Day 38: The Race Is On, 6/16/74

Grateful Dead Road Trips 2.3 album cover artwork

The Race Is On is always a fun song in my opinion. It was played a total of 56 times by the band (the bulk of which were in 1973 and 1974 with 26 and 8 occurrences, respectively. The song re-appeared in 1980 for another eleven versions, nine of which were during the October residencies in NYC and San Francisco. All told 4 versions have seen the light of day, two from 1973 and one each from 1974 and 1980. This version is obviously the 1974 edition and appeared on Road Trips, Vol. 2, No. 3., which featured recordings from the Wall of Sound in Des Moines, Iowa (6/16) and Louisville, Kentucky (6/18). I’m surprised that The Race Is On got a workout in Des Moines and not Louisville. It seems that Kentucky’s horse racing tradition, what with the Kentucky Derby and all, would be more fitting, but never try to outsmart a prankster, I guess!

This one cooks right out of the gate. A jaunty country rock romp with Keith pounding out the main progression in a flurry of 8th note block chords. Bobby and Donna blend nicely here, and Jerry takes a quick stroll through the backwoods via his guitar, inflecting this country blues number with equal parts country and blues. Keith and Phil both add a run or two of their own during the chorus sections. The second solo section sounds like it might actually have been Weir. I’m not entirely sure because it sounds to me like Jerry might have given Bobby the nod and Bobby wasn’t expecting it. Keith vamps through the changes, leading the band back into another chorus, adding some boogie woogie type piano. The final chorus repeats the last “the race is on and it looks like heartache” line before drawing to a close. All in all a fun, quick romp through this little ditty.

Complete Setlist 6/16/74

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  1. Great version of an Americana song that the dead grew up on. Always fun to lead someone who has little knowledge about the dead and usually totally missed the fact that they were a lot more diversified than they ever knew. This song and version would usually be a great introduction for many of those folks to a whole genre they probably were in aware of.
    Back in the 70’s a big way to add to your music collection of albums was to sign up for a discounted record of the month music club. You didn’t have to buy every record, every month, but depending on the offer you signed up for, had to buy a designated amount of albums to fulfill your contract. The carrot to join one was they offered you an intro offer of getting 10-12 records for a few dollars. My first club had me choose Workingmans Dead and the Bands first album. Music that was similar, not that mainstream, yet absolutely grew on you more and more. Like many of us in those years, radio play was the biggest influence on music you were exposed to. Luckily in Boston we had WBCN which played music that no others dared play. Their tastes were limitless so I knew a little about this music, but not nearly enough.
    Not saying Country Dead is my large focus, as I love it all. Only that that genre is often missed by folks who dismiss the Dead as something they truly never investigated.

    • Joe, I remember those music clubs. I think the last time I participated in one I was in undergrad, which was 2000-2004 at some point. I’d done them a few times over the years and all told I think they were a decent deal. I actually looked for one a year or two ago, as I figured those companies might be looking to liquidate their physical media, but it seems I was too late. Oh well.

      It’s kind of funny, to me at least, that I really like the Americana stuff, but a number of Bobby’s cowboy tunes just grate on me. Usually when turning someone on to the Dead I (and I assume most people) start with Workingman’s and American Beauty. From there I usually move to Europe 72 and Without A Net for widely accessible live stuff. If they dig that then I’ll try Live/Dead.

      The death of radio is a bit of a pity. I’ve never been cognizant of radio that mattered in my lifetime (not to say it didn’t exist in the 80s – it may have), but by the time I started getting into music in the early 90s I was into pop music, and by the time I knew what I was doing everything was pretty much corporate and generic on the airwaves. I do have satellite radio in my car and love it. Of course it’s on the Grateful Dead channel 9.5 times out of 10, but it’s nice to have so many options when I’m in the mood for something else. Or if the song France comes on…

  2. Lunchbox, agree with your intro sequence to the dead and your assessment of Bobby songs. They can get grating at times, but he just kills me for so many reasons. I’ve always felt his was the kid drag around, the good looking one that entertained the troops with his childlessness. He was so different from the rest of the group in so many ways and almost was playing a character that was spoofing himself and playing the clown at the same time. The Dead needed someone to be the spokesperson, but seemed to revolt having anyone to fill that role. Bobby seemed to fill it at the same time mocking that role with the above mentioned persona.
    Had a friend catch RatDog recently and raved about Bobby’s energy, song selection and playing of the whole band. Really looking forward to seeing him in early June at Mt. Jam. The last 3 or 4 times I saw him had him lacking in a way I couldn’t put my finger on. He just seemed to be going thru the motions. Hopefully he’s reinvigorated.

    • Joe, I think that’s a great assessment of Bobby’s role in the band – at least one of his roles. I will say that Bobby has really grown on me in recent years.

      I took my wife to see Dark Star Orchestra a couple years ago. They did a killer ’73 Denver show (which ended up being released as RT 4.3 shortly after!!!). I remember groaning when they played Mexicali, but she liked that one and everyone was really dancing. I think that’s the big difference in appreciating those songs and not having seen the Dead live. Of course when they got into the second set the words “sounds like spaghetti” were uttered at one point, so…

  3. May and June 1974 are a high water mark for Gd and Wall of Sound shows. This show and 6-18-74 were released together and you could make a point they are the 2 best shows of the year. Others will argue , maybe point to 5-14-74 and 5-19-74 . Either way , we win.

    • I was actually a bit surprised that 5/14 was released ahead of 5/19. I would not be surprised at all if 5/19 made it to an official release in the next couple of years though. That is an awesome show. I find very little cause to argue with your assertion that the May and June shows were a watershed period for the WoS though. You’re right, no matter what, we win. That’s a nice feeling, eh?

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