For the Grateful Dead, their 1972 tour of Europe would be the band’s grand introduction to the continent. But the Dead had actually made the trip overseas a few times before their scheduled gigs that eventually became Europe 72. In 1970, the band had a few gigs planned for the Roundhouse Theatre in London, but those were cancelled, pushing the Dead’s European debut back to their appearance at the Hollywood Festival in Leycett, England on May 24th of that year.
The following year, the Dead were supposed to play a festival in Auvers sur Oise, France. When they arrived with their crew, the band were presented with monsoon-like conditions. With the festival cancelled, the Dead found themselves at the Château d’Hérouville with nowhere to go.
“We went over there to do a big festival, a free festival they were gonna have, but the festival was rained out. It flooded,” Jerry Garcia told author Blair Jackson for Jackson’s book Garcia: An American Life. “We stayed at this little chateau which is owned by a film score composer who has a 16-track recording studio built into the chateau, and this is a chateau that Chopin once lived in; really old, just delightful, out in the country near the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, which is where Vincent van Gogh is buried.”
Undeterred, the Dead opted to play in the backyard. This was a year before Elton John arrived at the house and dubbed it the “Honky Chateau” after his album of the same name. Thus, the Grateful Dead became one of the first rock acts to break in the house’s recording system.
“We were there with nothing to do: France, a 16-track recording studio upstairs, all our gear, ready to play, and nothing to do. So, we decided to play at the chateau itself, out in the back, in the grass, with a swimming pool, just play into the hills. We didn’t even play to hippies, we played to a handful of townspeople in Auvers. We played and the people came — the chief of police, the fire department, just everybody. It was an event and everybody just had a hell of a time — got drunk, fell in the pool. It was great.”
The Dead played a typical show, with the only difference being that their audience was just the neighbours who happened to wander over to the house. Kicking off with a rousing version of ‘Truckin’, the Dead blew through a number of their best-known songs at the time, including ‘Morning Dew’, ‘China Cat Sunflower’ > ‘I Know You Rider’, and ‘Casey Jones’.
Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan got to boogie down on ‘Hard to Handle’, while Jerry Garcia busted out some relatively new compositions like ‘Deal’, ‘Loser’ and ‘Bertha’. There was even a dense jam suite of ‘Cryptical Envelopment’ > ‘Drums’ > ‘The Other One’ > ‘Wharf Rat’, proving that the band were just as committed to exploring the outer reaches of psychedelia on their days off. It all ended with a rousing ‘Johnny B. Goode’ before the Dead decided to pack it in, fly back home, and begin making plans for Europe 72.
Watch footage from the Grateful Dead’s concert at the Château d’Hérouville down below.