Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Grateful Dead at The Oakland Coliseum Arena and Stadium (1974-95)



Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Stadium, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621
now: O.co Coliseum
First Grateful Dead show: June 8, 1974
Last Grateful Dead show: May 27, 1989 (5 shows)
Also: Bob Weir and Kingfish (June 29, 1975, opening for Doobie Bros/Eagles), and Nelson Mandela (June 30 '90, Mickey Hart part of drum procession)

The Oakland Coliseum Stadium always shared a parking lot with the indoor basketball arena. It was part of the thrust for "multi-use" stadiums that were popular in the 1970s. As such, it housed both the Raiders (from 1966-81, then from 1995-2019) and the Oakland Athletics (since 1968). Amazingly, although the Raiders finally departed last year, it still houses the A's. Once, the Coliseum was a gleaming new cement palace that was superior to cold Candlestick across the bay. Now, it's a rundown cement block that pales before PacBell Park or Levi's Stadium. The strange return of the Raiders in 1995 caused new centerfield bleachers (known colloquially as "Mt Davis") to be constructed, ruining the pleasant view of the Oakland hills. Nonetheless, the stadium perseveres, even if its tenants perpetually threaten to move.

The Coliseum Stadium was the primary spot for most of the huge outdoor rock shows in the Bay Area in the 20th century, save for the Beatles appearance at Candlestick (August 29 1966), which preceded the stadium. The few subsequent Candlestick rock concerts were only held there, grudgingly, because the A's or Raiders had prior bookings at the Coliseum,

The Dead played five shows at the Stadium, all pretty legendary. They headlined over The Beach Boys on June 8, 1974, they were double-billed with The Who on October 9-10, 1976, they played with Bob Dylan on July 24, 1987 and they headlined over John Fogerty (who was backed by Jerry and Bob, among others) on May 27, 1989. It's kind of like the A's: the Coliseum itself isn't that memorable, but what happened there remains etched in your mind long after you have departed.

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621
replaced by: Oracle Arena (re-opened 1997), now the Oakland Arena (re-named 2019)
First Grateful Dead show: February 17, 1979
Last Grateful Dead show: February 26, 1995 (66 shows)
Also: Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, Dec 4 '88 (Bridge Concert), Jerry Garcia Band Oct 31 '92

Ask a veteran Deadhead, perhaps yourself: what building did the Grateful Dead play the most? Go ahead, look it up on Deadlists. The Fillmore East (43 shows)? The original Fillmore Auditorium (51)? Madison Square Garden (52)? The Philadelphia Spectrum (53)? Winterland (60)? 1545 Market Street, the location of both the Carousel Ballroom (16) and Fillmore West (46--total=62)?

What building did the Grateful Dead play most often? The answer turns out to be the mostly unloved Oakland Coliseum Arena, which the Grateful Dead played 66 times between 1979 and 1995. The Coliseum complex, with the indoor arena and the outdoor stadium, was built in 1966 to house the Oakland Raiders and tempt the (at the time) San Francisco Warriors and Kansas City Athletics. It did just that. No one really loved the Coliseum, but it had and has a spectacularly central location, right off Highway 880. It had its own BART stop, it was near the Airport, you could get there easily from every Bay Area county, but it was just sort of--there.

As a result, the 15,000+-capacity Coliseum Arena was the prime spot for top rock acts in the Bay Area from the late 60s through the 90s. Initially, the Arena was too big for rock acts, but when bands like Cream, Blind Faith and the Rolling Stones had their most famous tours, the Coliseum was not only the biggest venue, but also the best located. Thus the roster of bands that have played the Coliseum Arena is like a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction list. Even when Shoreline Amphitheatre came along in 1986 and superseded the Coliseum as the flagship Bay Area venue, the Coliseum still handled all the Fall and Winter shows, so everybody still played the venue regularly.

Most long-tenured Deadheads, myself included, have seen some Dead shows at the Arena. Some of them were pretty good, too. But they don't have the sense of place that the Oakland Auditorium had. Maybe it was the size, or the nondescript architecture of the building. Maybe it was just because I went to the Coliseum so many times, and have so many great memories, that the Dead are just one of many (Back in the early 80s, I saw 6'4 Adrian Dantley of the Utah Jazz drop 46 on the Warriors one night, mostly from the paint, and it was a thing to behold. Come to think of it, I saw Swen Nater do the same--don't get me started on Joe Barry Carroll's defense...Which just shows you that I don't even think of the Dead first at the Coliseum). There were actually a number of social connections between the Grateful Dead and the popular but usually underperforming Golden State Warriors. The most famous of these was the Dead's contributions to the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Team (captured in the movie The Other Dream Team).

After the 1996-97 NBA season, the Coliseum Arena was fully remodeled into a much larger configuration, and now can seat just over 20,000 for basketball. It spent a decade as the Oracle Arena,  the home of the unexpectedly mighty Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, too, have now moved on, leaving just the A's. The answer hasn't changed, though--the building the Grateful Dead played the most was the Oakland Coliseum Arena.



2 comments:

  1. Grateful Dead opened for Beck Bogert and Appice in 1973(?) in Long Beach California.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It was a small venue, one of the new Terrace theatre halls?

    ReplyDelete