7.25.2004

DVD Review: Grateful Dead - The Closing of Winterland

Artist: Grateful Dead
Title: The Closing of Winterland,
December 31, 1978
Label: Monterey Video
Year: 2003

Rating: 4.5 Drops

Winterland, originally built as a boxing venue and then an ice skating arena in San Francisco Ca, became the second home of Rock promoter Bill Graham when the acts he normally sponsored at his Fillmore Auditorium, a few blocks away, became too popular and a larger seating capacity was needed. Bill promoted well over 500 shows at Winterland through its legendary slice of history that saw acts such as the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Stevie Wonder, Cream , James Brown, Jefferson Airplane, the Sex Pistols, and certainly one of the greatest Rock and Roll bands of all time: The Grateful Dead.

After going through several renovations, Bill Graham could no longer manage keeping the crumbling building together and decided to close the doors of Winterland with one final smash evening on December 31, 1978 with opening acts New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Blues Brothers, and the Grateful Dead to headline this sentimental farewell concert. ‘Pete’, according to one of the Winterland management crew, ‘Who is always the first to show up’ made it to his legendary place at the front door three days before the show. Bill Graham’s sister, Esther, set up a soup kitchen outside to feed all the ‘Beautiful Kids’ waiting outside with a healthy menu of soup, rolls, and carrot cake. It had been, according to the obsessed fans banner, “1535 Days Since Last SF Dark Star”. San Francisco public television station KQED and pioneering FM Rock station KSAN were there to capture every moment in video and audio: It was the beginning of a historical evening.

With well over 5000 ‘Heads’ crammed into Winterland, and the opening acts having wowed the crowd, Bill Graham dressed up as ‘Father Time’ and took his midnight ride in his carriage to the stage that was a blazing monster joint that only King Kong could enjoy in one sitting. Once the gigantic doobie hit the stage, with Dan Aykroyd finishing the countdown, a million balloons flooded the audience with uproarious applause as the Dead whipped out the first chords and riffs of Sugar Magnolia. From that moment on, the night belonged to the Grateful Dead and the swarming sea of fans paying their last rites to the place that held 59 Dead shows, nearly 10% of all Grateful Dead performances.

There are so many magical moments on this film that I could spend several more pages or a full essay on the subject without a doubt. Now, this is the best Grateful Dead footage that is in my library and certainly one that will be enjoyed over and over again. With 2 DVDs, a 28 page collectors book, and over 6.5 hours of material, you can get completely immersed in this magical evening. And, you now have the luxury of archiving it right in your own home. Plan on making an all-nighter or an entire weekend out of this DVD the first time out of the box!

By: S. Remington

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