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Grateful Dead
Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 1: Big Rock Pow Wow ‘69

Grateful Dead Productions

As 2010 is about to bid farewell, the Grateful Dead present us with a major gift of lasting proportions. The final “Road Trips” release of the year offers a giant mind meltdown as the Boys get it together during a couple of sweltering days in 1969 at the Seminole Reservation in Hollywood, Florida. The music at the Big Rock Pow Wow as well as the stage banter displays a loose musical outfit, which is not to be confused with sloppy. Apparently, Timothy Leary was present and the spiked orange juice was making the festivities as crispy as the recording made by Owlsey Stanley. Listening to this release, you can sense the humidity in the air with beads of sweat slowly rolling down your cheek, and you don’t mind at all.

Keyboardist Tom Constanten provides informative background on the Pow Wow’s scene in the liner notes. It’s something worth recalling when listening to Bob Weir attempt to navigate through the joke, “Yellow Dog Story.”

Much of this edition of Road Trips pays close attention to the original sets with only “Dancing in the Streets” and “Casey Jones” not making it on to this creation. For purists there is some tampering involved — bringing “Morning Dew” and “Me and My Uncle” from night one over to the start of disc three in order for the packaging to fit on a trio of CDs.

Disc one rolls through five numbers that are bookended by Pigpen’s moments in the spotlight. “Hard to Handle” kicks matters into high gear, only to find the crowd of several thousand settled in more as listeners than dancers. That works out fine as a the sequence of “Dark Star”>“St. Stephen”>“The Eleven”>“Turn On Your Lovelight” takes us on a journey that dances around the rhythmic progression of “Dark Star,” catapults into a strong and lively combo of “Stephen”>”Eleven” and completes the circle now that the rhythm remains strong into a half-hour “Lovelight.”

Disc two begins on one of those adventurous moments that come about due to the circumstances at hand. Tom Constanten’s organ set up isn’t working and after five minutes of stalling by the MC, a decision suddenly emerges to stop waiting around and play on while Ramrod continues his repair work as Mr. Fixit. “Lovelight” reappears as the opener in a patentedly different form than what transpired less than 24 hours earlier on the same stage. Playful takes on “Doin’ That Rag” and “China Cat Sunflower” follow with “The Eleven” briefly dropping the wattage lit by previous numbers before it regains its footing towards a full head of steam and drops for “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.”

Disc three begins quite well with the inclusion of “Morning Dew” and “Me and My Uncle” before returning to the second night’s setlist. Naturally, “Alligator” appears and just as it gets shaky “Drums” jumps in before “St. Stephen” reaches the evening’s peak for those who were or weren’t already juiced up. “Feedback” finds itself with an improvised structure that feels right for the moment as much as it does a beautiful explosion of sound whereas “We Bid You Goodnight” finishes the night off as it makes for the soft landing that was necessary at that time. Even without a gulp of Leary OJ, this is a trip worth taking.

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