Monday, January 20, 2014

Grateful Dead, Sufi Choir, Whirling Dervish Dancers and Yogi Bhajan. Winterland, 3/24/71.

By March of 1971, it had been a good seven months since I had seen the Grateful Dead, and several months since I had been to any large concerts.  A mid-week trip to Discount Records produced a handbill that showed the Dead playing at Winterland that evening, along with a mysterious crew including Yogi Baijan, the Sufi Choir, and the Whirling Dervish Dancers.  Although it was the middle of a school week, and I had never driven to San Francisco by myself,  I entreated my parents to let me go, and they assented, provided I could find someone to go with me. I asked a school friend, Tom, who had never seen the Dead, if he wanted to go, and he miraculously got permission from his parents to go with me, and by 8 PM or so, we were off on 101 towards Winterland.

Walking into the already darkened hall, it became immediately evident that this would not be a typical concert. On the stage were a number of robed, bearded gentlemen chanting around a roaring fire that sent flames high into the air inside what was famously a huge wooden firetrap.   Decades later, taking Yoga classes in Chicago, I learned what a major cultural force Yogi Bhajan and his Kundalini Yoga movement had become.  I can’t identify Bhajan in the photos I took, and another bespectacled gentleman led the chanting, so it is possible that he was not even there. Regardless, the spectacle certainly made a strong impression at the time.
Ceremonial Fire Winterland 3.24.71 Photo: M. Parrish
One can guess that the fire marshalls were not in attendance at that point. We found seats in the balcony and listened to the ceremony which, being mostly in Sanskrit, didn’t mean much to me at the time.

Once the chanting was finished, the fires were quenched (whew!) and the stage cleared for the Sufi Choir.  This group, conducted by William Allaudin Mathieu, came together as a group of followers of spiritual mystic Samuel Lewis, whose followers called him Mursid. The group was a true choir, that persisted under Mathieu’s direction from 1969 until 1983.  After performing several beautiful pieces on their own, the choir was joined by Dead members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzmann for their last two pieces. The Dead members provided delicate droning chords below the choir’s angelic harmonies, with Garcia’s leads dancing around the choir’s melodies – a magical, all to
Dead and Sufi Choir 3.24.71
Photo: M. Parrish
brief collaboration.

Winterland was pretty full, especially for a Wednesday night for a show with limited advance promotion, but most of the floor was cleared for the next performance, by a group of Whirling Dervish Dancers, who spun very quickly in large arcs, forming intricate patterns. I believe the accompaniment was just recorded music, but can’t say for sure.
Dervish Dancers 3.24.71 Photo: M. Parrish

Grateful Dead 3.24.71 Photo: M. Parrish
It was quite late, close to 11, when the Dead finally came onstage for their regular set. (Contrary to Deadbase, the New Riders did not appear at this show).   I was surprised and saddened by the absence of Mickey Hart, which had not been reported in the local press, despite his having been on hiatus from the band since February.  At this juncture, the band’s music was markedly less psychedelic than it has been just a few months earlier, with a raft of shorter songs, including several new originals, having taken the place of some of the longer pieces, although a nice Truckin’>Other One emerged late in the first set.  

Other than the early Fillmore West shows that included both an early and late set by each band on the
Grateful Dead 3.24.71 Photo: M. Parrish
bill, this was the first electric Dead show I saw that included two separate sets (although the “Evening with the Dead” shows included breaks between the acoustic set, the New Riders, and the electric set.  The shift from one drummer to two was palpable in the music, with a much greater emphasis on rockers, starting with the pairing of an embryonic “Greatest Story Ever Told” and “Johnny B. Goode” that opened the show, and continuing with new tunes like “Bertha” and “Playing in the Band” (in its initial, concise incarnation).  The show wrapped up with something else that was new to me, but quickly became the standard closer for the next few years – the Not Fade Away sandwich with “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” as the filling, followed by a nice “Uncle John’s Band” encore as closing time approached.

The drive home was interesting, given that I had been through a full day of school before taking off on this evening adventure. It had been a splendid evening, full of surprises, and a great introduction to the leaner, more rock oriented Grateful Dead of 1971. 


Mark Pino On Drums said...

What's with that guitar that Garcia is playing? I've never seen a picture of that one!

cryptdev said...

It was a weird custom built Rick Turner job that he only played for a couple of months. Here's a quote from him from Blair Jackson's Graetfuk Dead Gear book: "Jerry saw a guitar one day in our shop, and he liked it, so I sold it to him. I have no idea what happened to that guitar, although I would like to track it down… It could be in a roadie's closet for all I know. It does represent an evolutionary step both toward Alembic and then the later Turner Model 1 (from his early post-Alembic period), which shares the body shape, except for the addition of the cutaway."

Light Into Ashes said...

It's a shame the brief Dead accompaniment to the Sufi Choir wasn't taped, as far as I know.

One audience member wrote on the Archive, "The Sufi choir and dancers were kind of cool; they came out first, it was dark with drums and some kind of fire on stage. They had some middle eastern music, and as it was kind of winding down, there was that familiar guitar sneaking in from behind - Jerry kind of hiding in the back. The audience perked up."
The highlight of the Dead's show for him was Hard to Handle: "It was not on any records at that time but we had heard it at a couple of previous concerts and were hoping they would play it. Well, they played it alright. To this day it was my most memorable GD experience. It was just such an awesome jam, and loud!"

Jerry's Brokendown Palaces said...

"There were some mighty strange doings at Winterland last night - Yogi Bhajan, Sufi dancers and choir, and members of Kailas Shugendo all mingling and performing on stage.
Plus the good ol' Grateful Dead.
And about 4000 miscellaneous characters - Dead fans, freaks, mystics, religionists, spiritualists, and few semi-straights who apparently came in expecting a typical night with the Grateful Dead in concert.
Of course, in many ways it was a typical Jerry Garcia-Grateful Dead affair, since the strange, incongruous, and sometimes outrageous are all part of the Dead's daily life style.
Garcia's long tenure as our town's purest rock artist has brought him in contact with various religious sects and beliefs. Last night's function was his way of raising some money for such friends, many of whom are neighbors up Novato way where the Grateful Dead's farm is located.
Local members of Kailas Shugendo, a Buddhist sect dressed in oriental-style hiking attire, presented ritual segments, including their fire-walk, and were followed by Yogi Bhajan, dozens (at least) of whose disciples were in the audience, chanting and swaying.
"I get high just listening to him," a mesmerized young lady whispered to me, eyes closed, following the incantations. More than half the huge crowd got deeply into Bhajan's thing.
Then a long set by the Sufis, not looking much like their mystic Moslem spiritual forebears, but nonetheless a dedicated and quite captivating bunch of folk.
The rock-oriented portion of the audience, after a couple of hours of all this, got noisy and restless, clapping in unison and yelping, "we want the Dead."
So out came the Grateful Dead, immediately plunging into electric accompaniment for the Sufi choir (about 25 voices). It was a glorious, wonderful combination."(14)

14.)^Elwood, Phillip, Grateful Dead Mix Music and Mysticism, 1971-03-25, San Francisco Examiner,

cryptdev said...

Thanks JGBDP! I never saw this review. We got the Chronicle, but not the Examiner, back then. I wonder if the Sufi Choir has a recording of the collaboration?

Chris N said...

Sam Cutler just posted this review on his facebook page, and I posted a link to this page under the article. Great review. I wish I was there!!

Chris N said...

Sam Cutler just posted the newspaper article on his Facebook. I posted a link to this page below it. Great pictures and review!! I wish I was there!