Sunday, July 12, 2009

June 27, 1969 Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa, CA: Grateful Dead w/Tom Ralston

A widely circulated poster features The Grateful Dead headlining three nights over “Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady and Joey Covington” and the Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band. The first two nights (Friday and Saturday June 27-28, 1969)were scheduled for the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, and the last night (Sunday June 29, 1969) at The Barn in Rio Nido. Rio Nido is a small community near Guerneville, in the remote Northwest corner of Sonoma County. The Rio Nido Barn is often confused with The Barn in Scotts Valley (near Santa Cruz), but I believe it was a tiny place previously known as The Rio Nido Dance Hall.

Jorma and Jack did not yet use the name Hot Tuna for their local gigs, and this gig with Covington was an early, electric iteration ot Tuna. The Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band were a locally popular Berkeley band, who had released one album on Vanguard in 1968. I have written extensively about their history elsewhere. As part of that research, CGSB harmonica player Brian Voorheis recalls these gigs very clearly, for a variety of memorable reasons.

The first night (June 27), after CGSB and Hot Tuna (Jorma, Jack, Joey) had played their sets, Mickey Hart had not yet arrived. It might seem that the Dead would be unconcerned, since Bill Kreutzmann can hold down the drum chair quite well on his own. For whatever reason, the Dead invited CGSB drummer Tom Ralston to sit in with the band until Hart arrived. Ralston was originally from Michigan (where he was in a band called The Renegades), had migrated to Berkeley and played with the group Sky Blue before joining CGSB, and he later played with Country Joe McDonald for some time.

Although an accomplished drummer, Ralston was quite surprised to be asked to sit in with the Dead with no preparation. Hart arrived after a few numbers, but it was a memorable night for the Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band. Since so many Dead tapes are accessible, you can decide for yourself what you think of Ralston’s drumming—he certainly doesn’t embarrass himself. No one precisely recalls when Hart arrived and stepped in, but it was certainly before “Dire Wolf” (the 8th song of the first set) which was later released on an archival cd.

For posts on the next two nights, see here and here.

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