The Grateful Dead Play at the Egyptian Pyramids, in the Shadow of the Sphinx (1978)

In September of 1978, the Grateful Dead traveled to Egypt and played three shows at the Great Pyramid of Giza, with the Great Sphinx looking over their shoulders. It wasn’t the first time a rock band played in an ancient setting. Pink Floyd performed songs in the middle of the Amphitheatre of Pompeii in October 1971. But Floyd performed to an “empty” house, playing to no live fans, only ghosts. (Watch footage here.) The Dead’s shows, on the other hand, were real gigs, attended by Deadheads who made the journey over, and they could thank Phil Lesh for putting it all in motion. Lesh later said, “it sort of became my project because I was one of the first people in the band who was on the trip of playing at places of power. You know, power that’s been preserved from the ancient world. The pyramids are like the obvious number one choice because no matter what anyone thinks they might be, there is definitely some kind of mojo about the pyramids.”

Logistically speaking, the concerts weren’t the easiest to stage. Rolling Stone reported that an “equipment truck got stuck in sand and had to be towed by camels.” Because the electricity in Egypt was an “a winkin’, blinkin’ affair,” Bob Weir later recalled, the jetlagged band had difficulties recording the first of the three shows. But, as with most adventures, the inconveniences were offset by the wondrous nature of the experience.

Weir captured it well when he said: “I got to a point where the head of the Sphinx was lined up with the top of the Great Pyramid, all lit up. All of a sudden, I went to this timeless place. The sounds from the stage — they could have been from any time. It was as if I went into eternity.” The Sphinx and Great Pyramid date back to roughly 2560 BC.

The Dead were joined on this trip by the counterculture author Ken Kesey (not to mention Bill Graham and Bill Walton) who apparently captured footage on Super-8 reels. (Watch it above.) Kesey himself later tried to explain the symbolism of the visit, saying: “The people who were there recognized this as a respectful and holy event that went back to something we can all just barely glimpse, them and us both. Our relationship to ancient humans. To this place on the planet. To the planet’s place in the universe. All that cosmic stuff is what the Dead are based on. The Egyptians could understand that.”

At the very top of the post, you can see the Dead performing “Ollin Arageed,” with Egyptian oudist Hamza el-Din and other local musicians, before seguing into “Fire on the Mountain.” The clip gives you a good feel for the awe-inspiring scene. Just above, we have a longer playlist of performances that took place on September 16, 1978 — the same night there was a lunar eclipse. The complete 9/16/78 show can be streamed on, as can the shows from 9/14 and 9/15. A 2CD/1 DVD package (Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978) captures the Dead’s visit and can be purchased online.

To get more on the Pyramid concerts, read Chapter 43 of Dennis McNally’s book, A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead.

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Comments (6)
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  • scott yobpstein says:

    hey ive got jerrys laminate from egypt right here on my desk. was a gift from annabelle. i have scans up on my googleplus check it out. i love to share it with everyone. cheers!

  • Sumit says:

    Good and greatful story

  • James Holmes says:

    Did they ever record inside the Kufu pyramid?

  • stu rohrer says:

    Love this notion of playing music at “places of power” — not many popular groups have the questing spirit or gravitas to pull it off. Was reminded of the Dead at the pyramids when I saw this recent show on PBS – Foo Fighters playing at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, near the Acropolis in Athens. The music itself lacks the introspective and philosophical qualities of the Dead…
    Posted on my TV highlights page at

  • Ian Fry says:

    Orrin Arageed was my soundtrack to the Egypt experience. Hearing it first at the 9/14 1am soundcheck, not having a clue what it was called, the melody instantly etched into my consciousness. Then meeting Hamza at the Mena House outside the breakfast room, him buying us all an ice cold Stella beer, what a generous spirit; walking the thirty minutes on the dusty track from our Hotel Red Carpet each night to the concert site alongside Ken and Alexandra, her with roses in her hair; chance encountering Billy and moan groaning partner riding the camel (and hump) post the second night at 1am, just us, immediately in front of the pyramid in darkness only illuminated by the almost full moon, a totally surreal moment; us being locked, just the four of us, in total darkness a full hour inside the locked Kings Chamber; climbing the Great Pyramid at 4am to see the full moon set in the desert and the sun rise over distant Cairo, and the concerts, oh the concerts, stuff of dreams, wondrous and vivid still, the wonder of it all.

  • Graeme Challands says:

    I was there and indeed Hamza and his Nubians were fantastic and the way the Dead segued from Nubian music into Dead music was just exactly perfect. I many years later took my wife and triplets there and we had a meal at the Mena House Hotel. Wonderful to return and relive the memories

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