At the end of July in 1966, the Dead headed out of California to perform for the first time in their collective venture. Except they didn't only venture out of California, but clear out of the United States to play a Trips Festival in Vancouver, British Columbia. There they joined the bill with Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company (with newly acquired Janis Joplin), and the Daily Flash. These two shows are significant for that fact alone. However, we must also remember that outside of their own circles, Jerry, Pig, Bobby, Phil, and Bill were generally unknown musicians.
Both McNally and Lesh recalled these shows in their respective works:
"That summer (1966) they left the Bay Area for their first out-of-town shows, and their trip swiftly went sour. They began in late July with three shows at the British Columbia Festival, at the rather large Pacific National Exhibition Garden Auditorium, in Vancouver. ..... When they got to the gig, Garcia recalled, they were told they could play only one set a night and "got screwed around one way or another." He found the stage to be so inordinately high that he insisted their equipment be moved back so they could avoid the edge" (McNally 153).
In his autobiography, Lesh recalled that,
"Soon after our move (to Olompali), we received an offer to play three days of a "Trips Festival" in Vancouver, British Columbia. It seemed like a good opportunity to bring our music to a new audience, since we'd been preaching to the choir, so to speak, for a while now.... When we got there, we discovered that the stage was so high as to cause nosebleeds, and the acoustics, of course, were bloody awful. We played one of the worst performances I can remember" (Lesh 91).
Lesh also related a tidbit on the trip up about the song Caution. Taking the train toward the Canadian border, he and Bill took a smoke break between the cars of the train. "At one point, we were standing out there entranced by the rhythm of the wheels clickety-clacking over the welds in the rails; Billy and I looked at each other and just knoew - we simultaneously burst out, "We can play this!" This later turned into "Caution (Do Not Stop on the Tracks," one of our simplest, yet farthest-reaching musical explorations" (Lesh 91).
There is some debate about the set lists of these two dates, as well as which shows belong on which date. According to the text on archive.org, the two shows I've posted below came directly from a Grateful Dead Archive box labeled with these two dates. Your guess as to which set goes with which date is as good as mine. I prefer to think of them in the order that I present them below simply because of the way the band is introduced. On the first night, they are announced as, "A band from San Francisco, The Grateful Dead." Phil is heard replying to the lack of applause with "Our fame precedes us." These added together seems to allude to this being the first time the band is announced to the Vancouver crowd. On the second set, they are simply introduced as "The Grateful Dead" without any further explanation. The listener, of course, can decide for themselves.
P.N.E Garden Auditorium
Vancouver, BC, Canada
1. Standin' On the Corner
2. I Know You Rider
3. Next Time You See Me
4. Sitting On Top Of The World
5. You Don't Have To Ask
6. Big Boss Man
8. Cardboard Cowboy
9. It's All Over Now Baby Blue
10. Cream Puff War
11. Viola Lee Blues
In comparing the two shows of the Trips Festival, this was easily the most enjoyable to listen to. The band seems more loose and willing to air it out. McNally mentions that prior to this show the band took LSD on a trip to the Pacific coast, almost missing the start of the show. Could this be a reason for the relative loose-ness of the playing? We again see the Garcia tune "Cream Puff War," which comes off strong. I cannot get enough of this song. Viola Lee Blues is their most exploratory song of the set, and is performed well. Certainly worth the listen.
The primary attraction to this show for me is the appearance of the song "Cardboy Cowboy." This is one of two known performances of the song, which comes off as a strange and steriotypical 60's psychedelic song. Weir introduces the tune as "No Left Turn Unstoned." According to David Dodd, this alternate name refers to a sign in front of Ken Kesey's La Honda home around 1966 (Dodd 23). The song will not appear again in the known audio archive of the band.
Why Listen: Cardboard Cowboy, Cream Puff War, Viola Lee.
Here is the streaming audio: https://archive.org/details/gd66-07-29.sbd.vernon.9051.sbeok.shnf
P.N.E Garden Auditorium
Vancouver, BC, Canada
1. Dancin' In The Streets
2. King Bee
3. One Kind of Favor
4. You Don't Have to Ask
5. Hey Little One
6. Beat It On Down The Line
7. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
8. Minglewood Blues
The first thing that struck me was that when the Grateful Dead were announced, one can hear nary an applause from the audience. The band really was an unknown on this venture. There is also some interesting banter when testing the mics prior to the beginning of the show. According to Phil, the word of the day is "Nark," which Bob tells the crowd is what a dog with hairlip says. The sound on Dancin' is a bit rough, and if played too loud will cause some distortion. The early state of the band is clear in this recording, as the harmonizing isn't quite there. Apparently the lack of audio quality from this string of shows provided the band with the ammunition to ask Bear Stanley to take a break as their soundman. Dennis McNally writes that they were fed up with his constant tinkering, delays, and inconsistent sound.
The standout on this recording is Pigpen. His organ is loud in the mix and comes across very well. His harmonica is also quite good during Schoolgirl. Also of note is Minglewood, which on this date is very raw. It sounds as though Bob channels his energy into shouting the song. To me it's reminiscent of his 80's screeching, but just an early incantation of it. It's interesting but not very good. The song is also not the rocker it later becomes. It's quite the interesting comparison.
Why listen: King Bee, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.
You can listen to this set here: https://archive.org/details/gd1966-07-29.sbd.GEMS.94633.flac16