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How the Grateful Dead took Europe by storm in 1972

How the Grateful Dead took Europe by storm in 1972

“Everyone goes,” said Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia.

It was 1967, and an informal band meeting was taking place in the living room of the Grateful Dead His Haight-Ashbury Victorian, The theme was a group fantasy that had recently taken a few steps toward reality: a European tour. With the band’s debut album out and their star rising, traveling abroad now felt like something that could actually happen: not only possible, but technically accessible.

But it raised a tricky issue. who will go? It was not an easy decision. After all, the dead were about the community, not just the Haight, that celebrated them as hometown heroes. Years later, when employee Alan Trist was asked about the band’s management philosophy, he explained, “Everybody had a voice, and every voice was heard.”

This led to the band’s meetings not only with members and managers, but also with employees, Roadies, and even some legendary fans, such as Sue Swanson and Connie Bonner, who ran the band’s newspaper at the time. Can be a bit chaotic. And this made the idea of ​​choosing a core group to go to Europe not only difficult, but somehow wrong – which is why García ended the discussion by saying, “Everyone goes.”

Five years later, the band fulfilled that promise. When the Dead left for England on April 1, 1972, on their first, full-fledged overseas tour, about 50 people toured: not only the band and crew, but also partners and paramours, managers and press liaisons. That a dedicated recording crew – all friends and fellow passengers.

That was 50 years ago. Since that time, the tour has become one of the more famous chapters in the history of the dead. Part of that was the potential for the music they made, but the tour also embodied the philosophy of the dead, from their approach to music and performance to their way of doing business.

Grateful Dead singer-songwriter and guitarist Jerry Garcia, London, April 4, 1972.

Grateful Dead singer-songwriter and guitarist Jerry Garcia, London, April 4, 1972.

Michael Putland/Getty Images

Europe ’72, as both the tour and the album documenting it was known, was their first real opportunity to see what an extended stay could do to their music. There had been some overseas tours before then, most notably their week-long Canadian tour with a series of bands in 1970, and even quick tours of England and France, but nothing extensive. And by 1972, the Dead were at the top of their game, and if they had already learned how venues and audiences and venues at home shaped their music, what a full tour of the Old World could do for their famous improvisations. Is?

The six weeks he spent in April and May would be creative. In addition to England, the Dead performed in Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Luxembourg. One of the most notable events included a brutally cold and rainy outdoor festival in Wigan, England, which earned them much goodwill for their professionalism. In another standout, the band played for the ornate splendor of the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, where they held the spirit of orchestral music as usual.

Even a canceled gig in France produced miracles: some specialist program wrangling caused him to return a few weeks later, fulfilling his promise with a free show in the town square. French fans were already passionate about Dead, but that show at Lille burned their reputation forever. And for the band, that afternoon was a reminder of their early days, playing for free in Golden Gate Park, and a glimpse of the magical lights of the French countryside. For bassist Phil Lesh, Lyle will forever be the show that taught him what Cézanne had seen.

Group portrait of The Grateful Dead in the dressing room at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, April 1972.

Group portrait of The Grateful Dead in the dressing room at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, April 1972.


Gijsbert Hanekrot/Redferns

A portrait of Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead at Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark in April 1972.

A portrait of Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead at Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark in April 1972.


Gijsbert Hanekrot/Redferns

Ron Pippen McKernan of the Grateful Dead performs on stage at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, in April 1972.

Ron Pippen McKernan of the Grateful Dead performs on stage at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, in April 1972.


Gijsbert Hanekrot/Redferns

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead in Copenhagen, Denmark in April 1972.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead in Copenhagen, Denmark in April 1972.


Gijsbert Hanekrot/Redferns

The Grateful Dead in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1972. Credits: Gijsbert Hanekrot/Redferns.

It became part of the tour legend, but like all dead art, hard work created what looked like pure serenity. When the idea of ​​the tour began to take shape in 1971, the Dead sent Alan Trist to conduct a reconnaissance. A Cambridge-educated Englishman who had become close friends with García and band songwriter Robert Hunter in the early 1960s, Trist explored places and made contacts across Europe leading the way. Road manager Sam Cutler – another Brit – put the tour together, and the band pushed Warner Bros. to take the adventure as an advance on a live album. This was one of the real achievements of the tour.

With a dedicated crew running a mobile 16-track studio, the Dead recorded every show. The results were an embarrassment of funds, more than enough to fill three LPs which they persuaded Warner Bros. to release. The album sold quite well, but there was more to hear. Fans heard hints of this with some subsequent archival releases, but in 2011, the band and Rhino raised eyebrows by releasing a box set of the tour that included every show. Skeptics raged – but in four days all 7,200 copies were snatched away.

ron "small pen" McKernan, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead perform on stage at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, in April 1972.

Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead perform on stage at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark in April 1972.

Gijsbert Hanekrot/Redferns

Critics may have been surprised but fans knew better. The box set provided definitive proof of everything Europe had listened to and provided: hard on the heels of 1970’s “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty” on the heels of the Dead’s turn, the band featured long, leisurely shows. That peaked in his psychedelic baroque renditions of “Dark Star” and “The Other One” with crystalline versions of his full range of influences, from blues staples like “Big Boss Man” to Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home”. Up to country classics. They also had some new songs, fueled by Bob Weir’s growing prominence as a songwriter, with his “Playing in the Band” being a feature of set lists on tour. And the recent addition of Donna Jean Godchaux also added a fresh voice and new harmonies to the mix.

Decades later, the legend of Europe ’72 hasn’t dimmed—especially for those lucky enough to have been a part of it. Rosie McGee, a longtime member of the band’s family, whose native French made them particularly valuable on tour, called it “the blurring of great concerts by the band at one of the heights of their musical development”. Above all, it brought everyone even closer, as McGee said, a “thicker than blood” bond. Road crew member Steve Parrish called it “a peak” in his career, “moments that brought us closer together that made us feel like we were really on some kind of mission.”

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead performs on stage at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, in April 1972.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead performs on stage at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, in April 1972.

Gijsbert Hanekrot/Redferns

This tour was the test of that mission. More than just music, the tour showed that the band had weathered the storms of the 1960s and the death of the Haight. Even though he had lost Mickey Hart the year before – he would return a few years later – and Europe would be the swan song of band co-founder Ron “Pigpen” McCernan (already suffering from a terminal illness), in addition to Keith Godchaux. The keyboardist and his wife, Donna Jean, added a whole new dimension to their voices in the dead. Along with the music, the changes showed a band that was still progressing, still innovating. This was true as much as he pushed the boundaries of audio technology from live concert sound to recording techniques, and he would soon go even further, launching his own record company.


This was already an idea they were discussing in Europe. Well, the final stop was a late addition to the itinerary: four nights at London’s Lyceum Theatre, a gold legacy of bygone glory that was on the cusp of a tour. Those shows provided nine of the album’s 14 tracks, but they were also thanks to the fans who made the concert a success. And like the whole tour, he showed that the mission of the dead – his unique vision of the artistic community – can cross oceans, continents, and cultures.

Nicholas Mr. Meriweather is curator at the Haight Street Art Center, where the exhibition “Psychedelic Renaissance: Posters from the Family Dog and Bill Graham Presents, 1965–1967” is on view at 215 Haight St. free admission until May 15.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead performs on stage at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, in April 1972.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead performs on stage at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, in April 1972.

Gijsbert Hanekrot/Redferns

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Drashti Jain