The Grateful Dead plays at CU

The Grateful Dead plays at CU

It’s Thursday and we have yet another fun story found deep in Columbia’s archives. Before we danced to Vampire Weekend at Bacchanal, The Grateful Dead apparently played a show on Low Steps. Music Maven Juliet Larsen brings us the tale.

Remember that time when The Grateful Dead played an exclusive concert for Columbia during the protests of 1968? It’s okay, most current students don’t, despite it being an odd and important piece of the school’s history.

Long before Ferris Booth Commons was known for its ridiculously long pasta line and too-many-options soda machines, there was a revolution occurring – right on the terrace of good ol’ Ferris.

That’s right, it was 1968 and people were ready to fight. There was a war going on, both in Vietnam and within the Columbia campus.

Starting April 23, 1968, the students of CU rallied together in protest of both the research for the Vietnam War that Columbia funded (gross), as well as the gymnasium under construction on public Morningside Park territory that only allowed minimal access to the Harlem residents it surrounded.

While one student reportedly threw a lemon cream pie at the face of a police officer (a student after my own heart), the protests were focused on nonviolence, and lasted roughly one week. Demonstrations continued for six days, during which African-American students occupied Hamilton and many other non-black students occupied the president’s office in Low Library.

Alma after the cops invaded campus

Alma after the cops invaded campus

Matters became much worse when the police came to campus (no, unfortunately not Sting’s band). Over 700 people were arrested, and many were physically attacked and beaten with batons and brute force. In response to this bloodbath of a night, students went on strike for the rest of the semester, attending only self-proclaimed “liberation classes.” Continued police force was met with passionate picketing, and the school couldn’t even issue final grades that year.

How to celebrate this strike? Invite The Grateful Dead to come play a spontaneous concert, obviously. For those who don’t know The Grateful Dead, they were an uber-popular classic rock band whose songs like “Casey Jones” and “Friend of the Devil” helped characterize the era of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. (Obviously a cliche, but with lyrics like “Drivin’ that train, high on cocaine,” it seems apt). Most importantly, their guitarist and lead singer Jerry has been immortalized in art: being the namesake for Ben and Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” ice cream.

On the afternoon of May 3rd, students gathered around Ferris to jam with the rockers. Students from all groups and schools surrounded the band, grateful (no pun intended) to have support from such a radical band. Spectator covered the event, stating that students were “smiling, waving,” and “dancing to ‘Mountain Dew.’”

After commencement that year, their efforts proved to be effective, because Columbia stopped construction on the Morningside gym, terminated the funded research on weapons and war, and even stopped recruitment for the military on campus.

So, the next time CU students are motivated enough to organize school-wide protests, can we please get The Grateful Dead to play again? Well, at least the 4/13 members still living, of course.

The Grateful Dead’s radical performance:

Protest and Alma via Spectator Archives