The Grateful Dead and Long Islanders have a storied history together. The band made Nassau Coliseum a regular stop on their never-ending tours dating back to the early ‘70s when the arena first opened. Deadheads, as their fans are affectionately known, would make a party out of the parking lot hours before each show where they would swap stories, share setlists and sell shirts.
Although the band officially ended in 2015, the Dead’s spirit will rise again on Nov. 5 and 6 at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum via its offshoot group Dead & Company, consisting of Dead members Bob Weir (guitar/vocals), Bill Kreutzmann (drums) and Mickey Hart (drums/percussion) paired with pop star John Mayer (guitar/vocals), Jeff Chimenti (keyboards) and Oteil Burbridge (bass).
In celebration of the band’s return, Newsday spoke with Long Island Deadheads about some of their favorite shows they attended at the Coliseum through the years:
MARCH 15, 1973
This was one of the famous “dance shows” where seats were removed from the floor to create a giant area for dancing.
“They played a killer version of ‘Sugaree,’ ” says Jeff Horowitz, 64, of Oyster Bay. “I was 17 and it was only my second Dead show. They played for more than five hours. I was with a bunch of my friends from the neighborhood, guys and girls, the music was superb.”
JAN. 10, 1979
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This marks the Dead’s return run of shows at the Coliseum after the band stopped playing the venue due to excessive police harassment of the fans in the parking lot. As part of the celebratory reunion, they pulled out two '60s classics, “Dark Star” and “St. Stephen.”
“They never performed those two iconic songs at the same show ever again,” says Matthew Fleisig, 59, of Huntington. “Plus, the first set closer, ‘The Music Never Stopped’ was outstanding with a long final jam that [late singer/guitarist] Jerry Garcia simply took to another dimension.”
NOV. 1, 1979
The Dead had recently signed with Clive Davis' Arista label. During the opening song, “Jack Straw,” they substituted the lyric “now we play for life” with “now we play for Clive,” which really got the crowd going and set the tone for the evening.
“The Dead seldom communicated with the audience,” says Donald Zottarelli, 58, of Westbury, who plays bass in Jerry Garcia tribute Tiger Rose Band. “It did not take much for the audience to look for anything to add to the energy exchange between them and the Dead. This little nugget caused a rambunctious power surge, ignited from the crowd, making the music for the rest of the show - SMOKIN!”
NOV. 2, 1979
For Sheri Westfal, 55, of Merrick this show was her baptism into the world of the Grateful Dead.
“This was my first show and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was all very new and exciting,” says Westfal. “The show lived up to the hype and I was hooked. ‘I Need a Miracle’ was great and I loved it so much I made my band learn it for my wedding. ‘Not Fade Away’ taught me about the crowd being part of the show (clapping and singing). The vibe was high energy and everyone was very happy to spend their night dancing with the Dead.”
MAY 15, 1980
This marked the Long Island debut run of shows for keyboardist Brent Mydland, who replaced Keith Godchaux, adding a new vocal dynamic to the band.
“His rendition of ‘Far from Me’ still resonates for me to this day,” says Robert Kleinman, 65, of Hempstead and Amagansett. “It was one of the most memorable Grateful Dead moments in the 10 plus years I’d seen the Dead at that point, and still to this day...such emotional feeling.”
This show is featured on the live album, “Go to Nassau.”
MAY 9, 1981
The Dead are known for their rotating setlists. Every night you never know what you are going to get. On this evening the band opened with a 20-minute block of “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” into “Franklin’s Tower” followed by “Feel Like A Stranger” to start the show.
“The song selection and execution that night was exceptional,” says Jeff Fisher, 67, of Ronkonkoma. “The length of the two-set show [over three hours] was reminiscent of their early ‘70s shows.”
MARCH 28, 1985
The Dead were on a comeback trail and starting to reach a new generation of fans. Although it was a weeknight, the show had the feel of a Saturday night.
“There was a palpable ‘buzz’ of energy,” says Barry Zaks, 57, of Farmingdale. “During the show, there was a considerable x-factor, or synergy, where the audience was all on the same page, and the band was playing music together that was somehow greater than the sum of the individual musicians’ separate abilities.”
MARCH 29, 1990
The Dead brought on special guest jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who sat in during both sets. The collaboration was captured on the triple live album, “Wake Up to Find Out.”
“To be honest, guests could be hit or miss with this band. But Branford Marsalis was absolutely amazing,” says Stephen Fisch, 54, of Woodmere. “Jerry Garcia and Branford had one of the best musical conversations during the jam on ‘Bird Song’ that I have ever heard.”
Allan Cohen, 60, of Merrick, who also attended the show, agreed, “During the 2nd set, Branford played ‘Eyes of the World’ which blew my mind hearing him interacting and adapting with the band. This show has made me smile for decades and sometimes tears come to my eyes when I hear it.”
DEAD & COMPANY
WHEN/WHERE 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 5 and Wednesday, Nov. 6, NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale
INFO $58.50-$203.50, 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
THE DEAD INVADES STONY BROOK
Before the Nassau Coliseum days, the Grateful Dead’s Long Island tour pit stop was Stony Brook University’s Pritchard Gym, where they played in the late sixties to 1970. In fact, the most infamous shows there were four Halloween weekend gigs, Oct. 30 and 31, 1970, with the Dead doing early and late shows on both nights plus New Riders of the Purple Sage as the opening act.
While the shows were a huge draw, they weren’t without incident. The school’s newspaper, The Statesman, printed a cover story that read, “Dead Concert Attracts Many; Campus Security Kept Busy.”
According to reporter Tom Murnane, “gatecrashers forced their way into the gym, several concert-goers were treated for bad trips, campus police helped to save two people from carbon monoxide poisoning and 12 persons were arrested for possession of narcotics.”
However, musically the show was a success despite being sonically compromised by the student-run soundboard. The band performed four different set lists. Oct. 30’s early show saw classics like “Sugar Magnolia,” “Truckin’ ” and “Casey Jones” while the late show set offered “Friend of the Devil,” “St. Stephen” and a cover of Howlin’ Wolf's “Smokestack Lightning.” The Halloween early show featured “Uncle John’s Band,” “Till the Morning Comes” and a cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.” Meanwhile the late show had “The Other One,” “Cosmic Charlie” and a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” - David J. Criblez