Friday, May 14, 2021

December 31, 1969 Boston Tea Party, Boston, MA: Grateful Dead/Livingston Taylor/The Propostion



The Grateful Dead rose to prominence from the 1970s with financial anchors in certain strongholds that allowed them to tour in the points in between. The strongholds ensured their survival while the newly-conquered territory was subdued. In the early 1970s, for example, Grateful Dead concerts were a guaranteed success in Northern New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston. From there, they extended their reach into New England, Upstate New York and the New South. It was a logical strategy, whether for a military empire or a touring rock band.

The Grateful Dead had mostly laid the groundwork for their 70s success in the 60s. They had played many New York Metro gigs before they solidified New Jersey. The band had played some famous shows in Philadelphia in the 60s, too, even if it took a little longer to conquer the state. But what about Boston? From about 1972 onwards, the Dead could count on Boston as a solid gig, with loyal fans and good ticket sales. In Deadhead lore, the fact that Boston was the site of the Dead's only New Year's Eve show outside of San Francisco or Oakland ensures Boston's status. 

Yet the Grateful Dead's New Year's Eve 69/70 show at the Boston Tea Party stands in stark contrast to the Dead's history in Boston. Boston was a hugely important rock city in the 1960s, yet the Dead had little to do with it until that New Year's Eve. Still--being late to the party doesn't mean you can't have a good time. This post will analyze how little is actually known about the Dead's New Year's Eve weekend in Boston, and how intermittent their previous efforts had been in Boston Metro. The Grateful Dead played three nights (December 29-31 '69) at the Tea Party, culminating in New Year's Eve. When the Dead played New Year's Eve '69, they played for promoter Don Law. Law was the Bill Graham of Boston, although he he had a much lower profile. But the Dead hadn't played for Law until just three months earlier. The Dead came to Boston late, but strong.

Warner Brothers released Live/Dead in November 1969

December 31, 1969 Boston Tea Party, Boston, MA: Grateful Dead/Livingston Taylor/The Proposition
Let me start by dismissing the main point. It's true that we have quality soundboard tapes of all three nights of the December '69 stand in Boston. In that sense, all of these shows are "known," in that many Deadheads have listened to those sets many times. But the shows are largely devoid of context. There aren't pictures of the band on stage at the Tea Party--if there is, please send them or link them--and save for brief reviews of the opening set on December 29, the only eyewitness accounts are mainly of the "I was tripping" variety. Because of the Dead's limited Boston 60s footprint, there is only a vague hint of how the Dead were perceived as similar or distinct from other contemporaries. Boston 60s rock music history is rich and well-documented, befitting a University town, but the Dead have little to do with it.

Because of the tape, and a general familiarity with Grateful Dead posters, plenty of 'Heads recognize the Boston Tea Party as a venue. When the Dead played New Years Eve '69, the Tea Party was at 15 Landsdowne Street, across the street from the outfield of Fenway Park. The Tea Party was Boston's foundational psychedelic venue, opening on January 20, 1967 at 53 Berkeley Street (at Appleton), in the South End neighborhood. Yet the Dead never played the original Tea Party. By the time the band played there, the Tea Party had moved a mile and half away to 15 Landsdowne Street, in the Kenmore Square district. Lots of music had happened in Boston in the 60s, but the Dead weren't the ones playing it.


The Grateful Dead New Year's show at Boston Tea Party were opened by an improvisational comedy troupe called The Proposition, itself a unique event. The Proposition, like Second City in Chicago or The Committee in San Francisco, had a little theater (at Inman Square, across the Charles River in Cambridge) and created improvised routines for every audience. The Proposition's claim, apparently, was that rather than doing unscripted but previously performed sketches, each Proposition performance was newly improvised based on suggestions by that night's audience. In that sense, The Proposition were an appropriate opener for the Dead, committing every night's chance to their skill at inventing art out of thin air.

The Proposition had about a half-dozen members, apparently, possibly on a somewhat rotating basis. I know of no tapes of their performances, even when they moved to New York in 1971. One of the cast regulars, however, was future Saturday Night Live player Jane Curtin. Curtin had dropped out of her junior year at Northeastern University to make a full-time go at the theater. Given the long, complicated history of SNL with the Grateful Dead, it is largely unremarked that Curtin opened for the Dead before the Blues Brothers ever did, and that the likes of Al Franken and Tom Davis would have been in awe when they found out. Did they find out? Curtin has never mentioned it, and I only figured it out by searching out the few archive postings from eyewitnesses. It's possible that the SNL crew didn't realize that Jane Curtin had out-Jerry'd them all.

In another break from Fillmore West orthodoxy, local folkie Livingston Taylor played between Dead sets. Now, even the Fillmore West and the Avalon occasionally had acoustic sets between acts, but not between Grateful Dead sets. Livingston Taylor was two years younger than his brother James. At this time, James Taylor had just released one obscure album on Apple Records in 1968. Livingston had been playing in the Boston area since 1966 and had at least a local name. He played in a bluesier style than his older brother. Livingston, managed by Don Law, would be signed to Capricorn Records, the Allman Brothers Band's label, and release his first (self-titled) album sometime in 1970. I'm not aware of any published recollections by Livingston Taylor of his time opening for the Dead (please Comment or link if you know one).

So: we can confirm three nights of fantastic music by the Grateful Dead. A future Television comic idol opened the New Year's show. Another opening act was not a complete unknown. Yet, the taped music appears seemingly from behind a closed door. This post will look at what little can be discerned from the Dead's strangely ineffective efforts to make it in Boston in the 60s, belying the fact that they hit the New England jackpot in the 70s.


The Boston Tea Party and Psychedelic Rock Music in Boston and Cambridge
Boston, MA is a huge city, and it has numerous important colleges and universities. Some of the most famous schools--Harvard and MIT, for example--are actually in the city of Cambridge, just across the Charles River from Boston, but broadly speaking they are all part of the Boston Metropolitan Area. The "Great Folk Scare" of the late 1950s started in Cambridge and Greenwich Village. Former Palo Alto High School student Joan Baez, a recent arrival (her Professor father had transferred from Stanford to MIT in her Senior year) came to notice in Cambridge around 1960. Folk music is outside the scope of this blog (for a great eyewitness account, see the book Baby Let Me Follow You Down by Eric Von Schmidt and Jim Rooney), but the early folk music explosion was essential to the rock music that would follow, and Cambridge was a wellspring.

The British Invasion landed hard on Boston and New England. The Boston and Cambridge area had numerous colleges--Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Northeastern, Brandeis, Tufts, and many others--and of course the surrounding suburbs had an infinite number of high school students. There were plenty of rock bands throughout New England inspired by or just emulating the Beatles and Stones, but that also is too gigantic a subject to even consider here. By early 1967, word had spread from San Francisco of another model, bands playing there own music in a big room where everyone could just dance, with a total immersion of lights and sounds. Boston was no backwater--they were going to have their own psychedelic ballroom, and the Boston Tea Party opened on January 20, 1967.

Initially, the bands that played at Boston Tea Party were just regional bands. The first headliners, for example, The Lost, were from Plainfield, VT. They had released a few singles on Capitol, and played various places, but they hadn't been out of New England. Their leader was Willie Alexander, mildly familiar to anyone who had too many records in the 1970s. For the second weekend, The Lost were joined by The Hallucinations, from Boston. Lead singer Peter Wolf and drummer Stephen Jo Bladd would end up in the J Geils Band a few years later. 

The Tea Party's initial profile was similar to the early Fillmore, with a predominance of hip bands from within driving distance. At first, the Tea Party was only open on weekends, a sign of a club finding its footing. Since it didn't sell beer, teenagers were welcome, a significant commercial point. Out-of-town bands only started to appear in late Spring, with David Blue and the American Patrol (April 28-29) and the Velvet Underground (May 26-27) from Manhattan. Still, the Tea Party was tiny. The official capacity of the Berkeley Street venue was 550. While that was no doubt periodically exceeded, for comparison, the official capacity of Keystone Berkeley was 476, and the original Fillmore about 1500. In 1968, the Tea Party added another fire escape and the official capacity was raided to 720, but even so it was just half the size of the Fillmore.

By the Summer of 1967, there were plenty of visiting bands: Peanut Butter Conspiracy (July 14-15, from LA),  Larry Coryell and the Free Spirits (July 21-22, Greenwich Village) and The Paupers (July 28-29, from Toronto). The first Fillmore visitation was by Country Joe and The Fish on August 25-26 (for a complete listing of known Boston Tea Party shows, see here).


The Psychedelic Supermarket

Not surprisingly, a competitor to the Boston Tea Party soon arose. The Psychedelic Supermarket was a converted parking garage, with grim acoustics to match. The official address was 590 Commonwealth Avenue, near Kenmore Square, but the actual location was in an alley backing on to Boston University. Owner George Papadopolis had run a coffee house called The Unicorn that had booked folk acts, and later electric bands, so he was a more experienced operator than the hippie-ish Tea Party team.

Initially, there had been a new psychedelic ballroom called The Crosstown Bus, in suburban Brighton, but it folded after a few dates. The Bus, however, had booked Cream for a week, and since their epic appearance at the Fillmore in August, the deal was too good to waste. Papadopolis apparently had been planning to convert the parking garage into a venue anyway, but he did so earlier to accommodate the Cream booking. The Psychedelic Supermarket had great bookings, but it's not remembered fondly by fans or patrons: the sound was lousy, the room uninviting, and Papadopolis had no reputation for generosity.

Lawrence Azrin, a former Boston disc jockey, has some biting reflections on the Psychedelic Supermarket

The Psychedelic Supermarket (located where Kix and the Nickelodeon Cinema in Kenmore Square are now) was a blatant attempt by George Popadopolis to cash in on a trend. He had run the Unicorn, a Boston folk club, for some years before deciding to expand in early 1968. Seating of 300 was in the lower tier of a garage that was completely concrete, except for the stage. Cream played a memorable gig there in February '68 [sic] not to mention Janis Joplin and the Holding Company. Stories of Popadopolis' financial finagling are a legend.. . groups would cancel contracts and leave because they would be paid less for long stands. The exposure was supposed to make up for the lesser pay!! One out of two bands would leave a gig after one set for various reasons and regular club-goers remember him raising ticket prices from $4.50 to $5.50 when he knew that a show was going to sell out.

The exceptional economic dynamic of late 60s Boston rock concerts was the multiple promoters. There was no Bill Graham figure dominating the landscape. Ironically, the Boston rock market was very robust, with college students and suburban high schoolers, and plenty of venues. Big touring bands could play lucrative college gigs or a variety of sports arenas and theaters. There were plenty of great rock concerts in Boston in the late 60s, but they were at numerous different places. 

The Grateful Dead introduced themselves to Boston by playing the Psychedelic Supermarket on the weekend of December 8-9, 1967. The band also fit in a Saturday afternoon show (December 9) at Clark University in Worcester, about an hour away. I'm pretty sure the band played another weekend at the Supermarket on December 29-30, but I have been unable to confirm that. We know they played Manhattan before and after Christmas, and we know they did not play the Fillmore New Year's Eve, as they were out of town. All signs point to Boston, but I can't find a firm trace.

The Van Morrison Controversy and Ill Wind were booked at the Boston Tea Party (at 53 Berkeley Street) for the weekend of May 31-June 1, 1968. The Ill Wind released a 1968 album on ABC called Flashes. Lead guitarist Ken Frankel had played in bluegrass bands with Jerry Garcia in 1962-63.

Boston Rock 1968

Rock music exploded in Boston 1968. Unlike many cities, the Grateful Dead played no part. The story is too long to tell here, but here are a few highlights:
  • The original Boston Tea Party partners (Ray Riepen and David Hahn) added another one, Boston University student Don Law Jr. Don Law's father had been a staff producer for Columbia Records. Law Sr had produced Robert Johnson's only recording session in San Antonio, and he had run Columbia's country music division in Nashville since 1952, working with major Columbia stars like Johnny Cash. Law Sr had even produced Marty Robbins' "El Paso." Although Law Sr had taken mandatory retirement in 1967, he was still an independent producer. His son was just a student, but he had been born into the popular music business.
  • The Boston Tea Party bet heavily on touring bands, particularly English ones. Throughout 1968, plenty of English rock legends came through; Procol Harum, the Yardbirds, Traffic, Jeff Beck Group, Ten Years After and more. Many of those bands would play Fillmore East as well as the Tea Party, as did some San Francisco bands like Steve Miller or Quicksilver. The Psychedelic Supermarket still booked shows, but the Tea Party was the place that everyone remembers.
  • On March 15, 1968, WBCN-fm was the first underground rock music station in the Boston area. Don Law and Ray Riepen were the owners. Initially they broadcast out of a dressing room at the Tea Party. The most popular all-night dj was a jive talker called The Woofuh Goofuh. A true Boston legend--apocryphally, many came down from a long acid trip listening to Woofuh Goofuh jiving and playing blues and R&B records far into the night--his rein ended around December 1968. The Woofuh Goofuh was Peter Wolf, lead singer of the Hallucinations. When that band broke up, and Wolf joined the J Geils Band, he had to give up the dj gig. WBCN went on to become the dominant rock station in the region.
  • MGM Records signed a bunch of up-and-coming Boston bands, like Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Union and Orpheus. MGM staff producer Alan Lorber, declared that Boston was the next San Francisco. Lorber coined the catch-phrase "The Bosstown Sound." The bands were actually pretty good, but there wasn't a "Boss-Town sound." The ad campaign backfired. Hippies were suspicious of anything promoted by "The Man." So some good Boston bands got overlooked because the rest of the country's hippies thought they were just hype. The Bosstown Sound debacle was a cautionary tale for record industry promotions of underground bands for the balance of the 20th century.

An ad in the March 14, 1969 Boston Globe for Theater events at The Ark on 15 Landsdowne Street. A rock show was held on the weekend (in this case Charlie Musselwhite and Elephant's Memory, Friday and Saturday, March 21-22)

The Ark, 15 Landsdowne Street, Boston, MA Winter and Spring 1969
For whatever reasons, the Grateful Dead were never booked at the Boston Tea Party. I myself don't think there was any complicated reason. I think the Dead shows in Boston in 1967 had been poorly attended, so there wasn't any impetus to book them. The band's two albums weren't exactly radio-friendly, even when WBCN-fm's underground sound came on the air. So the Dead never got booked. This would finally change in April 1969 when The Ark opened.

By early 1969, the Boston Tea Party was the flagship of Boston's underground rock scene. The Psychedelic Supermarket hadn't exactly closed, but it was only booking shows intermittently (by this time using the name The Unicorn, which had been the name of Papadopolis' folk club). About a mile and half from the Tea Party, neophyte promoter Charlie Thibeaux built a rock club over at 15 Landsdowne Street. The club didn't do well, actually, but it marked the beginning of making the Kenmore Square neighborhood into a leading music and entertainment district for Boston.

Although it is easy to google the Boston Tea Party, the Psychedelic Supermarket and The Ark with reference to the 60s, there is almost no systematic information about the period. Lots of people refer to the glory of 60s Boston, but the views are largely impressionistic, or based on somewhat vague websites focusing rather narrowly on posters. One of these days, not today, I will post my Boston chronology, but that is a mammoth project even by my standards. Certainly, there is no useful information about The Ark, so I will try and summarize that here. 

The Ark had opened on Friday, January 24, 1969. The model of The Ark seemed to be a Boston variation on New York's Electric Circus. I went into the peculiar history of the Electric Circus when I discussed the Dead's appearance there in 1968, so I won't recap it all here. Suffice to say the Circus had multiple stories, and was more of an "environment." Any performing rock band was just one element of the evening.

The Ark had three stories, and it is generally referred to in the Boston Globe as a "disco." There must have been a stage on one of the stories, but I assume the other two were for hanging out or dancing. In general, it seems that the Ark had a live band on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and for the rest of the week they presented theater events on the stage. I know little about theater, but the performances seemed to have been pretty forward looking stuff: Bread And Puppet Theater, The SF Mime Troupe and so on. For music, there was usually a more modest act on Thursday, joined by a higher profile headliner for Friday and Saturday.

The two original owners of the Boston Tea Party had capitalized the club with just $850 in early 1967, and the venue was heavily dependent on volunteer labor. The Ark, in contrast, besides founder Charlie Thibeau, had 17 stockholders. Per the Boston Globe, they were "local doctors, university people and businessmen." The Globe said that 10 of the 26 employees of The Ark were full-time.

On The Ark's opening night, January 24, the headliners were the Los Angeles band Spirit, joined by The Bar-Kays, Otis Redding's backing band. No one in Boston seems to have noticed Spirit, however, since over at the Tea Party that weekend was the debut of Led Zeppelin (Thursday through Sunday, January 23-26), whose debut album had just been released. Those with too many records will note the irony of Randy California and Led Zeppelin debuting the same weekend in Boston. I have compiled a list of every booked music act at The Ark (forthcoming), and they included the Flying Burrito Brothers (March 6-7) and Taj Mahal (April 4-6) from the West Coast.


The Grateful Dead were booked April 21 through 23, a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. This in itself was a strange booking. Most "psychedelic" ballrooms weren't open except on weekends, although even the  Tea Party had started to add such dates. When bands were on the road, and had a few days off between weekends, why not play a few weeknight gigs, and take the door? Otherwise, they would be making no money. This was particularly true with English bands on the road, which is why you see weekday bookings at the Tea Party for UK bands in 1969.

The Dead were playing Clark University in Worcester again on Saturday (ultimately rescheduled to Sunday, April 20), and they had a big weekend booking at the Electric Theater in Chicago (on April 25-26). So they had nothing else to do, and of course no money--so why not take a flyer on an unknown, brand new psychedelic ballroom with an inexperienced promoter?

It is remarkable, and generally unremarked, how many chances the Grateful Dead took on the road with rookie promoters in strange cities. Whether Charlie Thibeau called the Dead, or the Dead called The Ark, the Tea Party didn't have a pre-existing connection to the band. In any case, even if the Dead weren't popular in Boston, they were still infamous, and for a new club, that mattered. So the band played three April weeknights in Boston.

The weekend before the Grateful Dead, the headliners at The Ark had been the Greenwich Village band Cat Mother and The All-Night Newsboys. They had just released their debut album on Elektra, The Street Giveth...And The Street Taketh Away, produced by no less than Jimi Hendrix. Both Cat Mother and Hendrix shared manager Mike Jeffery. Cat Mother was booked for Thursday through Saturday, April 17-19. The Grateful Dead's Monday-through-Wednesday booking at The Ark seems to have been the first weeknight music booking at the venue.

Since all three nights of the Grateful Dead performances at The Ark were taped and preserved, more or less in their entirety, Deadheads feel that they "know" these shows. And they do, up to a point. But an abstract listening to a live recording is just a single window. Were the shows crowded? Did the audience like the Grateful Dead, or were they just there for a party? Did people wander over from the disco, or did concertgoers wander out? It was a weeknight--when did the Dead start playing and when did they finish? Was there any opening act? We have the tapes--it's the Dead--but we really have no sense of what the shows were like.

David Lindley and Kaleidoscope played The Ark on June 20-21, 1969

What Do We Know About The Ark?

As is typical of late 60s Boston rock history, there is far less information circulating than you would expect. This effect is magnified by the fact that the Tea Party moved to the site of The Ark in July 1969. Many old Boston hippies referred to the Landsdowne Street Tea Party as "The Ark," whether because they forgot, or liked to show off that they knew the difference (in San Francisco, the comparison was referring to the Fillmore West as the Carousel long after Bill Graham took it over and renamed it). When Ned Lagin, for example, refers to having first seen the Grateful Dead at The Ark in 1969, we don't know if it was at the actual Ark (April 21-23 '69) or the Tea Party (Oct 2-4 and Dec 29-31 '69). This confusion riddles what few memoirs there are about Boston rock history.

An article in The Harvard Crimson student newspaper (published February 28 1969) by regular Crimson rock writer Salahuddin I. Imam entitled “Boston’s White Rock Palaces” described the original Berkeley Street Tea Party as 

a large square hall with a low stage. When it is full of people, as it often is, the performers seem very close to the crowd nearly submerged by it—which makes it all very warm and intimate—not intimidating as is the case in some circus-like arenas. The simplicity of the setup does mean that acoustics are virtually non-existent, but that is made up for by the immediacy and directness of the sound, which comes out quite powerfully amplified over the speaker system.”
The article ads “the crowds are hip, or perhaps too hip, because there is almost no dancing at the Tea Party. But then its probably just as well that people listen attentively to good music.

About The Ark, Imam said

The building and the whole of the main dance hall of the Ark, a newly opened club, is much more interesting than the Tea Party's box-like shape. Not surprisingly, the major emphasis at the Ark is on creating an elaborate and stylized fantasy environment, with the music as more a contributing than dominating factor. This effort at atmosphere is sometimes pursued a little too relentlessly but the overall result is nevertheless an interesting, sometimes fascinating, blend of modern multi-media techniques. 

The walls curve and sway, the floor winds round and round in ramps that dip and rise. Most of the ground is covered in thick blue carpeting expect for the main dance floor, which is to be painted in bright colors. 

With all this structural complexity there is much acoustic modulation. The sound has definite variations in texture (depending on where you are in the building) though the volume is never weak anywhere, owing to the incredibly expensive and sophisticated sound system that the club uses. Surprisingly the system sounds best when records are being played between sets. 

One area of the floor is ringed by tent-like walls and you feel like walls and you feel like you're in the middle of a growing plant. Another, a raised section, is entirely strobe lit, great waterfalls of light white light, and people dance as if bathing. 

EVERY INCH of wall space is covered with light shows of various kinds indifferent themes, with pictures ranging from ten foot high shots of Janis Joplin's singing face to Egyptian hieroglyphics. Fascinating things happen in isolated corners with the slides, but these shows are in fact all pre-programmed by computer; there is not the spontaneity and musical relevance of the Tea Party's light show, but rather a static grace. 



The groups that play at the Ark are not established rock groups, which is in line with the club's intent of emphasizing the whole experience--light and colors and sound rather than solely the musical. Occasionally one is able to catch a really fine group that has not yet made its name. One such was a group called Man, who did a remarkable, aggressive gig recently at the Ark. 

Dancing is not frowned upon at the Ark as it is at the Tea Party and most people do take to the floor at some tome or other, though one is slightly dwarfted by the cavernous height of the ceiling. 

The Ark caters to a different set of interests than the Tea Party and does it's thing pretty well.

July 1969: The Ark Merges with The Boston Tea Party
The July 10, 1969 Boston Globe reported that Boston's two major rock venues would be merging over the weekend. The Tea Party would produce their final show at the Berkeley Street location on Friday, July 11. Appropriately enough, the Velvet Underground were the headliners. Starting Saturday, July 12, all the scheduled Tea Party shows would move to 15 Lansdowne Street. The first headliner was Larry Coryell.

The Globe article makes it seem like a merger of equals, but I doubt that was the case. The Tea Party team was in control of the new venue. Ray Riepen was chairman of the operating entity (Environmental Arts Inc), while Ark founder Charles Thibeau was Chairman of the Board. Donald Law Jr was the actual General Manager of the new club. The implication of the article is that the 17 stockholders of The Ark have an ownership in the merged Tea Party organization. The Globe also points out that Riepen is President and a major stockholder of WBCN-fm, ultimately a far more valuable proposition than a rock club.

The article makes clear that Boston does not have room for two rock-only venues. In sum, the Tea Party had the underground credibility and the connections to booking touring English rock bands, but the club was too small. The larger Ark had not really been a success, even though some good bands passed through. The final concert at The Ark had been The Mothers Of Invention on Tuesday, July 8 (bootlegged and later officially released by Zappa). 

Once the Boston Tea Party took over the 15 Landsdowne site, I am unaware if any of the other features of The Ark were in use. Were there still 3 floors, multiple environments, a discoteque and weeknight theater performances? I am unaware of any such things, but reflections on the Boston Tea Party are fairly narrow, so it's hard to say. 


October 2-4, 1969 Boston Tea Party, Boston, MA: Grateful Dead/Doc and Merle Watson
(Thursday-Saturday)
The Grateful Dead returned to 15 Landsdowne Street for three nights in early October. We have no tapes, so the concerts have disappeared in collective Deadhead memory, as if they didn't occur. A commenter on Dead.net recalls attending one of the shows, and that Doc and Merle Watson opened. Doc Watson was a huge influence on Jerry Garcia, particularly as an acoustic performer (just listen to Doc, and you'll see). The poster had the immortal Bonzo Dog Band as the opening act. Awesome as it would have been for the Bonzos to confront Garcia and Pigpen with the age-old question "Can blue men sing the whites?," it wasn't to be. The second US tour by the Bonzos was apparently a mess, and they only played a few gigs, not including Boston. So Don Law would have had to find another opener, and he couldn't have done better than Doc Watson.

The October shows must have gone well, because Don Law invited the Dead back for New Years Eve. He must have offered them good money, too. Now, granted, a place like The Tea Party, in a town like Boston, depended on hip prestige, so even in 1969, snagging San Francisco homeboys for a Boston celebration was going to stand out. 

November 23, 1969 Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA: Grateful Dead/Country Joe and The Fish/Pacific Gas and Electric (Sunday) 6:15 and 9:30 pm
Rather inexplicably, in between the October and December Tea Party weekends, the Grateful Dead were booked for a Sunday night show at the Boston Music Hall. They were scheduled for two shows, sharing with Country Joe and The Fish as headliners. The Dead (nor Country Joe) were not touring the East, so they would have had to fly out for the shows, and then fly home again. I had seen the ad for years, and had always assumed the show was canceled.

The Grateful Dead were on the ticket for the November 23, 1969 Boston Music Hall show, but they were replaced by The Youngbloods

I have since found out the show was not canceled, but the November 21 (Friday) Globe reported that the Dead were replaced on the bill by The Youngbloods. Given that the Dead would have been booked into the Tea Party for New Year's Eve by this time, Don Law could not have let this booking stand. My suspicion is that this was Lenny Hart's work. Booking a one-off show out of town, in contravention to another booking, only makes sense if proper management--as in "profitable" and "not-crooked"--were not part of the equation. 

Nonetheless, even though the Dead canceled out of the November '69 Music Hall show, it's still informative about the Boston rock market. The Boston Music Hall at 268 Tremont Street, in which the Dead would play epic shows a few years later, was much larger than the Tea Party, with a capacity of 4225. A promoter was bringing in two big San Francisco bands to compete directly for the concert dollar with Law's Tea Party. It was essential for Law to ensure that the Tea Party at least had the lock on being the coolest place in town, since it couldn't be the most profitable.

Tim Crouse's article in the Boston Herald, December 3, 1969

December 29-30, 1969 Boston Tea Party, Boston, MA: Grateful Dead
Fellow scholar Grateful Seconds found two brief reviews of the Grateful Dead's opening night in December. Tim Crouse of the Boston Herald describes what apparently was the writing of "Mason's Children," and mentions that it ended the first set. He also mentions that the band opened with "Mama Tried", and praises the fact of no opener.

Charles Martin's review of the Grateful Dead's opening set from the December 30, 1969 Boston Globe

Similarly, Charles Martin of the Boston Globe mentions that the concert began at 9:10pm with "a moving song" and the first set ended "The Mason Song." For those of you not familiar with the ways of 20th century rock critics, it is clear that neither writer stayed past the first set. It's possible that either of the writers likely had a deadline to meet and could not stay late in any case, but it's also possible that one or both may not have wanted to stay through the whole thing. So we know a little about the first set of the first night, but not much else.

New Year's Eve 1969-70, 15 Landsdowne Street, Boston, MA
We would like to say that the Grateful Dead's New Year's Eve show at the Boston Tea Party was the stuff of legends. But we don't really know that. Sure, the tape is great, but the Dead were killing it at the end of '69, so that in itself was to be expected. We don't really know if the weekend was sold out, if the sound was good, or what the crowd thought. There are a few hints from the Archive, typical of almost every Grateful Dead New Year's Eve show:

Howdy - Yes, I was there when this was played that very night. Good dear friend Marshall Goldberg was the sound engineer/designer for the Ark and the Tea Pary (when it was absorbed later on at the Landsdowne Street venue). The Ark was designed and built by Intermedia Systems Corporation, which, in 1969, did the logistics for Woodstock. I worked for them during this phase. Hi to Gerd Stern and Stuart Vidockler and George Litvin! Google those names for a ride through the acid-drenched '60s.
Livingston Taylor was on this bill, as was an improv group, Cambridge Light and Power, which oddly enough, was the previous tenant in what became Intermedia's new home base in 1969 - 711 Mass. Ave. Intermedia bought the only recording studio in Boston at that time - Petrucci and Atwell - and they are the name on some of the Timothy Leary recordings.

Great show. Went 'til sun-up. Everyone was dosed. EVERYONE. This includes Don Law, the manager of the Ark, who tried in vane to NOT get conditioned (someone got to his corked/sealed bottle of Mateus). The memory of him being escorted off of the stage as he asked the balloon-screeching audience "Have you all lost your minds?" Good entertainment there!

I just got a call from a friend wishing me a Happy New year and he reminded me about us going to this show 40 years ago! I did a search for it and found this sirte.... freakin amazing!

The show opened with Jane Curtin of Saturday Night Live fame way before she broke onto the scene nationally doing some wicked funny stand up comedy and Livingston Taylor (James's little bro) doing some bits of stand up between sets... I was tripping my brains out on Blue Barrel acid and he kept inhaling helium from a balloon and speaking which was way freakish and annoying at the time but funny in retrospect haha...

They played one of the most amazing moving rocking life changing shows till 4AM and I can remember everything from the exploding tie-dye paint splatter pulsating walls light show to the amazing vibe that only the Dead can create like it was yesterday! This is the Dead at their finest!

The MIT student paper (The Tech) from May 6, 1970, carefully noting that there will not be a free concert by the Grateful Dead

Aftermath: The Grateful Dead in Boston 1970-94

It took the Grateful Dead a little while to get established in Boston. After New Year's Eve, they only returned in the summer for a show at MIT. Being the Dead, however, they played a free concert at the school in Kresge Plaza, cementing their legend in Boston. The Kresge Plaza show took place during an anti-war demonstration following the Kent State disaster, so it memorialized the Dead in Boston consciousness. Any band could have played for free the afternoon of May 6, 1970, but it was the Dead who did it (as a footnote, the New Riders played a free concert in downtown Boston a few days later, but no one remembers that one).

The Grateful Dead returned to Boston regularly for the next few years, playing a variety of places for different promoters.  The biggest show was in Boston Gardens on April 2, 1973, where the show was promoted by Buffalo promoter (and now convicted rapist) Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein's firm also promoted the December 1973 Music Hall shows. I can't tell who promoted the June 28 1974 show at the Garden.

The Boston Tea Party had closed at the end of 1970, too small to compete in the growing rock market. Don Law went on to become a successful concert promoter in the Boston and New England area. Whatever exactly had happened on New Years Eve '69--which everyone seems vague about--it all paid off in a big way. Starting in 1975, Don Law began promoting shows by Jerry Garcia (April 6 by Legion Of Mary, for one) and Kingfish as well. When the Grateful Dead returned to the road in Summer '76, it was Don Law putting on the Boston shows at the Music Hall. To my knowledge, it was Don Law's company that promoted the Dead at every Boston show until their final stand there on October 3, 1994.

In 2009, the Boston Globe summarized Law's career:
After managing small acts in college and running the legendary Back Bay nightclub Boston Tea Party, he went on to either build, manage, book, or own everything from Great Woods and The Orpheum to the Worcester Centrum and the Providence Civic Center to the Cape Cod Coliseum, the old Harborlights, the Paradise, Avalon, and Axis. But in 1998, in a surprising move, he sold the Don Law Company for a reported $80 million to SFX Entertainment and signed a five-year management contract. Two years later, Clear Channel Communications bought SFX and named Law president of its New England division. In 2005, Clear Channel spun off its concert arm into a new company, Live Nation.

Just like the Bill Graham organization, however, the Grateful Dead were far and away the most profitable act on the live concert circuit. When BGP was sold, the news reported that while the Dead only represented 5% of the company's profits, it was 25% of the profits. Don Law was hugely successful, and he had earned the trust of Garcia and Dead back when it mattered, but with the big guy gone, Law hit the bid and stepped aside.  Whatever happened on New Year's Eve 1969, it established the Grateful Dead in Boston for the coming decades, and anchored the business of the promoter who took the chance on them.
 


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

August 19-September 4, 1967 (Forces Tear Loose From The Axis)


Grateful Dead history is so full of events that most historians deal with it serially. Each stream of the band's history tends to be reviewed in isolation, in order to keep the myriad details from flooding the zone and eradicating any chance for coherence. This was particularly true in the 1960s, when much was happening in the world, and Grateful Dead World itself was a vortex of events that often threatened to drown the band members at the center of The Singularity.

Once in a while, however, it's a valuable effort to consider Time in its own terms, just to see how much was happening. One such sliver of time was the 18 days in 1967 from Saturday, August 19 through Monday, September 4. So many things happened in Grateful Dead history during this brief period, most of them fairly well documented, but usually only discussed in isolation. For today, let's consider them in order, as they happened.

Summary
Between August 19 and September 4, 1967, quite a lot happened in the world of the Grateful Dead:
  • The band played five shows, in four venues
  • Jerry Garcia and Mountain Girl went camping [update: fellow scholar LIA sorted out some timeline details, so I updated the post accordingly]
  • Cream played two weeks at the Fillmore, and reshaped the possibilities of electric music in ways that would greatly favor the Grateful Dead
  • Jerry Garcia saw at least two and likely more of those Cream shows
  • Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann met
  • After hitchhiking throughout the Southwest, Robert Hunter returned to San Francisco at Jerry Garcia's request, and joined the Grateful Dead as house songwriter
  • Hunter wrote the lyrics to "Dark Star."


The Players

The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead had released their debut album back on Warner Brothers back in March. It hadn't done particularly well, but releasing an album made a local band into a "real" band. The group was gigging steadily, and actually making a living. The band lived together at 710 Ashbury (except for Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann, who lived on Belvedere street, nearby). The entire country was now aware of San Francisco bands, and 1967 was "The Summer Of Love." The Grateful Dead were San Francisco's official ambassadors of hippiedom, playing for free in Golden Gate Park and elsewhere. The five band members had been in the group together since June, 1965.

During our two-weeks-plus stretch, the Grateful Dead would play five shows

  • August 19, 1967 American Legion Hall, South Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead
  • August 25-26, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/The Creators
  • August 28, 1967 Lindley Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Grateful Dead "Party for Chocolate George"
  • September 3, 1967 Dance Hall, Rio Nido, CA: Grateful Dead
Robert Hunter
In the mid-60s, Robert Hunter had been focused on making a living as a writer. He had played in a bluegrass trio with his best friends Jerry Garcia and David Nelson, but had been bumped aside for better musicians. In late 1966, Jerry Garcia had encouraged Hunter to come to Los Angeles to help the Grateful Dead record their album in a Hollywood studio. Hunter had declined. Although the details have always been a bit murky, At some point in the Spring, Hunter had sent Garcia a letter with some proposed song lyrics. Also, by Spring 1967, Hunter was concerned about his own excesses with methedrine, and had departed to New Mexico, probably around June.
 
Around July, after having spent a month or so in New Mexico, recovering from various past excess, Hunter received a letter from Jerry Garcia, telling him that the band was rehearsing the song "Alligator," using lyrics that Hunter had sent him. Jerry encouraged him to join the band (McNally p. 219). Hunter considered his options, which were probably few, and decided to head back to San Francisco and join Garcia and the Dead.


Mickey Hart
In the Summer of 1967, Mickey Hart was mainly a drum instructor and instrument salesman at his father's drum shop, Hart Music in San Carlos. He lived with one of his students (probably in a suburban garage apartment). He played a little bit in bands, and also spent time riding horses and practicing martial arts. Hart had played about in a few groups, and he knew a lot of drummers, but he wasn't really part of the local rock music scene.



Cream
Cream had formed in London in 1966. Guitarist Eric Clapton had become a star, having success with the Yardbirds and "For Your Love" and then with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker had been in the popular Graham Bond Organization, as well some other bands. When they formed, music papers like Melody Maker had them pegged as an All-Star organisation from their inception. Cream's debut album Fresh Cream had been released on Atco in December, 1966.

In March, 1967, the Cream had played a corny radio event in Manhattan at the RKO Theater (nine shows from March 25-April 2, where they played one or two songs with a plethora of other groups). The band had returned to New York in May, 1967 to record their forthcoming album, but it would not be released until later in the year (the staggering Disraeli Gears was released in November 1967). Cream would begin their American tour with ten nights at the Fillmore Auditorium from August 22 through September 3, 1967.

Day-By-Day: August 19-September 4, 1967
To illustrate these remarkable weeks, I have constructed a day-by-day timeline. With the exception of the known concerts, most of the events could have taken place on more than one day in a given week, so I have simply made plausible guesses. Still, these events happened pretty much in the order in which I list them, even if individual actions may be off by a night or two. 

The American Legion Hall in South Lake Tahoe, CA, at 2748 Lake Tahoe Blvd [US-50]

Saturday, August 19, 1967 American Legion Hall, South Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead
On Saturday, August 19, 1967, the Grateful Dead were booked at the American Legion Hall in South Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe was a deep lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Just 200 miles Northeast of San Francisco, it had been the City's playground since the end of the 19th century. A significant feature of Lake Tahoe, however, was that there was gambling on the Nevada side of the lake (usually referred to as 'North Lake Tahoe'), so the casinos focused on the high-end trade there. The California side (usually referred to as 'South Lake Tahoe,' although the geography doesn't quite fit that) was more of the family side. After Lake Tahoe boomed following the 1960 Winter Olympics, the California side of the lake was left for "the kids," because the adults wanted to go to Nevada and gamble. As a result, for a resort area, the California side of Lake Tahoe in the 1960s had a peculiar focus on rock and roll that is largely undocumented, except by me.
 
The first person to catch on to the vast quantity of teenagers in Lake Tahoe was a guitarist named Jim Burgett. He started putting on dances at the South Lake Tahoe American Legion Hall (at 2748 Lake Tahoe Blvd [US 50], South Lake Tahoe, CA) in 1958. The story is complicated, but by the mid-60s Burgett was holding dances at the Legion Hall seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For any teenagers spending a week, a month or a Summer in Lake Tahoe, every night was Friday night, and with the parents often away in Nevada anyway, the Legion Hall dances were the only show in town. Burgett's own band played most nights, but on occasion he hired out of town acts as well. When the Fillmore bands became popular, he would often hire them to give his own band a night off (Burgett's band also played six days a week in the afternoon at Harrah's Tahoe, believe it or not).  

The Grateful Dead were booked at the Legion Hall for Saturday night, giving Burgett's band a rest. Old Lake Tahoe comment threads say that the Dead played until well after 2 AM. For many teenagers in Lake Tahoe, the Fillmore was too far away from their suburb, or simply off limits. So the Grateful Dead coming to Lake Tahoe was like having the Fillmore at your high school, all while your parents were probably off gambling in North Lake Tahoe. 
 
Robert Hunter was still on the road, hitchhiking somewhere between Taos, NM and Las Vegas. He had left New Mexico in early August with 20 dollars, and took various wrong turns that included a ride to Denver. The journey took a few weeks. Hunter, per McNally (pp. 219-220) was not in a good way. In Denver, Hunter saw the new Grateful Dead album in a supermarket, and it was a reminder of where he was trying to go.

Sunday, August 20
The Grateful Dead had played South Lake Tahoe on Saturday night. Esteemed scholar LightIntoAshes picks up the story here:
we do know the Dead were back in San Francisco by the evening of August 20. McNally writes, "The Dead were to play on August 20 at a gathering on Mount Tamalpais, but when they got to the mountaintop, they discovered that there was no power, and the event turned into what Rifkin called 'a bongofest.'" (p.212) 
An article from the Berkeley Barb confirms this event:
"The Festival of Om on Mount Tamalpais Sunday began with beautiful vibrations and ended in a mess of mishaps and non-communication. Although the fire marshall was notified of the would-be gathering, no official permit was obtained. The fire marshall, probably expecting a nice group, was confronted with about 2,500 happy hippies. 
The Grateful Dead was to play for the gathering, but ended up with a burnt-out generator. At which point some people took up the entertainment by banging on garbage cans. Richard Webster of The Flame arrived on the scene about 9:30 p.m. He said, "By 10:30 there were some 250 people on the side of the hill and about two or three people with candles."
Forest rangers, alarmed by the flickering lights, heard the garbage can din and thought the hippies were throwing firecrackers. They called in re-enforcements. (The area has been very dry and dangerous fires are easily set.)
Word was given to Webster that the cops were on the way to bust for being in the park illegally. After some waiting, the crowd dispersed quietly.
There were no busts reported." ("Hip-Hash" column, Berkeley Barb 8/25/67, p.6)
There had been a few rock shows at the mountain theater on Mt. Tamalpais. Rock shows had gotten too popular for the venue, however, particularly with respect to the parking at the foot of the mountain and the difficult, windy access road. After the widely attended two-day Magic Mountain Festival on June 10-11, 1967 (the week before Monterey Pop), the County had declared that there would be no more rock concerts at the theater. One more weekend show went off as scheduled, the Festival Of Growing Things on June 30-July 1, but there were no more rock concerts on Mt Tamalpais until the 21st century, as far as I know. The August event was an attempt to bypass the ban, but clearly it didn't work.

On Sunday night in England, Cream played the Redcar Jazz Club at the Coatham Hotel, in Cleveland, England. Cleveland is in Yorkshire. This was Cream's last UK show before coming to the United States.

Robert Hunter was still hitchhiking.
 
A BGP poster for Fillmore shows during August 15-21, 1967. Count Basie, Chuck Berry, Charles Lloyd and the Young Rascals are highlighted

Sunday and Monday, August 20-21, 1967 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Count Basie Orchestra/Charles Lloyd Quartet

Monday, August 21
Logic tells us that Cream must have flown from London to San Francisco on August 21. I assume they flew BOAC from Heathrow to SFO. 

At this juncture, Mickey Hart met Bill Kreutzmann. Kreutzmann and Hart saw Count Basie at the Fillmore on either Sunday (August 20) or Monday (August 21), but it's impossible to be certain which without more information, which may never be forthcoming. Given that the Dead were apparently expecting to play Mt. Tam on Sunday, Monday (the 21st) seems more likely. For our purposes, it doesn't matter so much which day it happened, just that it happened this week, so I will assign the story to Monday.

The story of the meeting of Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart has been told by many writers. The primary source of the story always seems to be Mickey Hart, except of course in Bill Kreutzmann's autobiography. All the versions of the story vary somewhat, and they make it difficult to determine the exact facts of the matter. Now, the story was old when people started asking Mickey about it, and nobody ran down the details when they could have been more easily recovered, so there are a number of contradictions. 

Still--the essence of the story remains the same: Mickey Hart was with former Count Basie drummer Sonny Payne, whom Hart had befriended two years earlier. They were at the Fillmore, and an unknown stranger told Hart that he ought to meet another stranger, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. The mysterious stranger introduced them. Later, Payne, Hart and Kreuzmann went to see Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company, but Payne found them too loud. Payne left, and later Hart and Kreutzmann went around the city playing drums on garbage cans and car hoods, talking rhythm. Kreutzmann got Hart's phone number and invited him to a Grateful Dead rehearsal. It's a great story, and it lead to the famous two-headed drum chair partnership of Mickey and Billy.

It's a great story, indeed. There are so many contradictions in the story, however, that it's hard to encompass them all. It doesn't change the essential transmission--Hart was hanging with Sonny Payne, a stranger introduced him to Billy K, and Mickey ended up in the Grateful Dead. Still, there are many confusing angles to this story. Let's review them:


Sonny Payne and Count Basie
Count Basie and His Orchestra, supported by Charles Lloyd (with Keith Jarrett, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Ron McClure), were playing the Fillmore Auditorium on Sunday and Monday, August 20 and 21. Charles Lloyd's Quartet had played the whole week, supporting Chuck Berry and Steve Miller Band (August 15-17) and then the Young Rascals on Friday and Saturday (August 18-19). The Count Basie booking, however, wasn't really directed at Bay Area hippies. Instead, Count Basie's audience was his mostly African-American fans, many of whom lived right there in the Fillmore district. Basie had played the Fillmore many times for promoter Charles Sullivan (Graham's predecessor). Graham was no fool--if there was a profitable booking, he was going to be all for it. Basie, perpetually on the road, has a gig in Mt. Tamalpais Theater on Sunday afternoon--the same day and the same place where the Dead had their power-less "bongo fest" later that evening--, and was starting a booking at The Showcase on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland on Tuesday (August 22). According to Philip Elwood's review in the Examiner, the crowd was evenly split between older African-Americans and hippies, but the light show was running.

Drummer Sonny Payne in action

Sonny Payne and Mickey Hart had become friends when Hart had been in the US Air Force, back in 1965, per Dennis McNally. Hart, other than being a judo instructor, mainly played music in the very high-class Air Force big band. The band had played some gigs in Germany, where there were plenty of US Servicemen, and groups like the Count Basie Orchestra had been booked as well. Hart jammed with all sorts of musicians, and Payne and he became friends. At the time, Payne was Count Basie's drummer, and had been so for many years. Payne left Count Basie's Orchestra at the end of 1965, and mostly played with Harry James' band. Payne continued to play with the Count Basie Orchestra, however, whenever Frank Sinatra was singing with them. According to Elwood's review (below), Sonny Payne was temporarily filling in for regular drummer Rufus Jones. Big bands didn't run like rock groups, and substitutes were common.

Big Brother And The Holding Company
Most versions of the saga have the newly-introduced pair going over to The Matrix to see Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company. In the Hart version, Sonny Payne thinks that Big Brother was too loud, and leaves. Kreutzmann's version has him inviting Mickey over to see Janis at the Matrix--Kreutzmann would have been allowed in regardless of ticket sales--and doesn't mention Sonny Payne. In any case, since Sonny Payne was Basie's drummer, he might have had to return for a late set anyway.

The difficulty with this delicious story is that the Matrix had no one booked on this Monday night, much less Big Brother. Also, Big Brother was headlining the Avalon for the entire weekend  (Thursday-Sunday, August 24-27)--why would they be playing the 100-seat Matrix three days before? Now, sure, it's possible that Big Brother was working on new material or had some other reason for an unpublicized private show (and indeed, Chet Helms would have insisted on no publicity for a club show prior to the Avalon booking). It's also true that if Big Brother were playing an unannounced show, a member of The Grateful Dead would have known about it. Still, it's another thing about the Hart-Kreutzmann meeting that doesn't quite sync up with known facts.
 
Phil Lesh
Phil Lesh also attended the show with Bill Kreuzmann. It's not surprising, since Phil and Bill were roommates (they lived on Belvedere Street, near 710, in a house owned by attorney Brian Rohan). When we were in our 20s, what did we do on an off night?--why, go check out some bands with your roommate. So Phil and Bill hit the Fillmore. In his autobiography, Lesh has a detailed description of the power and precision of the Basie band, so it clearly had a musical impact. He also mentions the meeting of Hart and Kreutzmann, but Lesh's description comes right out of the McNally book. So Phil was there, but doesn't really seem to have been witness to the meeting. 
 
A historiographical problem with well-studied subjects is that someone like Phil Lesh (and his editors) would have reviewed all the material that came before them, so repeating it only means it doesn't contradict what Phil recalls, without it really being a memory. For example, Phil recalls Count Basie playing with Chuck Berry, when it was actually Charles Lloyd. That means Phil didn't look closely enough at the poster (Berry had played earlier in the week, but he is displayed side-by-side with the Count). It doesn't materially change his story, but we have to be cautious about his description of the initial meeting, since he didn't see it.

Yet Another Eyewitness
Bill Kreutzmann's story in Deal adds another generally unknown facet to the famous Hart-Kreutzmann meeting: Mickey Hart's student/landlord Mike Hinton was there with Hart. So it wasn't just Hart and Kreutzmann who left the Matrix and drummed on random objects throughout the city, but Mike Hinton as well. Hinton isn't nobody, by any means. Among many other things, he was a Broadway professional, leading Liza Minelli's band for many years, and working on many Broadway productions. He was also in the legendary Diga Rhythm Band, both live and in the studio, and played with them in Golden Gate Park when Jerry Garcia dropped by for a little "Fire On The Mountain" action.

No one has actually interviewed Hinton about this famous meeting (journalists do interviews, you know who you are--I'm a blogger and do no such thing). From what I can piece together, Hinton, a few years younger than Hart, was one of his students. Hart also lived with him, but by triangulation I think the deal was something like Hart living in Hinton's family house (I have always presumed a garage apartment or something similar). So Hart and Hinton were close both as drummers and as friends. Hinton is worthy of a post on his own, but that is a topic for another day.  Since Hinton appears to have been Hart's roommate, that means Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann both went to the Fillmore with their roommates.

Just to answer a few other questions that may arise:


The BGP poster for the Butterfield Blues Band, Cream and Southside Sound System at the Fillmore during the week of August 22-27, 1967

Tuesday, August 22
Cream debuted at the Fillmore on Tuesday night. if you look at the original poster, while Cream's name is the biggest, the more established Butterfield Blues Band are actually "above" Cream, probably fulfilling any agreements with Butterfield's booking agent and manager. Southside Sound System, with harmonica man Charlie Musselwhite and guitarist Harvey Mandel, were third on the bill.

At this great remove, it's easy to either to take Bill Graham for granted, or else to complain about some decision or other that doesn't look so right in retrospect. Put all that aside for now. Bill Graham took a huge chance on Cream, made a huge bet, and not only won that bet, but he made the career of Eric Clapton and changed the arc of rock music, all in the space of two weeks at the Fillmore. The Grateful Dead were but one of many beneficiaries, and--indeed--by extension so was I and perhaps most of the readers of this blog.

Although Cream had been flagged at its formation as a collection of great musicians, Americans didn't read Melody Maker or New Musical Express. Cream's debut album, Fresh Cream, had been released by Atco in December 1966. It had no AM radio hits. The difference in San Francisco was KMPX-fm, the first major market free-form "underground" FM radio station. KMPX had debuted in April, 1967. KMPX djs played album tracks they liked, 24/7, instead of hit singles. Tracks from Fresh Cream were played all the time. Now, there were some pretty cool songs on Fresh Cream, like "Spoonful," but none of them were the epic, extended live versions that Cream fans would associate with the band. No matter. "Spoonful," "Cat's Squirrel," "Four Until Late," "Sleepy Time Time," "Rollin' And Tumblin:" the future of rock music hadn't arrived yet, but you could see it from here. The longest track was 6 minutes, 30 seconds ("Spoonful"), which by mid-68 would be nothing, but was really unheard of in late 1966.

Cream were a popular live band in England, and touring hard. For rock shows in England at that time, however, headliners typically played 25-30 minutes. 40 minutes was a long show. There were often multiple acts on the bill, each doing a short set. Some clubs had an early and late show, turning the house over, so the headliner would play two sets to different audiences. When Cream got to San Francisco, they were surprised to find out from Bill Graham that they were expected to play sets of 45 minutes to an hour. On top of that, although they would be doing an early and late set, the house would not "turn over," so bands were expected not to repeat themselves. Cream were in a panic--they didn't have 90 minutes of material, much less two hours.

Cream weren't even the first English headliners to panic at the Fillmore's expectation. The Who had started their US Summer Tour at the Fillmore in June (June 16-17), and were shocked to find out that as headliners, they would have to play 2 hours of material without repeating. The Who sent their manager out to the record store, and he bought the first two Who albums (The Who Sings My Generation and Happy Jack), got a record player from the hotel, and the Who spent the first afternoon of their tour frantically re-learning their old songs, most of which they had never played live.

Cream didn't have two albums, and they didn't have years together of playing R&B covers, either, so they couldn't take the path The Who took. They took a different one. They decided to just jam out on every song, and extend their set that way. Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton played through giant Marshall amps, and Ginger Baker was as loud a drummer as you can imagine. So Cream was going to do the Coltrane thing, but they were going to do it loud.

Rock music was never the same. Everything had changed, first for the fans, then for the musicians and ultimately for the music industry. Word got around the city, fast. The Cream were blasting it out all night long, and as one old hippie said once, "I couldn't believe anybody could be that good and that loud for that long." The Fillmore was wall-to-wall, for two weeks. Supposedly there were 3500 people some nights, when the Fillmore "officially" only held about 1500. Fans came, told their friends, and came back with them.
 
Wednesday, August 23
I can't be certain of the exact day, but Garcia must have heard I think he heard that Cream was killing it at the Fillmore. I think he went both Wednesday and Thursday, but he definitely went one of these nights. He also went the next week. Here's what he said later that month:
"I would say the Cream are damn near the best group there is... Their music is really strong. I mean, really strong... They're much better musicians than Jimi Hendrix... You should have seen them at the Fillmore...cause they played with a lot of very heavy bands. They played with Gary Burton's band. They played with the Electric Flag. They played with Paul Butterfield's band and with Charlie Musselwhite's band. And they made them all sound pretty old-fashioned..."
Butterfield and Musselwhite were playing the first week, so we know Garcia went one of these nights. I'll bet Garcia went on Wednesday, and went back on Thursday night. I mean--I would have, and you would have, and we're not even Jerry.

Now, think about it: Cream were loud, really loud. Cream were playing long songs with a lot of soloing and very few vocals. Although I like Jack Bruce's and Eric Clapton's singing, they weren't renowned as singers. They were packing the Fillmore and people were going nuts, and they were doing it by jamming as long as they wanted, playing difficult stuff at full volume. Suddenly, the quixotic enterprise of the Grateful Dead seemed--dare we say it--financially viable. The Dead could play the long, loud crazy music that appealed to them, and people would like it. They wouldn't have to damp it down for consumption. Garcia saw Cream--I'll bet the rest of the band did, too--and whole new worlds of music went from imagined to actual.
 
Thursday, August 24
I'm confident Garcia saw Cream this night. My only question would be whether it was his first time or his second. 

The only known photo from inside the Kings Beach Bowl in North Lake Tahoe. Neil Young, Richie Furay and Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield, on either August 18 or 19, 1967 (photo: Michelle McFee)

Friday and Saturday, August 25-26, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/The Creators
North Lake Tahoe, about 20 miles away from South Shore, was less crowded and hence had less activity. The North Shore had a Nevada side and a California side, and of course the Nevada side had gambling and was the preferred destination for adults. Thus the California side of North Shore was left to their teenage children. The North Lake Tahoe set considered themselves cooler than the South, and a rock venue had opened in North Lake Tahoe as well. 
 
Kings Beach Bowl, a converted bowling alley on North Lake Avenue, was opened in the Summer of 1967, but it was mostly only open on weekends. The sons of the owners had a band, and their dads created a place for them to play. Although the teenagers were not the bookers, they advised the booking agents on what was cool in Sacramento (where they were from) and San Francisco, so some very cool Fillmore bands played Kings Beach Bowl in 1967 and 1968, including Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield.
 
Kings Beach Bowl was just a converted bowling alley, and hardly a special building. Nonetheless, eyewitnesses recall it fondly. I only know of one photo of the inside, from when the Buffalo Springfield played on August 18-19, 1967. Most of the attendees were based in North Tahoe, but largely came from the Bay Area and Northern California, so they had heard of all the Fillmore groups. For many, it was the first chance to see these groups. The commercial area of North Lake Tahoe was so quiet and safe that parents had no problem allowing teenagers and their friends to go to shows on their own.
 
Kings Beach Bowl only presented shows on weekends, unlike the American Legion Hall, which was open 7 days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In 1967, when it opened, Kings Beach only even began on June 15. The Grateful Dead would have been the last or next to last event presented that season (I still have not been able to determine if Kings Beach was open Labor Day). I believe that bands were housed in a nearby vacation home for the weekend. Lake Tahoe houses at the time were not opulent, but they were usually spacious and secluded, just the thing for a band who liked to travel with all their crew, girlfriends and families and engage in various extracurricular activities. Since one of the backers of Kings Beach Bowl worked for the Sheriff's department (Allen Goodall), there were not problems with the cops.  

The Grateful Dead would return to Kings Beach Bowl twice more. One of those weekends was held during Ski season, and the poster said "Trip Or Ski." That weekend (February 22-24, 1968) was recorded for Anthem Of The Sun, and the tapes were released as Dick's Picks Vol. 22.

Sunday, August 27
The Grateful Dead probably made a leisurely caravan back to San Francisco on Sunday. According to Mountain Girl, however, she, Jerry and her daughter had been staying in a little hotel. It makes sense that a "family unit" was given their own accomodations, even if the rest of the gang was having a mass slumber party in some vacation house.  According to Mountain Girl, they were expecting to have a nice weekend in Tahoe. I should add--as a Californian--that the Lake Tahoe area is so beautiful that just being there is relaxing, even if you don't actually do anything. No doubt Garcia figured he'd get a lot of guitar practice in, so he wouldn't lack for music.
 
Mountain Girl spoke about this week in Robert Greenfield's underrated Garcia oral history, Dark Star.  According to her, the hotel was tacky and awful and she couldn't stand it. So, amazingly, Garcia, MG and her daughter simply went camping. In those days in California, you could find a quiet wilderness area and camp out, because the state was less crowded and there weren't many rules (for good or ill). Garcia had apparently camped out regularly through his childhood and early Palo Alto days, because it was something he could afford. I have to think that this week was the last time Garcia slept under the stars. Thus, it seems that by Saturday night, Garcia and his family were in the forest in South Tahoe.
 
I like to think of them relaxing in the forest, Garcia practicing away for hours. Perhaps some hikers walked by, and thought "hey, that guy's a pretty good picker." Of course, Jerry might likely have been playing an unamplified electric guitar, but maybe he bought his acoustic, too. At the time, Lake Tahoe wasn't really built up, but it wasn't rural, either. The Garcias could have gone easily to a gas station or a restaurant when they needed to wash or get food, but they still would have spent most of their time in a pleasant outdoor forest. On Monday, however, Garcia (per MG) tossed everything in the car and they drove back to the Bay Area (thanks to LIA for sorting out the timeline here).
 
Cream finished their first week at the Fillmore as a huge sensation. 

Robert Hunter was probably in Denver. Somehow he had gotten pointed the wrong way, and spent a few days there.

Monday, August 28, 1967 Lindley Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Grateful Dead "Party for Chocolate George"
After their return from Lake Tahoe, the Dead reappeared in San Francisco for the Monday afternoon funeral of a popular Hell's Angel known as Chocolate George. Big Brother and The Dead played a free concert at Lindley Meadows in Golden Gate Park, and a ceremonial funeral was held with George's casket (I do not know where he was actually buried).
 
The Grateful Dead had been booked at a rock festival on the Cabrillo College football field. The poster (published in the Art Of Rock) advertises a festival for Saturday and Sunday, September 2nd and 3rd, headlined by the Grateful Dead and Canned Heat, and supported by many local bands. The implication is that the Dead would play both days, although that is not certain. While there had been regular dances at the Cabrillo football field in the past, apparently the county got cold feet about a multi-act rock festival at a junior college. On August 29, the cancellation was announced in the paper, so the Dead must have found out Monday afternoon. For a working band, losing a weekend is Not Good, so I assume that Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin started working the phones.
 

The BGP poster for Cream, Electric Flag and Gary Burton at the Fillmore, August 29-September 3, 1967

Tuesday August 29
Cream began their second week at the Fillmore. Nominally, the headliners were Mike Bloomfield's new band, the Electric Flag. Bloomfield was already a star, and the Flag had debuted as Fillmore headliners just two weeks earlier (Aug 15-20). Nick Gravenites was the principal songwriter and lead singer. Drummer Buddy Miles also sang, and there was a big horn section. The Electric Flag had a lot of "hype" associated with them, and they were promoted as being a mixture of all kinds of American music--rock, jazz, blues and country. For all the promise, the Flag had an unsteady career, and their debut album would not be released until March 1968.
 
Duster, the 1967 debut album on RCA for the Gary Burton Quartet, including Larry Coryell and Steve Swallow (Bob Moses would replace Roy Haynes on drums for touring)

Also on the bill was the Gary Burton Quartet. Burton's band played jazz, but they did it on electric instruments, so it was called "jazz-rock." Burton played vibes, and the band didn't have a piano player. The amazing Larry Coryell was the guitarist, while the rhythm section had Steve Swallow on bass and Bob Moses on drums. The Quartet played quiet music, although they were amplified, so while they anticipated the Fusion music genre, they didn't sound like Bitches Brew. The band's current album was Duster, the first by the Quartet (although it was the 8th album for Burton himself). Playing places like the Fillmore was part of RCA's plan to expose the Burton Quartet to a younger, wider audience than just regular jazz listeners.
 
Robert Hunter was still hitchhiking, and I think this is the day he made it to Las Vegas with just a dime in his pocket (which, indeed, sounds like the lyrics to a Robert Hunter song). The story goes that he only had a dime, so he chose to play the slots. He won, and had enough money to get back to San Francisco. Hunter called the band--presumably the House phone at 710 Ashbury--and told them he was on his way. I assume he continued to hitchhike, but maybe he had won enough for a bus ticket.

Wednesday August 30
Some day during this week, Mickey Hart tried to go to a Grateful Dead rehearsal. He couldn't find the rehearsal hall, and he didn't (apparently) have a phone number for Kreutzmann. It is easy to forget that without cell phones and Google maps, directions and appointments were not at all a sure thing.
 
The subject of Grateful Dead rehearsal halls is murky (not that I haven't dived deeply into those waters), but I believe that the band was rehearsing at an empty synagogue at 1839 Geary Boulevard. 1839 Geary was right between two famous San Francisco buildings: the Fillmore Auditorium at 1805 Geary, and the Masonic Temple at 1859 that would become Jim Jones' People's Temple. In the 1970s, 1839 Geary became a concert venue, known at various times as House Of Good (1972), Theatre 1839 (1977) and Temple Beautiful (1979).

Garcia definitely saw Cream this week, although we don't know which nights. His comments above, about making Electric Flag and Gary Burton looking "old-fashioned" indicate that he went to at least one from the second run. Consider that Electric Flag was supposed to be the proverbial Next Big Thing, and that, comparatively speaking, the Gary Burton Quartet was extremely forward-looking. Yet when Garcia compared them to Cream, he dismissed them both.

Thursday, August 31
Somewhere near the end of this week, Robert Hunter turns up at the house of his friend Carl Moore. Back in 1965-66, Moore had lived on Channing Avenue, just up the street from Jerry Garcia, Rick Shubb and others. David Nelson and the New Delhi River Band had gotten together at the Channing house in the Summer of 1966. By Summer '67, the NDRB were popular in the South Bay, if not exactly successful. Moore, Nelson and Dave Torbert lived in a house on Euclid Avenue in East Palo Alto, which was also where the band rehearsed. The geography of East Palo Alto has changed dramatically, but old-time Palo Altans will know what I mean when I say that Euclid Avenue was near Whisky Gulch.

Also living in the Euclid Avenue house was Russell (Rusty) Towle, a few years younger than his housemates. Towle was one of my best sources on early Palo Alto days, and it was sad that he passed away too soon. Towle recalled Hunter arriving at the house and spending a few days there, looking very thin and not well, which fits Hunter's saga of hitchhiking for weeks with little to his name. So I have inferred that he probably arrived around Thursday, and that Phil Lesh picked him up and drove him to Rio Nido on Saturday or Sunday. 

There is an interesting dynamic here that has never really been commented on. Hunter was explicitly returning to the Bay Area to be the house songwriter for his best friend's psychedelic blues band, who needed help coming up with good original material. He spent a few days at the house of his other best friend, who also had a psychedelic blues band without any original material. Why didn't Hunter and Nelson agree to collaborate? Songwriters aren't like drummers--you can work for more than one band at a time. If the New Delhi River Band had accumulated some Robert Hunter songs at the end of 1967, they, too might have found a way to bring their bluesy sound to a wider audience. Yet neither Hunter or Nelson ever mentioned such a thing, although it is also true that no one asked.
 
In another context, however, Nelson has said he had no interest in actually writing songs until the mid-80s. Nelson did write the fine song "Crooked Judge" with Hunter in 1973, and the New Riders would have certainly benefited from new Hunter/Nelson songs. Ironically, the reconstituted 21st century New Riders were energized by some fine songs by that pair. How different would things have been if they had started in 1967? But it seems that Nelson saw himself as a performer, not a writer, and didn't sign up Hunter for any New Delhi River Band lyrics in the few days that he was at the NDRB house.

Friday, September 1
It's surprising that the Grateful Dead were not booked anywhere on the Friday of Labor Day weekend. It does mean another night when Garcia could have seen Cream, another reason I think he saw them more than once in the second week.

The poster for the canceled rock festival at the Cabrillo College JC football field in Santa Cruz County, scheduled for September 2-3, 1967

Saturday September 2
The Grateful Dead had been booked for the rock festival in Santa Cruz County on this weekend, possibly expecting to play both days. By the prior Tuesday, the festival had been canceled. That left the Dead with a hole in their schedule on Labor Day weekend, a time of the year when there are three nights without school, rather than two. We do know that the Dead played the Rio Nido Dance Hall, in Sonoma County, because we have an Owsley tape of some of the show. Owsley has been proven to be historically accurate on his dating, so we can have some confidence.
 
But what about Saturday night? It's very likely that every club or venue was booked. Cream was still headlining the Fillmore, so Graham didn't need any help with ticket sales there. The Steve Miller Band was at the Avalon all weekend, so Chet Helms didn't need the Dead either. I think Scully and Rifkin managed to drum up the Rio Nido gig at the last minute because it was the only venue not in use. It's also possible that the Dead got to Rio Nido Saturday night, maybe to play an undocumented gig, maybe just to jam in front of a few friends. Both of these scenarios would have had the same people there, frankly.
 
The story goes that Phil Lesh was sent to Palo Alto (in reality East Palo Alto) to retrieve Hunter. Why it was Phil and not Jerry has never been explained, either, but I am more curious about what Jerry might have been busy with than wondering why Phil went. Lesh drove Hunter to Rio Nido. I am thinking that all this took place on Saturday, and that the Dead were already set up there.  Also, even today, it is a 2-hour journey from East Palo Alto to Rio Nido, so I am thinking Phil went from San Francisco to Euclid Avenue, and then took Hunter to Rio Nido. This saga doesn't change if it all actually happened on Sunday.

Sunday, September 3, 1967 Dance Hall, Rio Nido, CA: Grateful Dead
Rio Nido, CA, a tiny unincorporated community in Sonoma County. There was a tiny dance hall, with room for a few hundred patrons, that dated back until at least the 1940s. It was an ideal spot for out-of-the-way activities where little scrutiny was desired, and the Grateful Dead had some good times there, before they simply outgrew the place.
 
There is a brief tape recorded by Owsley. Apparently, this was the only 1967 tape recorded by Mr Owsley, who was more focused on other activities that year. Phil Lesh used one song, "Midnight Hour" on his archival compilation album Fallout From The Phil Zone. In the liner notes, he says "This was recorded at a Russian River resort ballroom on Sunday night of Labor Day Weekend - I don't think there were more than 25 people there, but we played our little hearts out for them anyway." On a subsequent CD re-release of the band's debut album, "Viola Lee Blues" was added as filler.
 
Robert Hunter was present. We know from the tape that the band played "Alligator." So Hunter got to hear one of his lyrics made flesh by the Grateful Dead for the first time. 

Monday, September 4
There is a fragment of a tape dated September 4. Since there was no advertising, no flyer, no publicity and apparently very few people at the Sunday night show, we really have no idea if there were multiple shows planned. But it probably doesn't matter. The Rio Nido Dance Hall wasn't widely used--that's why it would have been free at the last moment on Labor Day weekend--so the Dead probably just jammed, because their equipment was already set up. A few people, probably friends, were also likely dancing and hanging out.

I think this day was the day that Hunter, the Grateful Dead's newly-onboarded songwriter, was listening to the band jam in the afternoon. He wasn't in the room with the band, but he could hear them outside. Garcia, and probably other band members, had spent the last two weeks hearing Eric Clapton and Cream upend rock music as it was known, playing challenging music to enthusiastic crowds. Bill Kreutzmann had met some guy who seemed to have something new to show him about rhythm. 

Hunter heard the first expansive, exploratory riffs of what would become a deeply familiar melody. Right there at Rio Nido, while the Grateful Dead jammed, he wrote the first verse to what would become "Dark Star."

Not a bad couple of weeks, really.

Aftermath
  • Cream played three weeknights at West Hollywood's Whisky-A-Go-Go (September 4-6).
  • Cream had been booked at the Crosstown Bus in a Boston suburb, but it had been shut down due to non-payment of bills (the J. Geils Band got their amps out just in time). A local coffee house proprietor converted a parking garage to open a venue he called the Psychedelic Supermarket just to book Cream for nine night (September 8-16). The supermarket was a notoriously unappealing joint, but it had great bands. The Dead would play there a few months later
  • Cream played two weeks at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village (September 22-October 8), packing the place out, and everyone knew them by then. I don't think Cream learned new songs, but rather just jammed like they had at the Fillmore.
  • The American tour ended with five nights in Michigan (October 11-12 at the Fifth Dimension in Ann Arbor, and then October 13-15 at the Grande in Detroit). Disraeli Gears would come out in November, and when Cream returned to America in February 1968, they were huge.
Robert Hunter wrote the second verse of "Dark Star" in Golden Gate Park after a mysterious stranger gave him a joint. The stranger recommended the song title. Since we don't know who the stranger was, here's to hoping that it was the same guy who introduced Mickey and Billy. 
 
Hunter went on to write additional songs for the Grateful Dead and others, as well as for himself.

Mickey Hart joined the Grateful Dead. Phil Lesh mentions in his book that Kreutzmann went over to Hart Music in San Carlos, and made sure that Hart could come see the Dead play at the Straight Theater in San Francisco on September 30, and he did. Hart sat in that night, and joined the Grateful Dead a few weeks later.

The Grateful Dead continued to perform and record the songs of Robert Hunter and others until Jerry Garcia's death in 1995.

Appendix 1: Cream Audience Tape, September 3, 1967, Fillmore Auditorium
There is a Cream setlist from the Fillmore for Sunday, September 3, 1967. This must be based on the circulating audience tape. I do not know if this was the early set or the late set. There may have been some different songs throughout the booking, but Cream did not have that many songs at the time, so most nights were probably pretty similar to this.
Spoonful
Tales of Brave Ulysses
Sunshine of Your Love
Sweet Wine
N.S.U.
Lawdy Mama
Sleepy Time Time
Steppin' Out

Appendix 2: Phil Elwood's San Francisco Examiner Review of the Count Basie Orchestra at the Fillmore Auditorium, August 21, 1967
Examiner music critic saw the Count Basie Orchestra and the Charles Lloyd Quartet at the Fillmore on Sunday, August 20, 1967. His review appeared in the Examiner on Monday, August 21. I have theorized above that Hart and Kreutzmann met on the next night (August 21), but it could have been this night. It is a thoughtful, interesting review in any case.