eugene area. By then, though, the Dead were well into the production of what became The Grateful Dead Movie, released in 1977, directed by Jerry Garcia. At some point, Phil DuGuere told Blair Jackson, they received a letter threatening legal action signed by Bob Weir, so they stopped screening it. The filmmakers were Dead Heads, and were pretty hurt. DeGuere said, “The last thing we ever intended to do was rip off the Dead, so we went down quietly.” The Sunshine Daydream project more or less got ghosted. But the stories about the show got out. And certainly the tapes got out.
JAY KERLEY: In ‘77, I got a soundboard. It was like: oh my God. When I used to do my hitchhiking extravaganzas during the summer time, I’d bring those two tapes with me in my backpack. And if my ride had a cassette deck, I’d see if they wanted to listen to it. [laughs] So that's how attached I was, I took it around with me.
JESSE: Johnny Dwork.
JOHNNY DWORK: In 1978, I was in New York City. I was starting to involve myself in that classic New York Grateful Dead community that included all of those first generation Dead Head New York characters, who are really interesting people. The first bootleg tapers, the first fanatical Dead Heads who would start to tour with them. There was this Dead Head named Big George. Big George recognized my enthusiasm, and he sat down one fateful night in August of 1978. My first girlfriend, Stacy, and I, he provided for us the appropriate set and setting and catalyst. He curated for us a musical set. And included in this was only the “Playing in the Band,” “Bird Song” and “Greatest Story,” which he had on a hissy cassette. And the cassette that only had this “Playing in the Band,” “Bird Song” and “Greatest Story” on it, it simply said on the cassette cover: “Eugene.” And once I'd heard this music and had this life-changing experience, I wandered around awestruck for the next two months, asking every Dead Head, “Do you know who Eugene is?” I didn't know there was a Eugene, Oregon. I didn't know that the show happened in Veneta, which is the town a couple of miles outside of Eugene. The tape just said — “Eugene.” I thought the tape simply came from someone named Eugene. So finally, after a couple of months, I connected with somebody who had the entire show. And that was incredible to me, because can you imagine what it was like to be blown away by just the “Playing in the Band,” “Bird Song” and “Greatest Story” and not having a clue that there was all this other music that was just as, or more, amazing?
JESSE: The Dead’s relationship with the Eugene area was no shallow thing, with close members of their extended family continuing to migrate northwards through the later ‘70s and early ‘80s, including Mountain Girl and Alan Trist of Ice Nine Publishing. Camille Cole became pals with both.
CAMILLE COLE: MG and I and Alan Trist and several of our friends started a publishing company together after they got up here called Hulogosi. I was one of the organizers, definitely, and we published a book about the Ho-Dads. Alan and I were both editors, and MG I think was the office coordinator, I’m not sure. Everybody had a role. It was a wonderful experience, one of my most fondest memories.
JESSE: The Dead’s relationship with the Springfield Creamery continued, too, and in the next years, the Creamery would book regular non-benefit shows in the area.
NANCY HAMREN: We’d do Old and In the Way and Jerry and whoever, and in smaller venues. So we kept up this really good relationship with the Dead and it brought the Dead to Eugene, which everybody loved, of course — didn't have to go to Portland to see the Grateful Dead. We could bring ‘em here.
JESSE: The Oregon Daily Emerald noted in 1976 that the Keseys had tried for several summers to book the Dead into Autzen Stadium at the University of Oregon in Eugene, but had been denied permits. So in 1982, the Dead returned to the same field in Veneta for another benefit. This time it was to help the Oregon Country Fair purchase the property they’d made their home since 1970. Sue Kesey.
SUE KESEY: The ‘82 concert was the one that helped the Fair get over the final down payment for the land. And that was great.
JESSE: Sam Field.
SAM FIELD : In ‘82, when we had the 10th anniversary of it, the same open field was used — it was just that stage went to the other end, because we learned that we’ll put the sun at the back of the artists, rather than in their eyes.
JESSE: In 1992, the Dead were scheduled to return for two nights to celebrate what was being billed as the Third Decadenal Field Trip, but Jerry Garcia’s perilous heath forced the band to cancel their late summer and fall plans. Nonetheless, they remained fixtures on the site.
SAM FIELD : There were three, or five, sort of open fields, and the concert was in one of them. Parking took place in a couple of the others and people found their way into the show. Now, if you were to go back there, the county has actually moved a road — so, sort of the highway between Eugene and the coast is on the other side of the whole property and complex. That doesn't matter much, but it does mean that where they moved the road to is now over next to the open field that the concert was at. So it is now a parking lot — you walk from there, take the bus in from there, to the actual Country Fair site. And it's been known all through the years as the Dead Lot. Partly, obviously, because of the concert, but also [because of] the tower that was constructed for the concert — or for the mixing board for the concert, whatever it was, for the observation platform. But you can see it in the movie where those three trees stuck on the ground, nailed together by some 2 x 6s. So the tower stayed, for decades. And if you actually look at a typical map of the Country Fair site, it will show Dead Tower in the Dead Lot.
JESSE: Sometime in the early ‘80s, Sunshine Daydream made the jump to bootleg video.
SAM FIELD : We actually made a VHS ourselves, just because we wanted to at least show it at home without having to drag out the big projector and the screen and all that. VHSs can be copied and, at some point or another, somebody made something or showed it to a friend — promised they wouldn't, and did, or whatever. So, yeah, we became aware that they were there. But we never called it a hole in our security system: we just thought it was an extremely clever form of guerilla marketing. Maybe someday I'll actually teach a course at Harvard Business School on how you should give away a lousy copy for free and then go back and see if you can get somebody to pay for a color corrected version, with good sound.
ADRIAN MARIN: Sam went off back to Sonoma and pretty much immersed himself in raising a family family and working in the aircraft electronics industry, John sort of retreated up to the hippie abyss in Mendocino where he became a farmer, growing some of the best cannabis that you've ever had, as well as writing. And Phil was the one who actually went onto projects in Hollywood. A short time after the concert in Veneta, Sam continued working tangentially with Wickersham and the gang and Alembic, becoming tighter with them and closer with them. o, at a certain point, they were looking to expand and change direction. There was an opportunity there for a little bit of investment to be made and for a new kind of partner to come on board. Sam took that opportunity and became one of the people who probably grooved the best with them over the years, who you know came in as a sort of non-technician. Sam just went on with life as a fan, went to just about every show he could go to nearby. John definitely retired a little bit more and only went to the ones where he could take the bus and have a nice time with the hog farm folks.
JESSE: As Sunshine Daydream was making it out into the world as a bootleg, Phil DeGuere was beginning to work with the Dead on a number of film-related projects. He commissioned their music for the 1985 reboot of the Twilight Zone.
AUDIO: “Intro & End Credits Music” [The Twilight Zone, 1985] (0:28-0:40) - [YouTube]
JESSE: We spoke about that a bit in our episode about Infrared Roses
SAM FIELD : It got to the point where [we went]: should we do something about it? And could we do something about it? We could have been assholes, tried to collect and trace down every copy, but there was no point. So it just seemed that, from a business perspective, we weren't doing very well on collecting revenue — which was a goal from the beginning, because there was significant investment in getting the thing out. And then it just seemed like a great way to let the happiness spread and if people are enjoying it, great.
JESSE: The word, legend and sound of Sunshine Daydream continued to spread, thanks in part to Johnny Dwork and his colleagues at the Grateful Dead Historical Society of Hampshire College in Massachusetts.
JOHNNY DWORK: Over the years, I started to use the music from 8/27/72 as the basis for my own journey music: first, listening to it myself with eye shades on and headphones, and then sharing it with just a few friends. My friends and I, we started to share this with one another in that reverential setting. And so over the course of the next few years, we started to curate a multimedia experience that was set to our favorite Grateful Dead music, as well as all of our other favorite journey music, the epicenter of which was the music from 8/27/72. Over the next 17 years, we developed a secret mystical Church of the Grateful Dead. We would invite people into this safe space that we would hold, in which people could experience the miracle of this music. What we found over the years was that, in the right setting—that was safe, with a great sound system, and with everybody properly prepared and feeling like they were safely held—if you put this music on, people would go through a profound experience that is as good as any Grateful Dead experience you can have where you're not there with Jerry on stage.
JESSE: Johnny Dwork championed the August 27th, 1972 in Dupree’s Diamond News, the magazine that grew out of Terrapin Flyer, which he distributed on Dead tour in the mid-’80s, as did other Dead zines. The legend was well-seeded. And, in retrospect, it’s kind of mind-bending that it took some 41 years for the show to be officially released, as it was in 2013. Archivist David Lemieux.
DAVID LEMIEUX: The other big challenge was the rap had always been: “it was hot and our instruments were out of tune.” It's the same kind of rap that I've heard about Egypt — which again, Egypt wasn't that bad. Overall, three nights in Egypt, they weren't a great three-night run. But there are certainly some amazing moments, and the tuning wasn't that big a problem. Veneta was the same thing, where there were moments where things were slightly out of tune, but it's the Grateful Dead. That stuff is somewhat forgivable, only because it's the way we know it. Not Grateful Dead in 30 years, but that specific show. As a Dead Head, as a tape trader, it bummed me out when the Dead put out Dick’s Picks Volume 8, and they cut “Cold Rain and Snow” from Dick’s Picks 8 from Harpur College. It was specifically because there were big tuning problems and I distinctly remember that “Cold Rain and Snow” because of the tuning in the middle of the song. You can hear Jerry turning the peg and tuning up. I won’t say that I love it about it — I accept that about it, and I accept that as part of what that was.
JESSE: Copies were out in the world, it could hardly be called finished, though that was the version that eventually leaked into the public eye. Adrian Marin.
ADRIAN MARIN: It was barely even a rough assembly. Unfortunately, based on that, most people thought they'd seen Sunshine Daydream. They had seen the footage — the minute one frame of that imagery comes up before you, it's forever burned on the retina, and you won't forget it. So I can see why people thought they'd seen the movie, but they really hadn't until John took his fateful swing at it in the early aughts, and finally got it to a version that he had always imagined it could be. He had really spearheaded the process of digging into the footage, reconstituting it and creating of it a real film before he died.
JESSE: Producer Sam Field.
SAM FIELD : We changed the movie after the teaser from VHS. Of course, we added “Bird Song” and “Sing Me Back Home.” So even though everybody had the teaser version, they had to get the real version, because the additional songs are so iconic on their own that no one was ever going to just stop at the VHS.
ADRIAN MARIN: I had known John for a few years beginning in the late ‘90s, as a result of my work at Camp Winnarainbow. I had actually become a little bit disenchanted with the world of film and television. So from the time that John started knowing me, when I had been in the industry, a few years later, he's getting much more anxious to dig into the project. In the really early aughts, we had spent a considerable amount of time just dealing with all the trims and outs. Beginning in about 2006 or so I really became committed to helping him release it somehow. During that time, we holed up at a marvelous little nonprofit group in San Francisco that's there no more, in this area that used to be full of post production film houses, and at Film Arts Foundation, I began the reconstitution of 20,000 feet of trims and outs. And then we finished that process up at Sam's — we bought a rewind table, we got a Steenbeck up there. We turned one of Sam's kid’s bedrooms into a 60-mm post suite. It did pretty much start afresh from the ground up, when it comes to editing.
JESSE: In the process, they unearthed a few songs that hadn’t been included in the long circulating cut.
ADRIAN MARIN: And it was only in the aughts, when we began actually finishing the film, that he made it his absolute priority [and] goal to unearth that entire cache of footage, that recorded “Bird Song.” It was his absolute baby to devote himself to editing that footage and to making sure that song was presented.
JESSE: It was a revelation to see the film up there on a big screen, and hear the big applause when Naked Pole Guy got pants for the third set, which we’d never been able to see in earlier prints. It’s great stuff, a classic concert film as far I’m concerned, made with genuine love for the music, totally unslick and homemade in a way that fits the music itself.
Johnny Dwork can certainly make a claim to being the music’s tender. While it’s true that—as of 2012—the Dead’s performance at Cornell University’s Barton Hall in 1977 is on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, in 2016, Johnny helped put the Veneta show even further.
JOHNNY DWORK: For many years, my colleagues and I have discussed the fate of humanity and how we believe that the music from 8/27 should somehow be safely preserved in perpetuity as a quintessential example of humanity's ability to bridge the physical and the divine. And, also, the degree to which humanity has developed both the artistic technical prowess and the technology to share visionary experiences with one another. So we eventually came to agree that getting a recording off-planet would be the ideal way to preserve this incredible historical document — in case society falls, right? Well, a few years ago, me being a student of astronomy and cosmology, I came across an opportunity to submit a digital version of the music from 8/27 for inclusion on the hard drive of NASA's OSIRIS REx rocket ship. Naturally, when I saw the name of the spacecraft, my eyes perked up. Osiris is not just the Egyptian god of fertility, life and agriculture, but also the God of the dead. And Rex, of course, has the same name as one of the Grateful Dead’s roadies, Rex Jackson. So this OSIRIS REx spacecraft has two missions. First, it has since launched, and it touched down on the Bennu asteroid. It grabbed several pounds of the dust on this asteroid, and it has since brought this capsule, filled with asteroid dust, from this asteroid named after the mythical bird, the Bennu, and it's returning this capsule to earth so we can study the dust from this asteroid. Its second mission is to then circle, for as long as it exists, around the sun and study the sun. Incredibly, it seemed like there was this great opportunity and I grabbed it. I submitted to NASA the “Playing in the Band,” “Bird Song,” “Dark Star,” “El Paso, “Sing Me Back Home,” and they accepted it. So now, there's a rocket ship that's traveling around the sun, for as long as it will last, that contains the music from 8/27/72. My hope is that if offworlders ever come across this solar system and they start to move towards our planet, and they see this spacecraft, that they download the information on this hard drive, and they go, “Okay, so these people obviously know how to tap into it.”
JESSE: The impact of the Springfield Creamery benefit can still be found in dairy cases across the country. But there are two things that differentiate the Springfield Creamery and Nancy’s Yogurt from many of their contemporaries in the natural foods world that emerged in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The first is that they still exist. The second is that they’re still family-owned. While the so-called natural foods world is pretty hard to distinguish from corporate grocery stores these days, the Springfield Creamery is still owned by the Keseys. When we spoke with them, they were just getting ready for this summer’s Oregon Country Fair.
SUE KESEY: Now we're going to have a Country Fair after a two-year hiatus and we all hope that we remember how to do the fair too. We’re trying to put our booth together and it's like, oh my god.
JOHNNY DWORK: For all of our foibles and our shortcomings, the box set is really incredible evidence that the hippie ethos of striving for conscious community and sacred communion is still a worthy platonic ideal for which to strive. Ideally, I think this is how our scene should be remembered. There's this incredible film of that day, and especially that “Dark Star.” But I gotta tell you, as incredible as it is to watch that film, watching the film actually takes you out of yourself, and you're watching something that is not inside your mind's eye. So, here's my heartfelt invitation: choose a special evening on which you can put yourself in the proper mindset in a safe, undistracted setting. Lock the doors, turn off the cell phone. Turn off the lights. Cue up to “China Cat” > “Rider,” “Playing in the Band, “Bird Song,” “Greatest Story, “Dark Star” > “El Paso” > “Sing Me Back Home,” and the “Sugar Magnolia” from that show. Put on headphones, turn up the volume, close your eyes and observe where this music takes you. The chances are that you'll have nothing less than a truly profound experience that will inspire, confound, elate and amaze like no other music can trigger.