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The Closing of Winterland

05/17/2010

As a budding Deadhead rediscovering her roots, it’s an exciting event when one song or show strikes a chord and stands out from all the others. For me, that happened this morning around 11:30am as I scoured through the dirty pile of dishes in my sink (don’t judge me, I live with two boys). To get me through the tedious chore, I had the Grateful Dead’s 1978 The Closing of Winterland as my soundtrack. Around the seventh song in the first set, It’s All Over Now, I thought, ‘Damn, THIS is a good show. This is MY show’. The bluesy, but robust rhythms and vocals are what tug at my soul and force me to get lost in the music. It was by far my most soulful dishwashing experience yet.

Naturally, I had to find out more about The Closing of Winterland. The show title’s implied finality of a curious location is enticing enough, and now I had the music to match it. So, I traded my laptop for my iPod, packed up Dennis McNally, and headed to the park. For the next two and half hours I sat on the lawn between the Triborough and Hell Gate Bridge listening to The Closing of Winterland from start to [almost] finish. (It’s a four hour show and my fair skin needed the shade of my apartment.)

I moved the jam session to my bedroom and turned to Google, ready to research. Lucky for me, research is never as dry and boring as it sounds when the subject is the Grateful Dead. And when the subject is also a famous music venue that housed some of the most legendary musicians and their most legendary performances, dry and boring it is not.

In 1967 concert promoter Bill Graham started renting out the Winterland Ballroom to house larger shows that his famous Fillmore venue couldn’t hold. By 1971 Graham was holding regular weekend shows at Winterland. The venue itself was nothing special. To quote Gary Lambert, musician and host of Sirius XM’s Grateful Dead Channel, “The place was a dump.” But once you learn who passed through the venue (everyone from Bruce Springsteen to The Doors) and read the experiences (click here), you’ll understand that it wasn’t about the location; it was about the music.

“In spite of its drawbacks, Winterland had a mysterious way of inspiring extraordinary performances from the artists who played there. In its nearly twelve years under Bill’s direction, the hall may have played host to more memorable rock shows than any other venue in history” (Lambert)

More than any other band, the Grateful Dead became a prominent fixture, performing at the venue nearly 60 times between 1965 and 1978. When the old, dilapidated building couldn’t be saved, it only seemed fitting that Graham ask the Dead to play the last show at Winterland on New Years Eve, 1978.

The small venue held approximately 5,200 people, and Graham claims he could have easily sold 500,000 seats. As it were, that wasn’t possible and the solution was a rare, live broadcast of the show for all the locals who couldn’t be there. New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Blues Brothers opened the festivities, guaranteeing a bizarre and eventful evening. And when the show finally wrapped at 6am, Bill Graham graciously fed the audience with breakfast and endless thank-yous.

Of course, there’s more much more to be said about Winterland and I encourage you to check out the sites listed below. But really all I wanted to share, (six paragraphs later), is my excitement in finding a show that for whatever reason, speaks to me. And with that, I’m starting to create my own Grateful Dead experience independent from any other. If I knew that this is what would come of my day, I would’ve done the dishes days ago.

Happy Sunday.

References and Links

Listen to The Closing of Winterland

Own it

Set Lists and Liner Notes

SF Chronicle’s Review

Sirius XM’s Grateful Dead Channel

“You read about Samson, all from his birth
He was the strongest man ever had lived on earth
One day while Samson was walking along
Looked down on the ground he saw an old jaw bone
Then he stretched out his arm and his chains broke like threads
And when he got to move, ten thousand were dead

If I had my way
If I had my way
If I had my way
I would tear this whole building down”

Samson and Delilah

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Epheplesteada permalink
    05/22/2010 1:21 pm

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian, iwspo.net

  2. 05/23/2010 10:19 pm

    Thanks Christian!

  3. Sark permalink
    11/10/2010 3:35 pm

    I’m sitting here as “I need a Miracle” from Disc 2 woos me for the 5 time in 2 hours (At work), and stumbled across this entry which echoes my thoughts *exactly*. I’m miffed I didn’t come across this earlier, as I was raised on the Dead and wrote them off for years as passe. In the last two years I’ve fallen in love for good and learned I was almost called Cassidy at birth.

    To top it off, this entry was written a day before my birthday.

    Keep rockin’!

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