Watch Grateful Dead New Year’s Eve Videos Featuring Guests Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez & More
Dec 31, 2020
7:01 am PST
The first Grateful Dead New Year’s Eve concert was held on December 31, 1966 at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium. Though details of what the Dead played are unknown, it was also promoter Bill Graham’s first New Year’s Eve concert and Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service were also on the bill.
The band played on December 31, 1968 as part of the Graham-produced “The Fillmore Scene At Winterland” at the Winterland in San Francisco along with Santana, It’s A Beautiful Day and QMS. Little is known about this show but breakfast was likely served as well as a multi-band jam session in the early hours of the morning.
The Grateful Dead ushered in the 1970s with December 31, 1969 concert in Boston. The band went back to the Winterland for New Year’s Eve 1970 with Hot Tuna, the New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Stoneground. Back at the Winterland with the New Riders and Sons Of Champlain, on December 31, 1971, Donna Jean Godchaux made her first appearance with the band she would later become a full-time member of alongside her husband, late keyboardist Keith Godchaux. The following New Year’s Eve, the Grateful Dead brought out David Crosby for a sit-in at the Winterland that had the same lineup as the previous year.
The next New Year’s Eve Grateful Dead concert was held on December 31, 1976 at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California and included performances by Santana and Soundhole, as well as Graham participating in the countdown to midnight. The group’s New Year’s Eve 1977 gig was a return to the Winterland with the New Riders and Graham flying over the audience on a motorcycle.
Beginning on December 31, 1978 and continuing for most of the Dead subsequent NYE shows, the band used the holiday festivities to welcome special guests to join them for collaborative sit-ins. Located in the JamBase Live Video Archive (JBLVA), the videos below start with the Grateful Dead’s “The Closing Of The Winterland” December 31, 1978 concert and progress through their final New Year’s Eve show on December 31, 1991 with a focus on special guest sit-ins.
While video footage does not survive for every guest that joined the Dead on New Year’s Eve, this set of videos collects collabs from 1978, 1981, 1982, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991. Scroll on to watch the likes of Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Branford Marsalis, Neville Brothers, Clarance Clemons, John Cipollina, Matt Kelly and more.
December 31, 1978 | Ken Kesey, John Cipollina, Matt Kelly, Lee Oskar, Greg Errico
The prior mentioned “The Closing Of The Winterland” show was the final concert at the band’s frequently played hometown venue. Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina made another of his many NYE appearances with the Dead on “Not Fade Away” and “Around & Around.” The evening also featured Graham flying to the stage on a giant joint, Kingfish’s Matt Kelly playing harmonica on “I Need A Miracle” and a “Drums” sequence with War harmonica player Lee Oskar, Sly and the Family Stone drummer Greg Errico and several others including author/Merry Prankster Ken Kesey.
December 31, 1981 | Joan Baez, John Cipollina, Matt Kelly
Legendary folk singer Joan Baez was part of the Grateful Dead’s 1981 New Year’s Eve show at the Oakland Auditorium Arena. Baez accompanied the Dead for an acoustic opening set, on “It Must Have Been The Roses” during the first electric set, and returned shortly after the countdown to midnight (again with Graham flying in a joint and Kesey suspended over the crowd as well) for “Iko Iko” and again at the end of the encore for Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Cipollina and Kelly were also guests in 1981, the former playing harmonica on “C.C. Rider,” “Big Boss Man” and “New Minglewood Blues” and the latter guitar on “The Other One,” “Not Fade Away” and “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.”
December 31, 1982 | Etta James, Matt Kelly, John Cipollina, Tower Of Power Horns
In 1982, Dead played a run of five shows at the Oakland Auditorium Arena leading up to New Year’s Eve. On December 30, they busted out “Hard To Handle” for the first time since 1971 and debuted “Tell Mama,” both featuring special guests Etta James and the Tower Of Power horn section. James and the Tower Of Power Horns were back onstage with the Dead the following night, joining the band for the entire third set. The December 31 collaboration featured “Turn On Your Love Light,” “Tell Mama,” the Dead’s first “Baby What You Want Me To Do” since 1969, “Hard To Handle” and a bust out of “In The Midnight Hour,” which was last played in 1971. Prior to the set with James and the horns, Kelly reprised his “C.C. Rider” guest spot in the first set and Cipollina helped close the second set by sitting-in on “Not Fade Away,” “Deal” and “Sunshine Daydream.” Graham’s airborne vehicle of choice that year was to fly in on a giant mushroom.
December 31, 1987 | Neville Brothers, Ramblin Jack Elliot, David Nelson
New Orleans legends The Neville Brothers opened for the Grateful Dead on New Year’s Eve in 1985 and 1986, but it was not until 1987 when they were asked to not only open the show but sit-in with the headliners as well. Members of The Neville Brothers, including Aaron Neville, Charles Neville, Cyril Neville and the late Art Neville, accompanied the Dead at the Oakland Coliseum Arena for an encore consisting of a medley of “Man Smart (Woman Smarter),” “Iko Iko,” “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Do You Want to Dance.” The stage was further filled out by Ramblin Jack Elliot and NRPS’ David Nelson who added vocals to the “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” finale.”
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band saxophonist, the late Clarence Clemons, made his first of several guest appearances with the Grateful Dead (and Jerry Garcia Band) when he sat-in with the Dead on New Year’s Eve 1988. “The Big Man” first emerged during the first set at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for “Wang Dang Doodle” and “West L.A. Fadeaway.” After Graham road to the stage on a flaming disco ball, Clemons rejoined the band at the start of the second set for post-countdown versions of “Sugar Magnolia,” “Touch Of Grey” and “Man Smart, Woman Smarter.” Frequent collaborators, particularly with drummer Mickey Hart, percussionists Babatunde Olatunji, Sikiru Adepoju and Kitaro augmented the night’s “Drums” improvisational rhythmic showcase.
December 31, 1989 | Bonnie Raitt, Taro Hart, Airto Moreira
Guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir and the rest of the Dead were joined by guitarist Bonnie Raitt at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 31, 1989. Raitt, who also opened the show along with New Grass Revival, sat-in during the Dead’s first set when she came out for “Big Boss Man.” That New Year’s Eve was a family affair, as Hart’s young son Taro Hart was drumming on stage for the post-countdown “Iko Iko” that followed a chicken-costumed Graham cracking open an egg with Baby New Year inside portrayed by his son Alex Graham. Another of Hart’s frequent percussive cohorts, Airto Moreira, made one of several appearances with the Dead during this night’s “Drums” segment.
December 31, 1990 | Branford Marsalis, Hamza El-Din
Saxophonist Branford Marsalis made his first guest appearance with the Grateful Dead in March 1990. His second turn sitting-in with the band occurred on New Year’s Eve of that year when he joined them at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for another extensive collaboration. Marsalis emerged at the end of the first set for exploratory performances of “Bird Song” and “Promised Land.” He was back with the band when “Not Fade Away” started the second set and remained for the rest of the show through the double encore of “The Weight” and “Johnny B. Goode.” Egyptian musician Hamza El Din, who first played with the Dead during their 1978 shows near the pyramids in Giza, joined Hart and drummer Bill Kreutzmann for “Drums.” This was the last Grateful Dead New Year’s Eve concert with the aerial “Father Time” participation of Bill Graham, who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash in October 1991.
The final Grateful Dead New Year’s Eve concert took place on December 31, 1991 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Percussionist Airto Moreira was the only guest that night, assisting Billy and Mickey during “Drums.”