The music from this show is phenomenal. But the scene might just have topped that. Franklin and Marshall is a small liberal arts school in the midst of conservative, Amish Lancaster County. Despite Heads descending on the scene from all over the country and freaking out the townspeople, there was, according to an attendee on Archive, just one cop outside the venue, “looking like he was in the middle of a Fellini flick, but he was cool.” More critically to the show, the college was having its prom, meaning hundreds of straight-laced students in tuxes and ballgowns had seats on the floor. While many of these square folks left during the New Riders opening act and more trickled out after a few Dead tunes, a contingent got turned on and stuck around, getting down in their prom attire. And there are few better ways to get on the bus than shaking your bones to some 1971 magic from the boys.
The show lights off with a Casey Jones, and, although the band is still finding their footing, the crowd eats it up. Then, the Dead start to come together on a jammed out Me and Bobby McGee and a quick little Next Time You See Me. But things really start cooking on a luscious Loser, highlighted by Jerry’s sparse and plaintive licks. After a moment’s hesitation following the tune, Bobby gets on the mic and announces that “this next one is for all you twelve fans; everyone out there who gets off on the number twelve, well get off on this one,” and, immediately Billy and Phil pound out twelve beats to take it into BIODTL. On the heels of that, Pig, as badass as ever, takes control and kills the Hard to Handle, probably scaring all the undergrad prom-goers who hadn’t already left or embraced the music right out of the building. A few songs later, Pig picks up right where he left off with a 26-minute Good Lovin’ that is brimming with a churning intensity. Pig raps away while Phil, Bobby, and Jerry - especially Jerry - flat-out shred.
It is hard to tell where the first set ended and the second began, but somewhere in there we imagine the boys got a break. Perhaps it is China Cat that opens the action in the second half. That would be appropriate, because that tune, like the rest of the latter portion of the night, is straight up high-grade Dead. After romping through a fairy-tale psychedelic landscape on the China Cat, the band heads off on an extended, bluesy jam into a resplendent Rider. The Rider reaches a delightfully elemental space all its own in the latter half as the music just flows in cosmic perfection from the boys. Then you just need to listen to Jerry’s sick picking and intense runs on Cumberland; it is hard to convey the ferociousness he brings to the tune. Following that, the boys take into a playful, boisterous, and so well played Sugar Mags that is sadly clipped. Afterwards, Pig reasserts himself on a bawling Midnight Hour. Finally, Uncle John’s caps the recording, though there very well could have been another hour or more of music on this night that has still not surfaced.