Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Too Pat To Open

We have learned something today, Enthusiasts, or perhaps we have remembered something, a broken-off kernel of the primal knowledge we all share, the collective knowing, an ur-memory.

The fact that the Violent Femmes opened for the Dead is not part of whatever the fuck the ur-memory is. It is the definition of the word trivia.

No, it’s more important than that. Quadrivia, at least.

I disagree. Furthermore, I retract my previous statement classifying this fact as trivia. It is less than trivia. Trivia might help you on Jeopardy, whereas “Grateful Dead Opening Acts” is never going to be a category.

Let’s just say we learned.

Did we? Is the mere ingestation of a random piece of effluva “learning?”

Why are you being so difficult?

Because you were one sentence away from comparing your discovery of this small fact to Proust’s madeleine.

In my defense–

There’s no defense for that.

There isn’t.


Getting back to the Dead: there is no master list of opening acts. As with so much else in the Dead’s universe of oddities, one-offs, and obscurantics, the indispensable Hooterollin’ (kid sister site to the similarly indispensable pistol-packin’ mama of Grateful Dead sites Lost Live Dead) has the best organized collection of whatever information is out there; it is not, as I said, a master list.

Mostly, the Dead didn’t have opening acts unless they did, which was sometimes. You would show up and there might be a band onstage that was not the Grateful Dead; the Dead did not advertise their openers, you inferred them. A good rule of thumb: if the band played outside, there was an opener, if they played inside, not. (Except on New Year’s Eve, and also other nights just because.)

The Opening Act is a worn and battered trope from the Rock Star mythos; every band but the Dead brought another band (or two) with them as support. There are Sherlock Holmes stories that have not been retold as many times as these tales: Van Halen blowing Black Sabbath off stage, and Aerosmith throwing Guns ‘n Roses off a tour for the crime of behaving in exactly the way they always behaved. Some bands fought with the support act, and others befriended them and engaged in semi-consensual sex acts with them.

Occasionally, the headlining band would actively sabotage their own opening act by reducing the amount of power, or not letting them use the lights, or do a soundcheck. Mötley Crüe once poisoned Warrant’s bass player with polonium. When he was an opening act, Peter Frampton was sold into sexual slavery by three separate groups. (ELP, UFO, and INXS.)

The Dead had some rather tasteful and appropriate acts warm up the crowd later in their run, Sting and Little Feat and the Nevilles. They even brought Warren Zevon back in 1980 after he drunkenly taunted the crowd when he opened for the Dead in ’78. He played at two shows in Boulder, and some of his set got taped. Go listen.

Warren looked like this:

Like I said, Warren played both shows; on the second night, he used all the same patter and told the same jokes and the Deadheads started yelling the punchlines out with him. In Warren’s defense: in normal show biz, you can tell the same jokes two nights in a row because it’s a different crowd. Someone should have warned him.



“Little something you might not have realized: same audience as yesterday.”

“Sure, course. It’s a demographic thing.”

“No. Not generally the same type of folks. The exact same human beings.”

“All of ’em?”


“You know any jokes?”

And so on.

The Grateful Dead also had many opening acts that have receded into the smoke of time, and memory, and doobie but for the hard work of archivists, historians, and–most of all–me. Many people have called me a hero for talking about the Dead’s opening acts; they are correct. You’re welcome.

TotD now presents Grateful Dead Opening Acts You May Not Recall:

2 Live Crew – 10/14/88, Miami The promoter, trying to add some local South Florida flavor, booked the controversial rap band. The audience was deeply offended; not by the lyrics, but by how pitifully the 2 Live Crew rapped. Billy loved them.

Alice Cooper – 5/12/77, Chicago You shouldn’t be chopping off heads in front of an arena full of people on acid. Let’s just leave it at that.

Bolshoi Ballet – 6/28/85, Hershey Park What was intended as a cross-cultural exchange turned into an international incident when the Dead dosed the company and they all defected immediately. Bobby dated the prima ballerina for a few months; the rest of the band banged the chorus during set break.

Terrified buffalo – 9/16/87, MSG Not a band: an actual panicked bison, pushed out onto stage.

The Groovy Ghoulies – 10/27/73, Indianapolis Halfway through the Ghoulies’ set, everyone in the audience simultaneously realized the band was fictional; localized reality decohered for several hours.


  1. It is indeed heroic to talk about the Grateful Dead opening acts. It is even more heroic to speculate on who was opening for whom (a deep mystery in the case of the Iron Butterfly).

    My personal favourite: Yothu Yindi, from Yirrkala on the Gove Peninsula, opened for the three shows of the December 1992 Oakland run.

  2. My great opening band story: watching The Good Rats blow up Nassau Colisseum before Rush headlined. And Rush were still great . . . But the Rats were on fire with Long Island pride and piss and vinegar that the main show seemed the afterthought after their opening onslaught. At bottom line, you can’t play tasty if you use the word “syrinx” in your lyrics. Yet still one of my all time fave shows ever.

    • JES, I was at that Nassau show too! I was there to see the Good Rats, loved them, walked out during Rush. Regret that second part a bit now, but that’s how it was then, glad to get confirmation I wasn’t just a nutter (yet).

  3. So I went to find a photo of Drac from the Groovy Ghoulies to make a clever dead Dead keyboardist joke, but when I Googled the name, I discovered that there is a real world band that stole it, and I was so offended by their effrontety that my joke making spirit dissipated. That’s just wrong. Cartoon bands are people with rights, too.

    • Fun discussion about openers.

      Who is opening for who?

      Jerry Garcia Band Frank Zappa Chicago 1984.

      As a fan of both, your young brain imagines every one that shares the stage that night get’s along and hangs out. Thinking about it now.. probably not so much.

      Frank played last, he took the stage and told us all to sit down and relax.

  4. Well let’s see. I saw Santana open for the dead in vegas then Steve miller the next year. Both lousy.

    Saw Branford’s trio on New Years 90. Thought it was hot at the time but the tapes don’t really bear that out. It was ok – not my thing.

    Best dead opener in my days was one of the big New Orleans brass bands (pres hall?) for a Mardi gras show in Oakland.

  5. Just like all my baseball memories – proven wrong by internet research. The New Orleans band I recalled seeing was rebirth brass band and it was that same New Year’s Eve as Branford.

    • I hear you Cube, I think I was wrong about 10,000 maniacs. Unless I went to Buffalo in 1980 something, and I might have, but I do not think so. I wish my ticket stubs were still around to tell me where I was.

      In my memory I only saw one Vince show, but I know I was at Violent Femmes/Grateful Dead Buckeye Lake, I had put that in Brent years, but it might have been Vince.

      It’s so easy to slip, it’s so easy to fall.

    • You could be correct about the Oakland Mardi Gras thing. I remember seeing the Dirty Dozen Brass Band open in Oakland and I’m pretty sure it was on Mardi Gras (but it could have been a New Year show, my memory is a bit foggy).

      Weirdest opening band I saw was Tom Tom Club opening for a New Year show in Oakland. I love the Talking Heads but TTC was a little out of place that night. Their rendition of Psycho Killer was unnerving.

  6. Luther Von Baconson

    February 6, 2017 at 11:28 am

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  7. If memory serves me right, when Dan Healy was let go in the early ’90s, one of his crimes was supposedly turning down the opening acts. That, and claiming that he could play the Bobby parts better than Bobby. But that’s all hear-say.

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