Dead Best: The All-Time Greatest Version of “Sugar Magnolia”?

by Peter Wendel
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June 7, 1970
Last Time Played: July 9, 1995
Total Times Played: 590+
Writer(s): Weir & Hunter

The following five-star performances of “Sugar Magnolia” are in chronological order from across the Dead’s long, strange touring trip. 

AUGUST 27, 1972
Old Renaissance Faire Grounds, Veneta, OR

WOWWW! As flawless as they come. The band plays so tight and precise, it seems effortless. From the Dead’s mind-blowing Veneta show, this version is a prime example of the band’s soaring collaborative musicianship in 1972. The pre-coda jam is absolutely sick. (Check out other must-hear versions from ’72, like the one from Rotterdam (5/11/72) and and the burner from the Jahrhundert Halle in Frankfurt.)

FEBRUARY 9, 1973
Roscoe Maples Pavilion, Palo Alto, CA

WALK YOU IN THE SUNSHINE! Syrupy-smooth intro with Jerry holding and bending notes – sending them bouncing out over the jubilant crowd. Better put on yer dancin’ shoes for this one! You won’t be able to stand still.

NOVEMBER 11, 1973
Winterland, San Francisco, CA

SHRED FEST! Talk about turning on the firehose! Jerry gets to work at about 3:40, climbing and climbing to a towering peak. Bobby blows a vocal gasket at the close.

OCTOBER 29, 1977
Evans Field House, Dekalb, IL

RUNAWAY TRAIN! A 10-ton steam-roller with thundering drums from Billy and Mickey that fuel a blistering jam. It’s a wonder they didn’t blow the roof clean off Evans Field House. Buckle up, it’s a wild ride.

OCTOBER 19, 1981
Sports Palace, Barcelona, Spain

SMILES FOR MILES! Here’s a ripper from the often-overlooked Europe ’81 tour. Jerry is in rare form, and Brent Mydland’s relentless energy from the keys pushes the Big Man even higher. Try not to smile between 3:40 and 6:40. I dare you. The gravy is the wild-ass jam to close the coda. Hot damn, those boys could cook!

JUNE 20, 1983
Merriweather, Columbia, MD

SMOKERRRR!! Fast-paced and super heady. The band burns the Post Pavilion to the fucking ground! Brent goes berserk (at 5:11), as does Jerry, and Bobby’s “aborigine rap” (at 7:00) sends this version over the rainbow. Hottest “Sugar Magnolia” of the ’80s for sure. Spinning madness!

MARCH 22, 1990
Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON

BEST OF THE ’90s! If you’re looking for proof that the band could still catch fire late in the game, look no further. Spectacular all-around effort – a HUGE highlight from the Dead’s last, truly great tour (spring 1990). While I sing to you, ya’ll!

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach, Mountain Jam, the All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at