Dennis McNally describes Jerry Garcia’s cross-country bluegrass odyssey with Sandy Rothman in great detail (pp.70-73). In the early Summer of 1964, Jerry and Sandy drive in Jerry’s Corvair, traveling with the White Brothers to St. Louis, and then onwards to visit Neal Rosenberg in Indiana. For a break, they drive to Florida to visit Berkeley friend Scott Hambly, a former member of Berkeley’s first bluegrass band, The Redwood Canyon Ramblers. Hambly was in the Air Force, but Rothman and the short-haired Garcia spends a few days in Florida picking with their old friend.
While the trip to the Air Force base is just one stop on a lengthy trip—Garcia goes on to Bean Blossom, and then Pennsylvania, where he meets David Grisman—it is generally unremarked that McNally identifies Jerry Garcia’s first out-of-California gig. McNally writes “The three of them [Garcia, Rothman and Hambly] even played a show at the Noncommissioned Officers Club at Tyndall, but a few days of the vicious insect life of Florida drove Jerry and Sandy to Dothan, Alabama to hear the well-known players Jim and Jesse McReynolds.”
There were many Southerners in the Armed Services, and Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs had been Grand Ole Opry stars in the 1950s, so plenty of Airmen would have been at least generally familiar with bluegrass music. The trio of young Californians would probably have been fairly well received by whatever modest crowd was there. Given the lengthy history of Jerry Garcia’s performances throughout America, however, its interesting to contemplate that his first out-of-state performance was at an Air Force base in Florida.