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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

GD: July 3-4, 1970, Aragon Ballroom, Chicago (CANCELED)

Grateful Dead
Aragon Ballroom
Chicago, IL
July 3-4, 1970


The Aragon Ballroom, at 1106 Lawrence Avenue, Chicago, was reportedly leased by American Tribal Productions in spring 1970 in order to put on "monster rock shows" (1). A mention is made of restoring the venue to its "pre-Cheetah" condition, leading me to wonder if this same location was one of the Cheetah venues. (I had thought LLD or Rock Prosopography or Rock Archaeology had posted on the Cheetahs, but I can't find it if so.) Shows under the new management were to have begun on May 1, 1970.

The Grateful Dead, It's a Beautiful Day, Aum and Rare Bird were said to be appearing on July 3-4, 1970 (1). A second article mentions that a Dayton, Ohio band called Green Lyte Sunday will appear with the GD (2), though this band is not mentioned in later listings of summer music events (3). As late as July 3rd (4) the show is still slated to happen. On July 4, 1970, the Tribune runs the following item (5):

The Grateful Dead, originally scheduled to headline the monster rock concert at the Aragon last night, was delayed by customs at the Canadian border. American Tribal Productions continued with the curtailed bill --It's a Beautiful Day, Aum, and Rare Bird-- at reduced price and promises a special Grateful Dead concert soon.

I have no postscript to this. I couldn't find any reference to a makeup show, though of course the GD did come back to Chicago for a show at the Syndrome on November 27, 1970. No idea whether that's related in any way.

Two further things to say, one small and one big.

First, small: the context of the above suggests that the July 4th show was canceled, too.

Second, bigger: weren't the GD in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on July 3, 1970? Isn't a bunch of the footage from "Festival Express," including Jerry sitting in with Ian & Sylvia, from that date? There is nighttime footage, IIRC. If that's true, then how could the GD have been expecting to play in Chicago on July 3? Either we have something wrong about the Festival Express dates, or the GD double-booked themselves for this night (perhaps also implying that the alleged border problem was concocted to cover some asses), or something else is screwy. Thoughts?

(1) Peter Gorner, "Rocking at the Aragon," Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1970, p. S12.
(2) Peter Gorner, "Some Competition for B,S & T's Spot," Chicago Tribune, May 24, 1970, p. F4.
(3) Linda Winer, "The Long, Rockin' Summer," Chicago Tribune, June 21, 1970, p. G3; see also entertainment calendar in Chicago Tribune, June 28, 1970, p. G2.
(4) Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1970, p. B2.
(5) "Music Note," Chicago Tribune, July 4, 1970, p. S10.


  1. Firstly, the Aragon was definitely the Chicago Cheetah. Cheetah Clubs were a strange phenomenon, and I think they redecorated their venues in pseudo Leopard prints or something, so that would explain the "pre-Cheetah" condition.

    As to the double booking, I think the explanation lies in the Chicago concert business. Its hard to say from this distance, but the 60s concert business was a grimy cash-and-carry business at best, and Chicago seems to have had a particularly slippery relationship with concert promotion, despite the huge rock market. Other than the relatively small Kinetic Playground (previously the Electric Circus), no reliable concert promoters seem to be reliable in the late 60s/early 70s.

    This has the distinct whiff of a promoter offering the Dead a lot of money to race over from Canada--which they could have done--and then reneging on some part of the deal. Money, no doubt. I'm sure the "border crossing" story was just face saving, as you propose.

    I note the Dead never played The Aragon, either, probably not a coincidence after this event. The venue was a notorious madhouse back in the day, i can't imagine it was run in a way that made the acts happy either.

    1. Arron Russo bought the Electric Theater in April 1968. He was sued by the Electric Circus (in NY) and changed the name to the Kinetic Playground.
      The club became a driving force in the music business, hosting famous rock bands and musicians such as The Doors, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Byrds, Janis Joplin, Coven, The Mothers of Invention, The Grateful Dead, Joe Cocker, Jeff Beck Group, Eric Burdon, The Small Faces, MC5, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, Buffy Saint Marie, Fleetwood Mac, Rotary Connection, Savoy Brown, Vanilla Fudge, Muddy Waters, and Jefferson Airplane. The Rotary Connections singer was Minnie Riperton. Arron Russo ended up managing Bett Middler. Richard Rudolph worked at the Playground and fell in love and married Minnie Riperton. They had a baby and her name is Maya Rudolph (SNL). The Playground was a great place (small and personal) to view the show.
      The Aragon Ballroom you paid 5 bucks outside the in the doors and you were in drug central. Card tables set up with just about every thing you could imagine. There was the 6' 5" tall witch doctor selling MDA, STP, or anything that would mess you up.
      The Aragon was run by M Butler of "HAIR" fame. He produced and directed the Chicago run. He or his people would try to get 5-6 bands for the weekend but honestly if the bands found the drug bizarre they opted out.
      One night Vanilla Fudge was the only band and they jammed till the cows came home.

  2. Notice also that the bands that did play were two San Francisco bands (Its A Beautiful Day and Aum) booked by Bill Graham's Millard Agency. Up until at least late 69 the Dead booked through the Millard Agency, after that I'm not sure. This means there was an indirect Bill Graham connection, and the Dead wouldn't have blown him off unless they had a good financial reason.

    The other band was most likely the English progressive rock Rare Bird, who were mainly popular in Europe. Their keyboard player, Dave Kaffinetti, achieved lasting fame (in my house anyway) as Viv Savage, keyboard player in the first Spinal Tap movie.


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