The two days in 1988 when the Grateful Dead traveling carnival landed at Oxford Plains Speedway for a pair of concerts left an indelible impression on the area.

The shows also left an indelible impression on Deadheads who either attended the shows or later heard the recordings.

That spirit will be memorialized later this year when a remastered recording of Oxford’s Day 2 performance on July 3, 1988, will be included in a special 50th anniversary release of an 80-disc box set that will include one live concert recording from each year of the Grateful Dead’s 30-year life on the road.

The project, called “30 Trips Around the Sun,” also includes a second Maine concert  — the Augusta Civic Center show on Oct. 12, 1984.

The limited-edition box set by Rhino Records features more than 73 hours of music. It is scheduled to be released Sept. 18 at the cost of $699.98, which is less than $10 per disc.

The project began three years ago when Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux began meeting with other Grateful Dead production people and record label Rhino, brainstorming on how to properly commemorate the band’s 50th anniversary.

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“We wanted to make it special,” Lemieux said. “We knew we wanted to go big.”

Lemieux, who has been in charge of the Grateful Dead archives since 1999, knew the band’s legacy centered on their epic live performances. The archives have quality live recordings for more than 75 percent of the band’s 2,300-plus shows.

Looking to go beyond recent box sets and special live recordings published from the Dead’s catalog, Lemieux proposed the challenging project of one complete show for every year between 1966 and 1995.

“I thought of the boldest, biggest, most ambitious project we could do that was also an extremely cool project for the fans,” Lemieux said. “I brought it to the record company and they were immediately on board with it. It was pretty darn exciting how this came together.”

The next challenge was to select the shows for the box set. While not wanting to use the term “no-brainers,” Lemieux conceded that there were a few concerts that were easy to pick — the renowned Oct. 27, 1979, show at the Cape Cod Coliseum in South Yarmouth, Mass., (one of the most requested shows by fans, Lemieux said) and the Augusta Civic Center show in 1984.

The Augusta show is cited in a 2013 Grateful Dead commemorative issue of Rolling Stone as one of the 20 essential shows every Deadhead should own.

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Many of the shows in 1984 were what Lemieux described as “less than inspired,” but the Augusta show, the sixth show of their fall tour, hit all the right notes. Rolling Stone described the show as “a legendary high point during a harrowing low in (Jerry) Garcia’s health.”

“That was one of the shows that spoke to us from the beginning,” Lemieux said. “It’s one of those that is so good that you don’t have to say, ‘that’s a good show for 1984.’ You don’t have to add that qualifier. It’s just a great show.”

Lemieux said 1988 was another inconsistent year for Grateful Dead live performances, especially when compared to 1987 and 1989 (“a spectacular year,” he said), but the best shows of 1988 were spectacular, including the tour-closing performance at Oxford Plains Speedway.

In trying to select a show for 1988 to include on the box set, the group kept coming back to Oxford. 

“It seemed a little out of the way, which is why it was a good place to end the tour,” Lemieux said. “It was a nice mellow place. I was bummed that they never played there again because everybody I knew who went to the Oxford show, to this day, will say it was one of the most fun Dead shows they ever saw.”

While the first show at Oxford featured many high points, the second night had what Lemieux described as “an extra bit of energy.” Showing no signs of fatigue during the nearly 2½-hour show before a crowd of roughly 30,000, the gems that night begin with the opening two numbers — “Hell in a Bucket” and “Sugaree.”

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“They were great shows musically, but they were just fun,” Lemieux. “It was extremely easy-going. It was a West Coast vibe on the East Coast. I heard from so many people who said it felt like an Oregon Dead show. That’s the highest compliment for a concert on the East coast.”

While two Maine shows made the cut out of the 30 chosen, Lemieux said that lack of a quality recording prevented a third Maine show from making the cut — the Sept. 6, 1980 show at the fairgrounds in Lewiston.

“If we had the soundboard recording of it, which we don’t, I can say with virtual certainty that Lewiston would have been the show for 1980 that would have been picked for the box set,” Lemieux said. “It is that good of a show. It is certainly one of the top couple of shows of that year, if not the best.”

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Oxford, Maine

Set list – July 3, 1988

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Set 1

Hell in a Bucket

Sugaree

Walkin’ Blues

Tennessee Jed

Queen Jane Approximately

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Bird Song

Set 2

Touch of Grey

Hey Pocky Way

Looks Like Rain

Estimated Prophet

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Eyes of the World

I Will Take You Home

Drums

Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad

I Need a Miracle

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Hey Jude

Encore

Not Fade Away


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