Grateful Dead Play Free Show at American University

Jerry Garcia at Winterland in 1972
Jerry Garcia at Winterland in 1972

I don’t know if you’re a fan of the Dead. I am. Let’s add another concert post on top of Hendrix, the Doors, U2 and Chuck Berry.

In their heyday, they passed through down in the fall of 1972 to play a free show at AU in front of about 10,000. It was sponsored by the student government (does this still happen?) and was slated for a 5 p.m. start on Saturday, September 30th, 1972 … by the way, another 10,000+ fans were in Pittsburgh at the same time, watching Roberto Clemente get his 3,000th and final major league hit (he died in a plane crash three months later).

The weather that day was bleak, overcast with the threat of rain. Not only that, but electrical difficulties backstage were preventing the band from going on, delaying the show well past the start time (which if you’re a Deadhead, is no big deal and expected).

Here’s an excerpt from Bob Galano’s Washington Post review the following week.

The Dead, whose names and faces have changed over the years, played nothing that stopped the show and sounded somewhat adversely affected by the cold. Not even 50 speakers and the ensuing volume could mask the sloppy updates and listless tempi.

But the audience was a gracious one, and though otherwise unmoved by the performance they seemed to enjoy the free music and found themselves applauding, ignoring the obvious lack of musical excitement.

Some of them recalled a “fantastic” concert given in the area by the Dead a few years ago and were therefore a bit more disappointed than others by Saturday’s weak performance. However, despite the bad weather and the flawed showing, the majority was glad to have come.

I’m not sure whether the show truly was a dud, or if Galano thought he was in the presence of 10,000 freaks gyrating to weird hippie music. I’ll have to dig into that earlier show and see what the reviews were for that.

If you’re interested, you can stream the show and check it out on Archive.org.

Grateful Dead in the 1970s
Grateful Dead in the 1970s

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • Samba

    I don;t think sloppy or listless are accurate adjectives. It was not especially energetic,but this was more a function of the audience,which the band
    . The band didn’t stretch much,or play real long,but they did play well ,and it was a good time.

  • Samba

    I don’t think sloppy ,or listless are accurate. It was not a very energetic occasion,but this was a function of the audience,not the band. There was a woman dancing topless on the stage for a while with joints balanced on her nipples- they must have been stuck on somehow,there was much discussion about this, and the energy level went up. They didn’t stretch much ,or play real long- they would often go for 4 hours or more in those days- but they played well,and it was a good time.

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  • David

    It was wet and chilly although I recall a nice version of “Brokedown Palace” and I seem to remember a touching version of “Uncle John’s Band.” The halftime dancer had Bill Kreutzman pounding out a pretty wild drumbeat. This was the last time I recall attending a free concert by this legendary band. It was an end of an era.

  • Kevin West

    B.B. King opened the show. He was not listless, sloppy, or lacking in energy. He played pretty much the same set list as he did on the Cook County Jail LP. Darn good show.