Hey! It's the 35th Anniversary of Felt Forum 12/5/71!
Thirty-five years ago, the Grateful Dead gave one of the most searing
performances of all time. The December 5 1971 show at the Felt Forum
in NewYork City was broadcast to thousands of Heads in the New York
Metropolitan area. I was one of the fortunate ones who tuned in that
night, and was treated to the finest in Grateful Dead rock, R&B, country
and their multi-dimensional time/space transmorgifications. The Dead
were known to put the audience through changes, and the victim would
leave the concert hall changed. The Felt Forum 12/5/71 was one of those
I first caught the boys at the Fillmore on 4/25/71. The show was a
mind altering experience, and I found myself a permanent seat on The
Bus. I knew American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead, and fell in
love with both. From Farmer’s Market in Bethpage, Long Island, I
picked up Sunflower Record’s “Vintage Dead”, which got me into “I
Know You Rider” and a bunch of other classics.
After the Fillmore show, I developed an unquenchable appetite for
Grateful Dead music. At the local Korvettes (later to be called Time
Square Store, then K-Mart, now defunct) I picked up most of my
Grateful Dead albums. The Grateful Dead (1st album), Live/Dead,
AOXOMOXOA, Anthem of the Sun. At Farmer’s Market I stumbled upon
Historic Dead (which has an incredible “Same Thing”, btw). I spent many
hours listening to every note, and studying covers for anything cool
that they might reveal. At the local head shop on Hempstead
Turnpike in Levittown, I picked up my first bootleg Dead album. This
album contained concert versions of China Cat/Rider and Morning
Dew among other things. I didn’t find out until years later, that these
cuts came from the same Fillmore East run that got me hyped in the
first place. China Cat played an important role on 12/5/71.
8/26/71 Gaelic Park (my second show) was more of a hang-out and
have-fun kind of a show for me. I was busy interviewing freaks with
my tape recorder (one of them proclaimed himself to be “The Lizard
King”), but I did open the mind portal to a celestail Truckin’ > Other
One, and enjoyed a dose of Dead that night.
Before the Felt Forum run, Skull and Roses came out. I got to know
Bertha, Playing in the Band, Big Boss Man, Me and My Uncle, and
Not Fade Away/Going Down the Road. (Unbeknownst to me, I
actually heard some of these “new” songs at my first two shows, but
did not remember them). All of the albums combined, primed the
pump, and I was ready for the show of my life – one filled with the
familiar but changed, and the new and exotic. Over several hours, I
was transported across a vast and incredible landscape, and The
Grateful Dead led the way.
I told my family that I needed the radio to myself for the night. I
also needed some added inducements and took care of that outside my
house, after the New Riders’ set.
[To add some extra pizzazz to my recollection, I will also add some
additional thoughts, but try to remain true to the original experience]
The show opens with a heartwarming introduction by Bill Graham.
“The youngest old-timer I ever met: Pigpen on organ. If Rock and
Roll is ever to have a godfather, this one will be it: Jerry Garcia on
lead guitar. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Grateful Dead – yours and
And with that, The Festival of Magic (I’ll explain that on 12/7 :-)
The show opened with Bertha. Instead of the rock hard chords from
Skull, Jerry and Bob’s guitars seemed to hang in mid-air, gently
working against each other. The subtle strumming lulled me in new
ways. We were treated to a potent Beat It On Down the Line, next,
and a cool Big Boss Man. The Dead tuned up with “Song of Spring”,
which danced wonderfully in my brain. The brand new and poignant
tale: Brown Eyed Women was up next, followed by the only playing
of Muddy Water. A wonderful Jack Straw with strong Jerry lines, and
pretty transitions, followed. The fun and powerful Mr. Charlie was
preceded with Weir saying: “get those tape machines running, because
here it comes”. In my excitement it sounded more like “Here it
Comes!!!”, and actually felt like that when Billy slams his drums to
open the tune.
Tennessee Jed kept the pace going with a mind-lifting instrumental
break, followed by a feisty El Paso, and a great bar-room version of
The fissures in my brain really began to appear on the next tune. Sure,
I knew Playing in the Band, but when the music began to break-apart
into a surprise jam, I was off into a new musical land – not knowing
where, and not knowing when I’d be back.
Next Time You See Me is a fun Pig tune, but the next one took me
down a poignant notch. That new song was Comes A Time. It’s slow
and solemn, and captivating. In that sleepy lull, I felt like Jerry was
talking to me: “Got an empty cup, only love can fill. Only love can,
Phil”. To finish us off for the 1st set, Jerry gave us “something to
ease the pain”. Not Box of Rain as we thought it would be, but a rousing
Casey Jones, followed by that 50's-esque jagged-edge rocker, One More
Saturday Night which rips the mind open with the thrust of jet-engines
pushing Mach-10. Listening back on that Casey Jones over the years, I
realized that the Band miked the clapping from the audience, mixed it
with the thwaka-thwaka of the guitars, and fired it back at us. To this
day, I keep thinking “The Psychedlic Express...“
The second set opens with Truckin’, which stunned by drilling holes
into my psyche at its start, and tossed me into its maelstrom of violent
guitar work. Whew! The show progresses nicely through a Ramble
On Rose, It Hurts Me Too and Sugaree. Sugar Magnolia is another
Then The Magic really begins. At this point in time, I knew and loved
Dark Star, but was led to believe that I would never hear one. I shared
the crowd’s awe and excitement with the first few notes of Dark Star,
and then we were taken on another journey. The entire Dark Star is
extraordinary, but the first 10 minutes has got to be the most
picturesque Grateful Dead ever performed. I can “see” birds flying,
the Dark Star twinkling, and for a very few seconds, the entire
landscape changes, and suddenly I am alone, on the prarie. It’s
desolate and cold, and a cactus and some patches of grass are all I see,
when whoosh, I am taken to another exotic, but ever-changing, land.
I’m caught in a tearing, screaming maelstrom, and the tension builds.
With a roll of the drums, WHAM – I get caught up with some West
Texas cowboys, and the drama of Me and My Uncle. Two minutes
later, we CRASH back from cowboys, dust and horses and into the
World of Dark Star. Dark Star ebbs and flows, and builds into a new
storm of monster movie music (I keep thinking) and my mind gets
pulled in many directions. Dark Star melts into different musical
dimensions. At one point, Jerry breaks into a Hendrix style break.
Moments later, the guitars ring with the strains of Wharf Rat, but ease
away from Rat and into some gently buzzing guitars, that hang in the
air for a moment, before building into a rousing Sittin’ On Top of the
World. Sittin’ has a nice habit of switching from dissonnant to
consonnant throughout. Jerry’s voice follows suit. This ends the
Dark Star jam.
An odd, but interesting Bobby McGee follows, along with Big
Railroad, a new Mexicali and You Win Again, when WHAM! We are
off again with the blamming drums of Not Fade Away.
Not Fade Away breaks off into some freaky jamming, which
culminates into an even freakier China Cat fugue, with Jerry and Weir
mixing the theme, in weird and fantastic ways, putting us through
“those changes”. The Going Down the Road is energizing and
sublime, plugs the China Cat theme a couple of more times before
easing into a slowed-down Going Down the Road, defining finer and
subtler shades of feeling with some Benny Goodman like guitar, and
then closing with a rousing Not Fade Away reprise – Weir screaming
out “Not Fade Away”, with Pig and Phil backing him up
I was worn out, dragged down, blown to pieces, and happy. Two
nights later, I would repeat the process.
A couple of months later, I met this guy Don, through some friends.
Don had recorded 12/5/71 onto some reels for a Dead Head friend of
his. I recorded that show onto cassette and have been loving it over
these thirty plus years. At some point, Don gave me the reels. A few
years ago, I had Dr. Michelson transcribe the shows onto CD. If you
have an FM version of this show, most likely you got it from me. It's
the finest copy around. One day, I promise I'll upload it to onto
The Wheel. In addition, in 1972, someone gave me a photo from the
show. I use that in my CD inserts, which I will also upload sometime
Thank you, Jerry!
"Making a record is like building a ship in a bottle.
Playing a concert is like being in a rowboat on