If you’re unfamiliar with Grateful Dead shows from the 60’s, then this one will be a great introduction. If you’re already a fan of this era, then I think this show will reveal some surprises.
This was a free concert put on in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park to thank all of the fans who attended the Atlanta Pop Festival several days earlier. (The Grateful Dead didn’t play at the festival). The band opens with Morning Dew and gets off to a roaring start with scathing high level guitar wizardry from one Mr. Jerry Garcia. Rag tag versions of Mama Tried, High Time and Casey Jones follow and then we get to the heart of this show – Dark Star>St. Stephen> The Eleven>Turn on Your Lovelight.
Before we get into that, you have to keep a couple of things in mind when you’re dealing with shows from this time period. First, given the available equipment, it’s amazing that we have this recording at all. According to some vague internet rumblings, this particular recording comes directly from Owsley Stanley’s own personal stash. Stanley, also known as Bear, was the Dead’s sound guy who was responsible for the development of the Wall of Sound several years later. (He was also one of the most notorious manufacturers of LSD in the 60’s). Second, since these recordings were often made under what can be called “difficult” conditions (see the previous parenthetical phrase), the levels are often pretty terrible – either too loud or too quiet. This show tends towards the loud, but at least the instruments are well balanced. Third, remember that the Dead at this time weren’t usually playing subtle instrumentals – everything is laced with feedback and the sound is very aggressive, especially compared to where the band ended up several years later. Fourth, the band in 1969 featured not one but two keyboardists – Pigpen and the not-so-well known-but-fondly-remembered Tom Constanten, whose keyboards were often completely drowned out by the acid-fueled guitar orgy taking place around him. But not during this show – here, TC comes through loud and clear.
Getting back to the show itself, Dark Star begins with feedback and proceeds accordingly though 26 crazy minutes, often veering from the melodic to the thoroughly atonal in a matter of bars. Things are wide open here and very psychedelic indeed, especially in the second half when Jerry and Bob seem to be completely dialed into to each other, knifing back and forth with intensity. Eventually we end up with a powerful version of St. Stephen that morphs into a very jammed out, lengthy The Eleven. When the band crashes into that song’s main theme, it’s thunderous.
To cap things off, the band breaks out Turn on Your Lovelight. This is one of the longest versions of this song that I’ve ever heard (but not the longest), stretching out over 37 minutes and containing bits and pieces of everything that makes Lovelight great – Pigpen insanely screeching, towering bursts of guitar and quieter interludes that all build to a dramatic crescendo with the stage announcer screaming the band’s name like it’s the end of a James Brown concert.
So, as I said at the start, this show is a great representation of the band at the height of its 1969 game and there is something here for everyone. You can listen to the Charlie Miller version of the soundboard here: https://archive.org/details/gd1969-07-07.123468.sbd.miller.flac16
(Some sources say that the Allman Brothers played at this show and that Gregg and Duane sat in with the Dead on Lovelight. I can’t confirm this and I can’t really pick them up in the mix – clarification would be great).