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Halloween 1985: The Only Time the Grateful Dead Played in South Carolina

Ticket stub from 10/31/85. Source: u/smhbobby on Reddit.

On October 31st, 1985, the Grateful Dead played in South Carolina for the first and only time. The venue was none other than the University of South Carolina’s 12,000 seat indoor arena, Carolina Coliseum.

Putting things into context, this show comes in the midst of a big fall tour for the band, in the midst of the grungiest part of their pre-1990 career. Jerry’s health was rough, his addiction had progressed to its worst depths (he was arrested for freebasing cocaine in his car in January of 1985), but the band was still rolling strong.

It was less than one year before he slipped into a diabetic coma that almost took his life, and two years before the release of “Touch of Grey” introduced the Grateful Dead to the mainstream.

In the eyes of many, these were some of the last of the “good old days” of the Grateful Dead. In the eyes of others, those days had already come and gone long before Halloween of ’85.

As a Grateful Dead fan born in 1993, I believe there is a lot to like from every era of the Grateful Dead, and I’ve spent time dabbling in all of them by now.

The mid-80s have an edge to them that you don’t find in any other period of their music, with Jerry’s gnarled vocals from smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, plus smoking heroin and freebasing cocaine. This is balanced by the strength of Brent Mydland on keys, gifted both musically and vocally and contributing to many of the era’s finest moments.

Press play on the show below, and read on below the stream to learn more about it.

Grateful Dead – Live at Carolina Coliseum, Columbia, SC 10/31/85 (Full Show)

How Was the Show?

Despite the weak vocals from Garcia which can understandably be a turnoff for some, this Halloween show is one for the heads who appreciate an extra dose of weirdness with their Dead. All accounts state that there was torrential downpour in Columbia, SC that night, adding another layer to the madness.

Opening the show with a tuning of “Funiculi Funicula” into “Space,” accompanied cackling from Phil, we can already tell we are in for a wild ride. This is one of the most unique show openers of the band’s entire career.

Set 1

“Space” melts into Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” a bust-out that the band hadn’t played since 1980, and wouldn’t play again until Halloween 1990. This was such a fitting opener for Halloween night, and the anticipation in the room must have been off the charts.

I have to say, listening to Garcia try to howl on “Werewolves of London” is pretty silly, in the best way possible. It’s like he knows that it’s silly and gets enjoyment out of it just like we do. I noticed this first while listening to the JGB Halloween 1992 show, when they close with this song. Headyversion says the one from Red Rocks ’78 is the best.

Funk was the mood to start this set, and the “Music Never Stopped” brings that and gets ripping by the end. A moment of tuning afterwards leads to a lull before we reach one of the show’s other highlight moments, a sleazy and slimy “West L.A. Fadeaway.”

The energy dips a bit here with “Mama Tried,” not weak but not especially strong. “Tennessee Jed” is the biggest slump of the set as Jerry struggles to give it the vocal gusto that it requires.

“Looks Like Rain” brings the life back as Bobby takes back over vocal duties, and Jerry is free to focus on his guitar. Which, is quite excellent during this segment, which boils things down to a mellow, psychedelic essence that is a stark contrast to the oddball, themed funk that began the show. Bobby really crushes the vocal performance on this and I would call this the musical high point of the set, if not the entire show.

One of the many wonders of the Grateful Dead were their ability to reinvent themselves even during one show, and even during what were historically their worst time periods. A pretty rough “Might As Well” caps off a set is at least enjoyable, but not quite transcendent.

Artwork created with Midjourney.

Set 2

While the first set contained several rarities, set two was full of staples both of all time and of the era. “Shakedown Street” opens it up with a trippy, spacey rendition.

I won’t harp on the vocals too hard here, because being a song introduced later in their career, “Shakedown Street” hardly has any versions where Jerry nails the opening line. He doesn’t hit it here, either, but the groove is fun as always and you can imagine that building was really quite the trip with the costumes and a 15-minute party to kick the second set off.

“Playin’ in the Band,” another staple follows, and while not terrible by any means, struggles to find footing at the start but gets interesting once they strip back the structure. It also unexpectedly dissolves into a “Ship of Fools” that has a certain charm to it thanks to Jerry’s mangled voice. What can I say? Sometimes his 80s voice hits, and other times it sounds bad. This is one of the moments where it becomes charming.

Just as quickly as it begins, “Ship of Fools” melts back into “Playin,” which eventually deforms completely into the madness of Halloween drums and space.

Brent has his time to shine coming out of space with lead vocals on “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” This is always a welcome addition to a Dead show in the mid to late 80s, and especially when it would become “Hey Jude” (which it did not do here). This version is just okay, but Garcia’s solo is pretty rad.

A hearty, rockin’ “Not Fade Away” caps off the set followed by an encore of “U.S. Blues,” and the wide-eyed crowd was let out into the night, costumes donned and many of them up til dawn on various substances while the Dead barreled down the road for a two-night stand in Richmond, VA that are regarded as some of the best shows of the year.

Dave Schools and John Bell of Widespread Panic Were There

Reddit user u/TJF3 posted an interesting thread on Halloween 2019, claiming that he attended the show with Dave Schools and John Bell, who had recently started Widespead Panic at the time.

They were three shows into their career at the time, after forming in Athens, GA, with a handful of shows and some shoddy live recordings under their belt. He recalls listening to one tape that included a WSP cover of “Werewolves of London” that was not very good.

Of course, the Dead opened the set with it that Halloween night.

Grateful Dead 10/31/85 Setlist

Space -> Werewolves of London
Music Never Stopped
West L.A. Fadeaway
Mama Tried
Mexicali Blues
Tennessee Jed
Looks Like Rain
Might As Well

Shakedown Street
Playin’ in the Band
Ship of Fools
Dear Mr. Fantasy
Not Fade Away

U.S. Blues