Today in Rock: Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead and More Share a Bill in 1975

On March 23, 1975, some of rock's biggest names assembled for Bay Area schools.

Music Features
Today in Rock: Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead and More Share a Bill in 1975

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In 1975, the city of San Francisco called for major budget cuts to extracurricular activities in local schools, to which legendary promoter Bill Graham responded with the S.N.A.C.K. Benefit concert, or Students Need Athletics, Culture, and Kicks. This was Graham’s first large, outdoor, multi-artist stadium concert, and it drew more than 50,000 people with an incredible bill that stretched on for over five hours of music, beginning with some early morning funk from Tower of Power and Graham Central Station. Later sets featured Bay Area regulars The Doobie Brothers, Santana and the Grateful Dead (in one of their few 1975 appearances), and it all ended with an all-star jam with Bob Dylan and Neil Young playing with members of The Band and The Stray Gators.

Introduced by Graham, Tower of Power began with a short, rollicking “Oakland Stroke,” which featured intense rhythms, a powerful horn section and tight vocal arrangements. This is Tower of Power at their funkiest. Following this set was an energetic 10 a.m. performance by ex-Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham’s group Graham Central Station, one of the ‘70s’ more popular pure funk bands. Hear the group perform the socially conscious jam “People,” which along with Tower of Power, serves as an edgy, soul-funk introduction to the concert.

The Doobie Brothers, then at the height of their popularity, brought perfect harmonies and intertwined guitars, with dual drummers John Hartman and Keith Knudsen holding it together. The Doobies played some of their most memorable songs, including “Long Train Runnin’” and “China Grove,” after opening with a cover of the Byrds’ “Jesus Is Just Alright.”

Queen of folk Joan Baez reunited the rocking concert with the solemn, voice of activism it initially meant to raise, performing an acoustic set that included Dylan classics “I Shall Be Released” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” Baez also did her popularized cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” before closing the set with a powerful a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace” over the loud and lively reactions from the audience.

The Grateful Dead’s set, while shorter than their usual shows, was still much appreciated—the group had announced a retirement from live performance in October of 1974 after filming at Winterland for what would become The Grateful Dead Movie. When they showed up in full, with keyboardists Merl Saunders and Ned Lagin, as well as former drummer Mickey Hart, it was cause for celebration. The Dead mostly drew from their jazzier, more abstract 1975 album Blues for Allah, weaving and jamming musical essences of the title track throughout the entire set. Nevertheless, the crowd roared along, especially for the rocking “Johnny B. Goode” closer.

Carlos Santana brought an intense performance that showcased the musicianship of his entire ensemble. Following Graham’s introduction, Santana kicked off with a breathtaking version of “Incident at Neshabur” that segued into “Black Magic Woman.” The percussionists began the opening sequence to “Soul Sacrifice”—the song that established the band’s reputation at Woodstock—to end the set, with searing guitar solos from Santana that developed into a lengthier jam.

A general lack of rehearsal and preparation made for some rough moments for set closers Neil Young and Bob Dylan, although not without fun and charm. Dylan’s first ever live performance of Blonde on Blonde’s “I Want You” turned flat when his microphone feed failed to synch with the line feed and only faint vocals could be heard. The magic was not lost, however, as Dylan, Young and their backing ensemble pulled together for a classic rendition of “The Weight” before doing Young’s ballad “Helpless,” and at last smoothing into Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” The set closed with the traditional “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” an appropriate and poignant selection for such an incredible gathering of musicians.

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