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Published: 2004/12/01
by Mike Greenhaus

Veneta, Oregon, August 27, 1972 – New Riders of the Purple Sage

Kufala Recordings 0088

Four songs into August 27, 1972, the newest archive release from space-country pioneers New Riders of the Purple Sage, an announcement is made from the stage: "My daughter and her friends ran away last night and we think they might be here. They are only 13."

In certain ways, this simple comment justifies the abundance of archived material pouring from the Grateful Dead's once tightly sealed musical reservoir. No longer novelties, Dick’s Picks volumes are now released almost quarterly, with From the Vault-style live shows spewing out at a similar speed. In the past 12 months, the Jerry Garcia Estate has also issued a stream of choice performances from the late guitarist’s non-Dead projects, many of which fall under the increasingly popular Pure Jerry banner. So, it makes sense that the New Riders of the Purple Sage have also jumped on the warts-and-all bandwagon, issuing select live performances from their early 1970s peak. While more polished live packages and reissued studio sessions still define their canon, rough-edged live releases like Veneta, Oregon August 27, 1972 are essential in capturing both the sound and the feel of the New Riders’ golden age. And, whether it’s this volume’s dirtied 16-track analog sound or the odd, dated comments mentioned above, Veneta, Oregon, August 27, 1972 successfully explains NRPS to a generation weaned on post-Garcia jambands.

Recorded at Field Trip, a 20,000-plus person benefit for the Kesey family creamery, August 27, 1972, like many early NRPS shows, finds the quintet sharing a bill with the Grateful Dead (who turned in one of their most renowned performances that very afternoon). Originally conceived as a country-rock vehicle for Garcia, the New Riders are, in many ways, the bastard children of jam-nation. Sandwiched between Dead sets, the New Riders literally developed their sound in the shadow of their peers. Gradually replacing early members Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart, the NRPS grew into an individual entity, while also struggling to maintain their original Deadhead audience.

Yet, despite sharing several branches with the Grateful Dead family tree, the New Riders were never really a jamband. Instead, the country quintet stemmed from the Dead's American Beauty studio peak, layering gentle psychedelic touches into their concise rock songs. Always more comfortable playing the tripped-out country-folk Gram Parsons trademarked during his tenure in The Byrds, the NRPS offer unique live versions of cuts like "Louisiana Lady" and "Hello Mary Lou," without necessarily jamming such tracks. And, with the exception of the country-rock workout "Willie and the Hand Jive," this barebones release is stacked with short, tight songs, not epic jams.

Opening with the swinging "Truck Drivin' Man," the NRPS establish a successful blueprint for their 16-song performance. Based around the guitars of John Dawson and David Nelson, the NRPS allow their loose harmonies to guide ballads like "Rainbow," while pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage colors the underbelly of songs like "Runnin' Back to You." Yet, like any cultural artifact, each piece of musical evidence offered during this single-set performance leads to additional intrigue.

Recorded on what this album's sleeve says was "an extremely hot day with an assortment of Merry Pranksters on the loose," Veneta, Oregon, August 27, 1972 is the soundtrack to a unique time in American history. With quick band quips, and highlighted stage announcement tracks, breaking August 27, 1972 into four sections, listeners are able to experience the NRPS within their cultural context. "Your medicine is at the Moon Tent," an announcer quips before a performance of the husky "Whiskey." Later, an announcement from this festival’s sponsors recommends "salt tabs," while cautioning against the "blue acid." And, if anyone reading this review remembers what the girl at the White Bird freak-out tent was on, I’m sure she’d still "like to know what she’s had."

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