Thursday, September 23, 2021

August 2-3, 1968, The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA; Grateful Dead (Next Phase)

The Grateful Dead in San Diego
In July of 1968, the Grateful Dead released their second album for Warner Brothers, Anthem Of The Sun. The album was released 13 months after their debut album, which for the era was a long stretch between records. The first album had not had a hit single, either, so the Grateful Dead were mostly an unheard legend outside of the few places where they had performed regularly. If a record company was going to pay attention to a band, it was going to be when there was a new release and something to sell. So even hippie bands tried to organize tours and high-profile gigs around any new album. Yet the Grateful Dead did no such thing.

In July of 1968, the Grateful Dead only played two shows. Both were in North Lake Tahoe, a vacation resort 200 miles from San Francisco. There were a few other posters for events that were spurious or canceled, in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu, but otherwise the band played no shows. How was there going to be any record sales if the Dead weren't going to even make an effort?

August was a little better. The Grateful Dead were booked at a rock festival in Orange County on Sunday, August 4. So the band decided to break in some new territory, and play a weekend in San Diego at a newly-opened psychedelic ballroom called The Hippodrome. The Hippodrome was a former roller skating rink, run by a bunch of inexperienced hippies, and had only been open since June. The Dead probably agreed to the date before the Hippodrome had even opened (less than 60 days earlier), a risky proposition. Risk? What's the risk? Just as big a question: what's the Reward?

The Grateful Dead in July 1968: Status Report
July 12-13, 1968 Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/The Working Class
The Dead had played a weekend at Kings Beach Bowl in the previous Summer (August 25-26, 1967), and followed it up with a weekend during ski season (February 22-24, 1968). The operators of Kings Beach Bowl put the Dead up in some sort of Tahoe vacation home, so everybody must have had a lot of fun. One of the operators of the venue worked for the Sheriff's Department, so the cops weren't in the picture. The Summer '68 booking was probably long-standing, and much like a vacation. Working Class, the opening band, was from Sacramento. By 1969, they would evolve into San Paku, and ended up opening for the Dead a number of times. Members of the Working Class recall the weekend--vaguely--as a giant party. 

July 18, 1968: Release of Anthem Of The Sun
The official release date of Anthem Of The Sun was July 18, 1968. Without getting too wonky, it's worth noting that 60s album release dates were not nearly so precise as 70s release dates. By the mid-1970s, records were officially released on a certain day, usually a Tuesday. All the record stores would get the boxes of albums at the same time, and could not sell copies until the designated day. At the same time, FM radio stations had advance copies, and airplay, promotions and tours were structured around the release date.

The sixties weren't like that. It's possible that detailed coordination took place for Beatles records, or a few other high profile acts. Generally, though, most records were sold in department stores and drug stores, and albums were just a commodity like socks or shaving cream. The actual distribution of albums was largely farmed out to independent intermediaries (usually called "Rack Jobbers"). The boxes of manufactured albums were shipped weeks in advance, and would arrive at stores over a period of time. Sometimes albums arrived in stores after their "official" release date, and sometimes before. Many stores, particularly big chains, would want to limit what was in their precious shelf space to those albums being promoted by their companies. But there weren't prohibitions against selling an album before it's "official" release date.

If a teenager went into a store and asked if they had a new album, a friendly clerk could look in the waiting boxes and sell him one. If enough kids asked, the store would put the albums out on the rack. Once FM radio came along, and random cool album tracks started getting played, this happened more and more. If you read accounts of 60s rock tours, by the likes of Led Zeppelin for example, you'll read plenty of stories of people who bought an album before it's official release date. But the flip side also happened. Just because Warners declared July 18 the official release date, it didn't all mean that Anthem Of The Sun was in a given store at that time.

July 23, 1968: A New Soundman Gets Hired
The Grateful Dead's former soundman, Owsley Stanley, had been arrested in Orinda, CA in late 1967. The case had wound through the courts, and Owsley's bail conditions in Summer '68 required that he get a job. Owsley, honestly, didn't have much work experience. Other than a stint in the Air Force, his previous, perhaps only, job had been as soundman for the Grateful Dead. On July 23, 1968, the Dead re-hired Owsley Stanley as their soundman. Owsley was a quick study, of course, which was good, since the first show upon his return was just 10 days later at the Hippodrome.

San Diego, CA
San Diego, with its deepwater natural harbor and balmy weather, has been a city since the state of California was founded in 1850. Always an important base for the US Navy, the population of San Diego doubled between 1930 (147,995) and 1950 (333,865). Some of this was due to military expansion during World War 2, but of course many Navy veterans went through San Diego and realized what a nice place it was. Numerous defense contractors also moved permanently to San Diego during this period.

San Diego has perfect weather, all year around. It's warm in the Summer, but never scorching, it's never humid--I believe humidity is forbidden by County ordnance--and there is usually a cool ocean breeze. The temperature on Christmas Day is usually about 72 degrees, and often you can go to the beach. If you go to San Diego, everybody is friendly and in a good mood, and why wouldn't they be? When a professional conference is held in San Diego, everybody wants to stay there when it's over.

San Diego is about 110 miles South of Downtown Los Angeles, however, so the cultural life of San Diego is swallowed up by that proximity. Think of rock music, for example. Plenty of musicians grew up in the San Diego area. But if they had musical dreams, they went to Los Angeles, and so we think of players like former Byrd Chris Hillman and former Eagle Bernie Leadon as "LA musicians" even though they both grew up in San Diego. The most successful 60s rock band from San Diego was Iron Butterfly, but they had to go to the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood to make it big.

San Diego's WW2 expansion was built on defense spending, and postwar cutbacks hurt the economy. The City and County of San Diego diversified into science, research and tourism. The suburbs around San Diego expanded significantly. San Diego State University, founded in 1897 as a teacher's college, had expanded to an enrollment of over 10,000 students by 1959, and had joined the State College system (by 1960 it was San Diego State College). In 1964, the University of California had opened its UC San Diego campus in suburban La Jolla, with an emphasis on mathematics, engineering and scientific research. The population in San Diego continued to expand between 1960 (573,224) and 1970 (696,769), with corresponding increases in the smaller suburban towns around the city.

Downtown San Diego and Concert Promotion
For much of the 1960s, the San Diego concert market was just a satellite of the Los Angeles concert market. Artists doing a national tour would slip in an extra day in San Diego, before or after any other Southern California bookings. The principal local concert promoter was James C. Pagni, who had gone from throwing fraternity dances in the early 60s to booking name acts. In 1964, the Exposition Hall at the Community Concourse had opened downtown. It was an auditorium that could be used for sports events, trade shows or concerts. Usually advertised as the "Community Concourse" (now the Civic Concourse), it was at  202 West C Street, at 2nd Avenue (sometime in the early 1970s, the Community Concourse was remodeled and re-named Golden Hall).

Most major touring acts played the Community Concourse, regardless of genre, and that included 60s rock bands. Pagni had an established record with booking agents, so he had a firm grip on the local concert business. In 1969, the much larger San Diego Sports Arena opened (at 3500 Sports Arena Boulevard). It could hold between 8,000 and 14,000 for concerts, so Pagni could book big acts as well, like James Brown.

Pagni was an established concert promoter, but he wasn't popular with the local hippies. In 1968, Pagni had booked the big touring acts like Big Brother (February 9) and Cream (May 19) at the Community Concourse. But the local hippies didn't like Pagni shows. It's hard to tell what the issues were, but Pagni's professional productions probably ensured that the Concourse wasn't much like the Fillmore. It does appear that rock shows at the Community Concourse had reserved seats, so that alone meant that there wasn't any kind of loose Fillmore scene. Although San Diego is a benign town, by and large, culturally it has always been dominated by ex-military folks (for obvious reasons), and the free-thinkers always decamped to LA. Downtown San Diego was somewhat in decline by 1968, but it wasn't being replaced by a bohemian underground.

Something Stirring In The Suburbs?
Downtown San Diego might not have been thriving, but something was going on in the outskirts of town, as the suburbs were booming. Suburbs were booming all over California, of course, and it's no surprise that in a beautiful place like San Diego, once-small towns in driving distance of the city were getting bigger and bigger.

The town of La Jolla, on the ocean and just 12 miles North of downtown, had been the home of the esteemed Scripps Oceanography Institute since 1903, and also a Marine base (Camp Matthews). During and after World War 2, the civilian population of La Jolla had expanded, making Camp Matthews less suitable for firing practice. Ultimately, Camp Matthews was closed and "declared surplus" in 1962, and the land was used for the new University of California at San Diego. The first class of undergraduates enrolled at UCSD in 1964. 

The big attraction of La Jolla was the beach, of course, and that meant surfers. In early 60s Southern California, surfing was a weird, rebellious subculture. Middle-class young men (and their girlfriends) who organized their days around the tides, looking for the good waves, were not buying into the post-WW2 expectation that they should be a junior executive, join the Rotary Club, and raise 2.2 children. Tom Wolfe, a staff writer for the New York Herald Tribune Sunday Magazine, wrote a 2-part article about a bunch of teenagers he had stumbled across in La Jolla, published in February 1966.

Wolfe wrote an article called "The Pump House Gang," later the title and first chapter of a 1968 book of his collected articles. The Pump House Gang book was released at the same time as his more famous Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Though less dramatic, the "Pump House Gang" was just a less radical, but no less pronounced, rebellion by La Jolla teenagers against the conformist expectations of the world, just like Kesey and his Merry Pranksters up in Palo Alto.

Wolfe wrote about about some young surfers who hung out at the sewage pump house at La Jolla's Windansea Beach. Some were in High School, some were a little older. They considered the beach their own. What they didn't like was outsiders, from other suburbs, often older adults (probably about 35 years old), that the Gang considered interlopers. The teenagers would stare at the Moms in their station wagons, spit on the sidewalk and stage ad hoc sit-ins to prevent them from parking. Neighbors would call the police, and trouble would ensue. The Pump House Gang were mostly middle class, and the incidents were minor and passed by, but it was surfer rebellion nonetheless.

UC San Diego, which had just opened,  was more of a science school, but it was still the 60s. There were some "Be-Ins" at the beach in La Jolla, and a local band called Maya played at them. A few locals, George Driver and Ron "Anchovy" Barca helped put them on. San Diego was San Diego, though, not Greenwich Village. There weren't that many rebels. It was inevitable that they would meet and join forces. 

KPRI-fm, 106.5 FM, San Diego, CA
In 1967 and '68. the tipping point for rock music in most cities was the arrival of FM radio. FM radio broke the hegemony of Top 40, letting hippies hear cool album tracks from San Francisco and London. In San Diego, like most cities, rock radio on FM got its start in the middle of the night, but if you were tripping balls on LSD, what could be more appropriate?

Steve Brown (USN), stationed in San Diego, approached the owner of KPRI-fm in late 1967. At the time, FM radio was new, and not many people had FM receivers. Many new "Hi-Fi" stereos had FM receivers built-in, however. Young hippies were buying stereos to get the full effect of Beatles albums and the like, so there was an implicit audience. At the time, KPRI played typical MOR fare, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and so on. The (quite amazing) KPRI timeline picks up the story:

In December of 1967, all of that changed forever. Steve Brown approached Larry Shushan, owner and manager of KPRI and offered to keep the station on the air after their customary midnight sign-off time, as long as he could play any kind of music that he wanted.
There were no dollars offered for this service. Steve hit the airwaves of San Diego as O.B. Jetty, playing the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and The Holding Company, blues of all kinds and many bands that had never yet been heard on San Diego mainstream radio. Before long, Steve began gathering other like-minded people to to collaborate on those nightly journeys into the unknown, and the show "Electric Music For The Mind And Body" was born. The rest, as they say, is history.

Throughout early 1968, Brown and a co-conspirator hold down the midnight-to-3am shift at KPRI. By May, Brown and his fellows were broadcasting rock music 24/7. The underground had come to San Diego, unexpected as that might have seemed.

Translove Airways crew at the Hippodrome, Summer '68. Jerilyn Brandelius: "I’m the one with the big smile on the left side next to the girl with long hair (Suzanne Spackman) and below Ramon Rashover and above the guy with the white shirt"

The Threads Come Together

Once a city had FM radio playing album tracks, young people wanted to see the bands. And they weren't the bands playing on the top 40 teenage circuit. San Diego needed its own Fillmore. Ron "Anchovy" Barca and George Driver, who had put on the Be-Ins in La Jolla in '67 were the primary organizers. Somehow, they found an old roller skating rink downtown at Front and G Street, once known as Skateland. They formed a production company called Translove Airways, after the lyrics from a Donovan song (from "Fat Angel:" it went "Fly Translove Airways, get you there on time/...Fly Jefferson Airplane, get you there on time"). They dressed up the Roller Rink, and opened it in June as The Hippodrome.

Among the Pump House Gang was one Jerilyn Brandelius (1948-2020), who would go on to play a big role in the Grateful Dead universe in the 70s and beyond. In her memoir, she wrote:

Translove Airways was our production company we created when we got the Hippodrome Ballroom in 1968. A group of us from La Jolla lived in San Francisco from 1965 until 1967. San Diego county was getting too hard for longhairs due to it being a military town during the Vietnam war, so we split to the freedom of San Francisco. We met many of the bands and decided to bring them to San Diego and open our own place like the Avalon & Fillmore.

Hippodrome Shows
The headliners at the Hippodrome were almost exclusively San Francisco bands. The opening acts were local San Diego bands, but there weren't that many of them. The first booking at The Hippodrome was for the weekend of June 7 and 8, with the Steve Miller Band headlining both nights. At the time, the Miller Band had just released their great debut album on Capitol, Children Of The Future. Side One was a continuous suite of music, not eligible for play on Top 40, but no doubt getting plenty on KPRI.

The Hippodrome only booked shows on Friday and Saturday nights, a sign that the underground market was both young and still just forming. The second weekend featured the Velvet Underground, which must have been pretty strange--San Diego doesn't do darkness. The next weekend (June 21-22) featured Mike Bloomfield and the Electric Flag, and the following one (June 28-29) was headlined by David Lindley and Kaleidoscope, one of (if not the) best underground bands in Los Angeles. Great as all these shows sound now, however, none of those groups would have been particularly well-known at the time.

During the same month of June, however, James Pagni was putting on rock shows at the nearby Community Concourse. The Mothers Of Invention played June 1, Eric Burdon and The Animals played June 18 and Canned Heat on June 25. Now, today, we care much more about the likes of the Velvet Underground and Kaleidoscope. In 1968, however, songs like "Sky Pilot" (Eric Burdon) and "Going Up The Country" (Canned Heat) were big on the radio, and they were both more popular bands (and I should add, both terrific live). Now, granted, the Burdon and Heat shows were on Wednesdays, since the prime bookings were saved for Los Angeles. So the weekend shows at Hippodrome would have been more accessible to suburban teenagers, but the acts were not as prominent as the ones at Community Concourse.

The Hippodrome, July 1968
Hippodrome bookings for July were even more shaky. Around July 4, which was on a Thursday, Dr. John The Night Tripper was supposed to headline, supported by two Bay Area bands. According to Sons Of Champlin road manager Charlie Kelly, however, Dr. John canceled. This left the largely unknown Sons and Boogie, another Bay Area band. The Sons had not yet released their debut album, and the group had barely played outside of the Bay Area.

For that weekend (July 5-6), there was a legendary show with the Quicksilver Messenger Service headlining over the returning Velvet Underground. Quicksilver, besides being hip, had just released their debut album on Capitol, and no doubt it was getting heavy airplay on KPRI. There are some descriptions of this show in Ritchie Unterburger's Velvet Underground chronology (White Light White Heat), and it sounds like a truly special event.

Dr John finally turned up on the weekend of July 12-13. His debut album, Gris Gris, had been released fairly recently. Once again, Dr John is widely revered today, and rightly so, but he was pretty obscure at the time. I doubt he drew much of a crowd. Bo Diddley headlined the next weekend (July 19-20), enjoyable no doubt, but hardly a must-see event for suburban teen hippies.

Throughout July, James Pagni was promoting rock shows at the Community Concourse on Tuesdays. While Tuesday is a weeknight, the rock audience was mostly school-age, and thus in the Summer it wasn't a school night. The Tuesday night shows had much more prominent bands--Iron Butterfly, Paul Butterfield and Steppenwolf. As noted above, today we dream of time-traveling back to see the Velvet Underground or Kaleidoscope, but at the time, "Magic Carpet Ride" or "Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida" was a much bigger draw. Those bands were available on Tuesdays because they had better bookings on weekends.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band played Thursday, July 25. This suggests that they had a better booking on the weekend, probably in LA, and that it wasn't worth it to them to play a whole weekend in San Diego. It also means that the Hippodrome didn't have the cash to book them all weekend, either. I can find no trace of a Hippodrome show on the weekend of July 26-27, another ominous sign for its financial well-being.

Owsley Stanley and Jerry Garcia at the San Diego Airport, August 1968
August 2-3, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Grateful Dead/Curly Cooke's Hurdy Gurdy Band/Maya (Friday-Saturday)
The Grateful Dead played the first weekend in August at the Hippodrome. It was the band's first shows after the formal release of Anthem Of The Sun. The truth is, we know almost nothing about the show except that it was booked. If the poster had not been published in Paul Grushkin's book Art Of Rock, we might not have even known that. I'm not aware of an eyewitness account. Since Jerilyn Brandelius never mentioned that it was canceled, we can assume it happened, but beyond that I can only draw a blank (if anyone can find any accounts or references, please cite them in the Comments).

The Hippodrome was Owsley's first show as the returning soundman. Knowing Owsley's penchance for perfectionism, it's unlikely the technical set up was to his liking, so I'll bet the Dead didn't hustle right on to the stage. We don't have a tape. I'm no expert in this area, but I don't believe Owsley began taping until somewhat later.

Owsley was already an underground legend. There was a photo Owsley and Jerry, taken at the San Diego Airport (above). For many years, it was just about the only circulating photo of Owsley. Given that it was Owsley's first weekend, my guess is that when someone took a photo, Owsley realized it was going to get around, and took enormous pains not to be photographed again. There are a few backstage and private photos that eventually surfaced, mostly after his death, but my guess is that Owsley rapidly realized that Garcia was a magnet, and did not go near him in public after that.

Last Dance: Autumn Equinox Festival

September 22, 1968: Del Mar Fairgrounds, Del Mar, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Grateful Dead/Buddy Miles Express (formerly The Electric Flag)/Youngbloods/Taj Mahal/Mother Earth/Sons Of Champlin/Ace Of Cups/Phoenix/Curly Cooke's Hurdy Gurdy Band (Saturday)
After the Grateful Dead shows on August 2-3, I can find no trace of any more bookings at the Hippodrome, so it must have closed. Still, the hippies who ran it had one more event in them. Somehow they found the financing to put on an all-day rock festival at a former Ostrich Racing track in the suburbs. Yes, a former Ostrich Racing track, you read that correctly. It was actually the County Fairgrounds, established in 1937 as a horse racing track by Bing Crosby and his associates, but Ostriches apparently raced there (in the 1980s, Del Mar Fairgrounds became an auto racing track, but it's now houses I believe update: I had this wrong. The Fairgrounds and the horse racing track is still thriving. The auto track was a temporary facility in the parking lot, used for IMSA racing from 1987-92).

Eyewitnesses reported that it was a nice afternoon--hey, it was San Diego, right?--and a nice time, although the event was not well-attended. The underpinning to the booking seems to be that most of the bands were tied to the same booking agency, San Francisco's West-Pole. West-Pole was run by Quicksilver manager Ron Polte, and they had ties to many other bands in San Francisco, including the Dead. From looking at the list of bands at the Equinox Festival, we see a number of bands that played the Hippodrome, so we can see that West-Pole was tied in to booking for the Hippodrome. Curly Cooke's Hurdy Gurdy Band, featuring ex-Steve Miller Band guitarist Cooke, was booked by West-Pole, which explains why they had opened the Grateful Dead weekend.

Ron Polte also regularly promoted shows, through another wing of his company, so I suspect Polte financed the show, booked the bands and hired the Hippodrome crowd to actually put it on. After that, as far as I know, the Hippodrome crowd went their own ways, leaving San Diego concert booking to others.


The Grateful Dead returned to San Diego, albeit intermittently. In 1969 (on May 11), the Dead played a concert at the Aztec Bowl (the San Diego State football stadium), along with Canned Heat, Lee Michaels and Santana. The promoter was the new hippie competitor to the Pagni kingdom, a former assistant named Roger Hedgecock. Hedgecock had some success promoting concerts, but ultimately left the field. Later, he became Mayor of San Diego.

The band played the Community Concourse in 1970 (on January 10), but I'm not sure who the promoter was (Magna Productions is on the poster). In subsequent years they played for Pacific Presentations (1971 and '73), old friends from the Shrine in LA, and in 1978 for Bill Graham. The band almost played a show for James Pagni, in 1972 or so, but it was canceled (probably due to lack of ticket sales). San Diego was not really a big market for the Dead until their last several years, and by then everywhere was a big market. So the efforts to plant the seed in San Diego in 1968 were well-intentioned, but didn't add up to anything significant, really, other than a great Fall '73 show (on November 14). 

Captain Milkshake
was one of the first "Anti-Vietnam" hippie movies, financed in the wake of the unexpected success of Easy Rider, and released in 1970. The IMDB blurb says "A Marine on leave from Vietnam becomes involved with hippies, communes and drug-running." It was filmed in and around La Jolla, and includes scenes from inside the Hippodrome. The Translove Airways crowd appears in the movie, mostly as themselves. Ron Barca plays "Anchovy."

Jerilyn Brandelius decamped North, and helped run the show for Chet Helms at his Family Dog on the Great Highway enterprise in 1969 and '70. Ultimately, Jerilyn and Mickey Hart had two kids, and she became a regular part of the Grateful Dead family. Her Grateful Dead scrapbook (now online) is a fascinating chronicle of life from the inside. She died in 2020.

Steve Brown (OB Jetty), who had been the key to starting KPRI and the underground rock explosion in San Diego, missed out on the San Diego Summer of '68. Brown was in the US Navy, and the Navy decided to send him to Vietnam from June to December. He returned intact. But never fear--ultimately he came up to San Francisco and helped found Round Records with Jerry Garcia.

KPRI-fm (106.5) was hugely successful, so much that the station had been sold to Southwestern Broadcasting in mid-1968. By early 1969, KPRI was the #4 station in San Diego, in all formats (AM, FM, news, music etc). Southwestern Broadcasting decided to switch to a Top-40 format during the daytime in Spring '69. The change was a catastrophe, and KPRI reverted to all album rock by the Summer. KPRI remained a top rock station in San Diego for many years.

James Pagni (1943-2005) remained the king of the San Diego concert business until about 1974, when he stepped aside and into a successful career in the restuarant business.

Appendix: San Diego Rock Concerts, June-September 1968
June 1, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Mothers of Invention (Saturday) Presented by James C. Pagni
The Community Concourse was at 202 West C Street (at 2nd Avenue). Shows were presented in the Exhibition Hall (which was later remodeled and re-named Golden Hall).

June 7-8, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Steve Miller Band/Alexander’s Timeless Blooze Band/Baptized By Fire (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents
The Hippodrome was downtown at Front and G Streets.

June 14-15, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Velvet Underground/Clover/Maya (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

June 18, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Eric Burdon & The Animals/Brain Police (Wednesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

June 21-22, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Electric Flag/Clover/Pacific Flash (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

June 25, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Canned Heat (Wednesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

June 28-29, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Kaleidoscope/Baptized By Fire/Maya (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

June 29, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: The Doors/Chambers Brothers (Saturday) Scenic Sounds Presents
Scenic Sounds were Los Angeles promoters, who had evolved from the team that promoted shows at Los Angeles' Shrine Exposition Hall. Later, Scenic Sounds management formed Pacific Presentations.

July 2, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Iron Butterfly (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

July 2-3, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: (Dr. John)/Sons of Champlin/Boogie (Tuesday-Wednesday) Trans-Love Airways Presents
Date approximated from a memoir on the website of  Sons roadie Charlie Kelly.  Dr. John The Night Tripper was the headliner, but he canceled. Boogie was a Bay Area power trio.  

July 4, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Velvet Underground (Thursday)
July 5-6, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA:  Quicksilver Messenger Service/Velvet Underground
(Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents
Velvet Underground played by themselves on Thursday night. This week is the only (known) week where the Hippodrome was open most nights of the week. The weekend shows were reviewed, with both bands getting impressive notices. VU must have been getting some airplay on KPRI, because fans seem to have known who they were.

July 9, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Paul Butterfield Blues Band (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

July 12-13, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Dr. John The Night Tripper and His Louisiana Voodoo Show (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

July 16, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Paul Butterfield Blues Band/Framework (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

July 19-20, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Bo Diddley/Maya/Frumious Bandersnatch (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

July 23, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Steppenwolf/Brain Police (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

July 25, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Butterfield Blues Band/Maya/Early Morning Blues Band (Thursday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

July 30, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Moby Grape (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

August 2-3, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA:  Grateful Dead/Curly Cooke’s Hurdy Gurdy Band/Maya (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

August 10, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Jefferson Airplane (Saturday) Presented by James C. Pagni

August 13, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Spirit/Jello’s Gas Band (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

August 20, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA:  James Cotton Blues Band (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

August 27 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA:  The Who/Brain Police (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

September 3, 1968 Balboa Stadium, San Diego Jimi Hendrix Experience/Vanilla Fudge/Eire Apparent/Soft Machine  (Tuesday) James C Pagni Presents

September 22, 1968 Del Mar Fairgrounds, Del Mar, CA Grateful Dead/Buddy Miles Express/Taj Mahal/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Sons of Champlin/Mother Earth/Curly Cooke’s Hurdy-Gurdy Band/Youngbloods/Ace of Cups/Phoenix (Saturday)

September 28, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA:  Big Brother and The Holding Company (Friday) James C Pagni Presents

Thursday, August 26, 2021

August 28-30, 1969, Family Dog at The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Hartbeats/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen/Rubber Duck (Archaeology) [FDGH II]


The historical record of the Grateful Dead is a profound contrast with other legendary, high profile 60s bands. When The Doors, Jimi Hendrix Experience or Led Zeppelin hit a town, we can find posters, newspaper reviews, fond reflections and sometimes some police reports. We get a good picture of what happened at those concerts, but with only a vague feel for the music that was played. If Jimi killed it on "Red House," or Robert Plant inserted a Buffalo Springfield song into a medley, we usually don't know, or at least not for sure.

The Grateful Dead's 60s history is the opposite. Thanks to Owsley, and a few other fellow travelers, we have a surprisingly good tape record of the band's history. Sure--it isn't anywhere close to complete, but we have tapes of far more Grateful Dead concerts than just about any other 60s rock band that toured heavily--only Frank Zappa's archive is anywhere close. But this leads to the odd scenario where we have complete, or almost complete, tapes of Dead shows, and almost no information about the shows themselves. Were they sold out? Did the play any sets before or after they were taped? Who opened? Did the crowd like it, or did they leave early? We often have no idea. 

On the weekend of August 28-30, 1969, the Grateful Dead played from Thursday to Saturday at the Family Dog on The Great Highway in San Francisco. The Family Dog was Chet Helms' successor to his Avalon Ballroom, where the Dead had played many times from 1966 through 1968. The Family Dog on The Great Highway was far from downtown. The Great Highway is the westernmost road in San Francisco, running right along Ocean Beach. The venue was at an aging amusement park called Playland-At-The_Beach. Helms had taken over the former Edgewater Ballroom (previously Topsy's Roost) and turned it into a rock ballroom. The Dog was a bit smaller than the old Fillmore, and perhaps 60% of the capacity of the Fillmore West. So Helms was competing with Bill Graham again, farther from downtown and not as big. Helms was an underrated entrepreneur, but he wasn't in a great competitive position.

The Grateful Dead played a remarkable weekend at the Family Dog on The Great Highway from August 28-30, 1969. Thanks to Owsley, we have a pretty good idea of the music played. We know almost nothing else.

The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, ca. 1969

The Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
The Family Dog was a foundation stone in the rise of San Francisco rock, and it was in operation in various forms from Fall 1965 through the Summer of 1970. For sound historical reasons, most of the focus on the Family Dog has been on the original 4-person collective who organized the first San Francisco Dance Concerts in late 1965, and on their successor Chet Helms. Helms took over the Family Dog in early 1966, and after a brief partnership with Bill Graham at the Fillmore, promoted memorable concerts at the Avalon Ballroom from Spring 1966 through December 1968. The posters, music and foggy memories of the Avalon are what made the Family Dog a legendary icon of 60s rock.

In the Summer of 1969, however, with San Francisco as one of the fulcrums of the rock music explosion, Chet Helms opened another venue. The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, on the Western edge of San Francisco, was only open for 14 months and was not a success. Yet numerous interesting bands played there, and remarkable events took place, and they are only documented in a scattered form.

660 Great Highway in San Francisco in 1967, when it was the ModelCar Raceway, a slot car track

The Edgewater Ballroom, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA

As early as 1913, there were rides and concessions at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, near the Richmond District. By 1926, they had been consolidated as Playland-At-The-Beach. The Ocean Beach area included attractions such as the Sutro Baths and the Cliff House. The San Francisco Zoo was just south of Playland, having opened in the 1930s. One of the attractions at Playland was a restaurant called Topsy's Roost. The restaurant had closed in 1930, and the room became the Edgewater Ballroom. The Ballroom eventually closed, and Playland went into decline when its owner died in 1958. By the 1960s, the former Edgewater was a slot car raceway. In early 1969, Chet Helms took over the lease of the old Edgewater.
One of the only photos of the interior of the Family Dog on The Great Highway (from a Stephen Gaskin "Monday Night Class" ca. October 1969)

The Family Dog On The Great Highway

The Great Highway is a four-lane road that runs along the Western edge of San Francisco, right next to Ocean Beach. Downtown San Francisco faces the Bay, but beyond Golden Gate Park was the Pacific Ocean. The aptly named Ocean Beach is dramatic and beautiful, but it is mostly windy and foggy. Much of the West Coast of San Francisco is not even a beach, but rocky cliffs. There are no roads in San Francisco West of the Great Highway, so "660 Great Highway" was ample for directions (for reference, it is near the intersection of Balboa Street and 48th Avenue). The tag-line "Edge Of The Western World" was not an exaggeration, at least in North American terms.

The Family Dog on The Great Highway was smaller than the Bill Graham's old Fillmore Auditorium. It could hold up to 1500, but the official capacity was probably closer to 1000. Unlike the comparatively centrally located Fillmore West, the FDGH was far from downtown, far from the Peninsula suburbs, and not particularly easy to get to from the freeway. For East Bay or Marin residents, the Great Highway was a formidable trip. The little ballroom was very appealing, but if you didn't live way out in the Avenues, you had to drive. As a result, FDGH didn't get a huge number of casual drop-ins from around the Bay Area, and that didn't help its fortunes. Most of the locals referred to the venue as "Playland."


The Thursday (August 28, 1969) SF Good Times shows the added Grateful Dead night on that evening

August 28, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Mickey Hart and The Hartbeats/New Riders of The Purple Sage
Prosopographical research on rock shows at the Family Dog on The Great Highway is closer to Archeology. We often have very limited information about what shows were even scheduled, and almost never have information about the bands that actually played or anything that happened. Since the shows were generally--apparently--thinly attended, eyewitness accounts on blogs and message boards are few and far between. For 60s research, Grateful Dead performances are usually our best hope of getting some information, since Deadheads and the Grateful Dead cosmos have made a half-century long effort to document everything.

Thursday, August 28, 1969 has had no provenance save for the Grateful Dead. The Family Dog had advertised the Grateful Dead for Friday and Saturday (August 29 and 30), supported by the then unknown New Riders of The Purple Sage, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and Rubber Duck. The Dog pretty much never had shows on Thursday night as part of a weekend run. Yet the Grateful Dead vault had a tape labeled "Hartbeats" from the Family Dog, recorded by Owsley Stanley himself, and dated August 28. It should be noted that Owsley's tape labeling was known to be scrupulously accurate.

I speculated about the tape and the mysterious performance in a blog post many years ago. My speculation at the time, reasonable but in the end incorrect, was that the Dead had set up their equipment in advance of their weekend show, and had taken the opportunity to jam a little bit. My blog Commenters and I generally speculated that this may have been a response to Jerry Garcia's request at a meeting of The Commons (on Tuesday, August 12) for the Dog to host jam sessions during the day. There was no flyer, no advertising, no trace of the event, so the general assumption was that the hour long tape was members of the Dead having some fun with some friends.

Update: once I posted this, fellow scholar David found a contemporary ad for the show from the SF Good Times (above). It seems the Dead added a Thursday night show.

The lineup for the tape was Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, organist Howard Wales and a brief appearance by a flute player. Starting back in 1968, Garcia, Lesh, Hart and Kreutzmann had played some gigs at the Matrix as Mickey Hart and The Hartbeats, sometimes joined by some guests. They typically played some instrumental Dead jams and a few blues numbers, which is exactly what transpired on the tape. It all seemed to fit--a weeknight jam for Garcia, for a few random hippies, when the Dead's equipment was already set up.

Yet one anonymous Commenter said:

I was there for the concert on the 28th and remember all the bands playing, the Dead, New Riders, and Commander Cody. There was also a short set from Mickey and the Heartbeats which played either during or after the normal Dead set. The hartbeats did High Heeled Sneakers and maybe even Schoolgirl. It was a fantastic night.

Memories are a tricky thing, and it was always possible that the Commenter was remembering Friday or Saturday, or combining Thursday and Friday. But guess what? It's looking like he remembered pretty well, whoever he (or she) was.

Update: a correspondent writes
I attended these shows. I have no memory of Commander Cody or Rubber Duck playing at all. Rather, there was a group called Phoenix. The line up was Phoenix as the opener, then New Riders, then the Dead with the bonus Hartbeats one night. There were stages at either end of the hall and while Phoenix was playing at one end, the Riders were setting up at the other and then the Dead while the Riders played. God showed up as well in the form of Pig and Jerry tearing it up and leaving we poor mortals smoking wrecks. When it was over, we stumbled out and across the Great Highway to collapse on the sand and let the crashing surf bring us back to earth.

Phoenix was a San Francisco band with roots going back to the Acid Test days (when they were known as Universal Parking Lot). Is the Internet great or what?  It's also fascinating to see that two stages were in use, in a complete break from rock concert orthodoxy.

Dawn Of The New Riders

In early 2020, the Owsley Stanley Foundation released a great 5-disc set called Dawn Of The New Riders of The Purple Sage. One of the discs had a complete New Riders set from Thursday, August 28 (see below for the list). As if that wasn't enough, Bob Weir joined the New Riders for several numbers, previewing a never-fulfilled concept called Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck. So that means Weir was at the Family Dog that night, so a Grateful Dead set suddenly seems very likely. It remains to be seen whether the Dead set was recorded by Owsley, and whether it can surface, but given the paucity of evidence we typically deal with for the Family Dog, I'm going with the likelihood that the Dead played a set, along with the "Hartbeats" jam and the New Riders.

Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia, from the back cover of their 1971 Hooteroll? album. Tame as it may seem now, passing a joint on the back cover of your album was A Statement at the time.

Howard Wales
Over the years, the most intriguing part about the Family Dog "Hartbeats" tape was the presence of organist Howard Wales. In a much later interview, Tom Constanten complained that Wales had "a bigger stack" (of Leslie Amplifiers, presumably) than him, a whiff that there was some competition involved. I had always assumed that Wales was sitting in when TC wasn't there, but now it seems more likely that the whole band was there, and the Hartbeats jam was something extra.

Now, Howard Wales was an experienced musician and a brilliant player. Wales was from the Cincinnati area, where he had backed guitarist Lonnie Mack in the mid-60s. Wales then ended up in El Paso, TX, working in a jazz trio with tenor saxophonist Martin Fierro, and after that in Seattle. By 1968, Wales had made landfall in San Francisco. He joined a blues trio that had just moved from Milwaukee, The New Blues. They became a quartet called the AB Skhy Blues Band. The band's debut album had been released on MGM in 1969, and they performed regularly around the Bay Area.

Howard Wales was part of A.B. Skhy when they released their 1969 debut on MGM Records

Wales must have met Garcia somewhere. I'm not aware of AB Skhy opening for the Dead prior to this, and Garcia in general did not "hang out" at the Avalon or in bars, so it's mysterious how they connected. The geography of the Family Dog isn't irrelevant here. I don't know where Wales lived, but it's a safe bet it wasn't out in the essentially suburban Sunset district. Wales wouldn't have come to the Family Dog at all, and even less likely if he brought his own organ, without the guarantee of jamming. The Great Highway was a long way from anywhere, and nobody jammed with the Dead in '69 unless they were invited, which means they had received the Garcia seal of approval. So how Wales ended up at the Family Dog this night is not just a mystery, but part of a larger puzzle that may never be solved.

Of course, we now know the story that Wales and drummer Bill Vitt were managing the Monday night jams at the Matrix in the Spring of 1970, and Jerry Garcia started showing up. Garcia showed up because he wanted to jam with Wales. Vitt, in turn, would invite bassist John Kahn, and Garcia and Kahn's partnership would begin there. But the roots of it seem to trace back to the Family Dog. Somehow, Wales was invited to jam with the Hartbeats configuration, and we even have a tape. A few years later, we had the Howard Wales/Jerry Garcia album Hooteroll? (released on Douglas/CBS in 1971, but recorded in October 1970, yet it all seems to have started for undetermined reasons at an unpublicized Thursday night at the Family Dog. It's distinctly possible that Garcia had somehow previously jammed with Wales at the Matrix, a regular jamming site, and invited him out to the Dog for a more serious go at it. No wonder TC had some anxiety even years after the fact.

Known Facts

  • Knowledge of the show comes from a Bear cassette master of the show labeled "Hartbeats," with the date of the show and  the location. 
  • Although there are some tape flips and some resulting missing snippets of music, the tape seems to be 81 minutes and sounds like a complete set.
  • The band lineup appears to be Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart and organist Howard Wales.
  • A flute player joins in at the beginning of "Dark Star," just shy of the 10-minute mark, but he is hard to hear and seems to drop away 
  • The Grateful Dead were playing on Friday and Saturday night (August 29-30), so it seems plausible that they might set up their equipment a day early to have some kind of jam session.
  • This is the first time I am aware of Howard Wales playing with Jerry Garcia
  • I know of no advertisement, notice, flyer or review of this show, and I have looked at just about all of the SF Chronicle and Examiner dates as well as the relevant listings for the Berkeley Barb (and Tribe), and there is no listing or mention for even a "jam session" at the Dog
  • Did anyone other than Owsley use the name "Hartbeats" for this show? Was that just convenient shorthand for a jam, or were they introduced that way? It wasn't actually used in 1968, and although I'm aware that it appeared on a 1969 bill at the Matrix and 1970 at the Dog and the Matrix, we don't have have tapes of any "Hartbeats" sets at those shows
  • It seems logical that the Grateful Dead proper would play a set, and our sole (anonymous) eyewitness recalls that
  • It's plausible but uncertain that Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen would play a set. They were new in town, and would not have been socially connected to the Dead at this point, so an invitation to a stealth event isn't as likely. In any case, they likely appeared on the next two nights, but we don't positively know that either (see below for a more thorough discussion of Cody and the Airmen)
  • Who played flute? I discuss that a little bit here--one possibility is Steve Schuster, another is Andy Kulberg of Blues Project, both socially connected enough to be invited

August 29-30, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen/Rubber Duck (Friday-Saturday)
By the end of August, 1969, the Family Dog on The Great Highway was widely known to be in poor financial straits. Although some excellent bands had played the Dog since it had opened in June, save for the opening night attendance had not apparently been exceptional. There was so little coverage of Family Dog concerts that we can only infer things like ticket sales, but all the evidence points to underwhelming crowds. Chet Helms and the Family Dog had significant tax problems stemming from 1967, which had been the Family Dog's most successful year. Helms' public acknowledgement of his tax problems (in the Examiner and elsewhere) was a clear indicator that the Great Highway shows were not selling well enough to resolve his issues.

The Grateful Dead had played the Family Dog at the beginning of the month. The opening Friday night had been undermined by the brief "strike" of the Light Show Guild. The Dead had played the next two shows (on Saturday and Sunday, August 2-3), and the Examiner reported that Saturday, at least, was a "packed house." We have no idea about Sunday's crowd. Still, the Grateful Dead were one of the few bands that returned to the Family Dog over and over, so they must have done alright. Although the Dead did not yet have a traveling circus of Deadheads following them around--which was initially an East Coast phenomenon in any case--the band had a solid core of local fans. Unlike other groups, when the Dead played all around the Bay Area, they increased their demand rather than reduced it. So whoever might have been seeing the Grateful Dead at the Great Highway, returning less than a month after their last appearance was an attraction, not a detriment.

The poster for the canceled Wild West Festival at Kezar Stadium. The Grateful Dead were booked for Friday, August 22, 1969.

Grateful Dead Touring Plans, August 1969

The Grateful Dead had begun the month of August at the Family Dog, but they were mostly booked at rock festivals for the month. The Grateful Dead's bookings were:
August 1-3, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
August 16, 1969 Woodstock Festival, Bethel, NY
August 20, 1969 Aqua Theater, Seattle, WA
August 22, 1969 Wild West Festival, Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, CA
August 23, 1969 Bullfrog 2 Festival, Mt St Helens, OR
August 24, 1969 Vancouver Pop Festival, Paradise Valley Resort, Squamish, BC
August 29-30, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
September 1, 1969 New Orleans Pop Festival, Baton Rouge Speedway, Prairieville, LA

Of course, the Dead's actual performance schedule was quite different. They didn't play the first night at the Family Dog (August 1), they were rained out at Aqua Theater and played a bar (El Roach, Ballard, WA August 20), and then the Aqua next night (August 21), the Wild West was canceled (so NRPS got to  play Bullfrog 2 on Friday August 22), they added an extra date at the Family Dog (August 28) and the band canceled out in British Columbia. Rock concerts were turning into big money, but the market was far from stable.

Still, it's only possible to discern the Dead's touring schedule without knowing what they had planned, even if it didn't work out. The Dead's weekend at the Dog at the end of August did not appear on any schedules or press releases, and wasn't even mentioned in the newspaper. Indeed, the flyer up top is the only trace of any advertisement. Now, the Dead were booked as the headliner at the opening night (Friday August 22) of the canceled Wild West Festival. Since Bill Graham was booking the Festival, you can take as a guarantee that no Bay Area Grateful Dead show within 3 weeks of the Festival could be advertised until after the Festival show. So the Dead may have planned to play the Dog all along, but they couldn't have announced it in advance. The fact that there was no mention in the newspapers during the weekend, either, can be blamed on weak operations by the Dog. The way the footer of the flyer is written (with days of the week), it's clear the flyer was made for circulation the next week (August 29-September 4). 

The Dead apparently played on Thursday night, even though we only have tapes for the New Riders of The Purple Sage and "The Hartbeats" (the jam with Garcia, Lesh, Kreutzmann, Hart and Howard Wales). Given the precarious financial circumstances of the Family Dog, my suspicion is that the Dead did not have a guarantee, like they would have gotten from Bill Graham at the Fillmore West. Rather, they were getting a percentage of the door, and taking the risk or reward of the result. That makes sense of the Thursday night show--if the Dead thought they could get a few more admissions from a casual Thursday night show, they would take it. Since the band and crew could sleep at home, there were no travel costs. Publicity probably came from announcements on KSAN and other fm radio stations. By 1969, newspapers and posters actually played only a small role in concert promotion, particularly right around the day of a show.

The New Riders of The Purple Sage
One significant historical note was that this weekend's booking at the Dog was the first time in the Bay Area that the New Riders of The Purple Sage were booked to open for the Grateful Dead, as they would so many times in the forthcoming years. The band had opened for the Dead at Longshoreman's Hall back on July 16, but they hadn't been advertised and the bad didn't have a name. The New Riders name debuted at the Matrix on August 6, and the Riders had been booked to open at the Aqua Theater in Seattle on August 20 (since it was rained out, they actually opened on August 21). The New Riders had played two gigs on Tuesday nights at the Family Dog (August 12 and August 19), but the band was still largely unknown to even the local followers of the Dead. These nights at the Family Dog were the first of dozens, if not hundreds, of times that the New Riders would open for the Grateful Dead.

At this early stage, the New Riders were

John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
David Nelson-electric guitar
Bob Matthews-bass
Mickey Hart-drums 

Bob Matthews was an old Palo Alto friend of the band, and was one of the Grateful Dead's "staff engineers." He had mixed Live/Dead with his girlfriend and partner, Betty Cantor, and the pair would go on to produce Workingman's Dead, among many other albums. Matthews would give up his career as a musician at the end of 1969 to focus full time on being a recording engineer and producer.  

During this period, the Grateful Dead were experimenting with a configuration they called "Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck." Bob Weir would duet on a few country covers with John Dawson, backed by the Garcia and the New Riders. Thanks to Owsley, we have a few hints about this idea, even though it was dropped by 1970 ( a few of the tracks from the August 29 and 30 show were released on the Owsley Stanley Foundation 5-disc box Dawn Of The New Riders of The Purple Sage).

A photo of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, ca 1969, published in the August 11, 1969 Berkeley Barb. The photo was probably taken a few months earlier in Ann Arbor, MI

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Ann Arbor, MI 1967-69

University of Michigan graduate students George Frayne (Fine Arts, piano) and John Tichy (Physics, guitar) had formed the group in Ann Arbor in 1967 as Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, as an homage to an obscure movie serial (actually called Kommando Kody). The group was a loose aggregation of local musicians, and was a continuation of a band that Frayne and Tichy had begun as undergraduates. Although the story got changed and embellished with each telling, it does seem that the band chose the name and then had to “decide” who was “Commander Cody,” since people kept asking. For obscure reasons, George Frayne was designated as Commander Cody.

George Frayne had received his MFA in Spring 1968 and got a position teaching Art at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh (the main campus was at Madison—Oshkosh was a satellite). The Commander Cody band continued on with various members throughout the 1968-69 school year. Frayne did come home to play with Commander Cody on weekends, but ultimately the band “fired” him in order to be able to play more gigs. The Commander Cody band was particularly interested in playing “honky tonk” country music, in a Bakersfield style that was distinct from the fashion popular in Nashville, as well as rocked up versions of Texas Swing music, all of which was largely lost on the R&B-oriented fans in Michigan. The band finally ground to a halt in the Spring of 1969 when guitarist Bill Kirchen headed out West to California. 
  • Billy C Farlow-vocals, harmonica, acoustic guitar
  • Bill Kirchen-lead guitar, trombone, vocals
  • Steve “West Virginia Creeper” Davis-pedal steel guitar
  • Andy Stein-fiddle, tenor sax
  • George “Commander Cody” Frayne-piano
  • Lance Dickerson-drums
  • Gene Tortora-bass

When some of the Ann Arbor crowd found a gig in San Francisco, the call went out to the rest of the band. The story is somewhat complicated,  but fortunately I wrote it all out elsewhere. By July 1969, the Lost Planet Airmen had assembled in Berkeley. They "debuted" on Telegraph Avenue, playing acoustic (Frayne on accordian) in front of Cody's Books, although--in perfect Berkeley fashion--they were soon interrupted by a riot. The band found a house in Emeryville, and started to book gigs.

The Emeryville, CA house on  the left was reputedly the "band house" for Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, ca 1969

According to an article by Rolling Stone writer Ed Ward (RIP), Cody and The Airmen debuted at audition night at a Berkeley club called Mandrake’s, at 1048 University (near San Pablo Avenue). Mandrake’s was a little beer joint that generally featured blues and danceable rock. The Cody crew had so many friends from Ann Arbor that they managed to pack the place on a weeknight, so they were immediately booked. While the Cody band was a terrific outfit, it was a fact that Ann Arborites moved to Berkeley with their social life intact, so Cody already had a built in fanbase in Berkeley.

The Airmen's integration into Berkeley was so seamless that their audition show at Mandrake's was reviewed in the next week's Berkeley Barb (August 11, 1969). Clearly written by a friend of the band, the article included a photo of the group (above) and the headline "Real Country Rock." However, a waitress who worked at Madrake's at the time thinks that the photo was not from the club, although she recognizes Cody and the Airmen circa 1969. We have assumed the photo was taken in Michigan, and given to the Barb writer for publication, but I would love to know exactly where it was taken.

Since their appearance at Mandrake's, the Airmen had hustled their way onto the bill at one of the Wild West Benefit shows at the Family Dog (Saturday, August 23), and then played some sort of "Golf Festival" at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. Thus their weekend booking with the Dead at the Family Dog was only the second time the band had been advertised in the Bay Area. An eyewitness (above) recalled Cody and the Airmen playing Thursday (August 28) as well, but we have no way of determining that yet.

Rubber Duck featured mime Joe McCord, backed by musicians who improvised behind him. McCord's backing band fluctuated, and on occasion even included Jerry Garcia and Tom Constanten, but it's unlikely (though not impossible) that they performed with him this night. Typically McCord was backed by Berkeley musicians, who often included drummer Chicken Hirsh, bassist Tom Glass (aka poster artist Ned Lamont) and keyboard player Toni Brown (for more on the McCord/Garcia connection, see the Comment Thread here). In 1971, Constanten would perform in the group Touchstone, who released the album Tarot, apparently the music used to back McCord.

What Happened?
As always with the Family Dog on The Great Highway, we don't really know. Thanks to Mr Owsley, we know the shows occurred, because we have tapes for the Grateful Dead and the New Riders. The extant Dead tapes are about 90 minutes, so it seems pretty likely that the Dead played one long set each night. Maybe we are missing an encore or a fragment or something, but the sets seem pretty complete. We have one eyewitness comment, from Saturday night. On the archive, Commenter @cvdoregon says

I was with the Poppycock Light Show company and we did this show. It was fantastic! I spent time with Jerry Garcia backstage and the rest of the band. Loved every minute of it. Great memory...although we were all pretty stoned =)

The Poppycock was a rock club in Palo Alto. Other than his comment, however, we don't really know anything. Were the shows packed? Empty? Since the Dead came back regularly to the Dog, they must have done pretty well, but we can't tell much beyond that. Some fine music got played, but we are left to wonder what it was really like. 

Appendix: Setlists

Setlist: New Riders of The Purple Sage, August 28, 1969, Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA

John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
David Nelson-electric guitar
Bob Matthews-bass
Mickey Hart-drums
Six Days On The Road (Dave Dudley-1963)
I Am Your Man (John Dawson original)
Last Lonely Eagle (John Dawson original)
Whatcha Gonna Do (John Dawson original)
[introducing the famous Bobby Ace]
Mama Tried [w/Bob Weir] (Merle Haggard-1968)
Cathy's Clown [w/Bob Weir] (Everly Brother-1960)
Old, Old House [w/Bob Weir] (George Jones-1965)
Me And My Uncle [w/Bob Weir] (Judy Collins-1964)
Seasons Of The Heart [w/Bob Weir] (George Jones-1965)
Slewfoot [w/Bob Weir] (Porter Wagoner-1966)

note: save for the Dawson songs, I have listed the best known cover versions, not the songwriters

Setlist: Hartbeats, August 28, 1969, Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, C

Jerry Garcia-guitar, vocals
Howard Wales-organ
Phil Lesh-bass
Bill Kreutzmann-drums
Mickey Hart-drums
#unknown-flute ("Dark Star Jam")
It's A Sin
High Heeled Sneakers
Dark Star Jam#>
  The Eleven Jam>
  Dark Star Jam

New Riders of The Purple Sage, August 29, 1969, Family Dog on The Great Highway
To Have the Hurting End
(John Dawson original)
Games People Play (Joe South-1968)
All I Ever Wanted (John Dawson original)
Connection (Rolling Stones, from Between The Buttons-1967)
Mama Tried [w/Bob Weir] (Merle Haggard-1968)
Cathy's Clown [w/Bob Weir] (Everly Brothers-1960)
Fair Chance to Know (John Dawson original)
Seasons of My Heart [w/Bob Weir)] (George Jones-1965)

Grateful Dead, August 29, 1969, Family Dog on The Great Highway [[1:19:54]
Casey Jones [5:08] ; [0:10] ; 
Easy Wind [7:55] ; [0:18] ;
Me And My Uncle [3:07] > 
  High Time [7:03] ; [1:03] ; 
New Orleans [3:24] > 
  Searchin' [3:21] > 
  Good Lovin' Jam [0:26] > 
  Good Lovin' [4:#00] ; [0:30] ; 
Dire Wolf [4:28] > 
  King Bee [7:38] ; [0:15] ; 
Turn On Your Love Light [30:07] ; [0:43]
New Riders of The Purple Sage, August 30, 1969, Family Dog on The Great Highway
Superman (John Dawson original)
Henry (John Dawson original)
All I Ever Wanted (John Dawson original)
Last Lonely Eagle (John Dawson original)
Saw Mill [w/ Bob Weir] (Buck Owens-1963)
Whatcha Gonna Do (John Dawson original)
Cathy's Clown [w/Bob Weir] (Everly Brothers-1960)
Mama Tried [w/Bob Weir] (Merle Haggard-1968)
Six Days On The Road (Dave Dudley-1963) 
Grateful Dead, August 30, 1969 Family Dog on the Great Highway [1:27:42]
China Cat Sunflower [2:55] >
  Jam [2:43] >
  Doin' That Rag [7:42] ; [0:47] ;
Morning Dew [10:47] ; [0:25] ;
Easy Wind [8:20] ; [0:10] % [0:04] ;
Dark Star [28:52] >
  St. Stephen [6:26] >
  The Eleven [6:35] >
  Drums [5:14] >
  High Time [5:38] ; [1:04]


Friday, May 14, 2021

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

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
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 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.