The Grateful Dead have a history of not showing up for their most prestigious shows, but that can’t be said for the one-off concert they played in front of over 100K at a drag strip in Central New Jersey on this date 40 years ago. Jerry Garcia & Co. were in fine form throughout two impressive sets at Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey on September 3, 1977.
1977 is considered one of the best years in Grateful Dead history. The band played plenty of shows that year but would’ve performed many more had drummer Mickey Hart not sustained major injuries in a car accident early in the summer. As such the Dead weren’t actually on the road when their Terrapin Station LP dropped on July 27, 1977. In fact, the Grateful Dead didn’t play any shows between a three-night stand at Winterland in San Francisco on June 7 – 9 and their visit to Raceway Park.
Promoter John Scher took a major gamble in booking the Dead to play the massive Raceway Park. Here’s what Rolling Stone wrote about the show:
The park normally held about 50,000; the band sold 102,000 tickets – up to that point its biggest nonfestival gig. Until then, everyone assumed the Dead’s on-the-road success was a result of repeat business – the same fans buying tickets to more than one show. But Raceway Park proved that the Dead could pull in huge numbers for just one show. “It said, ‘We’re a big band,'” says Loren. “It put the Dead up there with anybody else who was performing: ‘Yeah, the Allman Brothers are a big band, but they’re not the Grateful Dead.’ The industry stood up and said, ‘Holy mackerel!'”
But the Dead’s lone concert at Raceway Park isn’t just remembered for its huge draw, it’s remembered for the wonderful music that went down in New Jersey’s Middlesex County. The show on September 3, 1977 features outstanding renditions of “Mississippi Half-Step,” “Eyes of the World” and “Not Fade Away” as well as the return of “Truckin'” for the first time in over two years. It’s hard to believe the Dead went two years in their hey day without performing “Truckin’,” but indeed they did. Another notable moment came in the encore, when the Dead played “Terrapin Station” for the first time since the release of the album of the same name. The Raceway Park show was so good, an official recording of the evening served as archivist Dick Latvala’s 15th pick for the famed Dick’s Picks series of archival releases.
Watch behind the scenes footage filmed at Raceway Park:
Listen to Dick’s Picks Vol. 15 recorded on this date in 1977: