35 Years Ago: The Grateful Dead Perform in Egypt
Eight years talking about the long, strange trip they’ve been on, the Grateful Dead took it to new levels. On Sept. 14, 1978, they performed the first of three shows at the Sound and Light Theater in the shadow of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt.
The decision to go was the brainchild of bassist Phil Lesh. “It sort of became my project because I was one of the first people in the band who was on the trip of playing at places of power,” he said in ‘The Grateful Dead Reader.’ “You know, power that’s been preserved from the ancient world. The pyramids are like the obvious number one choice because no matter what anyone thinks they might be, there is definitely some kind of mojo about the pyramids.”
Lesh worked out the logistics with the Egyptian government and agreed to donate all proceeds from ticket sales to the country’s Department of Antiquities, which preserves Egypt’s ancient wonders.
Naturally, it wouldn’t be a Dead tour if everything ran smoothly. According to Rolling Stone, one of their trucks got bogged down in the sand and had to be pulled out by camels. In addition, an injury to Bill Kreutzmann caused him to drum one-handed throughout the stint.
Although the performances are considered to be uneven, there are still plenty of highlights, including the second live performance of ‘Shakedown Street,’ which had yet to be recorded, and ‘Stella Blue.’ The group also brought on Egyptian oud player Hamza El Din for his song ‘Ollin Arageed,’ and he stayed on for ‘Fire on the Mountain’ which moved into ‘Iko Iko.’
Fans from all over the world traveled to Egypt to catch the band at the historic site, and for the last show on Sept. 16, they witnessed a total lunar eclipse during the concert.
The Dead recorded all three nights with the intention of putting out a live album, but technical problems ruined the tapes from the first date and much of the second. In 2008, they released ‘Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978′ as a two-CD/DVD box set comprised of the best performances of the last two concerts.