Steel Cut Oats #10: Back To The Cap, Port Chester ’70

The Steel Cut Oats team has another killer Grateful Dead compilation for us.

Grateful Dead, March 21st, June 24th, and November 8th, 1970
Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, New York

As one sifts through the seemingly endless number of Dead tapes from 1970, a pattern begins to develop – an inordinate amount of available shows are found only in the form of audience recordings as the months pass. So why aren’t there more boards from this year? What happened? ‘The Man’ happened. The law finally caught up with Dead sound engineer Owsley Stanley, and he began a two-year residency at the Terminal Island Correctional Facility in July 1970 for LSD possession charges stemming from a late ’60s bust. Bear’s last known ’70/East Coast tapes were from February’s historic Fillmore East run – found on History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One (Bear’s Choice) and Dick’s Picks, Volume 4. After returning home with the band about two weeks later, Bear was confined by the authorities to California – no doubt the infamous late January New Orleans incident put a further scare into the fuzz. Fortunately, he was able to tape a couple of Fillmore West runs (April/June), and the San Rafael shows (July) before heading to the clink. Beyond mid-summer, the Dead’s board tapes virtually dried up for the rest of the year with a few exceptions, and it seemed the band made a conscious (or financial) decision to stop recording most of their shows for the rest of 1970. Enter Ken and Judy Lee.

During 1970 and 1971, Ken and Judy Lee were employed by concert promoter Howard Stein who operated out of the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York – located about 30 miles from the Fillmore East. Ken worked security while Judy was in charge of running a film projector between sets each night. Prior to each show, Ken would head up to the balcony area, and set up his Sony TC-124 (or TC-110 or TC-120 depending on who you talk to), and secure two microphones to the rail somewhere between five and fifteen feet to the left and right of the cassette deck creating a decent stereo image. Once the show started, Judy would sub in and handle the tape flips, and sometimes send a necessary “shhhh!” towards the exuberant crowd adjacent to the mics. Howard and Ken had struck a rare deal, and Ken was allowed to record each night; however, he was not given permission to circulate the tapes afterwards, as they were agreed to be “for personal use only.” It is estimated that 300 to 500 cassettes were produced during this time.

Judy’s younger brother, Mark Cohen is the final link to the story – he was a huge music fan, and an even bigger Deadhead attending over 350 shows. Mark was aware of the potential goldmine of Capitol Theatre tapes that Ken had stockpiled, but was always unsuccessful in convincing him to release a few into circulation (one exception was the Dead’s second Capitol Theatre stop – June 24th, 1970, Late Show). Ken’s commitment to Howard Stein did not waver for decades, and for the most part, the tapes remained tucked away from the masses. Unfortunately, Mark passed away much too young in late 2002, prompting Ken to reconsider his thirty-plus year obligation to the original agreement. Graciously, and with Mark’s spirit as the inspiration, Ken and Judy began to review and circulate a number of their Capitol Theatre cassettes as a tribute to the memory of their beloved family member – known as “The Port Chester Restoration Project”. Outside of Grateful Dead content, several other tapes with acts ranging from Janis Joplin, Traffic, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd began finding their way in trading circles and on the internet.

The Dead would play seven nights at the Capitol Theatre in 1970 – March 20th and 21st, June 24th, and four consecutive nights from November 5th through the 8th. Each show is noteworthy, but for the purpose of this compilation, three nights were selected – March 21st, June 24th, and November 8th (Dead archivist David Lemieux’s date of birth!) I’d encourage listeners to check out all of the performances as several quality audience recordings (and a SBD of March 20th) are available. A fourth run was scheduled for December 18th through the 20th, but those gigs were postponed by the band until February ’71 – a goofy ‘made for radio apology’ is tacked at the end of the download for your enjoyment. The famed February ’71 shows comprise of widely circulated soundboards in which the performances typically do not measure up to their near perfect audio quality, or to the ferocity of the 1970 visits. However, the first night’s Dark Star/Beautiful Jam and the penultimate evening’s Other One are stunning in their composition, and both should be considered top jams from the era.

In 2012, the Capitol Theatre underwent a massive restoration project that was completed this fall. Although the theater had a brief live music resurgence in the early ‘90s, it seemed that most of the events between then and now ranged from way off-Broadway musicals to Amway conventions. Thankfully, under the guidance and leadership of Peter Shapiro (Wetlands, Brooklyn Bowl), the fully renovated venue is open for business once again. Bob Weir, one of the first acts to reappear at the Cap in September recalled, “The sound was great, and if it sounds good, the band’s going to play good. I remember one ‘Not Fade Away’ that was remarkable. It was just big and thunderous. It was the first time that it really fell together for us.” His comments and zest for the old building match those of other performers and concert-goers in the few months it has been re-opened. Kicking off Steel Cuts Oats #10 is the precise version of NFA that Bobby refers to.

Let’s take a moment to review the delicate framework of the Grateful Dead circa 1970. The breakthrough live album Live/Dead had been released in mid-November of 1969, yet heavy jam vehicles such as The Eleven were already being phased out, and would completely fall off the setlist before the first few months of the new year. The grandfather of all Dead jams – the behemoth Viola Lee Blues – suffered the same fate, one of the last known performances is found on this compilation. In terms of the lineup, keyboardist Tom Constanten split from the band following the New Orleans incident, forcing Pigpen back to the B-3, and relegating the band as a sextet for the first time since ’68. Management wasn’t playing by the rules either. During the recording of Workingman’s Dead – one of two classic Dead albums from the year – Mickey’s father and band accountant, Lenny Hart, ran off with group earnings known to have been close to $150,000.

One glaring bright spot was the wealth of new material moving in and crossing over into country, folk and bluegrass stylings. Tracks like Uncle John’s Band, Friend of The Devil, and Ripple would become classics by the year’s end. Jerry Garcia biographer and Dead historian, Blair Jackson said it best when referring to the time period – “…if you liked rock’n’roll in 1970 but didn’t like the Dead, you were out of luck, because they were inescapable that summer and fall”. Fittingly, Blair’s first Dead show happened to be March 20th, 1970 from the Cap. Significant radio airplay (Truckin’, Box of Rain, Sugar Magnolia) would set the group out on the road for more shows than any other year in their career. To give a perspective between studio sessions, album releases, and the featured Port Chester shows, a 1970 timeline is provided below:

Recording of Workingman’s Dead (February) > March 21st performance > release of Workingman’s Dead (June 14th) > June 24th performance > recording of American Beauty (August/September) > release of American Beauty (November 1st) > November 8th performance

1970 was also one of two touring years in which acoustic sets were added to the festivities. As gentler and homespun songwriting began to influence the tunes, it’s clear that the band’s newfound creativity would be best suited to an acoustic forum. This format worked very well in a live setting – to a degree. As heard here after Ripple, the restless audience would sometimes react wildly between songs, prompting Bob or Jerry to settle down the crowd by employing a mix of scorn and dry humor.

Candyman, Black Peter (I consider the version captured here to be their definitive acoustic rendition), and Uncle John’s Band are played prior to their official album release, so there’s a good chance that these performances were ‘first time heard’ by a decent portion of the audience. Uncle John’s Band – from the March 21st show – is certainly the most polarizing moment of the acoustic set. Possibly recognizing the soon-to-be classic from the night before, Judy shhh-bombs the neighbors in order to get the tape as clean as possible. As with some of the material from this particular acoustic set, an unknown ‘balcony rail tapper’ adds his own percussion to the music. It’s only slightly annoying, but does add a certain charm to these old field recordings. As Garcia leads the band through an excellent version, you can sense the crowd ready to explode, and prior to the final chorus, they can’t be contained any longer. This is one of those moments that transforms you to the heart of the theater’s enthusiastic vibe, and another classic is born. To close the set, Bobby Weir cajoles the crowd to bring Pigpen out on stage to deliver a wonderful and note-perfect Katie Mae – another definitive take.

It’s difficult to put into words just how powerful the electric portions are. The Not Fade Away > Easy Wind opener sets the table for the scene – a raucous crowd, excellent grooves, tons of telepathy, and Pigpen as the anchorman. What is documented here brilliantly is the audience as a participant throughout the sets. As often as they can be heard wailing away (New Orleans, Midnight Hour, or simply play St. Stephen!!), they also become pin-drop silent during some the best and most critical passages – November 8th’s Dark Star > Main Ten (my favorite portion of the compilation) combo is the best sample of the tension/release that bounces between the band and their muse. These are moments that can only be accounted via an audience recording coupled with the theater’s amazing acoustics – the little percussion bits that are tucked all over this collection also deserve mention, too. Ken Lee’s personal favorite show – June 24th – offers an insane suite of music that any setlist snob could not possibly complain about. Dark Star > Attics > Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Dark Star > St. Stephen > China Cat > I Know You Rider. The Sugar Mag is still wet behind the ears, but their confidence was on such a high level, caution was thrown to the wind in the midst of an amazing hour of Grateful Dead. Standalone tracks such as Morning Dew and Dancin’ In The Streets are also brilliantly played – both are at the top of the list of peak/best of ’70 versions. Of course, only Pigpen could close the place down with an uber-rare Midnight Hour > Lovelight pairing – he’s got the mojo working from start to finish, leaving the exhilarated crowd wanting more.

In 2009, Ken Lee reminisced about his Capitol Theatre taping days, “….at the end of the night, we both actually got paid for our participation and then home we went in my silver 1964 Mustang, listening to the fresh masters through the stereo on the headphone jacks I had installed around the inside of the car, driving into the dawn and home laughing at having caught lightning in a bottle.”

Neil Young speaks of this exact magic on one of his new numbers, Twisted Road, found on his recent Psychedelic Pill album, “…walkin’ with the devil on a twisted road, listenin’ to the Dead on the radio, that old time music used to soothe my soul, if I ever get home, I’ll let the good times roll.” Let the good times roll, indeed. Get home and play this loud. Enjoy.

Mountain Jam Tuning (JL)
Intro by Steve Parrish (JL)
Not Fade Away (JL) ->
Easy Wind (JL)
Me and My Uncle (JL)
Dark Star (JL) ->
Attics of My Life (JL) ->
Dark Star (JL) ->
Sugar Magnolia (JL) ->
Dark Star (JL) ->
St. Stephen (JL) ->
China Cat Sunflower (JL) ->
I Know You Rider (JL)
Dancin’ In The Streets (ML)
Big Boss Man (ME)
Viola Lee Blues (ME) ->
The Seven (ME) ->
Cumberland Blues (ME)

Don’t Ease Me In (JE)
Dark Hollow (N)
Rosalie McFall (N)
Candyman (JE)
Black Peter (ML)
Ripple (N)
Friend Of The Devil (N)
Wake Up, Little Susie (ML)
Uncle John’s Band (ML)
Katie Mae (ML)

Morning Dew (N)
New Orleans (N) ->
Searchin’ (N)
Truckin’ (N) ->
Dark Star (N) ->
The Main Ten (N) ->
Dancin’ In The Streets (N)
Cosmic Charlie (ML)
St. Stephen (ML) ->
Not Fade Away (ML) ->
St. Stephen Jam (ML) ->
China Cat Jam (ML) ->
Not Fade Away (ML)
Casey Jones (N)
In The Midnight Hour (ML) ->
Turn On Your Lovelight (ML)
And We Bid You Good Night (ML)

ME – March 21st, 1970, Early Show
ML – March 21st, 1970, Late Show
JE – June 24th, 1970, Early Show
JL – June 24th, 1970, Late Show
N – November 8th, 1970

Jerry Garcia – electric and acoustic lead guitar, vocals
Mickey Hart – drums
Bill Kreutzmann – drums
Phil Lesh – electric bass, vocals
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan – vocals, organ, percussion, harmonica, acoustic guitar
Bob Weir – electric and acoustic rhythm guitar, vocals
“Oat Note” – additional percussion is found on the March 21st acoustic portions (ML) provided by an unidentified ‘balcony rail tapper’…..shhhhh!

Joe Kolbenschlag
November 6th, 2012

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5 Responses

  1. 6/24/70– yep that’s the lightning in a bottle. I love how the audience gets clapping and all pumped up….”Mickey has to get his gongs set up…we are gonna do dark star”

  2. Beautiful tribute to the Capitol Theater 1970 run. Love this. I love the June 70 show with the Mountain Jam. It’s some of the greatest music this year has to offer.

  3. I must say that this is a stellar recap of the events. I wish I was there but listening to it in 2012 will suffice.


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