On January 7th, 1979, The Grateful Dead debuted at the iconic New York venue, Madison Square Garden, going on to perform at MSG a mind-boggling fifty-two times between 1979 and 1994. The band played many classic shows at MSG, delivering countless memorable moments at the “World’s Most Famous Arena” over the sixteen year period before the band broke up in 1995. However, one show stands out as a wild, guest-filled extravaganza, and it took place 29 years ago on September 24th, 1988.
Always a forward-thinking band, The Dead organized their fans in an attempt to raise one million dollars to help save the world’s tropical rainforests, putting the show at the tail end of an unprecedented nine-show run at the beloved New York City venue. The band hadn’t typically mixed their political views with their music, but they felt that the importance of saving the world’s rainforests was worth the break in tradition. To mark the occasion, the group brought several musical friends—many of whom had never played with the band before—along for the ride, making for a truly special night at MSG.
After an opening set by Bruce Hornsby and the Range, the Dead took the stage for a fairly typical first set that featured only one guest—one-time Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor—who joined the band for a two-song run of “West L.A. Fadeaway” and “Little Red Rooster.” It was during set two that the guests really made themselves welcome. Suzanne Vega joined the band for the set-opening run through “Chinese Bones” and “Neighborhood Girls,” before the band performed solo versions of “Crazy Fingers” and “Women Are Smarter”. Then, the most exciting and out-of-left-field guests joined the fray, as Darryl Hall and John Oates jumped on stage and led the Dead through their ballad, “Every Time You Go Away” before launching into a topical cover of Marvin Gaye‘s “What’s Goin’ On”.
The song would fizzle out into a “Drums” -> “Space” segment, which featured African percussionist Baba Olatunji and guitarist Michael Hinton. To close things out, Bruce Hornsby joined his friends in the Grateful Dead for a set-closing version of “Not Fade Away,” which brought the house down. The band then encored with “Good Lovin'” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, and for both of the tunes, former Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna member Jack Casady joined in.
On the anniversary of this awesome performance, you can watch a full video of the Grateful Dead’s Rainforest Benefit on September 24th, 1988, below, courtesy of Kevin Tobin. You can also listen to the full audio of the show below, courtesy of David Minches and Kevin Tobin.
The Grateful Dead | The Rainforest Benefit | 9/24/1988 | Madison Square Garden
Set 1: Iko Iko, Feel Like A Stranger, West L.A. Fadeaway*, Little Red Rooster*, Box Of Rain, Ramble On Rose, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Don’t Ease Me In
Set 2: Chinese Bones%, Neighborhood Girls%, Crazy Fingers, Women Are Smarter, Every Time You Go Away$, What’s Going On$-> Drums^-> Space-> The Wheel-> Throwing Stones-> Not Fade Away&
Encore: Good Lovin’#, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door#%
* featuring Mick Taylor | % featuring Suzanne Vega | $ featuring Daryl Hall and John Oates | ^ featuring Baba Olatunji & Michael Hinton | & featuring Bruce Hornsby | # featuring Jack Casady
9/24/1988, Set One
9/24/1988, Set One
9/24/1988, Full Show Audio