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4/24/78: The Best Live Grateful Dead show you haven’t listened to yet.

Brendan Casey

Ah, 1978 - back when gas was 63 cents per gallon, Grease and Saturday Night Fever hit the big screen, and the Atari Video Game Computer system became the hot new entertainment for kids across the U.S.

As Bobby Bonds and the White Sox took on the Detroit Tigers in Chicago about 2 hours north, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead took the stage in the rural college town of Normal, Illinois-and the show that was to follow proved to be anything BUT normal.

1978 proves to be a special year for the Grateful Dead but is constantly overshadowed by its predecessors. As the Grateful Dead came from their short “hiatus” in 1976, they returned to the stage with a mellow yet crisp tone, as their jams carried a delicate but intricate jazzy influence. Come 1977, the band begins to fire on all 7-cylinders, as the energy and intensity increases, and things just seem to click. As any avid Deadhead would tell you, the Spring ‘77 tour is the best bunch of shows in the band's history. With 5/7, 5/9, 5/22, 5/28, and of course, the “untouchable” 5/8/77 show at Cornell University’s Barton Hall, this great energy carries its way into the Fall, and then through the New Year into 1978. As Spring ‘78 comes along, the band delivers some fantastic shows, including this one in particular, 4/24/78-but you won’t find it on “Top Grateful Dead Shows” lists anywhere. It’s truly a hidden gem.

1978 is different. The animation and liveliness are through the roof! The band is locked in, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir are lively and animated, Phil Lesh is commanding with his powerful bass playing, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart in sync pushing the tempo and building jams to a new level, Donna Jean Godchaux’s vocals are on point, while her husband Keith Godchaux’s fingers dance all over the ivories. The band seemed to be full of life and having fun-and that's just exactly what was going on on April 24, 1978 inside the Horton Field House at Illinois State University.

The Grateful Dead took the stage for the first set in front of about 8,000 college students and Deadheads, starting it off hot with a ripping “Promised Land” with an extended outro jam that Garcia is all over. Kreutzmann and Hart build this one, banging on the drums like no tomorrow, while Lesh begins walking up the neck of the bass. When it's all said and done, Weir creeps up to the microphone and whispers a high pitched, childlike “Thank you!” as the crowd goes bananas.

Then comes a “Ramble On Rose” for the ages. Keith is sliding all over the keyboard, as the song crescendos and then relaxes, ultimately building and spilling over as Garcia literally roars the lyrics “Goodbye mama and papa, goodbye Jack and Jill! The grass isn't greener, the wine ain’t sweeter, on either side of the hill!” The song then immediately relaxes back into its refrain, as if all that excitement never happened. Once the tune is over, Weir and Keith continue to trade chords back and forth with each other, as it seemed like “this song ain’t never gonna end”.

Like I said, Saturday Night Fever was a hit in theaters across the nation as disco music continued to gain popularity in 1978, so when Weir begins to tease the Bee Gees hit “Stayin’ Alive” in between songs, it's no surprise to hear the crowd’s excitement. Instead, the band jumps into an absolutely rambunctious “Me & My Uncle”, while Keith and Jerry continue to play the “Stayin’ Alive” melody throughout the song. The band then promptly shifts into a head-bobbing “Big River” with a huge piano solo by Keith, as Jerry’s fingers dance all over the fretboard from start to finish. *It should be noted that this “Me & My Uncle” is ranked #1 on, while the “Big River” is ranked #2.

After this burst of energy, the band decided to pump the brakes for a bit, as they delivered a heartfelt, passion-filled “Friend of the Devil” in its slowed down arrangement, which became the norm after the hiatus. Donna Jean’s backups on this one are beautiful and spot on, while Weir’s unique style of rhythm and chord phrasing shine in the mix. An example of more fun occurring in this show, when Jerry delivers the lyrics “The first one said she’s got my child but it don’t look like me”, he follows it with a chiming “No it don’t!”, as if swearing that whoever’s child this may be, it really can’t be his.

Following this comes “Cassidy”, a masterful product by the songwriting duo of Bob Weir and the late John Perry Barlow. “Cassidy” is a song about life and death, as it’s said to be inspired by the birth of the Grateful Dead office manager’s baby girl named “Cassidy”, as well as the death of Neal Cassady, counterculture icon and close friend of the Grateful Dead family. As Weir delivers the lyrics “Quick beats in an icy heart, catch colt draws a coffin cart, There he goes and now here she starts, hear her cry,” the song blossoms into a short-but-sweet jam which leads inspirational visionary tale, telling 8,000+ students and Deadheads to have their “life proceed by its own design”.

Then comes “Brown-Eyed Women”, a very Americana-esque song written by the late Robert Hunter alongside Garcia. The lyrics take you on an imagery-filled journey of a time when oxen used to plow fields, whiskey flowed at the bar like water, and mothers gave their 8+ children “lickings” when they misbehaved. After Garcia plays the opening riff, Kreuttzman and Hart have a quick hiccup in keeping the beat, but then make up for it by having a field day crescendoing after each verse, turning this one into an upbeat head-bopper.

Jerry then whips out the slide for “Passenger”, a song written by bassist Phil Lesh. As Weir and Donna Jean shout “Passenger, don't you hear me? Destination, seen unclearly” at the audience, Lesh thumps along at his tune, which he later said in an interview in Dupree’s Diamond News, “It's a take on a Fleetwood Mac tune called ‘Station Man.’ I just sort of sped it up and put some different chord changes in there..." This rendition really rips.

Giving everyone a chance to relax for a second and breathe, next comes “It Must Have Been The Roses”, a song about grief and death that adds to the emotional roller coaster setlist of any Grateful Dead show. Garcia delivers these lyrics so sincerely, as Keith compliments them with beautiful, twinkling piano licks. The 3-part harmonies of Jerry/Bob/Donna can bring a tear to anyone’s eye in this one, along with Jerry’s solo full of profound emotion.

The band then shifts gears, and apparently decided to send everyone in attendance off into oblivion to close the first set, with a hell-bent, hair raising “The Music Never Stopped.” This is another prime example of how much fun they were having that night. After the first verse when Bobby and Donna sing “...and they keep on dancin’”, they make gleeful remarks that will make you grin ear-to-ear: “That’s right!”, from Bobby, followed by a provocative James Brown-like grunt that Donna responds with a “Good God!” You can hear the entire Field House clap all along throughout the lucid jam, as Garcia plays a hypnotizing, captivating lead that results in him delivering an insane shred-fest with both him and Weir absolutely wailing on their guitars to close out the song in a monstrous, ridiculous fashion that will have your hair stand up on end. The first set ends with a bang, as the band walks off to take a breather.

As the band comes back onto the stage after setbreak and begins to tune up, one has to wonder how on Earth will they bring the same energy and precision again? Well, listen!

Opening up the second set is the beloved dynamic duo of “Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain”. As the opening riff of “Scarlet” begins, the drums come in at double-time in perfect synchronization, cymbals crashing left and right, a sign that this one will be a real heater. This upbeat tune designed to make you smile will do exactly that, as Jerry’s lead sparkles while the band plays on, tearing through this one with a vengeance as the crowd claps along. As the transition comes together, Donna begins her blissful wooing, as it floats above and around the rest of the music, and Jerry and crew continue the journey into “Fire”. Once Jerry switches on his Mu-Tron “auto-wah” effect, “Fire on the Mountain” is born. Bob makes this one sound pretty unique as he breaks out a slide on multiple occasions throughout the song, contrasting Jerry’s strong, full, octave-divider tone. Another example of the band having a hell of a time: As they go into the final chorus, singing “Fire, fire on the mountain”, Jerry begins shouting in between lines things like “No, not the fire!” and “Let it burn! Let it burn! Let it burn!” It may not be the most pristine “Scarlet/Fire”, but this one has force, emotion, and it rips! Full steam ahead!

The band then drops into the introduction of “Good Lovin’”, the classic 60’s hit made famous by The Young Rascals. Weir really roars on this one, while Jerry doesn’t miss a note on a ripping solo. As everyone rocks out, Weir enters his rap, shouting that they need “Good Lovin’” in countries like Russia, China, and Albania, followed by a series of primal shrieks. This one is lively as it gets.

If you listen closely on certain recordings after “Good Lovin’”, you can hear Jerry tell the rest of the crew “Terrapin into Rhythm Devils”, and that's exactly what the audience was gifted. The band then takes the Field House on the musical spiritual journey of “Terrapin Station”. This one is skillfully played with precision, as Keith and Garcia locked in together. Garcia delivers the lyrics as a storyteller, and you believe every word as he preaches to the crowd about a place that can only be reached by those with passion and a desire for adventure. After a raging, climactic outro, the song lays you down peacefully, as the Rhythm Devils take over.

“Drums/Space” is commonly the part of the show where fans will rest their feet, go get a beer, or go to the bathroom-but this “Drums/Space” will keep you locked in. With a 13-minute drum sequence featuring Mickey and Bill banging away on all sorts of percussion instruments, they keep the beat and find a groove. Its energetic, its upbeat, and...then it gets weird. Sound effects reminiscent of howler monkeys begin to “Ooh ooh!”, and then some band members can be heard laughing along and making monkey noises of their own. The band then starts chanting “Hey!” along to a beat being played by a vibra-slap. Garcia can be heard yucking it up with someone on stage, probably joking about the audience’s shocked faces in reaction to this strangeness occurring in a town they call Normal. As the rest of the band walks back on stage, Hart bangs away on a steel pan while Jerry picks up his guitar and noodles around on the octave-divider setting, entering “Space”. Weir begins toying around on his guitar with a slide, creating head-spinning, otherworldly noises. As the sound of feedback whirs, crowd members could only assume aliens were landing on top of the Field House, ready to invade. This “Drums/Space” clocks in at about 20 minutes, exceptionally long for the era-but you can tell the band was just having fun with it.

Out of “Space”, the 3/2 clave-esque Bo Diddley beat emerges, as Mickey and Bill lead the way into a huge “Not Fade Away”. The band takes their time jamming into the song, before going into the first verse. Lesh thumps away at bass, playing up and down the neck, while Garcia tears up some scales. The song climaxes with each verse, and then mellows out. The band softly jams out of this rocker and brings the tempo down into a slower tune.

The band then enters “Black Peter”, a tune about a man on his deathbed, only to find life in the end. The way Garcia sings this one, you can tell he really puts himself into the shoes of the main character in the story, Peter. The harmonies of Garcia/Weir/Donna Jean are so fantastic, and really do a great job setting up a dark yet optimistic vibe. As they enter the outro jam, Weir’s slide loops around Jerry’s building lead, as the intensity increases slowly, and the song grows and grows until Jerry promptly plays the opening riff to “Around and Around”.

The classic Chuck Berry tune “Around and Around” that is guaranteed to get you “stompin’ your feet” and “clappin’ your hands” lives up to its word. The band brings it down quietly after the first few verses, with Bob and Donna Jean singing at a near whisper into the microphone before the song erupts into a frenzy. Keith banging away on the keys, Phil bumping along on bass, and Jerry’s biting lead is aided by a shout from Weir and a “wooo!” by Donna. The song ends in fury, as the band walks off the stage to end the second set. The Field House transformed into a “Mad House”, cheering for more, and they’re loud. “You know they never stopped rockin…”

The Grateful Dead come back onto the stage for their obligatory encore, to cap off this crazy show. It being 1978, the Warren Zevon album Excitable Boy had just been released a few months prior, so the Dead took his song “Werewolves of London”, a feel-good sing-along song with a wild, comical story about Werewolves living amongst Londoners and terrorizing everyone. The band has a great time with this one, as Jerry invites everyone to join in, and Lesh begins to insert his own comical remarks, like “Werewolves of...Weirdness!” Howls and “Awooo’s” filled the air that night in Normal, Illinois.

The fact that a Grateful Dead show can entertain a crowd the way they did that night, and 41 years later the recording can still entertain someone listening in their car or at home, really says something about the power of this music. The Dead were entertainers that wanted to show everybody a good time when they came to town, and that's exactly what they did on 4/24/78. Their music was energetic, lively, emotional, and will make you get off your butt and dance. This show is guaranteed to make you smile and fall in love with the band over and over again. Why it isn’t on any “Top Grateful Dead Show” lists is beyond me, but give it a listen and judge for’re guaranteed to have fun. By the time you finish listening, you’ll have “nothin’ left to do but smile, smile, smile!”

First Set: Promised Land, Ramble On Rose, Me And My Uncle, Big River, Friend Of The Devil, Cassidy, Brown-Eyed Women, Passenger, It Must Have Been The Roses, The Music Never Stopped

Second Set: Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain, Good Lovin', Terrapin Station>Drums/Space>Not Fade Away>Black Peter>Around And Around

Encore: Werewolves of London

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