Words by Ryan Neeley – Photos by Rosie McGee

In May of 1968, the Grateful Dead was coming off their epic Haight Street Free Concert and their performance outside of San Quentin State Prison (unlike Johnny Cash, who had played inside the prison, the Dead played for a flatbed truck outside the prison), which were both held in March.  They made their way across the country to play a six show spread over three days, the first pair held on Bill Kreutzmann’s 22nd birthday, and hit New York City in the aftermath of a student strike at Columbia University.

For a week, 5,000 students had occupied five buildings on the Morningside Heights campus, protesting the university’s connection to the military industrial complex and it plans to build a gym in Morningside Park, a public park in the mostly African-American neighborhood next to campus.  Police had forcibly removed the strikers from the buildings the days prior to their arrival, but the

entire campus was in a sort of “lockdown” with police and guards denying access to the majority of the campus.  This gave legendary tour manager Rock Skully an idea.  Never one to shy away from confrontation and always the promoter, he got ahold of the strike organizers and offered to hold a free show on the campus.  Knowing the police would never permit this, the band and their equipment had to be smuggled in. “Just think of the publicity,” I’m sure Skully thought. ” San Francisco’s Grateful Dead fooling the cops to play for New York student radicals.”  The band members, also not ones to shy away from the spotlight of the fuzz, Merry Pranskter blood running through their veins, thought this was a great idea.

Both the Grateful Dead and their equipment made it from the outskirts of campus to Low Library Plaza in the heart of campus in the back of a bread delivery truck, and they were already set up and playing before the security and police could mobilize to stop it.  But some of the radicals wanted to take the opportunity to make speeches using the band’s PA system, which the group has explained was only for music.  At one point, Bob Weir actually kicked one of them in the ass when his view of Jerry and Phil was obscured; however, the show was deemed a rousing success.