Tompkins Square Park, 1967

What is your favorite Dead show, and why?:

  • The only Dead show I attended is the one in which I played guitar with the band, Tompkins Square Park on Manhattan's Lower East Side during the Summer of Love, 1967.

    The park had become a hippie hangout of sorts, with weed being smoked more or less openly until the cops staged a big raid, beat up several people and threw them in jail. This caused a huge uproar, police were shamed for their brutality, and proclaimed that they wouldn't be patrolling the park anymore.

    I had co-founded a band called "Group Image" (name inspired by Marshall McCluhan's "The Medium Is The Message"). We planned to play a benefit concert, I think to help with legal expenses for the police victims, and we contacted the Dead to invite them to join in. They accepted because they were in town anyway, and visited us at the loft for a brief jam a day or two before.

    They played a few of their songs for us, and then asked us to play some of ours. One of us replied, "We don't have any songs. We just play free." We were known as the loudest band in New York, having learned how to stack columns of Marshall amps together at a time when the Beatles were using little Standells. We would often set up at St Mark's Church or some other venue such as the Balloon Farm, set up a light show, and just start jamming, improvising, the word would spread, crowds showed up. We were wild, primitive, unstructured, like a tribe, and the music sprang from that roughly organized chaos.

    I was a fan of Charles Lloyd, a jazz musician in the Coltrane, Albert Ayler mold (although much more whimsical in his "Free Music" style) and had translated that genre into rock in my own crude way, with a lead guitar style similar to the Byrds "Eight Miles High". I was also a hanging-out friend of Larry Coryell, one of the early jazz fusion guitarists, whose apartment was across the street from Tompkins Square. Anyway, I brought my crude oddball guitar style with those influences to the Tompkins Square concert. I think the Dead and Group Image played some songs, then jammed for about 5-6 hours. The crowd went insane, as they usually did at our shows.

    Toward the end, things got increasingly crazy and scary...women being assaulted, weapons brandished by ethnic groups that were somewhat resentful of the hippie invasion of the Lower East Side, with no cops in sight. We were on our own to get out of there. We quickly tore down our gear, packed up and ran for our lives. I think I remember Weir slamming the last of their gear into the back of a Chevy panel truck.

    My memory of this event 45 years ago ain't perfect, but it's probably close enough. I'm more than willing to be corrected by someone who was there. It would be fun to see some photos of it...I recall a woman there who seemed to be a pro shooting a lot of pics. I quit the Group Image soon after, but my musical career continued on for another 30 years and continues now just for fun...my tunes occasionally played on radio and TV.

    During that summer I was active in the New York City art scene as a poster artist, painter and illustrator. My album cover for Gary Burton's "A Genuine Tong Funeral" was nominated in '67 for a Grammy: http://www.jimmys-website.com/art/Burton-%20Genuine%20Tong%20Funeral.jpg
    One of the '67 posters was fairly Dead-ish: http://www.jimmys-website.com/art/kundalini%20edit.jpg

    The Tompkins Square Concert is a favorite memory from those days.

    Jim Fosso
    Seattle, WA

Citation:

“Tompkins Square Park, 1967,” Grateful Dead Archive Online, accessed November 28, 2014, http://www.gdao.org/items/show/837898.

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