49 Years Ago Today, the Grateful Dead Began 6 Legendary Shows at The Cap

Feb 18  / Tuesday

The early 1970s were arguably the most iconic time period for the Grateful Dead. Beginning February 18, 1971, and ending February 24, 1971, the Dead played 6 legendary shows at The Cap! These historic shows capture the magic of the Grateful Dead in the early 1970s – purity, passion, musicianship, cohesiveness, and fearlessness. Please join us as we celebrate the 49th anniversary of these monumental shows!

1. FEBRUARY 18, 1971

Let’s start this list off by saying that the soulful presence of Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and his passion for the blues was instrumental in making these shows unforgettable. On this night, the Grateful Dead decided to debut five original songs. The crowd was treated to debuts of “Bertha,” “Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Loser,” “Playing in The Band,” and “Wharf Rat.” These songs remain all-time fan favorites to this day. The biggest highlight of the night is the “Beautiful Jam” that took place during Dark Star > Wharf Rat > Dark Star. The jam encompasses everything that the Grateful Dead was during 1971. From the blissful confidence to the intriguing mysticism, this segment is a legendary moment in Grateful Dead history! 

2. FEBRUARY 19, 1971

This show marks the beginning of a 4-year stretch in which Bill Kreutzmann was the sole drummer for the Grateful Dead. It wasn’t until October of 1974 that Mickey Hart would return. This vintage Grateful Dead show demonstrates a high point for the band and features the debut performances of "Bird Song" and “Deal.” The opening act for these shows was New Riders of the Purple Sage, and at that time, Jerry Garcia was a member of the band. Songs that they recorded at the February 21 and February 23, 1971 shows were released as an album called, Vintage NRPS. Dubbed Three from the Vault, a double-disc would later be released on June 26, 2007, more than 30 years after this historic show.

3. FEBRUARY 20, 1971

During this run of shows, Dr. Stanley Krippner, a psychosomatic medicine doctor, introduced an ESP dream experiment to the band and fans. He wanted to observe the band and the audience as test subjects. The doctor was quite curious to see how mixing psychedelics with an audience of 2,000 would affect “mind to mind transmissions.” The experiment was focused on dream telepathy, with the senders being the crowd of Deadheads and the receiver being English psychic subject Malcolm Bessent, who had scored well in previous ESP experiments. Each night in the sleep lab at Maimonides, Bessent would go to bed early so that he would be asleep by 11:30PM, when the experiment would begin. At that same time, the audience in attendance at the Grateful Dead concerts would be shown a series of six slides that were being projected onto a large screen above the stage. The first five slides shown to the audience read: 1. You are about to participate in an ESP experiment. 2. In a few seconds, you will see a picture. 3. Try using your ESP to “send” this picture to Malcolm Bessent. 4. He will try to dream about the picture. Try to “send” it to him. 5. Malcolm Bessent is now at the Maimonides Dream Laboratory in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, it was observed early on during the experiment that most of the deadheads were already in an altered state during the concert, altering the outcome of the results.


4. FEBRUARY 21, 1971

Highlights from this show include an energetic version of “Easy Wind,” sung with the unforgettable grit and passion that Pigpen was known for. He was such an integral part of the band, especially on certain songs like ‘Easy Wind’ and ‘Hard to Handle’. The Dead treated fans to a China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, which is one of the most legendary song combinations in the Dead’s discography. An epic 17-minute version of “Good Lovin”, with a Drums section, brought the house down as they jammed into ‘Uncle John’s Band’ to close out the show. From the sound of it, everyone in the building was hanging onto every note that danced off Jerry’s strings. A musical metamorphosis was taking place and the fans knew it!

5. FEBRUARY 23, 1971

After taking a night off, the energy was at an all-time high during this performance! Phil Lesh’s thundering basslines lead to some quality moments of music. "The Other One" provided one of the most exploratory sections of improvisation that fans got to witness that night. The band also paid tribute to the late Janis Joplin, with a gentle version of “Bird Song.” Janis, who at one point dated Pigpen, also sprinkled her magic on the stage of The Capitol Theatre the previous year on August 8, 1970. The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin shared a deep connection after spending time together on a train tour across Canada in 1970. This version of "Bird Song" showcases the truthfulness and power of their relationship.

6. FEBRUARY 24, 1971

This was the final night of the legendary run in February 1971, and the Dead did not disappoint. They had picked up right where they left off with a stellar version of the classic “Casey Jones.” “Hard to Handle” showcased the powerful groove and cohesiveness of Lesh and Kreutzmann when they’re locked in. This show also contains a nearly 20-minute “Good Lovin’ > Drums.” But the ultimate highlight of the night was “Turn on Your Lovelight,” which some fans argued was one of the all-time best versions of the song. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!