Grateful Dead Woodstock

Grateful Dead Woodstock

It was 10:30 and a bit drizzly when the Dead came on. Their actual playing time was about an hour and ten minutes, but only five minutes after they finally were able to begin there were additional technical difficulties that delayed a restart for about 15 minutes.

The common impression of the Dead’s Woodstock set, repeated by many, is that it was not up to their or their fans’ high expectations That may be true, but in reality, the set itself was not so different than what the Dead typically did when they shared a bill with other bands at a festival.  Set times at a festival were usually shorter than a set when the band was the main act.

At Woodstock, the Dead were:

Their setlist was:

  • St Stephen
  • Mama Tried
  • Dark Star
  • High Time
  • Turn on Your Lovelight
Grateful Dead Woodstock

St Stephen

Grateful Dead Woodstock

If you asked lyricist Robert Hunter whether the Stephen referred to in one of the Dead’s most popular songs is the actual St Stephen, first Christian martyr, or another Stephen, you didn’t get a straight answer. Like any writer, poetic license is always a part of what they write.

The Deadlists Project has the song’s first performance as being on May 24, 1968, at the National Guard Armory in St. Louis, Missouri. According to Dead.net, there were 289 known live performances of the song.

Saint Stephen with a rose
In and out of the garden he goes
Country garden in the wind and the rain
Wherever he goes the people all complain
Stephen prospered in his time
Well, he may and he may decline
Did it matter, does it now?
Stephen would answer if he only knew how
Wishing well with a golden bell
Bucket hangin’ clear to Hell
Hell halfway twixt now and then
Stephen fill it up and lower down and lower down again
Lady finger, dipped in moonlight
Writing, “What for?”, across the morning sky
Sunlight splatters, dawn with answer
Darkness shrugs and bids the day goodbye
Speeding arrow, sharp and narrow
What a lot of fleeting matters you have spurned
Several seasons with their treasons
Wrap the babe in scarlet colors, call it your own
Did he doubt or did he try?
Answers aplenty in the bye and bye
Talk about your plenty and talk about your ills
One man gathers what another man spills
Saint Stephen will remain
All he lost he shall regain
Seashore washed by the suds and foam
Been here so long, he’s got to callin’ it home
Fortune comes a crawlin’, calliope woman
Spinnin’ that curious sense of your own
Can you answer? Yes, I can
What would be the answer to the answer man?
High green chilly winds and windy
Vines and loops around the twining
Shafts of lavender, they’re crawling to the sun
Wonder who will water all the children of the garden
When they sigh about the barren lack of rain and troop so hungry ‘neath the sky, ay
Underfoot the ground is patched
With climbing arms of ivy wrapped around
The Manzanita, dark and shiny in the breeze
William Tell has stretched the bow
Till it won’t stretch no furthermore
And all that they require in change
That hasn’t gone before
Grateful Dead Woodstock

Mama Tried

Grateful Dead Woodstock

The Dead were well-known for covering songs and Mama Tried became on of their better known covers. Merle Haggard wrote it.

First thing I remember knowin’
Was a lonesome whistle blowin’
And a youngun’s dream of growin’ up to ride
On a freight train leavin’ town,
Not knowin’ where I’s bound
No one could change my mind but mama tried
One and only rebel child
In a family meek and mild,
Mama seemed to know what lay in store
In spite of all my Sunday learnin’,
For the bad I kept on turnin’
Mama couldn’t hold me anymore
And I turned twenty one in prison
Doin’ life without parole
No one could steer me right
But mama tried, mama tried,
Mama tried to raise me better
But her pleadin’ I denied,
That leaves only me to blame ’cause mama tried
Dear old daddy, rest his soul,
Left my mom a heavy load
She tried so very hard to fill his shoes
Workin’ hours without rest,
Wanted me to have the best,
She tried to raise me right but I refused
And I turned twenty one in prison
Doin’ life without parole
No one could steer me right
But mama tried, mama tried,
Mama tried to raise me better
But her pleadin’ I denied,
That leaves only me to blame ’cause mama tried
Grateful Dead Woodstock

Patter Break

While the tech issues are resolved a few people talk to take up the time.

Merry Prankster Ken Babbs rambles on and around quite a while before Country Joe arrives. He tells the crowd how he’s from San Francisco and how familiar with LSD he and others from San Francisco are. He then advises those who have taken “bad” acid to simply stop taking it and they’ll be fine.

Also, there have been questions as to whether Bear Owsley was at Woodstock. The recording of this break seems to answer that question affirmatively. Not only is he referred to (at the 8:40 mark of the break’s Rhino recording), but we also hear him.

Click to listen:

For an far more extensive and more positive view of their set, see this article written by Scott Parker, author of Woodstock Documented.

Grateful Dead Woodstock

Dark Star

Dark Star was one of the first songs that Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter wrote, although the whole band is typically credited.  They played the song 249 times.

Dark star crashes, pouring its light into ashes
Reason tatters, the forces tear loose from the axis
Searchlight casting for faults in the clouds of delusion
Shall we go, you and I while we can
Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?
Mirror shatters in formless reflections of matter
Glass hand dissolving in ice, petal flowers revolving
Lady in velvet recedes in the nights of good-bye
Shall we go, you and I while we can
Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?
Grateful Dead Woodstock

High Time

Grateful Dead Woodstock
Jerry Garcia

The Dead had not yet released this song on an album. Most bands release an album and then tour to promote it. The contrarian Dead were doing the opposite. They were perfecting their next album’s songs on the road before going into the studio. High Time appeared on their Workingman’s Dead album released in June, 1970.

Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics, Jerry Garcia the tune.  High Time was performed about 60 times by the Grateful Dead between June 1969 and July 1970. The song was then dropped from the repertoire for 6 years returning in June 1976. It was then performed a few times most years through to 1995, though it was not performed in 1978, 1983 and 1989. In total the Grateful Dead performed the song just over 130 times.

You told me goodbye, how was I to know
You didn’t mean goodbye, you meant please don’t let me go?
I was having a high time, living the good life, well I know
The wheels are muddy, got a ton of hay,
Now listen here, Baby, ’cause I mean what I say.
I’m having a hard time, living the good life, well I know.
I was losing time, I had nothing to do,
No one to fight, I came to you.
Wheels broke down, leader won’t draw,
The line is busted, the last one I saw.
Tomorrow come trouble, tomorrow come pain,
Now don’t think too hard Baby, ’cause I know what I’m saying.
I could show you a high time, living the good life, don’t be that way.
Nothing’s for certain, it could always go wrong,
Come in when it’s raining, go on out when it’s gone.
We could have us a high time, living the good life, well I know.
Grateful Dead Woodstock

Turn On Your Lovelight

Pigpen

Another Dead cover. Perhaps their best known, band leader and arranger Joe Scott wrote “Turn On Your Love Light.”  The Dead also extended this song out a long way. Woodstock’s was  40 minutes, but the longest version was likely on June 6 that year at the Fillmore West at 47 minutes.

The following are the “official” lyrics tobut Pigpen was famous for improvising around those lyrics.

Without a warning you broke my heart, takin’ it baby, tore it apart
And you left me standin’ in the dark, said your love for me was dyin’
Come on baby, baby please come on baby, cause I’m on my knees
Turn on your lights let it shine on me shine on your love light
Let it shine on me let shine, let it shine, let it shine
When I get lonely in the middle of the night
And I need you darlin’ to make things all right
So come on baby, baby please and I’m beggin’ you baby cause I’m on my knees,
Turn on your lights let it shine on me
Turn on your love light let it shine on me
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine
Without a warning you broke my heart, takin’ it baby, tore it apart
And you left me standin’ in the dark, shine your love for me was dark
Come on baby, baby please come on baby, cause I’m on my knees
Turn on your lights let it shine on me shine on your love light
Let it shine on me let shine, let it shine, let it shine
Grateful Dead Woodstock

Double-dare

So there it is and now I dare you to click and open ↓ .

It’s really a nice listen for any day and always a slice of history. You’ll hear the actual radio feedback that Phil Lesh talks about during a quieter part of their set.

2021!

And if that’s not enough, 52 years later Dead & Company played at Bethel Woods. What was their second set? The Woodstock set.

Grateful Dead Woodstock

The  next act is Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Thanks for visiting

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