Bob Barsotti was one of Bill Graham’s chief lieutenants, working closely with the Grateful Dead in particular (because he was one of us to begin with!). This is an excerpt from an interview I did with him on October 20, 2014, while researching This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead.
Bob Barsotti of Bill Graham Presents and the Growth of the Dead Head Scene at shows
BB: At the end of [the January 1978 California] tour, Bill said, “Are these the same kids that were here at the last show?”
I said, “Yeah, they’ve been following us. They’ve been at every show since we started.”
He said, “We’ve got to start doing something about that. We should start taking care of these guys.”
“We already do. We make sure there’s a place for them to line up, and garbage cans.”
Bill said, “Let’s put a toilet out there. Is there someone to pick up the garbage? Let’s make sure that arrangements are made.”
The next thing you know he’s calling me into his office and says, “Why don’t we start asking the building if we can open up their parking lot the night before? These kids will get to town early and won’t have anywhere to park. Let’s figure this out.” We started approaching the buildings, and soon we were making arrangements for the parking lots to be open and the porta johns to be out there and have access to water and garbage cans. All of a sudden these hundred people starts to be three hundred, then six hundred. We get to New Year’s and there’s a couple thousand people here for the week.
DG: Do you guys regret making that move? Did you feel like you created the conditions? Was it inevitable anyway?
BB: It was going to happen. You could see it happening. We were just taking care of these die-hard people.
The thing that pushed it over was ‘Touch of Grey.’” Up until ‘Touch of Grey’ happened, it was under control. I was really able to go into a community like Ventura’s old fairgrounds and bring a three-day weekend where they filled up every hotel in town. It was amazing; the business community loved us.
When we started to have problems with some of the homeowners around there, we went to the city council and brought the business community with us. The place was packed with people suggesting it wasn’t a problem.
I’d get in touch with the condo owners, and if someone damaged something during the show I’d pay for it….
DG: It wasn’t until the Berkley Community Theater April ’86 run that I noticed what was going on in the park across the street – people selling stuff, hanging out and camping. That was the first time I noticed there was this culture that had sprung up outside. What are your observations about that – how the deadhead community changed over time, grew and how its nature evolved?
BB: I think it came partly from them doing longer sets of shows in one place. They’d be in one place for a long time and people would go to every show. It naturally turned into this trading village, because most people needed a little dough to get to the next place. It started off with drugs and then went to other stuff beyond that. We started to accommodate the scene outside because they were there. I think whether we accommodated or not, it was going in that direction anyway. We were just trying to make it be a safer scene.