50 years ago today, the Grateful Dead crashed a St. Louis Bar Mitzvah party

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Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

There is a saying, “It’s the stuff of legends,” and it usually means the story isn’t true. The following story about the band the Grateful Dead crashing a Bar Mitzvah in St. Louis really is the stuff of legends, and it’s all true.

“It’s true.”

That is a direct quote from Mark Slosberg, who was a living witness. Members of the Grateful Dead crashed a Bar Mitzvah party on the evening of December 12, 1971, got up on stage, played music, and gave everyone in the room a story to tell forever.

In 1971, Slosberg was a 10th grader at Ladue Horton Watkins High School and was the bass player of a band called Spring Rain. Also in the band were fellow 10th graders Sherri Weingart, Doug Heller, John McSweeny, Steve Fisher, and Bruce Byers. On this night, the band was at the Airport Marriot Hotel, playing at the Bar Mitzvah party of Richie Gerber.

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Richie Gerber’s Bar Mitzvah

“This was my Bar Mitzvah in 1971. The party was on a Sunday night. It was kid party only,” said Richard Gerber, now an attorney in St. Louis, speaking to the hosts of The Good Ole’ Grateful Dead podcast. “At that time, I was not into rock ‘n roll. I don’t think I even knew who the Grateful Dead were.”

Gerber and his 100 plus friends would soon get to know the Grateful Dead. The band had just played two shows at the Fox Theater on December 9-10 and remained in town before heading to Michigan. Whenever the band played in St. Louis, they always stayed at the Airport Hilton.

As parties go, people drift in, and apparently, some of the guests met several members of the band in the lobby. The band members signed autographs and gave posters away.

“My sister Jo, comes up to me while I’m playing and says ‘the Grateful Dead are here,” remembers Slosberg. “I told her to go away, but she insisted I look, and then, there they were.”

The Courteous Dead

According to the podcast, Richard Gerber said it was his sister who invited the band to play on stage. Not wanting to interrupt Spring Rain’s set, the Dead musicians said they would wait until the band took a break.

“Jerry Garcia was the only one who wasn’t there, but everyone else was there plus Marmaduke,” said Slosberg on the podcast. “All of the kids used the payphones to call their older brothers and sisters, and so within 25 minutes there were high schoolers arriving in the lobby while the Dead played.”

The Dead played a few songs, and then returned the stage back to Spring Rain, but the Dead band members remained in the room enjoying their show. As the set wound down, the members of the Dead came back to the stage and joined Spring Rain to continue the show.

“We jammed jointly on some blues changes,” said Slosberg. “Spring Rain probably started out with a 12-bar thing to get the set going and it just ramped up from there.”

Afterward, the Dead stuck around for quite a while, talking to the kids and parents, but eventually retreated to their rooms. Spring Rain still had some work ahead of them, as Slosberg recalls: “We still had to break down all of the equipment for the night.” All the teens went home with a memorable experience to tell about their crazy night. “It was the talk of the high school for years to come.”

Sorry, No Photos

In the podcast, the hosts asked Richard Gerber about photos. “Many photos were taken. We had at least 15 pictures of the Dead playing and interacting with Spring Rain,” said Gerber. “I remember one picture with one of the band members standing behind my sister Debbie, who was holding a guitar, trying to show her a few things (Debbie was taking lessons at the time). Unfortunately, my mother had a fire at her home years ago which took many of the photo albums… None of the Dead photos survived.”

1971 article from the Ladue High School Newspaper, The Panoram. Courtesy of Mark Slosberg

In essence, the story became the stuff of legends. And this stuff of legends is true.