The winter and spring of 1969 was a particularly exciting time for the Grateful Dead. They were finishing up their long-awaited third album, Aoxomoxoa, and playing with a passionate intensity unequaled in their nearly five years together. The group’s epic Fillmore West run at the end of February gave us most of their masterpiece, Live Dead — not to mention the gargantuan, out-of-print, 10-CD Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings (and the superb 3-CD compilation from those shows). This is the era when “Dark Star” really blasted off into space, when tunes like “St. Stephen” and “The Eleven” were peaking (along with the audience!), and just about every night was a wild adventure for both the crowd and the band. The Dead played 146 shows that year—the most of any year—criss-crossing the country a couple of times and playing all sorts of interesting and far-flung destinations, blowing minds at every bend in the road.
Without a doubt one the coolest places the Dead played that year was the Seminole Indian Reservation in Hollywood, Florida, just north of Miami, at a rock festival known as the Big Rock Pow Wow, May 23-25, 1969. The Dead headlined the first two days of the festival, and their complete sets from the Pow Wow, recorded by the Dead’s inimitable soundman in that era—Owsley “Bear” Stanley—are spread across the three discs that constitute Road Trips Vol. 4, No. 1. Whoo-hoo!
The much-loved Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band had a relatively brief life—fewer than 30 shows from the summer of ’87 to the summer of ’88—but in that time they made an indelible impression on every person who encountered their warm and inviting blend of folk, old-time country, blues and bluegrass music. The roots of the group went back to the early ’60s, when Garcia, David Nelson and Sandy Rothman were all part of the Bay Area folk scene; indeed, the three of them played together in a group called the Black Mountain Boys in 1964. When Garcia slipped into a coma and nearly died in 1986, Nelson and Rothman were among the old friends who helped Jerry get his chops back in the weeks following his release from the hospital. They reconnected on many levels—including musically—and that led to the decision in 1987 to put together a small group (they added John Kahn on standup bass) and play some gigs. Beginning in mid-October ’87 the newly dubbed Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band played 18 shows at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, sharing the bill with the (electric) Jerry Garcia Band. David Kemper from the JGB added some percussion to the mix, and a few shows into the Broadway run, fiddler Kenny Kosek was added to the line-up. A month after the Broadway triumph, the full JGAB played three shows each at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco and the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.