Sunday, February 24, 2008

a really ROCKIN' Grateful Dead concert at Raceway Park, Englishtown, NJ, 4 years after Watkins Glen

(above) 107,000 paying customers brought this prized ticket to the show
(no freebee entries that day, unlike Watkins Glen four years before) (above and two below) the boyz (and one lady) from Marin County, CA visit New Joisey;
note the Cyclops skull backdrop, referencing Terrapin Station, their new album
photos copyright Bryce Westover
(above) likely a bootleg tee, but a fond souvenir of one of the greatest Dead shows
(above and below) most agree, Garcia was on fire that day;
if you were suitably tweaked, you could see smoke rising from his Travis Bean guitar

(above) the Dead, during the recording of Terrapin Station, Spring, 1977
(above) a rare record store promo mobile for Terrapin Station
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Raceway Park, one of drag racing's premier East Coast facilities, opened in July, 1965, located between the towns of Old Bridge (in Middlesex County) and Englishtown (across the border in Monmouth County). Today the track is known as Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. It was conceived by brothers Vincent Napp and Louis Napp (along with Vincent's sons, Vincent Jr. and Richard) to introduce major league drag racing to the New York Metropolitan area (New York City itself being only fifty miles away).
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The proposed site was a 308-acre farm on Pension Road, in the middle of what would become rapidly expanding central New Jersey, not far from coastal cities like Asbury Park (Monmouth County being Bruce Springsteen country; the Boss went to high school in Freehold, maybe 20 minutes away from Englishtown, so a lot of racing in the streets took place in those parts).
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Long days of earthmoving in early 1965 created a level racing surface then 60 feet wide and 4,150 feet long, followed by the first permanent grandstands, staging areas, the timing tower, and race fan amenities. Opening day was hot and humid, typical for mid-summer New Jersey, but the race fans' joy was evident. Only a few years later, in 1968, NHRA held its Springnationals at Raceway Park, followed by the first of many Summernationals beginning in 1971. Crowds of more than 85,000 consistently jammed the facility for the biggest events, and in 1996 a second drag strip was added.
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Even the New York Times acknowledged that Raceway Park was THE place for drag race car lovers from all over the Northeast. And legions of fans all could sing the radio refrain that always ended in . . . RACEWAY PARK!! BE THERE!!!.
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When the facility opened, a local newspaper said its "isolated location, bordered by acres and acres of untouched woodland makes it ideal for the noise-making business of the science of speed." But by the 1970s the vaunted isolation was rapidly receding, and within 20 years more than 25,000 people lived within three miles of the track. While a 1971 state noise ordinance exempted automobile racing, ten years later an appeals court slapped strict decibel limits on the track, and the issue of noise vs. homeowners (and tax revenues vs. peace and quiet) has been a bitter matter ever since.
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So it was no surprise that when concert promoter John Scher decided to hold a major rock concert adjacent to the track on September 3, 1977 that more fur would fly as well. (editor's note: to my knowledge, it was the only such music event that ever took place at Raceway Park. But it was a memorable one, especially for the fans of the good ol' Grateful Dead).
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Throughout 1976 and early 1977, the Dead were engaged in recording a monumental exercise that became the song (and album) Terrapin Station. It was produced by Keith Olsen, only the second time in the band's recording history that an outside producer had been engaged. Among all its ambitious intentions, orchestration (horn parts and string parts) was employed both to the delight and consternation of the fans, known worldwide as the Dead Heads. (editors note: when the song was played live, there was no backing orchestra). A spring, 1977 tour that heralded Terrapin Station was well received.
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But the Dead were unable to tour during the period when the album was actually released (late July, 1977), because of injuries sustained by drummer Mickey Hart in an automobile accident. So lead guitarist Jerry Garcia played shows with the JGB (Jerry Garcia Band) in Northern California and on the East Coast while Hart recuperated. But then, in early September, the Dead returned to New Jersey to play their biggest outdoor gig since Watkins Glen (see previous blog).
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This Jersey show would take place in a field next to Raceway Park, with the New Riders of the Purple Sage opening, followed by the Marshall Tucker Band. The event drew 107,000 paying customers (although some believe the actual attendance was 150,000+), and was broadcast live on the New York City radio giant WNEW-FM. Furthermore, as many critics since have noted, "for a change, the group played sensationally before the huge crowd." This opinion was based on the fact that the Dead themselves hated their performance at Woodstock in 1969 (and refused to let their music be part of the record or film) and were not exactly thrilled by what was recorded at Watkins Glen. However, the Dead did play, happily, at the Scher-promoted Roosevelt Stadium on several occasions, just outside Jersey City.
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"We--the Dead and my production company--had outgrown Roosevelt Stadium," remembered promoter John Scher of Monarch Entertainment ("the Bill Graham Presents of the East Coast").
"We always thought the Dead could draw 100,000 people on their own, which was pretty much an unprecedented thing at the time, for anybody. But, being the Dead, they wanted to do it on their own terms. And neither Woodstock nor Watkins Glen was entirely on their terms."
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"Of course," continued Scher, "The people in the closest town (Englishtown) freaked out when they heard about this show. It was your classic hippie-versus-the-straight-community conflict. We were in court virtually every day, the townspeople trying to enjoin us. Ultimately we prevailed, and the interesting thing was, one of the neighboring towns defied a court order and essentially closed down one of their main thoroughfares by ripping up the street. All that did was create even more hassle, when people attempted to park their cars before hiking miles to the show."
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To keep gate crashers at bay (remember Woodstock and Watkins Glen, where hundreds of thousands of fans pushed their way over temporary and insubstantial fences, creating essentially free concerts), Scher's employees created an impenetrable ring of trans-ocean shipping containers (what you see carried by semi-trucks), two high, around the full perimeter of the field. It was a forbidding sight but it worked. An enormous "cyclops" stage backdrop was unveiled when the Dead came on, signalling that a treat was to take place . . . one of the first major renditions of Terrapin Station, as what turned out to be an unusual "third set" encore.
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RACEWAY PARK or ENGLISHTOWN (depending on who remembers the event) was a one-day production with virtually no camping and little hassle, and it went altogether smoothly even while the day was hot and humid, water and food basically ran out, much of the psychedelicized crowd was sunburnt to a crisp, and roads, driveways, and every available parking space for miles around were stacked with cars and Dead Heads. But the essential point was: the Dead's music was great, absolutely first-rate, spot-on, tight, and memorable . . . highlights being "Mississippi Half Step," "Eyes of the World," "Not Fade Away," "Truckin'" (which had not been played in several years), and of course "Terrapin Station." Everyone who was there said Jerry Garcia, the band's key element, was in outrageously good form. A CD later was issued of the Dead's sets: DICK'S PICKS VOLUME 15, which today is regarded as one of the very best in the long series.
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That fall, the Dead toured extensively, hitting seven western states along with cities in the Midwest and along the East Coast. Most of the concerts were up to the high level that marked the spring leg and Englishtown. As author Blair Jackson later noted, "They played the University of Oklahoma during homecoming week, drawing just about every hippie from within 200 miles of Norman, as well as thousands of curious students made aware of the Dead's reputation as a supreme party band."
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As with Watkins Glen, there are literally hundreds of reminiscences concerning that day from fans, available to read on the Dead's website. But there's one I found at http://www.tuckerhead.com/englishtown_review.htm that in many ways sums up the experience, this from Kenneth A. Kaufman:
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"RACEWAY PARK, ENGLISHTOWN, NJ, 9/3/77. In the summer of 1977, I was a young and budding Dead Head, just licensed to drive, spending much of the summer cruising around and altering my consciousness. Scarcely months before, I'd attended my first rock concert.
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"[Around that time], I was seriously wearing a groove in more than one Dead album. So when the man on the radio announced a Dead show with the New Riders and Marshall Tucker at a place somewhere in New Jersey that I only knew of from countless number of drag racing radio ads [that were in constant rotation], well, you can bet I was quite interested in going.
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"I don't know if I needed or actually got permission from my mother to go to this thing, but one way or another, I got a ticket--general admission, all the tickets were--and eventually so did my friend Scott, the fellow who has the distinction of first turning me on to the Dead. My mom let me take her '73 Duster, a tank compared to my regular wheels (a piece-of-crap Vega that ate a can of oil a day and later died ignominiously on I-95). This provided for smooth travel. We were so sophisticated, we even brought a little portable tape recorder with a lousy copy of a Passaic, NJ Dead show that was on the radio a few months before.
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"The Raceway Park show was set to start at 1:30 pm. We hit the road pretty early in the morning. This was a good thing, for there was just one little road running the last five miles into basically rural New Jersey where the concert would be. When we got close-in, like maybe 3 miles away, we couldn't go faster than an idle (glad I was driving Mom's automatic!), due to the throngs who were walking down the middle of every street. Eventually we, and countless others, simply pulled off the side of the road, parked as best we could, and joined the parade.
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"We found the gates, getting us onto an enormous field ringed by shipping containers and dotted by a dozen speaker towers. We managed to get within a hundred years of the stage. We were literally in the middle of a sea of heads stretching off a quarter-mile in each direction. I was getting a glimmer of what Woodstock must have been like.
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"The highlight of the show had to have been the three-song medley that made up the last 45 minutes of the second set. It started with a long, smooth, mellow "He's Gone" that led into a jam that gradually picked up in pace and intensity, ultimately giving birth to a smoking "Not Fade Away." Great jams throughout the song, but it will be long remembered for the end of the first verse when Donna Godchaux put together her last ounces of energy and sent forth her most famous primal scream. Out of tune, of course, but intense.
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"After NFA, there was a momentary pause, then a fanfare on drums, then . . . "Truckin'" No big deal nowadays, but this was the band's first since the 1975 hiatus. There was such excitement in the air, the crowd absolutely rocked. And then they encored with "Terrapin."
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"On our way out, we encountered a Dead Head in search of a ride to Paramus, up in Bergen County. Given our present enhanced state, we had no objection to going an extra 20 miles up the Parkway. He quickly fell asleep in the back seat. Somewhere along the highway he woke up; our little tape recorder was belting out "What's Become of the Baby." Our poor passenger seemed about to freak out when the knowledge hit him. He sighed, "Oh, Aoxomoxoa" (meaning, he remembered the Dead's third album), and was all right from there on in.
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"This was a huge day in all respects. The show had made an enormous splash in the local media, complete with helicopter shots on the evening news. Our parents were amazed. For at least this teenager, it was a major rite of passage. There was a certain new-found independence, an unshackling with respect to taking long journeys (for one thing), that was effected that day. For years afterwards, articles and photos from the great New York tabloids, the Daily News and the Post, proudly were pinned to the wall of my bedroom. I'd myself go on to attend, subsequently, over 50 Dead shows."
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According to the Dead's publicist, Dennis McNally, Jerry Garcia conceived the idea for the song "Terrapin Station" while driving across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge connecting Marin County and the East Bay, north and east of San Francisco. Songwriter Robert Hunter said of "Terrapin" that he wrote Part One at a single sitting in an unfurnished house with a picture window overlooking San Francisco Bay during a flamboyant lightning storm. Hunter later told McNally, "I typed the first thing that came into my mind at the top of the page, the title: Terrapin Station."
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Continued Hunter, "On the same day, driving on the East Shore freeway near Berkeley, Garcia was struck by a singular inspiration. He turned his car around and hurried home to Marin to set down some music that popped into his head, demanding immediate attention. When we met the next day, I showed him the words and he said, 'I've got the music.' The words and music dovetailed perfectly, and Terrapin (the album's second side) edged into this dimension."
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Here are a few links to read more Dead Head stories about the Dead at Englishtown and how the journey to and from the site was once again one of cars and music intertwined.
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(a great reminiscence, first crossing the George Washington Bridge, en route)
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and, my final word about this is . . . it was held on my 26th birthday! Six summers later, my GRATEFUL DEAD BOOK OF THE DEAD HEADS (co-authored with my photographer brother Jonas and our book designer friend Cynthia Basset) would be graced by Jerry Garcia's foreword, and go on to stay in print for 24 years afterwards.

25 comments:

TheDeadTour.com said...

Can't wait to see them at Madison Square Garden! I found their tour schedule & already found tickets over at www.TheDeadTour.com :)

Kevin said...

Titlebuam saw that show!

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Walter said...

Myself and 6 friends went. We took my 1957 International Step in Van, you know like a hot dog truck (hand painted yellow) with a great Steal Your Face painting in the side window. The show was phenomenal. We all got separated and lost looking for the van after the show which was parked several miles away in a church parking lot. As I wandered about the corn fields trying to find my van I was dying of thirst. I noticed a large crowd gathered behind the trailer of a semi. There was a guy selling water melons from that truck for a buck a piece. I bought one and smashed it open on a curb and ate it with my hands. Evetually an Englishtown cop picked me up as I wandered down a dark country road. I explained where I thought my van was and he drove me right to it. Some, not all, of my buds made it back to the van by daybreak. We went into town and found people sleeping on the steps of the First National Bank of Englishtown. Not a drop of gas nor a speck of food (of any sort) was to be had in the town. Odd to walk into a grocery store and see nothing but empty shelves. Luckily we had enough gas to make it out of town and to a gas station some miles away. One of my buddies actually hitched to a train station that night and took a train back to the Island. No cell phones back then so we just had to trust he would be ok, and he was. All in all a very memorable (from what I actually CAN remember) day and night of music and fun.

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Anonymous said...

Man I was at the show and there were more like 250,000 at the show, maybe I was seeing double but that's what I saw...

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Annie said...

I was there, and the newspapers said 250K in attendance (you're right Anonymous). I cut out the Wilmington Delaware Journal front page article but didn't keep it unfortunately. I was reported as the largest festival since Woodstock. I went with three friends in a station wagon and camping the night before was HUGE, don't where the "non existent camping" opinion came from. We were only 17 years old and it is still one of the greatest memories of our lives.

Bill said...

Bill Long Island was at that show long time ago some many roads so many shows from there to futher in mexico last year but that was one of the best shows can remember that and Shea's theater in buffalo New York same year much smaller show though . Really think the dead were at there peak at that time. Funny and now it comes down to some crazy numbers on tickets to Chicago if you can even get tickets wow what would Jerry have to say

Anonymous said...

I was in attendance at that amazing concert, the sound system was considered state of the art for that time. It consisted of twelve speaker platforms provided by Alembic sound a musical instrument company. Each tower had the name of a month of the year, I would imagine so you could find your way back yo the spot you were at. My girlfriend and I slept in a sleeping bag on the ground inside the man-made stockade built with 40 Foot overseas container units.Luckily we had the forethought to bring food in coolers because that became non existent rapidly. The restroom facilities basically were about 50 or so porta potties for a crowd of 100' 000 plus so the lines which consisted of mostly all females were very long , my girlfriend was pretty cool with it suprisingly! They say there is nothing to compare a Grateful Dead Concert to, and this show was definitely where that expression derived from! We had to leave before the Dead rapped it up and I remember hearing them playing like you had a portable radio in your hand as we walked about two or more miles back to our car! The New Riders of the Purple Sage also played a great set as did The Marshall Tucker Band, I remember the N. Y. Daily News had a centerfold spread aerial view of the concert field , I wish I had saved it , but my memories of that experience will stay in my brain forever!

Anonymous said...

Many years later while working at a company I met a local resident of the exact area that the Englishtown Dead Show took place at, He said after that concert a lot of the locals with livestock claimed that their cows and pigs , etc. we're very contented beings , could the Dead,s musical vibration from the incredible sound system been the catalyst! He also said that everyone would never allow any type of event like that concert to be held at the raceway anytime soon! What a long strange trip it,s been! I did attend the show myself and met people from all walks of life and from as far away as New Mexico and Washington state ! 1977 still remains that special time and place where the music never stops! This also was the first of my many Dead shows , so it also became most memorable and nostalgic! To this day the remainder of Grateful Dead band members continue to perform gigs and I can always tell when they are in town! An invasion of hippies and hipsters and frolickers carry the message of counter culture music scene behavior or a distinct vibe of some sort! Hey! It,s all good .

Anonymous said...

In my former hometown is a concert venue that back in the day was a favorite of Jerry Garcia,s to play at. The Capitol Theater is now totally remodeled with all up to date amenities , bells and whistles! Jerry ,s daughter helped open a dedicated nightclub named after her father named Garcia,s which hosts Dead tribute and cover bands among other types of music.So now along with headline acts at the adjoining Capitol Theater right next door is a Dead Heads delight quite a few nights a week. The spirit of Jerry is very much in the atmosphere there as I would estimate when the original venue , which was housed where the current one is , the Dead was like the house band! If those walls could talk everybody would listen!

Anonymous said...

Our group of merry pranksters arrived the night before on Friday and what a scene , we can share the women and we can share the wine was the theme.We hung out and did what everybody was doing getting primed for the show the next day. The crowd got so rowdy that instead of opening the gates at noon, the were forced to let the crowd in at like 5:00 A.M. Saturday morning. We got in after a contraband check , we prepared for this by stashing the goodies on the bottom of four different coolers.As soon as we staked our claim we crashed in our sleeping bags and woke up around 10:00 A.M. A little while later an introduction was made and the New Riders where cranking out their set.They played quite awhile and got the crowd awoken that was still zonked out.Then the Marshall Tucker Band got the crowd really ready for anything , I do believe the massive sound reinforcement system in place may not have been activated yet. Well that afternoon around 3:30 or so the Grateful Dead hit the stage and away we went into a time warp back to 1967 only this was Labor Day weekend 10 years later! It was an event that made the history books , a child was born , I don,t think anyone died and the caravan of Dead followers went to the next stop on the road trip!

Anonymous said...

That " Summers End Concert " as it billed and printed on the ticket stub was actually a well behaved scene except for the occasional moron who deserved a little lesson in modified behavior due to the substance they ingested too much of.I distinctly remember one dude who thought he could scale himself over the top of one those container boxes that corralled the whole event. Well a very burly security person who was not what I would consider professional , threw the poor guy right off the top just as he also kicked him dead square in the face.The bloody faced gate crasher just lay there and a couple of good Samaritans helped him to his feet and got him on his way. What a bummer probably just left and realized that the security guys are paid to keep free loaders out! The tickets were only ten bucks for three great bands , the show lasted about ten hours from start to finish less breaks and equipment setup time. I wish I had saved the little handbills that were passed out , giving the details of the powerful sound system that was present at this show. I do know it was an Alembic product , this company is probably most recognized for the bass guitars they make, which are a top of the line in the music industry.

Anonymous said...

I do know that there are several copies of bootleg recordings of this show! As there are probably thousands of Dead shows available on the internet these days. Back then a lot of music enthusiasts would bribe the sound board engineer with money or head goodies so they could plug right into the mixing board and get a decent recording. And I do know that the Grateful Dead would not care about the copyright infringement and that nonsense as their music is your music!

Anonymous said...

1977 was a year of tragedy as well , the Freebird fell from the sky on October 20 th that year and I remember that night listening to the radio and the D.J. On WNEW -FM announced that Lynyrd Skynryd ,s plane had crashed down South . When I found out that Ronnie Van Zant was killed I broke down and cried like a baby. We lost a true legend that fateful evening due to the fact the show must go on! Fast forward to 1995 then Jerry Garcia passes away ! Captain Trips as he was frequently referred to as.I did see Jerry and Bob Weir on David Lettermen when they where in NYC doing the string of shows at Radio City Music Hall in 1980 s . So anyway while on Lettermen he asked Jerry about why he is known as Captain Trips, Jerry,s response was if the name is appropriate then why not! I believe He and Bob played "Friend of the Devil " that night on Lettermen.

Anonymous said...

I worked for Monarch Entertainment from 1976-1979. We did many shows with the Dead( Capital Theater, Roosevelt Stadium, Pirates Ball), Englishtown being among them. Hard to believe it's been almost 40 years since that show. We work d for over 3 weeks preparing the site. One of the few treats was that after we set up the sound system( about 4 days prior to the actual concert) the Dead showed up and did sounds checks, so we got to hear them play for many hours. They practiced Trucking for a bunch of hours. Must have listened to the opening 20 times. I remember watching Gerry standing alone on stage just playing millions of scales, for hours. He loved the sound...Crazy hot the entire 3 weeks..They set us up in trailers to sleep and had a wonderful chef, Cy, prepare great meals for us. Worked our asses off, but show day was a treat! 99% of the work was done, and all of the equipment ( except for the band''s instruments) didn't need to be moved that night (a rarity) just some video stuff from the towers. We had 12 towers, designated January, February, March, etc. each loaded with enough sound for 10,000 people. They were in 2 rings, with a time delay, set to avoid any distortion for the people in the back. I remember having to mark out how many feet apart they needed to be. Some Owsley engineering. We were paid well ( paid for a semester of college with my check for the gig) Couldn't tell you how many times I've seen them play between sound checks and actual concerts, but I know I've never heard 'em play better. They were all in great moods, and ready to play. Good times, to be sure...