Cape Cod Coliseum

The Coliseum is a relic of 1970s Cape Cod.

Lost Sailor

“Hear the sea birds cryin’ and there’s a ghost wind blowing

And it’s calling you, to that misty swirling sea

Till the chains of your dreams are broken

No place in this world you can be”

Grateful Dead, 1979

Today, if you close your eyes, you can almost imagine the scene; through the dancing and the sweat-saturated, kaleidoscopic molecules. If you breathe in, you can almost smell the wafts of sweet leaf marijuana languorously competing with clean, salty Atlantic streams. And if you touch the weathered concrete slabs, you can almost feel the rumbling, if not serene, bass vibrations… when the jam band Grateful Dead rolled onto the peninsula for two scintillating shows in late October 1979 at the Cape Cod Coliseum.

Some aging Dead aficionados consider those concerts among the best in the band’s prolific touring career (over 2,300 performances from 1965-1995). The band allowed—if not encouraged—fans to record or bootleg their shows, a virtually unheard of practice in a pre-digital industry that closely guarded copyrighted material. Indeed, those Cape Cod shows are preserved for posterity. Helpful, no doubt, to those concert goers whose collective memories were clouded by jugs of Carlo Rossi red wine, and Panama Red weed.

Listening to those surprisingly pristine recordings now reveals something about Cape Cod then. For a brief period, anyway, the Coliseum was a regional cultural sanctuary in South Yarmouth for the young Me Generation: A refuge from the 1970s itself. Vietnam. Nixon. Watergate. Stagflation. Gas lines. Leisure suits. Three Mile Island. The Iranian Hostage Crisis. Bell-bottoms and belly-tops. Disco and discontent.