One of The Grateful Dead’s best shows was actually a soundcheck
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you quite possibly one of the most legendary live shows The Grateful Dead ever performed. What makes it really interesting is that it happened at a soundcheck.
Not just any soundcheck, either. The aforementioned performance happened at a soundcheck the night before the Dead shared a mammoth triple bill with The Band and the Allman Brothers in front of 600,000 at Watkins Glen in New York. It goes down as one of the best shows that band ever gave.
The Grateful Dead’s live shows are always remarkable. The band have made a career out of carving their own niche with their incendiary live show, bringing with them thousands of fans wherever they go. But the night before the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, the band delivered one of their better performances.
The Summer Jam event, which took place on the 28th of July 1973, would welcome well over half a million revellers to become one of the largest outdoor festivals of all time. If these numbers are to be believed, then it would account for one out of every 350 Americans attended the concert. With so many audience members, naturally, a small crowd had already turned up the day before setting out their stalls for the Summer Jam.
The Band and the Allman Brothers went about their soundcheck fairly normally, playing short sets to check levels and leaving the stage with a brief goodbye to the crowd in the fields around them. If you’re a Deadhead you will already know how this is going to end—The Grateful Dead came to the stage and performed for a staggering 90 minutes for the adoring crowd.
It’s a legendary jam session. Unlike the Dead’s usual jams, which tend to spiral off from another track, this jam session started off cold. It allows the band to go into several different directions with the music and provide a piece of music with three distinct pieces.
The first piece is jazz-infused and rich, the second is a suggestion of ‘Fire on the Mountain’ while the third is reminiscent of ‘Going Down the Road Feeling Bad’. But, in general, the jam is a perfect piece of music on its own. It also contains a beautifully constructed ‘Bird Song’ as well as a bouncing ‘Wharf Rat’ to complete a pretty perfect set.
The event that followed the next day, performing for 600,000 people, may well live longer in the memory of the band and their Deadhead fans. But we’d argue that this performance for a small section of that crowd, a joyful, spontaneous jam between musicians, is one of The Grateful Dead’s finest performances.