Preface: What you see here is a bit of research looking into this mysterious-yet-legendary performance with the Grateful Dead and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in March of 1970. I have lived in Buffalo, NY all of my life and have been a big fan of the Dead for over 15 years now. In my desire to get every performance of the Dead in Western New York, I often come across this date but there has been very little information out there, and there has even been some confusion as to what date it actually took place on.
I have been in contact with the BPO but they have no information on this performance, no program, pictures, anything. At the Buffalo Public Library where they have kept a scrap book about the BPO with newspaper clippings from the Buffalo News I have found the 2 articles you will find below.
1/27/2004: Steve Waltman was nice enough to scan and send me a review from Buffalo’s now-defunct Courier Express newspaper that he clipped out when he was in the 7th grade. I have added the text of the review below and there are also images and PDFs of the original article. This is a very good review of what happened that night, sort of fills in some of the blanks. Thanks Steve!
Through a tip, I found a review of the show at the Dead Base website written by Don Lesser. I was able to contact him and get his complete review. Many thanks for Don for sending that along. His review is below.
David Lemieux was asked in a May, 2002 interview by Eric Levy for The Music Box about this show and whether or not it was in the Vault. His answer was quite clear: “We don’t have that. That doesn’t exist here.”
I received an e-mail from Owsley “Bear” Stanley (that I’ve long lost) after I asked him if he thought there was a recording of this event in the Vaults. His reply was that he was not allowed to leave the state of California for that tour (bust in New Orleans I believe) and that the show was probably not recorded. In fact, most of the shows from that particular tour were not recorded and do not circulate as soundboards. Bear did say that if we was there, he would have taped it no matter what…he taped everything 😉
What’s next? Well, I have been in touch with Edward Yadzinski, retired Saxophonist from the BPO, he has given me a phone number for Lynn Harbold, retired percussionist from the BPO, who actually joined the Rhythm Devils during their Drums segment of this performance. I have also gathered a few contacts from The Road, the local WNY band that also played this night. If anything, I’m just looking for a recount of what when down that night; how did the bands play, was it magical like you’d imagine the Dead with a full Orchestra? What was the audience like? Was it the orchestra patrons (could you imagine a house full of well-dressed classical music lovers getting their mind blown) or was it overrun by a bunch of hippies? A mixture of both perhaps?
Buffalo was a hotbed of tension around this time, several people (students mostly) had just been arrested during the University at Buffalo riots to protest the war going on. Another interesting thing, Zabriskie Point was the big movie at the theatres that week – the soundtrack featured an excerpt from Dark Star by the Dead, as well as Jerry Garcia and Pink Floyd contributing several tracks each. It was also the day after Pat Nixon’s birthday ;^)
The songs played by the Grateful Dead were Dark Star -> Drums (featuring BPO percussion)-> Love Light. I believe they also played St. Stephen based on folks who were there but I’ve not seen it listed officially.
Hope you enjoy what I’ve found so far. If you have anything to add, please let me know: [email protected]
Kleinhans Music Hall
Buffalo, NY March 17th, 1970
(images of articles below)
Tuesday, March 17, 1970
Philharmonic Holds Rock Concert This Evening
The Grateful Dead, hard rock’s national headliners in festivals and top-selling albums, will join the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Lukas Foss in the Philharmonic Rock Marathon, this evening at 7 in Kleinhans Music Hall.
The Road, area rock group, also will appear.
Confirmation of the Grateful Dead followed an earlier can-, cancellation of The Byrds. “The Dead” are accepting expenses’ but waiving their usual huge, fee, to help the Philharmonic benefit and for the “privilege and delight,” as they put it, “of-working with Lukas Foss.”
IT WILL be a four-hour concert in six parts, any one of them a major event. The whole program, in fact, is history-making as the first fully-shared concert by a rock group and symphony orchestra.
Also, a far-out light-show outfit from Michigan called Sonovision is bringing in about $4000 worth of equipment including a laser’ beam and prism, for the latest thing in lighting effects on the music hall walls.
The program will open with conductor Foss as guest pianist with the Grateful Dead in a non-improvisation –pianist Foss playing the Bach Concerto in F Minor and the rock artists surrounding him with a rhythmic and electronic counterpoint.
At 7:30 PM “The Dead” will orbit on their own-two drummers, organ, guitars, trumpet, congas-for an hour of their album settings in whatever version inspires them at the time.
AT 8:30 PM Mr. Foss and a battery of sub-conductors will lead the orchestra in the American premiere of the Foss “Geod,” complete with laser show.
At 9 PM “The Dead” will take over again. At 9:40 PM Mr. Foss will conduct Variations II and III by avantgardist John Cage.
Then, 10:15 PM to closing, the Philharmonic and “The Dead” will jam in a musical challenge session. This part of it isn’t exactly clear at the moment, but both groups will be playing, perhaps with some kind of underlying principle in mind.
Unreserved seats throughout the house at $4.50 (there was a previous quotation of $3.50 but that was before the present setup) are available in the Philharmonic box office in the’ music hall, Buffalo Festival ticket office in the Statler Hilton Lobby, Denton, Cottier & Daniels and Norton Hall, UB Campus.
Wednesday, March 18, 1970
Buffalo Evening News
Orchestra’s Rapport With Rock Bands Electrifies Audience
By JAMES BRENNAN
The exact moment the Grateful Dead got their sound together physically sent a sublime shock through Kleinhans Music Hall Tuesday evening.
The shock had a positive impact. It was a happy realization by both the audience and the Dead that the first few amorphous moments of sound-searching had suddenly found a vehicle to ride to inventive heights.
From this metamorphic instance in the Philharmonic Rock Marathon, conceived by Lukas Foss, one could feel the extraordinary rapport between the Dead’s rock and the orchestral prose, and also between both of these and the highly responsive young audience.
For 2,200 in Kleinhans Music Hall, the Dead offered some off their best material in their set’s limited time. After each member analyzed what his fellow Dead were feeling this particular night, the creative improvisation began.
The Dead uses two drummers, Mickey Hart and Billy Kruetzman, to form a “figure 8” of sound around the guitars and organ. This duo broke from the set rhythm of “Dark Star” into a ping-pong drumming contest, adding a new beat with each volley.
They closed the match with a duet synchronizing move for move. Lynn Harbold, Philharmonic percussionist, joined in this number on Hart’s drums doing a fine job.
Jerry Garcia‘s lead guitar had some really sharp and sweet; phrases. He is very contented looking and you’re sure he just has to have dimples under his bushy beard and smile.
Another exciting team is Phil Lesh‘s bass and Bob Weir‘s rhythm guitar. Like a scholar reading his notes, Lesh in wire-rimmed glasses sets down perspicacious bass lines. Weir is constantly moving, with flourishes interweaving around the bass and lead guitars.
Pigpen, the Dead’s organist, brought the clapping crowd to its feet with his “Love Night.” He is the individualistic loner in denim jacket and cowboy hat.
The Road, a group from Buffalo, performed in another section of the marathon. Lead singer Nick DiStephano has a good voice with the rest of the group harmonizing closely in Feelin’ Allright, What a Breakdown and Delta Lady.
As conductor Foss played his Back non-improvisation, the Road came in around him with their wall of sound, providing a bit too much rhythm and shout and not enough free-form experimentation.
The Grateful Dead worked their wave of music more adeptly around this free-form style with a lot more adroit ramifications.
At the end of the programs the Dead showed more experience when two conductors standing back to back, divided the orchestra for a battle. On one half stood Jan Williams with the Road and on the other Lukas Foss and the Grateful Dead.
Effective Light Show
The closing rock-Philharmonic challenge is the most exciting new concept of contemporary music. As the groups and orchestras jammed, the atmosphere was intensified with a laser-beam light show. Rapid patterns and curves of pure light chased along the walls in time with the music like frantic balls of yarn. During this experimental work, a really exciting thing happened – a rock audience finally listening to a symphony group on its own terms suddenly took the initiative and began making music themselves by imitating the instruments and calls of the musicians.
As an evening of rock and symphony avant-garde it was not only entertaining and often exciting, but carved new territory for players and listeners in both styles.
Concert Review by Don Lesser (from http://www.deadbase.com/essays/index.html)
The Grateful Dead, the Yellow Brick Road, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Kleinhan’s Music Hall, Buffalo, NY
circa Winter 1969-1970
We were in school at the State University College at Fredonia (SUC Fredonia) and went up to Buffalo, an hour away, for this concert. Kleinhan’s was a classical music hall in Allentown, the beat section of Buffalo where we were also staying. The premise was a joint experimental concert by the Grateful Dead, a band called the Yellow Brick Road, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Lukas Foss.
Before the concert, we were walking around inside the hall, my friends Neil, Richy, Marc, and my girlfriend at the time, Terry. One thing led to another and Neil began talking to a young woman with wide liquid eyes who said, in response to his question, “Acid? You want acid? Someone gave these to me and told me to give them out.” She gave Neil one and me one. They were pink tabs, so fresh the dust was flaking off. Neil ate his and I split mine with Terry.
The Yellow Brick Road started and they were terrible. A teenie-bopper band with no soul or interesting music. We waited through their set, things becoming more and more interesting. The acid, which I am convinced was Grateful Dead LSD, was the cleanest and purest I can ever remember. Clarity, liquid pictures, and a sense of understanding.
After a pause, the Philharmonic came on. Silence, then a single gong. Down the aisles came tuxedo’d men, each carrying a small triangle, hitting them in unison. Scary and funereal, it seemed to me like the old order which was death. We waited through the piece, trying very much to like it or at least escape from it, but then it was over.
Then the came out. They had to play an abbreviated set and I remember only Not Fade Away, The Other One and Lovelights (and I am only positive about Lovelights). But from the first chord, the room changed completely. Loud, bright electric guitars, two drummers, and soaring, happy music. The new order. Accompanying the show were “Laser Lights” four oscilloscope roses, red, green, blue, and yellow, that swelled and changed with the music. I remember noticing that they were trying to tie the different colors to the different instruments, but that the music kept escaping them.
When the music started, Terry and I leaped to our feet. No one in front of us did and when I looked around, only Neil was dancing. So we sat down again, dancing in our seats. After a couple of songs, we couldn’t stand it and got up. This time we were not alone and soon there was a sea of heads and patrons, the former in liquid glory and the latter in evening dress, all dancing and clapping. Maybe this was Not Fade Away, which always meant more profound love than boyfriend-girlfriend stuff when the Dead did it. It was a night where I felt my consciousness lifted above the audience. The Dead were the conduit, but that they and the audience were being pulled by the music which came from elsewhere. (Port Chester, 1971, was another such evening where we would hear it, they would play it, and we would hear something new which they would then play.) Lovelight ended with a bang and we all looked around, amazed at what had just happened. In those days, there was a sharp line between them and us, but tonight it had been erased. The lights came on for Intermission, and the room had the loud buzz of a good party.
We wandered down front during the break. Bobby, Phil, and Jerry were playing, but more touching strings than playing songs. Like Garcia was playing the pulse of the room. Bobby’s eyes went in different directions and when we invited him back to our friends’ house in Allentown (they wouldn’t mind, right?), he said he had to go back to the hotel. He popped a string, Garcia popped it back and then the three of them fell into the New Speedway Boogie riff. For a long time, I believed they invented it right then, but probably not. As always, the few times we got near to them, awe kept us tongue-tied. We simply stayed in their presence until intermission ended.
In the second half, the orchestra was split in two sections, the Yellow Brick Road was in the front left and the Dead were in the front right. Lukas Foss, the Philharmonic Director, led them on some orchestral space music, pointing to different sections of the musicians to have the music rise and fall. Very experimental and not beatific, but after a while, it was over and the Dead did another set. I remember clearly a Philharmonic drummer sitting in with Billy, while Mickey played various percussion instruments around the stage. A second wave of good feeling that ended when the second Dead set did. They sent word that they were too tired for an encore and everybody got up to go. The Yellow Brick Road offered to play another set, but no one wanted them to and we kept walking.
One of the best yet one of the strangest concerts I’ve seen.
Orchestra, Two Bands In Concert
By Thomas Putnam
The marathon concert with brought together the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and to rock bands – the Grateful Dead and the Road – was a strange imbalance of ecstasy and cool. The program Tuesday night in Kleinhans Music Hall drew a good house – about 2,300 – for a benefit of the orchestra.
People came to hear the Grateful Dead, and indeed, when that group got warmed up it seemed the audience would not be content with anything less than having the Dead finish the concert by themselves.
Speaker fuzziness spoiled the first vocal number, but after the sound system was improved the group went through several numbers with good effect, including a long performance in which the beat had most of the audience clapping and, as space permitted, dancing.
The soundscape of the Grateful Dead is an interesting blend of organ, percussion (drums and resonant gongs) and guitars. Two firecrackers were set off on stage, increasing the excitement. During one number, Philharmonic percussionist Lynn Harbold sat in with the Dead on drums.
Following intermission Foss led a performance of his “Geod” for orchestra. This entailed the use of four additional conductors, and laser-beam light projections created by Sonovision.
If Foss couldn’t give the rock audience the music it wanted, he could try to pass with a light show. But even the light show was soon pale once the few effects had been comprehended.
The idea behind the laser-beams is that they are realizations in color and design of the music sounds. The four colors are green, blue, yellow and red. Starting from a point of color, a design blossoms in nervous lines that
squiggle and dart over walls and ceiling.
The play of lines made the light show something of an animated game. But soon the agitated patterns were not very interesting. (Circular forms, used during the final part of the program, were quite beautiful to see.)
The music of “Geod” requires five conductors to give cues to play audibly and inaudible. Most of the music is very quiet, familiar tunes played against a soft curtain of sustained tones, with snippets of wind phrases for gentle agitation. “Taps,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Going Home” and a very slow “Merrily We Go Along” were some tunes heard.
Sounds included gently singing from the orchestra, organ, harmonica, accordion and mandolin. The audience joined in clapping at one point, and by the end of the performance was making knocking, popping mouth sounds that seemed to fit quite well.
The program ended with an attempt to merge symphony orchestra and rock bands in an improvised jam. It didn’t work very well. Jan Williams and Foss issued spoken directions (“Attention: Attack . . . Gliss downward . . . Vibrato”) which made the performance rather unspontaneous. Only when a rock band came alive did the jam work.
The program began with Foss at the piano, playing Bach in the “Non-Improvisation” with three groups – The Road, members of the orchestra and the Dead. Road played a set, and then there a piece by John Cage, which included a lecture by Cage from loud speakers and live performers strolling through the concert hall.