In the shadow of the Sphinx: The Grateful Dead take a trip to Egypt in 1978
The Grateful Dead are one band who can boast one of the finest live shows of rock and roll history. The band are famed for their range of on-stage theatrics, from their mind-expanding sessions in 1967 to their tours with Bob Dylan, the Dead have done it all.
Perhaps nothing though will come close to this experience as The Grateful Dead once set up camp in front of the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx for a very special performance. It would draw crowds from around the globe and go down as one of the greatest moments Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzman would ahve on stage.
On September 14th, 1978, The Grateful Dead would take to the stage dwarfed by the ancient monuments to kings of old, as they got ready to entertain a crowd at one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx.
The band decided to visit Egypt on the insistence of bassist Phil Lesh, “It sort of became my project because I was one of the first people in the band who was on the trip of playing at places of power,” he said in The Grateful Dead Reader.
Keeping to true Deadhead rhetoric, Lesh continued: “You know, power that’s been preserved from the ancient world. The pyramids are like the obvious number one choice because no matter what anyone thinks they might be, there is definitely some kind of mojo about the pyramids.”
Lesh got to work with the Egyptian government about how he could enact his vision. The band agreed to donate all the proceeds from the ticket sales to the country’s esteemed Department of Antiquities. The department works to best preserved the countless ancient Egyptian artefacts.
The show would go down in history but nearly got derailed after a truck was trapped in the sand and was rescued by camels. Later drummer Bill Kreutzman suffered an injury which forced him into drumming one-handed throughout their three-night run at the landmark.
Perhaps going down as one of The Grateful Dead’s greatest moments for its surroundings rather than expert playing, the shows were still a spectacle to behold. As well as spellbinding performances of ‘Shakedown Street’, which was given it’s debut, and ‘Stella Blue’, the group also welcomed local musician Hamza El Din for a performance of his song ‘Ollin Arageed’.
If seeing the Dead perform in such an illustrious setting wasn’t enough, lucky fans who made it for the final show on September 16th were treated to a lunar eclipse in the middle of the gig. An astounding moment for all who attended we’re sure.
All three nights of music were recorded and intended for live album release but the first night’s tapes were ruined, as were much of the second. But the group did put out a CD/DVD boxset in 2008 which captured the performance, Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978.
You can listen to that release below and think back to how spectacular seeing The Grateful Dead performing in the shadow of the Great Pyramid may have been.
There’s also a performance of ‘Fire on the Mountain’ which you can watch below that.