Friday, November 13, 2020

Week of May 2, 1970 SUNY Binghamton, Binghamton, NY (The Whole Story)

The Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin, Saturday April 18, 1970

The Grateful Dead's performance at SUNY Binghamton on May 2, 1970 is the stuff of legend, even for a band with a lengthy history of such events. Not only was the show seven hours of music, not only was it all broadcast on FM radio several weeks later and not only was it widely bootlegged and finally released as Dick's Picks Vol. 8. The show epitomized the expansion of the Grateful Dead from a cultish phenomenon in San Francisco and Manhattan to an extended community throughout the United States and beyond. I would argue that no show did more than Binghamton to expand the band's legend, since it was broadcast, circulated on bootleg lps, circulated on tape and then finally released, so Heads of every era absorbed it as their own.

Given how well most of us know the music, from the haunting acoustic "I Know You Rider" to Phil Lesh's awesome bass bombs that open the solos on "Dancing In The Street," it's hard not to have imagined yourself there. A college student in a city somewhat distant from big cities, probably a long, cold winter, typical of that part of New York State, and that it was followed by a spectacular Spring. What better way to celebrate Spring and the end of Winter Semester with an entire Saturday Evening With The Grateful Dead? What a night it would have been, were any of us lucky enough to be there.

And yet--Saturday night with the Grateful Dead wouldn't have been the whole story, indeed, it appears to have been about a quarter of it. Let's go back and try and piece together the rock and roll week of May 1, 1970 at SUNY  Binghamton.

An early 70s Grateful Dead bootleg lp recorded from the Binghamton show

The listing on page 25 of The Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin from Saturday April 18, 1970, posted above has some interesting information about upcoming events at SUNY Binghamton:
Four leading pop groups are scheduled to perform at State University at Binghamton. The lineup:
May 1: Pentangle and Paul Butterfield Blues Band
May 2: Grateful Dead with Riders of The Purple Sage
May 5: Incredible String Band
May 8 or 9: James Taylor, country singer Sweet Baby James

What? Four rock shows at the College? In the same week? Now, it's hard to recall that State Universities cost about $50 a semester in those days, not a lot of money even then, and the schools provided all sorts of benefits. One of those benefits was an entertainment budget to bring acts to distant colleges, for no other reason than to make undergraduate life broader and better. So every college back then had a rock show each semester, and some of them had more than one. It made a good payday for touring bands, and rock audiences were largely college-age at the time. But four in a week? All with albums, not just local yokels, and indeed, three of them had played Woodstock the Summer before. The week of May 1 at SUNY Binghamton was booked like a week at Fillmore East.

Why didn't we hear about this? It seems we have far fewer eyewitnesses from Binghamton than I thought, because this week of rock shows seems like an all-timer. Indeed, the only eyewitness account I am  aware of the review from the student paper that appeared in Dick's Picks Volume 8.

Basket Of Light, the classic Pentangle album released in October 1969 (Warners)

An Hypothesis

I have a theory. I can't prove it, yet, it's just some logical deduction. If anyone out there has any information, recollections, flashbacks or irrational speculation, please include them in the Comments. There has to be a story. But here's my speculation.

Every College and University  in those days had an "Entertainment Budget," designed to bring cultural enrichment and fun to undergraduate (or graduate) lives. The budget paid for Dance Troupes, and jazz musicians, and helped support the Performing Arts in any number of ways. This was particularly true for campuses that were far from big cities, and even more so for places with dreary winters (UC Santa Barbara was a little different). If there was someone playing on campus, and it was Friday night and snowy, almost anything seemed interesting, and a lot of students discovered some Art that they might not have attended in the big city. 

Of course, although any Entertainment Budget was controlled by College administrators, there was always a student-led "Entertainment Committee" that decided on the acts coming to campus. They may not have had a interest in say, Dance Troupes, but when it came to music, the students had a lot to say, and a lot of sway. It was a famous trope of the 60s and 70s that a bunch of hippies would take over the Entertainment Committee and conspire to get Fillmore East bands to play. The Grateful Dead benefited from this effect many times--how do you think the Dead came to play a free concert at Vanderbilt University as late as 1972?

It doesn't take a genius to see that some students with hip tastes were the driving forces on the Entertainment Committee. Don't forget, the Grateful Dead, though legendary, were still very much underground, as were Pentangle and Incredible String Band. The Butterfield Blues Band were an established act, but James Taylor was brand new. Somebody knew something. Whatever you think of the Binghamton area--I was only there once, and it seemed nice--basic demography suggests that there would have been plenty of students from big cities, whether Syracuse, Manhattan, Brooklyn or elsewhere. It wasn't all a bunch of innocent countryside folk. They knew what they wanted.

All of the six acts listed, however, seem to have been connected to the same record company. While I don't think the record companies themselves were directly involved, it does suggest the same talent agent. Talent agents were the ones who booked tours, and while they worked with all record companies, some synergy was inevitable. I think some hippies took over the Entertainment Committee, and some sharp talent agent offered them a package of multiple shows, and the students took it all. It would have made more sense to spread out four shows throughout the semester, but somehow they all happened in a week. Someone made a proposal, the students persuaded the Administrators to say yes, and the talent agent must have hit the bid and booked the shows.

Imagine The Week
Let's set our Wayback Machine and think what kind of week a young music fan could have had that week.

Keep On Moving, the fifth album by the Butterfield Blues Band (Elektra Oct '69)

Friday, May 1, 1970: Paul Butterfield Blues Band/Pentangle

We don't know the venue, since we only have the newspaper listing, but I think it was the same gym that the Dead played (West Gym). The Paul Butterfield Blues were better known than the Grateful Dead, and would have qualified as a genuine headliner on either coast. If the gym was going to be set up for a rock concert, it would make sensed to do it two nights in a row.

Now, in fact, by 1970 the Butterfield Blues Band had already crested from their peak, since guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop had both moved on some years earlier. Still, Butter was still an exceptional blues harpist, and they were a "name" band. The lineup was probably pretty close to the lineup that Buttterfield had used at Woodstock, which included Buzzy Feiten on lead guitar, Dave Sanborn leading the horn section on alto sax, and a tough rhythm section of Philip Wilson on drums and Rod Hicks on bass (Deadheads will note that Rod Hicks beat out one John Kahn for the bass slot). The Butterfield Blues Band's current album was their fifth lp on Elektra Records, Keep On Moving. It had been released in October 1969.

Pentangle opening for the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West, March 1, 1969 (photo by and courtesy of Michael Parrish)

Pentangle, however, were not only in their prime, but one of the great bands of the 60s. I know how dramatic that sounds, but go listen to them--if you like the Grateful Dead, you'll very likely love Pentangle. If my recommendation isn't enough, how about Jerry Garcia's?

Pentangle, who only existed in their original form from 1967 to '73, is mostly forgotten these days by all but their fervent fans--of whom there are quite a few--and in any case they are fairly or unfairly lumped together with English folk-rock bands like Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span. Much as I love the Fairports, Pentangle doesn't sound like them or anyone else. However, the band's relevance to the Grateful Dead is that they apparently dramatically influenced Jerry Garcia and the Dead's interest in performing acoustic music live. Pentangle had a unique lineup for the time, with two phenomenal acoustic guitarists and an amplified rhythm section, underlying the brilliant vocals of singer Jacqui McShee. Pentangle played disciplined arrangements and yet improvised freely, seamlessly merged numerous styles of music, performed brilliant originals and surprisingly arranged cover versions--does this sound like a band we like?--and did it all sitting down, with two acoustic guitarists. 

Pentangle had opened for the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West for four nights in February and March, 1969. The Dead were in the midst of recording Live/Dead, but somehow Garcia found time to watch some or all of eight sets by Pentangle. Many years later, in a 1985 interview (in Frets, an acoustic guitar magazine), Garcia said his inspiration for the acoustic Dead configuration in 1970 and 1980 was Pentangle: two acoustic guitars and a rhythm section. By 1970, Pentangle was even better than they were in 1969. Their current album was the fantastic Basket Of Light, released in the US on Warner Brothers Records in October 1969. They still had their classic lineup of Jacqui McShee on vocals, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn on guitars, Danny Thompson on upright bass and Terry Cox on drums. 

Another early 70s Grateful Dead bootleg from Binghamton. Side 2 was a (terrible) recording of the New Riders from that show, for many years the only evidence that they had played

Saturday, May 2, 1970 West Gym Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage

The Dead and the Riders played Saturday night. The "acoustic Dead" opened, modeled on Pentangle, who had just played the night before. I wonder if any Dead fans noticed the similarity? The New Riders of the Purple Sage followed, and then two incredible sets of electric Grateful Dead, apparently going on well past 2am. I would note in passing that the newspaper listing above may be the first public note of the New Riders of The Purple Sage outside of the West Coast (yo).

The Grateful Dead would have been booked at Binghamton around March of 1970. At that time, their current album would have been Live/Dead, released by Warner Brothers in November 1969. It was a popular album, in a cultish sort of way, well-reviewed in Rolling Stone, but it wasn't exactly hit material. I don't even know if there was an FM rock station in the Binghamton area. I'll bet "St. Stephen" was getting played on WABC and WNEW in New York city, and some students were from there, but Live/Dead would have had to have been a hit in the dorms, rather than the radio, for anyone to have heard it.

Workingman's Dead would not be officially released until June 14, 1970, so much of the countrified material would have been a complete surprise to any Grateful Dead fans from the dorms. The Pacifica Radio broadcast of the Binghamton show did not happen until (as far as I know), June 21, which makes sense considering it would have been promoting Workingman's. The Dead pioneered live broadcasts as promotions, but it wasn't just luck. How many young hippies heard the Binghamton broadcast on KPFA or WBAI and went out and bought Workingman's Dead the next day?

I Looked Up, by The Incredible String Band, released April 1970 on Elektra

Tuesday, May 4 Incredible Sting Band

The Incredible String Band were another variation on "English Folk-Rock." They have not aged as well as Pentangle or Fairport, but in any case they were always sort of an acquired taste. The Incredibles stood out for borrowing from numerous world-wide folk traditions and stringed instruments, not being beholden to any kind of specific genre. Originally a trio, by 1970 they had released their sixth album on Elektra, I Looked Up.

Founders Mike Heron and Robin Williamson sang, wrote and played guitars and other instruments. They were supported on stage by their girlfriends, Licorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson (on vocals, bass and various instruments). Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks had played on the record, but I don't believe they toured with a drummer. Legendary producer Joe Boyd ("See Emily Play," Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, etc) had produced the album, as always.

Incredible Sting Band had played Woodstock, and they had a following, but they weren't a band that would have sounded good in a gym, nor sold that many tickets. I suspect they played in a theater on campus, hopefully one with good sound  (as a footnote, Tom Constanten would briefly join the Incredibles in early 1971, through his Scientology connection).

Sweet Baby James, by James Taylor, released in February 1970 on Warner Brothers Records

Friday, May 8 James Taylor

Huge as James Taylor would shortly become, I highly doubt he played the gym. He probably played the same theater where Incredible String Band had played. I don't know this for a fact, of course--it just seems reasonably likely (I did confirm from a newspaper search that Taylor played Friday, not Saturday).

James Taylor had released his debut album on Apple Records in 1968, to no acclaim. His effective debut was his second album, Sweet Baby James, released on Warner Brothers in February, 1970. After the hard rocking acid jams of Cream, Led Zeppelin and the like had dominated 60s music, James Taylor would usher in the 70s with his gentle and memorable songs, simply performed but deeply personal. Sweet Baby James would spawn a massive hit single, "Fire And Rain," which would peak at #3 on the Billboard charts in October 1971. These days, the title track is just as well known. But that was all in the future for the young James Taylor.

It's true that the kind of dorm hipster who wanted to see the Grateful Dead, Pentangle and Paul Butterfield might not be so excited about seeing James Taylor. Still, consider the fact that many of the students at SUNY Binghamton must have been from the New York Metro area. Let's face it--when James Taylor got huge by early '71, every one of those dorm groovers (I was definitely one, let's be clear) would have enjoyed saying "oh yeah, James Taylor, I saw him last year at a tiny hall in my school." 

Of the six bands booked here, the connecting tissue is that all of them were on either Warner Brothers or Elektra Records. Warners and Elektra were separate companies, but they shared distribution through a company called WEA (for Warner-Elektra-Atlantic). Since there were corporate ties between the companies, they probably shared a lot of other services, like promotion. That meant that any booking agents who worked with any of the bands found it easier to work with other bands in the corporate stable.

It's still surprising that some talent agent, or consortium of them (talent agents often worked together) got SUNY Binghamton to book four rock concerts in a week. There must have been some sort of deal--maybe WEA was running some kind of promotion. Still in all, epic as the Grateful Dead show in the West Gym must have been, it seems to have been part of an amazing musical week that was of Fillmore East quality, out in the friendly hinterlands. Here's to hoping we can find out more about this whole week.

Update: Esteemed scholar LightIntoAshes is all over it (and has been since 2012!). Here's the story

The reason for so many bands in one weekend was "Spring Weekend" at Harpur. The music schedule:
Friday May 1 -
Pentangle 8:00, men's gym
Paul Butterfield 10:30, women's gym
Sat May 2 -
Grateful Dead with light show 8:30, men's gym
Dance featuring the "Jam Factory" 11:30, women's gym

The April 17 Colonial News clarified the Spring Weekend schedule:
"Friday, May 1 at 8:15 pm, Pentangle will be featured in a concert in the men's gym. This will be followed by a dance-concert given by Paul Butterfield in the women's gym.
On Saturday, the Grateful Dead will perform at 8:30 pm in the men's gym. There will be none of the usual seating arrangement. At 11:30, the Jam Factory will play for a dance to be held in the women's gym.
Tickets for the above events will go on sale Saturday, April 25. Prices will be: Pentangle $1.00, Paul Butterfield $1.00, The Grateful Dead $1.50, Jam Factory $.50.
...Because the Grateful Dead concert will have no seats and Paul Butterfield is a dance concert, only Pentangle will have reserved seats."

The Incredible String Band played in the Women's Gym on Tuesday May 5. James Taylor also played the Women's Gym on Friday May 8. These shows were presented by the Convocations Committee. Tickets had gone on sale at the end of April, and they were unconnected to Spring Weekend. (Tickets were $1.00 each.)

On May 6, by the way, the university went on strike. While James Taylor played, there was a mass meeting going on in the Men's Gym. Classes ceased, and the student paper stopped printing the following week as the campus emptied. Needless to say there were no reviews of the final concerts.

I also added another article on the Spring Weekend schedule at Dead Sources. The newspaper itself seems surprised at how many bands were appearing that week. The student events group (called the Convocations Committee) was flush with cash: the committee told the paper it had met its budget even after spending $17,000 on all these bands, was "able to forego profit necessities," and was even thinking of putting on a concert every month.
As a result, Harpur students could go see six separate concerts that week at a total cost of $6.00. 

Here's to The Jam Factory, whoever they might have been--presumably a local band--starting their dance in the Women's Gym at 11:30 pm, while the Dead were still probably wailing through their first electric set, with hours to go.

Appendix
The Grateful Dead at SUNY Binghamton (from my post on the Grateful Dead in Upstate and Central New York, 1969-79)

May 2, 1970 West Gym, Harpur College, SUNY Binghamton, Binghamton, NY: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (Saturday)
The Grateful Dead had another paying college gig on Saturday, May 2, and this one was another legendary show. The band was playing at the State University of New York at Binghamton, in Binghamton, NY. Up until 1965, the school had been known as Harpur College, until it was absorbed by the SUNY system. The school currently has 17,000+ students. While it surely had fewer students in 1970, it wasn't tiny.

Binghamton, NY doesn't resonate with most people, but IBM got started nearby, and General Electric and Alcoa had big operations there. Binghamton is near the Pennsylvania border, at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers. Binghamton had been a main stop on the Chenango Canal (now NY Highway 12). The Chenango Canal connected the Susquehanna River to the Erie Canal, which made the city into a manufacturing hub. The canal was replaced by the Erie Railroad (later the Erie Lackawanna, which was the parent of NJ Transit's Morristown Line), but the town retained its importance. GE, IBM and others continued to make the area economically prosperous from the 1950s through the 80s.

As we all know, what was remarkable about the Binghamton show was that the entire 7-hour extravaganza was recorded and broadcast on the Pacifica Radio network (including KPFA in Berkeley and WBAI in New York). Although the show was not simulcast, to my knowledge, but rather broadcast sometime in June (probably June 21), nonetheless much of the country got several hours of the real, live 1970 Grateful Dead. No wonder the show was bootlegged and taped so widely. From a Grateful Dead touring point of view, however, it was just another gig that paid, if a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

10 comments:

  1. What a week for music at SUNY Binghampton. There are nice soundboards in circulation of the James Taylor shows.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The review of the Dead show in the student newspaper starts, "Sure, Pentangle gave a fine concert. But they didn't approach the Dead."
    I added the glowing Pentangle review from the same paper here:
    http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2012/07/may-2-1970-harpur-college-binghamton-ny.html

    The reason for so many bands in one weekend was "Spring Weekend" at Harpur. The music schedule:
    Friday May 1 -
    Pentangle 8:00, men's gym
    Paul Butterfield 10:30, women's gym
    Sat May 2 -
    Grateful Dead with light show 8:30, men's gym
    Dance featuring the "Jam Factory" 11:30, women's gym

    The April 17 Colonial News clarified the Spring Weekend schedule:
    "Friday, May 1 at 8:15 pm, Pentangle will be featured in a concert in the men's gym. This will be followed by a dance-concert given by Paul Butterfield in the women's gym.
    On Saturday, the Grateful Dead will perform at 8:30 pm in the men's gym. There will be none of the usual seating arrangement. At 11:30, the Jam Factory will play for a dance to be held in the women's gym.
    Tickets for the above events will go on sale Saturday, April 25. Prices will be: Pentangle $1.00, Paul Butterfield $1.00, The Grateful Dead $1.50, Jam Factory $.50.
    ...Because the Grateful Dead concert will have no seats and Paul Butterfield is a dance concert, only Pentangle will have reserved seats."

    The Incredible String Band played in the Women's Gym on Tuesday May 5. James Taylor also played the Women's Gym on Friday May 8. These shows were presented by the Convocations Committee. Tickets had gone on sale at the end of April, and they were unconnected to Spring Weekend. (Tickets were $1.00 each.)

    On May 6, by the way, the university went on strike. While James Taylor played, there was a mass meeting going on in the Men's Gym. Classes ceased, and the student paper stopped printing the following week as the campus emptied. Needless to say there were no reviews of the final concerts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also added another article on the Spring Weekend schedule at Dead Sources. The newspaper itself seems surprised at how many bands were appearing that week. The student events group (called the Convocations Committee) was flush with cash: the committee told the paper it had met its budget even after spending $17,000 on all these bands, was "able to forego profit necessities," and was even thinking of putting on a concert every month.
      As a result, Harpur students could go see six separate concerts that week at a total cost of $6.00.

      Delete
    2. LIA, thanks as always for your fantastic research. I added your Comments to the main post.

      Some week.

      Delete
    3. "able to forego profit necessities"

      God I love universities.

      Delete
  3. How do you get seven hours of music? Wasn't it 3.5-4 hours of GD and 1-1.5 hours of NRPS?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For someone who attended the show, we know it ended after 2:00am, so it would have been a 7-hour musical event. Of course, the tape would have been shorter than that, but I am focused on the concert itself rather than the output.

      Delete
  4. I suppose with three long setbreaks it could add up.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My first thought, before seeing about the "spring weekend", was to remember that the academic calendar is the Zeitgeber of every college campus. As soon as I saw early May, I thought "end of semester".

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete