Seasonal Dead Disorder, Part 1: ‘Dark Star,’ 5/14/74

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The Grateful Dead, taken at the Hartford Civic Center, May 1977. From left to right: Phil Lesh, Donna Jean Godchaux, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia. (Peter Simon Photo.)

The Grateful Dead, taken at the Hartford Civic Center, May 1977. From left to right: Phil Lesh, Donna Jean Godchaux, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia. (Peter Simon Photo.)

It happens every spring, without fail: I go on a huge Grateful Dead tear.

I don’t know why it happens, but it does. (I tried to figure it out a couple of years ago when I reviewed the documentary “Dawn of the Dead: the Grateful Dead and the Rise of the San Francisco Underground.”) Still, it’s only February. Why are the symptoms showing up already?

Maybe the outside world is to blame for the glitch. Last Sunday, the Courant published a photo gallery of historically important rock concerts in Connecticut, which I assembled with CTNow managing editor John Adamian. One of those shows was the Dead’s May 28, 1977 show at the Hartford Civic Center, which was released as “To Terrapin: Hartford ’77” by Rhino Records a few years ago.

The gallery drew some nice feedback from readers. Andy Buck from Farmington wrote in with this comment (reproduced with his permission):

“I just read your article in Sunday’s paper about how memorable the 1977 Hartford Dead concert was. I would propose that the Dead concert at Dillon Stadium in 1972 [7/16/72] was more important historically. At that concert, three members of the Allman Brothers played a few songs with the Dead. That planted of the seed in the minds of [Jim] Koplik/[Shelly] Finkel that would grow into the concert at Watkins Glen a year later [7/28/73, also known as Summer Jam]. That concert was not only memorable for the three bands that played there (the Dead, the Band and the Allmans), but – surprisingly to most people – the attendance was bigger than it was for Woodstock. I wasn’t there but I heard a lot about it before and after it happened. It truly was a landmark in the history of rock and it started in Hartford and was arranged by two local guys, the aforementioned promoters.”

Radio DJ Chris Cowles, whose Greasy Tracks radio show on WRTC is absolutely incredible, wrote in with a link to New Haven photographer Jim Anderson’s website. It’s jam-packed with pictures taken at the Dead’s 7/31/74 show at Harttord’s Dillon Stadium (and many other area Dead shows). He’s also listed as one source of existing tapes of the show (hear it over at

“If memory serves me well,” Cowles wrote, “the Dillon ‘74 show was nearly four hours in length and I think they did around 30 songs that day. A lot looser than the ‘77 Civic Center show, but according to friends who saw both dates, despite the heat of that July day in 1974, it was a very impressive show. Granted, the entire ‘77 concert year was sheer brilliance, but a lot of people have overlooked some of those ‘74 shows.”

Another prompt: A couple of weekends ago, the annual meeting of the Grateful Dead Scholars Caucus took place in Albuquerque, N.M. I couldn’t attend (maybe next year), but my friend — scholar Heather Laurel — presented the incredible May 14, 1974 “Dark Star” (which was recently released as part of Vol. 9 of the Dave’s Picks series) at the listening session. A few days earlier, she’d asked if I’d draw a chart of what I heard going on in that “Dark Star” (see the chart here). At the session, she projected it on a screen and directed everyone through it with a laser pointer. It went over well, and even got a nice shout-out from session chair David Gans on his Sirius/XM show “Tales from the Golden Road” (about four minutes).

And so, the Dead-listening has taken hold, and I suppose I’m ready for spring (who isn’t). I’ve been listening to the various “Europe ’72” volumes that recently showed up on Spotify (are they rolling out all the shows from the massive box set from a few years ago? I hope that’s the case…), singing in the shower, playing the guitar and holding out for sunshine.

Stretch out for half an hour with the 5/14/74 “Dark Star” (below — and OMG, the “China Doll” that follows). Keep looking up. 

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