Legendary concert promoter Bill Graham closed the doors to the Winterland Ballroom on New Year’s Eve in 1978 and for many, it lasted well into 1979. He did it fashionably so with an all-night concert that reeled over eight hours. The Grateful Dead played for nearly six hours, which is all documented in the CD and DVD The Closing of Winterland. The final bow also included performances from New Riders Of The Purple Sage and The Blues Brothers. The Dead closed the doors and welcomed the New Year with high spirits, to say the least.
The Grateful Dead considered the Winterland as sort of a homebase, having recorded some of their 1971 live album there, taking it over for five nights in ’74 to film The Grateful Dead Movie, and another five-night run in ’78 to celebrate their return from their adventures in Egypt. So to have them close the place down only seemed natural, though the walls had heard other enormously successful acts like Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, and The Rolling Stones on the regular.
Instead of an emotionally-driven farewell, the evening was filled with debauchery, as all the nights before it notoriously had. “There was a bit of blow going around,” said Weir in an interview with SF Gate. “The Blues Brothers brought mounds of it. I think they had it for breakfast.”
Bill Murray, Father Guido Sarducci, Al Franken, Paul Shaffer were all part of Saturday Night Live’s Blues Brothers band. They hung hard with Ken Kesey, Bill Walton, and other psychedelic characters backstage, leading into what was said to be one of the more legendary after-hour parties at the Jefferson Airplane mansion on Fulton Street.
Then, the Hells Angels arrived and freaked everyone out. “They started pouring in the place,” said Steve Parish, Grateful Dead road manager. “They literally took the backstage over. There were hundreds of them. We gave everyone onstage a dose of acid. That was our way of dealing with it.”
The night went on, and after Graham’s marijuana-inspired annual speech, the Grateful Dead dove into the music that lives on as one of the more (or less) memorable nights in their catalogs. Popping off the New Year with “Sugar Magnolia” in a sea of celebratory balloons, Weir started the second set with “Samson and Delilah” with the appropriate lyrics “If I had my way I would tear this old building down…”
The stage filled with a slew of special guests over the course of the night, including Lee Oskar of War and Gregg Errico of Sly and the Family Stone, Ken Babbs and Kesey of the Merry Pranksters rolled out the “Thunder Machine” for Mickey Hart to dispone his energy upon, and John Cipollina (Quicksilver Messenger Service) joined for the last two songs of the second set.
The Grateful Dead went into their third set and played until the sun came up, while Graham served champagne, ham, and eggs to the lasting crowd. Closing with a third encore, “We Bid You Goodnight”, they took their final bow and the door closed forever. This was one of the last medium-sized venues for the Dead to play in, as they went on to perform in larger venues, baseball parks, and hockey rinks.
As a result of the room’s dimensions, one fan’s dream certainly came true. Having waited for days to purchase tickets outside this legendary happening, the man held a sign: “1535 Days Since Last S.F. ‘Dark Star'”, and during that final third set, he got his ‘Dark Star’ and disposed the sign immediately from the balcony in a fit of joy.
Thanks to that committed Deadhead, here is one of the most legendary “Dark Stars”, courtesy of the Music Vault:
Watch the full concert below:
[Via SF Gate]