Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 1

Big Rock Pow Wow '69

Recorded live at SEMINOLE RESERVATION, Hollywood, FL (5/23/69 & 5/24/69)

Released: 2010


Hard to Handle [5:47]
Dark Star > [18:56]
St. Stephen > [9:01]
The Eleven > [10:38]
Turn On Your Lovelight [30:59]

Introduction [4:27]
Turn On Your Lovelight [27:25]
Doin' That Rag > [6:43]
He Was a Friend of Mine (Just A Hand to Hold) > [8:49]
China Cat Sunflower > [5:24]
The Eleven > [8:17]
Death Don't Have No Mercy [7:00]

Morning Dew [9:44]
Me and My Uncle [3:17]
Yellow Dog Story [3:12]
Alligator > [4:00]
Drums > [7:33]
St. Stephen > [5:58]
Feedback > [4:17]
We Bid You Goodnight [3:22]


Liner Notes:

Big Rock Pow Wow ’69

The Forces Tear Loose From the Axis…

This story starts with Jim Morrison’s penis. Specifically, did he or did he not whip it out during a concert at Miami’s Dinner Key Auditorium on March 1, 1969? More than 40 years down the line, we’ll probably never know for sure. In any case, the Lizard King was extremely drunk and disorderly that night and was later hit with an indictment for lewd and obscene behavior. The sensational headlines the episode inspired led to the cancellation of Doors concerts nationwide--but also had a serious chilling effect on rock ‘n’ roll in general in Florida. Municipalities all over the state used the Morrison debacle as an excuse to cancel rock shows, and on March 23, 30,000 clean-cut teens showed up at the Orange Bowl at a “Rally for Decency.”

The Doors concert had been promoted by Ken and Jim Collier, who ran the cool Miami psychedelic nightspot called Thee Image (which the Dead played in April ’68), and a month after the Morrison incident the club was mysteriously shuttered for a few weeks by the nervous landlord. Also, the Colliers’ planned Easter weekend “Expanded Spiritual Music Concert,” to take place at the Dinner Key Auditorium April 5-6, featuring the Grateful Dead and others, was abruptly cancelled. George MacLean, who leased the hall from the city of Miami, told the Associated Press: “[The Grateful Dead] are the same type people and same type music as The Doors. It’s this underground pop music. I don’t think our community could stand another affair such as that.”

Whoa, grim times! But let’s see---where can we stage a hip little music festival where we don’t need the approval of uptight city authorities or require a gaggle of local cops looking for any excuse to start breaking heads or busting folks? The answer to those questions was the Seminole Indian reservation in Hollywood, just north of Miami, and the event was the three-day “Big Rock Pow Wow”--May 23-25 1969--featuring the Grateful Dead as headliners the first two days (Rhinoceros on the third), as well as such acts as Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters, The Youngbloods, Sweetwater, Joe South, NRBQ and Aum. Timothy Leary, who had recently announced his candidacy for governor of California, was also a ubiquitous presence the whole weekend. City cops and Federal agents weren’t allowed on Native American soil without permission; indeed “the authorities” had no jurisdiction over anything that went on there. For their part, the Seminoles were happy to make a little bread from the event, which drew somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 people at its most crowded. (If that sounds small, remember that in the spring of 1969, the Dead were barely known outside of California. They only had two albums out--Aoxomoxoa would be released shortly--and hadn’t gotten much FM airplay yet, so their reputation in Florida was based primarily on their appearances at Thee Image and at the Miami Pop Festival on December 28, 1968.) Many folks camped for a buck in nearby fields and woods on the reservation grounds; others just came in for one of the three shows. A make-shift group calling itself Together Inc., which included a Timothy Leary associate named Anthony, whose brother ran a Miami “head” shop, put the festival together, and some of the people from Thee Image helped with staging and other logistical matters.

The heart of the sprawling reservation was a re-creation of a traditional Seminole village where members of the tribe would demonstrate and sell native crafts and also perform ceremonial music and dances. One of the odder (but most popular) features was a swimming pool where every hour a Seminole brave would “wrestle” a rather tired-looking alligator, which lived in a nearby pen with a couple of his comatose brethren. Alas, there was no alligator-wrestling during the Rock Pow Wow, but the Seminole crafts and music were happening during the daytime, and various non-Seminole artisans and hippie groups were allowed to set up booths and sell their wares. As Denise Fesko’s account of the weekend in the Miami underground paper Strawberry Fields described, “There was a fresh fruit and juice stand, a flower shop and a record concession on one end of the walk bridge. Around the other side of the campfire area were chickees [traditional Seminole huts] operated by Indians making pumpkin bread and stringing bead rings and bracelets and sewing brightly colored clothes…

“The people came and the music began. A sort of perfumed smell filled the air and rose up through the piney trees. The grass covering the ground was so soft and clean that most people dared not mar its face with trampling shoes, but entwined their toes around the clean grass blades. Peace and freedom were no longer trite, overused words, but a reality and a precious gift to the people.”

But that idyllic description doesn’t mention perhaps the key element of the weekend: the orange juice. “There was a huge orange juice machine backstage that probably held ten gallons or more--complimentary orange juice; it’s Florida!” recalls John Blackwell, who was mostly known as Sgt. Pepper back then, and had worked at Thee Image and was wired into the hippie scene in Miami. “So someone got this great idea: Let’s put acid in the orange juice.” Appropriately enough, newly minted “Orange Sunshine” LSD had been spreading like wildfire since the beginning of the year and there was plenty around in South Florida. Blackwell also recalls being given a fistful of mescaline tablets to distribute in the crowd gratis, courtesy of Leary’s entourage. Eventually, cups and containers of the electric juice made it out into the crowd, too, and, Blackwell says, “There was a mass dosing of hundreds of people.”

Wayne Ceballos, leader of the S.F. group Aum, and a friend of the Dead’s from the Warlocks days, recalls, “Everyone who drank the orange juice got messed up. My nephew and I had been drinking Wild Turkey before we drank the orange juice, so you can imagine… Me and Pigpen, who I was really tight with, were drunk and stoned--oh, my God! I remember Bill Kreutzmann and I had this huge deep, conversation about I don’t know what, but they had these big ropes that held up the tarps over the stage and we were holding on to this rope and talking, and all of a sudden I said, ‘Bill, you know what? I try to let go of this rope and I can’t.’ He goes, ‘Wow, I can’t either!’ And we just stood there and laughed and laughed. It was that kind of a day. When [Aum] went on, we were so wasted, we were spittin’ orange juice at each other and laughing our asses off. But then we fuckin’ kicked ass. It was one of the best sets we ever played.”

Banana of The Youngbloods remembers drinking some orange juice during a soundcheck, then heading back to the hotel and spending half an hour or so trying to extricate the band’s hopelessly high drummer, Joe Bauer, from the bathroom. “We were pushing and pulling on the door,” he laughs. “Then it finally occurred to one of us to turn the doorknob.” A couple of acts never made it to the stage at all or had to quit early.

As for the Dead, well, the orange juice was not a problem--just another day at the office! But it’s also easy to hear the bold, slightly reckless psychedelic edge in their playing on these two sets, which feature a healthy chunk of the group’s mid-’69 repertoire, from a ferocious recitation of the (future) classic Live Dead sequence of “Dark Star” > “St. Stephen” > “The Eleven” > “Lovelight,” to “Doin’ That Rag,” “China Cat,” “Alligator” (of course!) and the lovely and relatively rare “He Was a Friend of Mine.” Though the playing on both Dead sets was at times positively feral, writer Fesko noted: “The Grateful Dead were amazing as the final act that [Saturday] night. The people moved smoothly to the serene sounds and sweetness of their notes and then could not keep from standing and dancing and clapping each other’s palms when the Dead played their happy, loud, moving songs.”

Meanwhile around a campfire backstage one night, Leary, members of the Dead and a few others passed around more orange juice and yukked it up. Nearby, Blackwell relates, “The Seminole chief--whose son was a musician, and who led a dance through the grounds for three days straight--was swappin’ lies with a Hell’s Angel, and eventually our crowd [the Dead, etc.] merged in with the chief’s groups, and at one point he gets up and he made us all--this whole crowd, including the Hell’s Angel--honorary Seminole braves! Which frankly we were very honored by at the time; we took it seriously.”

For the Dead, after the Pow Wow it was back to the West Coast for a series of shows. In Florida, though, the impact was profound. Fesko again: “A lot of the good from the Pow Wow has lingered with us and we will take it with us to the next scheduled gathering in Atlanta, Georgia, July 4th and 5th. In fact, this goodness has become embedded so deeply that we will carry it and contain it within us throughout our lives.”

--Blair Jackson


There was a definite NativeAmerican presence in the counterculture of the 1960s.

To be sure, feathers and beads went well with paisley and tie-dye, but it went far beyond the trappings. There was a growing respect and reverence for Indian culture and wisdom, a renewed admiration for tragic heroes like Crazy Horse and Osceola and towers of wisdom like Black Elk and Quanah Parker.

Respect for Mother Earth, seeking your place in the Cosmos. Indian values resonated in the counterculture. There was a Gathering of the Tribes in Golden Gate Park. Rolling Thunder was much more than a revue.

For the smokers, there was Kinnikinnick, a quasi-tobacco blend of native smoking mixtures, such as Mohawk Blend and Old Chippewa Straight. The peace pipe met meditation.

But the more salient connections were yet deeper, more cultural. I recall, back in the day, browsing the shelves in the music section of the Oakland Public Library and having a title catch my eye: Comanche Music. I looked closer. There were also books on Chippewa music, and Yaqui music, and books on the musics of Southwestern, Plains, Great Lakes, and Finger Lakes tribes. Up till then the only context I’d seen many of these names in was Western movies.

I’d discovered the legacy of pioneer musicologist Frances Densmore who, like her colleague Alice Fletcher earlier, studied and even made recordings of Native American music a century ago and more, when there were practitioners of the tradition with a vivid memory of their own vision of what “back in the day” meant.

Our Seminole hosts at the Big Rock Pow Wow generously shared their music with us, chanting their melodies, including one that was appropriate for the McGuire Sisters’ 1957 #1 hit, “Sugartime.” Corporate marketeering aside, I sensed an open, even folksy tone to the expression in their music.

And that’s what we were all about in the sixties--reaching out and opening up.

Remember--this was also a time when the various bands were getting to know each other. This has led to interesting recombinations of musicians, and, for the likes of me, smiling reminiscences.

Like for instance, I fondly remember wandering around “backstage” at the Big Rock Pow Wow (it was outdoors--what do you call it, anyway?) and running into Pigpen, who promptly introduced me to Timothy Leary, who happened to be standing by. At the time Dr. Leary was running for governor of California, and he invited us to play at the inaugural ball.

Like I said. Reaching out and opening up.

Vote wise, America!

--Tom Constanten
September, 2010



JERRY GARCIA: Lead Guitar, Vocals
PHIL LESH: Electric Bass, Vocals
RON "PIGPEN" McKERNAN: Vocals, Percussion
BOB WEIR: Rhythm Guitar, Vocals

Original Recordings Produced by: OWSLEY STANLEY
Produced for release by DAVID LEMIEUX & BLAIR JACKSON
Package Design: STEVE VANCE

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This album was released in November 2010.

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