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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Pink Floyd Play Live in the Ruins of Pom­peii (1972)

Louis Arm­strong Plays Trum­pet at the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids; Dizzy Gille­spie Charms a Snake in Pak­istan

Louis Arm­strong Plays Trum­pet at the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids; Dizzy Gille­spie Charms a Snake in Pak­istan

by | Permalink | Comments (6) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (6)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.