The Grateful Dead’s 1987 spring tour was one of the band’s most hotly anticipated runs in years. The previous summer, Jerry Garcia had slipped into a diabetic coma for nearly a week. If he hadn’t have pulled through, it would have marked the end of the Grateful Dead.

As we now know, Jerry survived the health scare and, after a few Jerry Garcia Band shows in late 1986, made an emotional return with the Dead for three mid-December shows in Oakland, CA. In the ensuing months, the Grateful Dead played a handful of multi-night runs in their native Northern California. The December ’86 shows featured the debut of two new Garcia/Hunter songs, the upbeat “When Push Comes To Shove” and the ballad “Black Muddy River”, and the January run saw Bob Weir add “Walking Blues” back to the repertoire after an 18-month absence and try out a cover of The Beatles‘ “Get Back”, though the song never appeared in a Grateful Dead set again.

The 1987 spring tour was a unique bridge period in the Grateful Dead’s history. Demand for tickets had reached a new high following Garcia’s coma recovery and the reports of the band’s revitalized shows. The demand would only increase from there, as this marked the final full tour before the release of In The Dark on July 6th, 1987, which generated a Rolling Stone fold-out cover, a Platinum certification from the RIAA, a once-unthinkable top-10 single, and hit music video for “Touch of Grey”. Videos for “Hell In A Bucket” and “Throwing Stones” would follow soon after, helping bring in a new generation of fans in a matter of a few short months. The resulting swell in demand for tickets, deemed “over-success” by lyricist Robert Hunter, soon forced the band and its longtime fans to make changes in how they operated.

However, the ’87 spring tour marked the first post-coma Dead shows outside the Bay Area—the first chance for the band’s dedicated national fanbase to see Garcia and company following the potentially dire medical situation. The scare had heightened the fervor of east coast Deadheads, who had always been louder and rowdier than their west coast counterparts and frequently coaxed the most energetic shows out of the band. The energy level during those first post-coma east coast shows—in Hampton, VA (three nights) and Hartford, CT (two nights), respectively—was higher than it had been in years. After a brush with mortality, the Grateful Dead came back as strong as ever.

Come along as we look back at the five shows that started the Grateful Dead’s 1987 spring tour…


HAMPTON – 3/22/1987

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[Video: Voodoonola2]

By this point, the Hampton Coliseum had established itself as the east coast hotspot for Grateful Dead shows. The band had been playing there since 1979, and word had gotten out amongst east coast heads that the extra drive was worth it for the smaller, GA arena with the space-age castle exterior and the relaxed lot vibe. The venue also maintained a manageable scene by only allowing fans holding a ticket for the day’s show to enter the parking lot. This was relatively easy to enforce, as the arena and surrounding lots have only one entry and exit point and are surrounded by water on three sides.

The first show of the stretch began with a warning from the promoter foreshadowing the issues that would go on to plague the band over their final decade: folks turning up without tickets, fake tickets being made and sold, and scalpers in the lot and in the nascent pre-internet secondary market.

The first set started with a “Hell in a Bucket” > “Sugaree”, soon to become a very common opening pairing. After an upbeat “It’s All Over Now”, the east coast debut of “When Push Comes To Shove”, and the powerful peak of a vocal reprise-less “Cassidy”, “Deal” served as the first set closer with a short but powerful jam—a sign of things to come.

The second set, predictably, was where the fireworks started. Sometimes, the first east coast show would be more of a warmup, but not on this night. The band had spent the early part of the year recording and polishing In The Dark LP, so they were more up to speed than usual for a tour’s opening night. The set began with the first big surprise of the tour: a rare “Sugar Magnolia” opener, and the first version to be split from its “Sunshine Daydream” coda in five years. Garcia capped off the song’s jam with a short, searing solo as the crowd roared, and the spine-tingling moment was repeated a moment later when Garcia strummed the opening chords of “Scarlet Begonias”. Again, you can hear the audience reaction coming through on tapers’ recordings of the show. Following a four-minute jam with an unusually uptempo conclusion, the “Fire on the Mountain” that followed maintained the momentum. Garcia’s vocals were in fine form, and Brent Mydland‘s more organic, less synth-heavy keyboard tones were a welcome evolution.

What followed was another highlight—one of the best versions of Bob Weir’s “Estimated Prophet”, played at a slightly quicker tempo than usual. This version also featured an unusual peaking solo from Garcia at the tail end of the song, which he customarily finished out with power chords. The crowd knew it and roared along, the outro jam following suit with Garcia’s fluid lines leading the way into “Drums” instead of a fifth song. Slightly shorter, but heavy on the focus and no lagging at all.

This “Drums” segment was heavy on The Beast during its 7 minutes and concluded with the drums/fan 5-beat Not Fade Away clap-along, an introduction of the heavy electronics that were still to come. The crowd mustered a loud ovation after “Drums”—an unusual occurrence. Meanwhile, the 6-minute “Space” segment that followed also got moving quickly and stayed in motion, with Garcia staying particularly busy. The band had somewhere to go.

“The Wheel” carried things along nicely before the band hit yet another emotional peak during the ensuing “Black Peter”, whose lyrics about beating death were not overlooked by anyone, least of all Garcia. It all came to a quick close with “Sunshine Daydream”, which featured another great Garcia solo. While the set was short by Grateful Dead standards, there was nary a wasted note and zero filler. It was an absolute energy blast of a second set.

MUST-HEAR HIGHLIGHTS: “Cassidy”, “Sugar Magnolia”, “Estimated Prophet”, “Black Peter”

HAMPTON  – 3/23/1987

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The middle night of the spring ’87 Hampton run flies under the radar, but the playing remained energetic throughout. Highlights from set one included a powerful mid-set “Althea” and rare late-first set placements of “Iko Iko” and “Feel Like A Stranger”. The second set was highlighted by the jam section of “Truckin’” into a “Drums” segment in which the crowd clapped along rhythmically for the second straight night before “Space” yielded to an extended introduction to the set’s true high point, “The Other One”.

MUST-HEAR HIGHLIGHTS: “Truckin” > “Drums” > “Space” > “The Other One”

HAMPTON – 3/24/1987

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[Video: Kevin Tobin]

The final night at Hampton Coliseum was one for the history books. Yet another brisk first set featured a strong “Jack Straw” opener, a rousing “New Minglewood Blues”, a nice “Loser”, and an amusing Bob Weir callout of an overly audible fan after “Mexicali Blues” (“The guy with the coyote call out there? There are people looking for you. Your time is limited. Make it easy on yourself and give yourself up”). The set finished out with a crisp rendition of “Let It Grow”.

The second set started with Steve Winwood‘s “Gimme Some Lovin’”—one of only five second-set-opening renditions of a song that most often appeared toward the end of shows by this time. The east coast premiere of “Black Muddy River” followed in a prominent pre-“Drums” slot. After a strong take on “Playing In The Band”, the “Terrapin Station” that came next was the stuff of legend. It was a shimmering version, and as the song moved into its final instrumental fanfare, the crowd started cheering at full volume for a solid minute. Video later revealed that the cheer was the result of Garcia gleefully mimicking Bob Weir’s power chords movements [around 1:26:00 in the video above]. It was a heartfelt ovation, and everyone felt it. This was arguably was the premier version of “Terrapin” from the Brent and Vince eras of the band. Plus, this version benefits from hearing an audience recording or matrix as opposed the soundboard because of the ecstatic crowd reaction.

The rest of set finished strongly, with Brent’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy”, a poignant “What Rat”, and the “Not Fade Away” hinted at during “Drums” on night one. “Brokedown Palace” wrapped it all up and sent things off to Hartford.

MUST-HEAR HIGHLIGHTS: “Let It Grow”, “Terrapin”

HARTFORD – 3/26/1987

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While the Hampton “Terrapin” was the talk of the parking lots in Hartford, the band still had plenty to offer in Connecticut. This show was unusual in that the first set contained all the big highlights except one. There was the rare “Midnight Hour” opener followed by “Cold Rain & Snow”, one of the last appearances of “CC Rider”, and one of the last appearances of “My Brother Esau”. The biggest highlight of this show was one of the best versions of “Bird Song” that is not widely recognized as such. Though the rendition was short by Grateful Dead standards at just under 10 minutes, the mid-song jam saw Garcia dive in headfirst and lead the band through several peaks over 5 minutes, Brent reacting in his wake with near-telepathic ability. The second set was solid, though it paled in comparison. However, it was significant in that Garcia’s staccato jam out of “He’s Gone” would soon become the closing section of “Bird Song”.

MUST-HEAR HIGHLIGHTS: “Bird Song”, “He’s Gone” outro jam

HARTFORD – 3/27/1987

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The second and final night in Hartford was one of the strongest start-to-finish shows of this era. Kicking off with one of the last appearances of “Alabama Getaway”, the 8-song first set was highlighted by strong back-to-back versions of “Tennessee Jed” and “The Music Never Stopped”.

The second set was the real barnburner, starting with one of the few truly exemplary renditions of “Touch Of Grey”. Once again, the lyrics and the choruses were extremely poignant in the recent wake of Garcia’s coma—a brief window of time before the release of In The Dark would render a very different meaning to the song for long-time Deadheads. The momentum carried over through two more rockers, “Samson and Delilah” and “Cumberland Blues”, before “Estimated Prophet” and “Eyes of The World” kicked off the jam portion of the show. A rare “Uncle John’s Band” out of “Space” led into a knockout “Morning Dew” to close the set, and the encore was yet another rocker in “Johnny B. Goode”. Once again, the set was shorter than usual, but that hardly mattered. There were no wasted notes in this show, and it capped off one the best weeks the band would have in this era.

MUST-HEAR HIGHLIGHTS: “Touch of Grey”


Over the course of these five shows, only four songs were repeated in Hartford: “Little Red Rooster”, “West L.A. Fadeaway”, “Push Comes To Shove” and “Estimated Prophet”. The east coast tour would move onto Philadelphia, Worcester, East Rutherford and Chicago before the band made its way back west. The Grateful Dead would not return to the east coast until July of that year—the week In The Dark was released and the band’s trajectory was forever changed.