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Into the City

03/28/2010

Yesterday I packed up my shiny new camera and headed to the NY Historical Society ready to soak up all the Dead history I could while photographing every detail to bring back here to you. So, imagine my disappointment when I approached the admissions counter and read the dreaded sign, “No pictures allowed”.

Where does that leave us? Testing my abilities to recount my entire experience through words, is where. Instead of bombarding you with every excited detail all at once, I’ll break up my visit and sprinkle it in throughout the week. As this exhibit took place in New York City, it seems fitting to begin with this great city’s own, unique Grateful Dead experience.

152 Bleecker Street: Cafe Au Go Go

This Greenwich Village club was home to the Grateful Dead’s first paying gig in a New York City venue during June of 1967. Unfortunately, any remnant of the old building is long gone. My research tells me that the former building was torn down and replaced with apartment complexes and a nail salon. But maybe if you stroll by 152 Bleecker you can still hear the sounds of the Dead. Check out the set list from the first night by clicking here.

From Blair Jackson’s Garcia: An American Life we get a description and feel for the venue:

As fate would have it, the Mothers were playing upstairs at the Cafe Au Go Go in New York when the Dead played their first paying gigs on that initial Manhattan trip. “That place was really strange,” says Laird Grant. “You’re jammed into this brick, low-ceilinged tube — this room — where they served ice cream and everyone was sitting down instead of dancing like we were used to. That was a weird trip…”

“We hated the Cafe Au Go-Go,” adds Mountain Girl. “It was all painted black inside and it smelled really bad. The ceiling was about 7-feet high; you could reach up and touch it. It seemed like we’d come a long way for such a small gig. The stage was tiny and all the equipment had to be wedged in there.”

Ah, welcome to New York City Mountain Girl.

Dead Takeover: Central Park NYC

Also in June of 1967, in between show dates at Cafe Au Go Go, the Grateful Dead played a free afternoon show at the Central Park Bandshell. I’ve watched performances here before and even stood on the Bandshell never knowing about the great artists that passed through. If you’re in New York, take a minute next time you’re in the area and imagine 1967 Central Park Deadheads swaying to the music, eyes fixed on Garcia and the band. Pretty rad. (Note: the above photo is from the May 5, 1968 show in Central Park).

The 1968 Columbia University Protests

In April of 1968 hoards of Columbia University students protested the University’s support of the Vietnam War as well as their plans for a segregated gym. In the midst of chaos, the Dead threw themselves into the back of a bread truck and snuck their way onto Ferris Booth Terrace located in Morningside Heights. I guess I can’t say for sure, but I can only imagine the Dead brought the divided crowd together, provided them a pillar of support, and eased their worries even if just for a setlist.

One thing is for sure; The Grateful Dead may have their roots in California, but they certainly live and breathe in New York City. In fact, that could be said for the entire country, at the very least, and maybe even for the world. The Grateful Dead felt an obligation to reach as many people as possible and this is proven by their extensive tours and unprecedented outreach to their audience. To be dedicated heart and soul to your craft is one thing. But to work tirelessly to share that craft for the sake of others… that’s something to be honored.

I encourage anyone in the area to visit the exhibit and share your thoughts here. And if you’re not in the tristate area, consider making the trip.

Know of any other cool Grateful Dead landmarks in NYC? Have a few in your own town? Comment below!

“Dallas got a soft machine
Houston too close to New Orleans
New York got the ways and means
But just won’t let you be.”

Truckin’

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