Friday, June 10, 2011

March 18, 1973 Felt Forum, New York, NY: New Riders Of The Purple Sage & Special Friends

The Village Voice ad from February 15, 1973 for the March 18 NRPS show at the Felt Forum
On March 18, 1973, the New Riders Of The Purple Sage played The Felt Forum, the auditorium in the basement of Madison Square Garden. The show was broadcast in its entirety on WNEW-fm, New York City's leading rock station. Besides being a fine broadcast of the New Riders in their prime, the show featured numerous special guests. Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Donna Godchaux helped out on vocals on different songs, Jerry Garcia played electric guitar and banjo on a few numbers, Bob Weir sang a couple, and Keith Godchaux played grand piano for much of the show. The most memorable part of the performance, however, was when Garcia, Weir and Godchaux joined the New Riders and began the second set with a trio of gospel numbers: "Cold Jordan", "I Hear A Voice Calling" and "Swing Low". Garcia played banjo and Weir played acoustic guitar, the only instance of the two playing acoustic together on the East Coast between 1970 and 1980.

The Grateful Dead were playing three nights at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale in Long Island, but for whatever reasons (probably the New York Islanders) they were booked for March 15, 16 and 19 (Thursday, Friday and Monday), so they had the Sunday night off to hang out with the New Riders. It's remarkable enough that the Dead guested on a radio broadcast, but thanks to the great Its All The Streets You Crossed blog, we can now see that the Grateful Dead were all but advertised in the Village Voice. The ad above is from the February 22, 1973 edition of the Voice, a full month before the show, and the ad says "New Riders Of The Purple Sage & Special Friends." The message would be unmistakable: in rock talk, "Special Guests" means 'opening act who hasn't been booked yet', but "Special Friends" would imply extra people on stage. It wouldn't take a genius to note the Dead's performance dates on Long Island and see that they had the night off.

There were plenty of live FM performances in the 1970s, but relatively few of them featured guests, as the record company was paying for the band to be on the air (making up lost ad revenue for the station) and didn't want to share it with another company's act. In the case of the Dead, however, since they were bigger than the New Riders and had a unique relationship to them, Columbia would have been ecstatic to have the Dead join the New Riders on the FM broadcast throughout the entire Tri-State area. For the Dead, the significant factor here was that by Spring 1973 they had left Warner Brothers and were working for themselves, so they didn't have to concern themselves with whether their own record company "approved" of them appearing with their friends.

However, since the Dead were performing elsewhere, their contract with the Nassau promoter, whom I believe was Bill Graham, would have prevented them from being mentioned by name. Also, since the name "Grateful Dead" was not formally invoked, the band members could show up and perform on whichever or whatever songs they felt like. Knowing what we know today, Garcia must have had his banjo with him because he was probably practicing constantly, trying to get up to speed for Old And In The Way, which had just begun to play in the Bay Area. It's a great touch that he used it to perform with the Riders--I think March 18, 1973 was almost the only time he played banjo on stage with them (Garcia did play banjo briefly at a unique show at The Matrix on July 7, 1970). Besides the mini-acoustic set, Garcia played banjo on "Henry" as well as electric guitar on "Glendale Train," obviously just having the kind of fun he couldn't have if the marquee had said "tonight: NRPS with Jerry Garcia."
The Village Voice ad from February 15, 1973 for upcoming Capitol Theater shows
Pity poor John Scher. In New York at the time, Ron Delsener promoted shows North of the Hudson River (New York City proper) and John Scher generally promoted shows South of it (in New Jersey). Scher's principal venue was the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ. Scher had booked the New Riders at the Capitol for Friday, March 23, 1973, five days after the Felt Forum show. The New York City (Tri-State) metro area is so large that the Passaic show would have drawn a different crowd than the Felt Forum show, even though they were only 20 miles away from each other.

However, with the Dead having made a surprise guest appearance at the Felt Forum show, the buzz would have been in the air, so everybody in New Jersey must have assumed that the Dead were going to drop in at Passaic, too. Never mind if that's a rational judgment: I guarantee you everybody standing in line for the show that night had heard about New York (probably in a greatly exaggerated fashion) and was fully expecting Jerry and the boys to make an appearance. Anyone on the Deadheads mailing list could have seen that the Dead were booked for Utica on March 22 and the Spectrum March 24, so it would have seemed perfectly plausible.

The 1973 New Riders were a great live band, and I'm sure they put on a terrific show at the Capitol, but the audience was probably still let down. It must have been tough for the Riders to rock through their best songs while a crowd of Jersey Deadheads (plus some Philadelphia lunatics) shouted "Jerrrry!"


  1. Nice!

    Yeah, the ad is very cool. Because the DJs are clearly in the know from the start and dropping lots of hints.

    Not sure pity is right for Scher. He probably sold his show out, right?

    The Scher-Delsener thing is interesting, and I am sure there's lots out there about it. The part that interests me is the Scher-Garcia connection. Not sure I have posted this anywhere, but when Scher moved into NYC proper I believe he started using the Beacon Theatre and I believe the first act he put on there was ... Jerry Garcia.

  2. there was more interplay among venues in the nyc metro area than you give credit. folks in nyc would travel to close-by venues to see shows. living in nyc, you would see shows at the capitol, roosevelt, port chester, uniondale, etc., besides shows in the city itself.

  3. i had front row center for that nrps show. we ran into buddy cage before it started and he said we had an amazing night ahead but didn't give too many details. the riders ended up opening for 2 of the 3 dead nassau shows that week. the sons of champlin opened the first night but a family emergency forced them to return home. as the riders were playing stonybrook university and the felt form that saturday and sunday they were able to fill in for the friday and monday dead shows.