The day the Grateful Dead saved Springfield Creamery

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In August 1972, Springfield Creamery suffered financially. Owners Chuck and Sue Kesey had been in business for over a decade and had just launched a new probiotic product called Nancy’s Yogurt. But debts and tax arrears threatened to shut them down.

Sue and Chuck Kesey founded Springfield Creamery in 1960, shortly after their marriage.

That’s when someone had the groovy idea of ​​asking a popular psychedelic rock band for help. And they did. KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert takes a trip down memory lane with the Kesey family on the 50e anniversary of the day their small local creamery was saved by the Grateful Dead.

Chuck Kesey had seen the group many times, alongside his brother, novelist and Merry Prankster Ken Kesey. “We went to the Grateful Dead Acid Tests very early. At first there were 350 people in the crowd. They would be dancing all night long, quite a spectacular thing, yeah?”

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© Canis Major, courtesy of Sam Field & Adrian Marin

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Chuck Kesey got to know Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia after being introduced by his brother Ken Kesey.

Chuck and Sue had gotten to know lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia and several crew members. They said asking the group for help was a bit like reaching out to family.
“We went to San Francisco to talk to the Grateful Dead,” Chuck recalled. “And they said ‘yes’. And from there, we had 28 days to organize a concert, in a field.

The Keseys rented a large open field at the site of the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta. So? “Um, start building a scene immediately,” Chuck said. “This whole crew was volunteers, it was Hoedads and people who just showed up and they built this stage.”

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© Canis Major, courtesy of Sam Field & Adrian Marin

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Volunteers, including Hoedads, have come together to build a stage for the Grateful Dead to perform on in Veneta.

“It almost works. I think it works now… yay! We’re back on the air,” said Merry Prankster and ’60s psychedelic frontman Ken Babbs, who hosted the benefit show he dubbed “Field Trip.”

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sunny reverie

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U-tube screenshot

The Grateful Dead played a benefit show in a field in Veneta to help Springfield Creamery stay in business. Left to right, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh sing in harmony on Sunshine Daydream during the Field Trip show.

Dead bassist Phil Lesh steps to the mic: “We would definitely like to thank the Springfield Creamery for allowing us to perform here in front of all of you here. That’s really where we do best,” he told the growing crowd.

“Okay,” said Babbs, “So there you go, the Grateful Dead!” The crowd cheers wildly as the group bursts into Promise Land.

No one knows for sure how many people went to this ground for the show, but a common estimate is 20,000. Sue Kesey says most attendees bought their tickets which were printed on unused yoghurt labels. “Tickets were $3.00 and $3.50 at the door,” she said. “I don’t know why we would ever want to make change at the door? But whatever.”

So what were Sue and Chuck doing during the concert?

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To save money, the Keseys used their unused Nancy’s Yogurt labels as tickets to the Grateful Dead benefit concert. Tickets were $3.00 in advance or $3.50 at the door.

“I think I was behind the stage in a kind of little trailer, it was kind of an office,” Sue replies, “and I was trying to keep track of the money or the tickets or what we planes.”
“The money coming in was in buckets,” Chuck added with a laugh. “And you’d see girls walking through the crowd with two big five-gallon buckets – full of cash – with no paranoia on either side, yes.”

Now might be a good time to mention the scorching heat. That day in late August, it was nearly 100 degrees. “I had mathematically calculated how much water I thought a lot of people would drink,” Chuck explained. “So I got a creamery tanker full of water.” His calculations for an adequate supply of drinking water were quickly rendered moot when halfway through the concert, people started showering there.

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© Canis Major, courtesy of Sam Field & Adrian Marin

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Crowds grew all day on August 27, 1972 as news spread that the Grateful Dead would be playing Veneta. Attendance estimates are as high as 20,000 people.

“And I thought, ‘oh man, we’re in trouble now,'” Chuck recalled. And I realized, ‘we lost our water.’

But, Chuck said the massive crowd didn’t seem to care. Many participants stripped naked and feasted to the sound of music. The band told the Keseys that there were “more naked people there than at any gig they’ve ever played”.

The Dead played a 31-minute version of Dark Star that afternoon. Sometimes playful, sometimes brooding, the extended jam was just a rumor to those who weren’t there. That’s until the 2013 documentary film sunny reverie directed by John Norris and produced by Sam Field, allowed a birds-eye view of the entire 1972 Veneta show.

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© Canis Major, courtesy of Sam Field & Adrian Marin

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Adrian Marine

It was sweltering on August 27, 1972 when the Dead played in open ground in Veneta, their stage facing west. They would have made three reminders.

After the sun dipped below the distant treeline and a third rappel, the show ended. These buckets full of money from concert proceeds have made all the difference to the future of Springfield Creamery. “When you think about it, it was kind of humbling that they did this for us,” Sue said. “Basically, they left us all the money, except probably their gas money. And that was about enough money to get us through whatever hurdle we needed to get over.

The amount would have been $12,000. And to this day, Sue and Chuck Kesey remain, simply, grateful. With a big smile, Chuck clearly expressed his opinion on the dead. “It’s the largest group ever invented by mankind,” he said. “He is.”

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Springfield Creamery founders Chuck and Sue Kesey have been called a “hugging” couple. They have two children, Sheryl Kesey Thompson and Kit Kesey.

Chuck and Sue’s two children grew up knowing that something pretty amazing happened. Son Kit Kesey, who was 6 at the time of Field Trip, became a concert promoter in Eugene. His daughter Sheryl Kesey Thompson co-owns and oversees product marketing for Springfield Creamery. She was 11 at the time of the show and remembers sitting under the primitive stage while the Grateful Dead played.

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Kit and Sheryl Kesey were small children in 1972 when the Grateful Dead performed a benefit concert in Veneta to help their struggling parents, Springfield Creamery.

“I think my generation looks back on that day and that time and sees it as a pretty significant turnoff on the road to the creamery where that hand made a difference for the next 50+ years,” Kesey Thompson said. And then she told the story of her Deadhead parents. “Whenever you call their home Tiffany, the Grateful Dead plays in the background.”

August 27e the Keseys, now both in their 80s, will commemorate the 50e anniversary of the Grateful Dead benefit show by wearing t-shirts that read: “The day a rock band saved a yogurt company. (And they’ll listen to Dead Air on KLCC like they do every Saturday night, they said.)

Production assistance on this story by Sheryl Kesey Thompson. audio from sunny reverie recordings used here with permission from Rhino Records.

Who performed with the Grateful Dead at the August 27, 1972 Field Trip benefit show in Veneta for Springfield Creamery? See below:

Jerry Garcia

Active: 1965–1995

Instruments: Lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals and backing vocals

Other projects: Jerry Garcia’s band, Jerry Garcia Acoustic Group, Legion of Mary, Reconstruction, old and on the way, New Riders of the Crimson Sage

Bob Weir

Active: 1965–1995

Instruments: Lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals and backing vocals

Other projects: RatDog, kingfish, Bobby and the Midnites, Others, The dead, furthur, Death and company

Phil Lesh

Active: 1965–1995

Instruments: Bass guitar, backing vocals and lead vocals

Other projects: Phil Lesh and his friends, Others, The dead, furthur

Bill Kreutzmann

Active: 1965–1995

Instruments: drums, percussion

Other projects: SerialPod, Rhythm Devils, Others, The dead, BK3, 7 walkers, Billy and the kids, Death and company

Keith Godchaux

Active: September 1971 – February 17, 1979

Instruments: keyboards, backing vocals

Other projects: Jerry Garcia’s band, Gold Heart Ring

Donna Jean Godchaux

Active: December 31, 1971 – February 17, 1979 (maternity leave November-December 1973)

Instruments: backing vocals and lead vocals

Other projects: Jerry Garcia’s band, Gold Heart Ring, Donna Jean Godchaux Group, Black Star Orchestra

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