Just where were our heroes the Grateful Dead–this is a blog about the Dead–when the rest of the planet was feeding the world with Sir Bob Geldof in London and Bill Graham in Philly? Why was the Dead not at Live Aid?
Several reasons, first and foremost being that they had a gig at a county fair. (Okay, it was just at the fairgrounds, but it’s still verging on Spinal Tapness.) Live Aid was 7/13/85, and the Dead were in Ventura, California. This is what Garcia, who was a glamorous Rock Star, looked like:
Living the dream.
Later on, he switched to a red shirt; this inspired the same joke told a billion times, and looked like this:
The first set–which has a truly peculiar set list–looked and sounded like this:
So, you know: they were busy. And if they weren’t, they would have pretended to be: they had tanked every festival they’d played before this (except Watkins Glen, where they played better at soundcheck than at the gig), and at those festivals they had been allowed to play for an hour or so.
And gotten paid. The Dead insisted on getting their money–in cash–before even leaving the hotel at Woodstock, and they shook Wozniak down for a hundred thousand or so at the US Festival. It’s not that the Dead didn’t do benefit shows: they did quite a few, and then started their own foundation to streamline their charity efforts.
But mostly the time thing. There was no way they could get their act across given the constraints of the show. The Dead didn’t play for 20 minutes; the Dead tuned for 20 minutes. Were they going to take the stage with vigor and bludgeon the crowd with hit after hit? The Dead didn’t even have one hit, let alone another one to follow it, and–even if they did–they certainly weren’t going to rehearse for the gig.
Now back to the money: the bands had been paying their own way, which is why so many performers showed up by themselves. The smaller acts got their tabs picked up by the record companies in exchange for the publicity, but I would assume the record companies figured out a way to make the acts pay them back. The Dead was four years into the Arista contract in ’85 and had not given Clive Davis a hit, so he wasn’t paying for the plane tickets; also, it’s not like they would have just shown up by their lonesomes and performed on borrowed gear: the Grateful Dead traveled heavy. The band may not have been able to afford to go.
AND Garcia was messy at the time AND they might have said no just to piss Bill Graham off AND who the fuck is Bob Geldof? AND they all hated MTV.
Plus, Bobby hates Phil Collins. Always has. Bobby doesn’t hate anyone, but he hates Phil Collins.