Brokedown Palace False Starts in Colorado

Welcome to “How Does the Song Go?” A column dedicated to taking you deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than ever before. Today we will look at the three times the Dead started “Brokedown Palace,” acknowledged its inaccuracies, and started the song over again… in Colorado.

The emotional ballad encore is a familiar Grateful Dead tradition. None were sweeter than hearing “Brokedown Palace” to close out a rockin’ show with its touching melody ringing in your ears as you walk towards the exits, the poignant sentiment of the lyrics jerking tears and warming the soul. It felt as if Jerry was singing directly to me and me alone each time I saw him perform the song.

9/5/85 Red Rocks, the band puts a period on the end of the second set with Sugar Magnolia. Returning to the stage, still daylight and quite warm, Jerry begins the first A-D-A chord strums of “Brokedown Palace.”

“Fare you well… my honey.” Jerry strums an A to begin the phrase, however, he misses the B minor chord and jumps right to the C major chord. This begins a derailment and after singing, “all the birds…” Bob Weir kindly interrupts and states, “let’s start it over.” Brent, fully aware of the chordal mayhem, plays the chords on the organ for Jerry. They begin the song again, the crowd cheers, and they complete the song, albeit with a few flubs. I was NOT in attendance this show but the following afternoon, 9/6/85, would be my second Grateful Dead show.

8/16/87 Telluride, CO, we enjoyed two days of camping and seeing the band perform literally in the Town Park in this quaint mountain town. “Good Lovin’” concludes the second set, the band comes back on stage for “Touch Of Grey,” freshly on the pop music charts. At the end of the anthem, Jerry makes it clear we are in for a double encore. Front row and staring straight at him, I’m hanging on every note as he sings, “Gonna leave this Brokedown Palace, on my hands and my knees.” He’s in the key of A as he should be, but he’s singing the wrong verse! An amused Bob Weir says, “there we go.” They proceed…”In my time, in my time…” and Jerry stops the band, “Wait a minute this is all fucked up! Oxygen deprivation. We’re in the wrong key. You people are used to this, the altitude and all, you know. How’d all that happen?” His cheeks became red, the sweat poured from his brow, his hand came to his face to adjust his glasses. “Fare you well, my honey.” 

12/1/94 McNichols Arena, Denver, CO, my final Grateful Dead show. The third of a three-night run which, with a few exceptions, was rather rough musically. The crowd still chanting, “You know our love will not fade away,” as Jerry and the band take the stage. A familiar A-D-A strum, we know. “Gonna plant a..” and then he stops singing. The band joins him on the vamp, likely to comfort him musically. A few rounds and finally,  “Fare you well…” That was my farewell to Jerry.

’85 is kinda funny, mostly charming, and perpetuates the we-are-with-you vibe that the crowd and audience had together. ’87 was totally charming, quite funny, and is fun to share with folks. ’94 is quite sad, especially considering that ’95 would be his last year.

Why the mental block in this song? Why in Colorado? Why when I’m near? Gotta be the altitude right? Or maybe it’s just a quirky chord progression and another coincidence.

Go listen to the river sing sweet songs. Until next time.