$500 reward offered for elusive recording of Grateful Dead with the BPO - The Buffalo News
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$500 reward offered for elusive recording of Grateful Dead with the BPO

Deadheads, search your attics. You could be able to claim a $500 reward.

On March 17, 1970, the Grateful Dead gave an impromptu concert with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and its then music director, Lukas Foss. Now, the orchestra – and Grateful Dead fans everywhere, no doubt – are hoping against hope that a bootleg recording might turn up.

The push began by chance on Jan. 5 when the BPO put out a random tweet, alluding to the concert. The orchestra posted a picture of a tiny ad for the long-ago concert, simply as a curiosity.

"This is all that's left," the orchestra wrote.

Two of us from The Buffalo News -- Samantha Maziarz Christmann and I – responded to the Tweet, pointing out that reviews – including one by The Buffalo Evening News' Jim Brennan – existed.

The conversations struck a chord with radio and public relations personality Michael Caputo. Caputo, famous for his association with the Donald Trump campaign, is equally famous in certain circles for his devotion to the Dead. Caputo jumped into the Twitter exchange, promising a $500 reward, should a recording surface.

"For tapers – the Dead fans who attended and lovingly taped every show – this recording is like Moby Dick, elusive and mythical because every expert from Owsley 'Bear' Stanley to David Lemieux says nobody taped that night," he wrote in a private message. "Deadlist.com says the tape doesn't exist and that normally means forget it.

"But I'm not buying it."

The Grateful Dead, unlike most other bands, encouraged audience members to record concerts. Usually, there would be a special "taping section." But this concert was different. It was held in Kleinhans Music Hall, and orchestra rules generally forbade recording.

Still, Grateful Dead fans are a freewheeling bunch, and so hope springs eternal.

"I've heard of this great white whale recording for 40 years," Caputo wrote. "In my foggy memory of many years following the Dead, I even believed I listened to it in somebody's VW bus."

The absence of a recording is just one reason that this particular concert has, over the years, generated buzz. The concert was unplanned. Though Foss is often credited with conceiving the concert, it was actually spontaneous: The Dead were called in at the last minute to fill in for the Byrds, who had canceled.

The reviewers who attended the event gave tantalizing accounts of what went on.

"Orchestra’s Rapport With Rock Bands Electrifies Audience," read the headline in The News. Smaller headlines that followed throughout the story read: "Dueling Drummers," "Orchestra Divided," and "Effective Light Show."

Brennan, who went on to put in a long stint as editor of TV Topics, was captivated by the concert. He noted how Lynn Harbold, the BPO's percussionist, joined in a jam with Dead drummer Mickey Hart. And how Pigpen, the Dead's organist, brought the crowd of 2,200 to their feet with "Lovelight."

He loved the grand finale:

"As the groups and orchestras jammed, the atmosphere was intensified with a laser-beam light show. Rapid patterns and curves of pure light chased along the walls in time with the music like frantic balls of yarn. During this experimental work, a really exciting thing happened – a rock audience finally listening to a symphony group on its own terms suddenly took the initiative and began making music themselves by imitating the instruments and calls of the musicians."

What must that have sounded like? We might never know.

On the other hand, all might not be lost. Caputo, for one, believes that magic tape is out there.

"If somebody's got it, I'll pay $500 for it," he reiterated. "Think of it like Antiques Roadshow but for something of real value: a rare and wonderful Tuesday night of music at Kleinhans.

"Somebody's going to poke around their grandpa's tape collection and find it. I just know it."

email: mkunz@buffnews.com

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