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The day 50 years ago when the Grateful Dead saved an Oregon creamery

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

KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert takes a trip down memory lane with Chuck and Sue Kesey on the 50th anniversary of the day their little, local creamery was saved by the Grateful Dead.

In August 1972, the Springfield Creamery hit a financial rough patch. Owners Chuck and Sue Kesey had been in business for more than a decade and just introduced a new probiotic product called Nancy’s Yogurt. But debts and back taxes threatened to shut them down.

That’s when somebody got the groovy idea to ask a popular psychedelic rock band for help. And help they did.

 Chuck Kesey got to know Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia after being introduced by his brother Ken Kesey.
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 Kesey had seen the band lots of times, alongside his brother, novelist and Merry Prankster Ken Kesey. “We went to really early Grateful Dead Acid Tests. In the early time, there were 350 people in the crowd. They would dance all night, a pretty spectacular thing, yeah?”

Chuck and Sue had gotten to know lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia and several members of the crew. They said asking the band for help was kind of like reaching out to family.

“We went down to San Francisco to talk to the Grateful Dead,” Chuck recalled. “And they said ‘yes.’ And from there we had 28 days to put a concert on, out in a field.”

The Kesey’s rented a big open field on the Oregon Country Fair site in Veneta. Then? ”Uh, start building a stage immediately,” Chuck said. “That whole crew was all volunteer people, these were Hoedads and people that just showed up and they built that stage.”

 Volunteers including Hoedads came together to build a stage for the Grateful Dead to perform on in Veneta.
Adrian Marin
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Volunteers including Hoedads came together to build a stage for the Grateful Dead to perform on in Veneta.

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

Dead bassist Phil Lesh saunters up to the mic, “We’d sure like to thank the Springfield Creamery for making it possible for us to play out here in front of all you folks here. This is really where we get off the best,” he told the growing crowd.

“Ok,” Babbs said, “So here ya go, the Grateful Dead!” The crowd cheers wildly as the band breaks into Promised Land.

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Adrian Marin
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As the sun begins to set on the massive crowd in Veneta, the Grateful Dead starts a 31- minute rendition of their song, Dark Star.

No one knows for sure how many people made their way to that field for the show but a common estimate is 20,000. Sue Kesey says most of the attendees bought their tickets which were printed on unused yogurt labels. “Tickets were $3.00 and $3.50 at the gate,” she said. “I don’t know why we would have ever wanted to make change at the gate? But anyway.”

So, what were Sue and Chuck doin’ during the concert?

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

“I think I was behind the stage in a kind of a little trailer was kind of the office,” Sue answers, “and trying to keep track of money or tickets or what we had."

“The money that was coming in was in buckets,” Chuck added with a laugh. “And you’d see girls going across the crowd with two big, five- gallon buckets- full of money- with no paranoia on any side, yea.”

This might be a good time to mention the blistering heat. That late August day, it was nearly 100 degrees. “I’d mathematically figured out how much water I thought that many people would drink,” Chuck explained. “So, I got a creamery tank truck full of water.” His calculations for an adequate supply of drinking water were soon rendered moot when halfway through the concert, folks started showering in it.

 Crowds grew all day August 27, 1972 as word spread that the Grateful Dead would play in Veneta. Estimates for attendance are as high as 20,000 people.
Adrian Marin
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Crowds grew all day August 27, 1972 as word spread that the Grateful Dead would play in Veneta. Estimates for attendance are as high as 20,000 people.

“And I thought, ‘oh man, we’re in trouble now,'" Chuck remembered. "And about that time-- the top popped open on the tank truck and out came a naked hippie that had been swimming inside of it. And I realized, ‘we’ve lost our water.’”

But, Chuck said the massive crowd didn’t seem to mind. Many attendees stripped down to nothing and blissed out to the music. The band told the Keseys there were “more naked people there than at any concert they’d ever given.”

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

 It was sweltering hot on August 27, 1972 when the Dead played in an open field, stage facing west. They reportedly did three encores.
Adrian Marin
It was sweltering hot on August 27, 1972 when the Dead played in an open field, stage facing west. They reportedly did three encores.

After the sun dipped below the distant tree line and a third encore, the show ended. Those buckets full of money from concert proceeds made all the difference for the future of Springfield Creamery. “When you think back on it, it was kind of a humbling experience that they would do this for us,” Sue said. “Basically, they left all the money, except probably their gas money, with us. And it was just about enough money to get us over the hump we were needing to get over.”

The amount was reportedly $12,000. And to this day, Sue and Chuck Kesey remain, quite simply, grateful. With a big smile, Chuck clearly expressed his opinion of the Dead. “This is the greatest band ever invented by humanity,” he said. “It is.”

Springfield Creamery founders Chuck and Sue Kesey have been called a "harmonious" couple. The have two kids, Sheryl Kesey Thompson and Kit Kesey.
Kesey Family
Springfield Creamery founders Chuck and Sue Kesey have been called a "harmonious" couple. The have two kids, Sheryl Kesey Thompson and Kit Kesey.

Chuck and Sue’s two kids have grown up knowing something pretty amazing went down. Son Kit Kesey, who was 6 at the time of the Field Trip show, has become a concert promoter in Eugene. Daughter Sheryl Kesey Thompson is co-owner 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.

 Kit and Sheryl Kesey were little kids in 1972 when the Grateful Dead played a benefit concert in Veneta to help their parents struggling business, Springfield Creamery.
Kesey Family
Kit and Sheryl Kesey were little kids in 1972 when the Grateful Dead played a benefit concert in Veneta to help their parents struggling business, Springfield Creamery.

“I think that my generation looks back at that day and that time and looks at it as a pretty significant fork in the road for the Creamery where that hand up made a difference for the next 50 plus years,” Kesey Thompson said. And then she told a tale on her Deadhead parents. “Every time you call their house the Grateful Dead is playing in the background.”

On August 27th the Kesey’s— now both in their 80s— will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead’s benefit show by wearing tee shirts which read, “The day a rock band saved a yogurt company.” (And they'll listen to Dead Air on KLCC as they do every Saturday night, they said.)

Production assistance on this story from Sheryl Kesey Thompson. Audio from Sunshine Daydream recordings used here with permission from Rhino Records.

Who played 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, lead and backing vocals

Other projects: Jerry Garcia Band, Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, Legion of Mary, Reconstruction, Old & In the Way, New Riders of the Purple Sage

Bob Weir

Active: 1965–1995

Instruments: Lead and Rhythm guitar, lead and backing vocals

Other projects: RatDog, Kingfish, Bobby and the Midnites, The Other Ones, The Dead, Furthur, Dead & Company

Phil Lesh

Active: 1965–1995

Instruments: Bass guitar, backing and lead vocals

Other projects: Phil Lesh and Friends, The Other Ones, The Dead, Furthur

Bill Kreutzmann

Active: 1965–1995

Instruments: Drums, percussion

Other projects: SerialPod, Rhythm Devils, The Other Ones, The Dead, BK3, 7 Walkers, Billy & the Kids, Dead & Company

Keith Godchaux

Active: September 1971 – February 17, 1979

Instruments: Keyboards, backing vocals

Other projects: Jerry Garcia Band, Heart of Gold Band

Donna Jean Godchaux

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

Instruments: Backing and lead vocals

Other projects: Jerry Garcia Band, Heart of Gold Band, Donna Jean Godchaux Band, Dark Star Orchestra  

Copyright 2022 KLCC. To see more, visit KLCC.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.