Sunday, February 7, 2010

Jerry Garcia, The New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Peninsula School 1961-71

(John "Marmaduke" Dawson and Mickey Hart at Peninsula School, Menlo Park, around April 28, 1970. Photo: Michael Parrish)

In my extensive post about the history of Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead from the point of view of Menlo Park, the town just North of Palo Alto, I mentioned that the New Riders of The Purple Sage had played Peninsula School in Menlo Park in 1969 and 1971. A Commenter informed me that the Riders had also played around May, 1970, and to prove it he sent in a remarkable photo of Mickey Hart and Marmaduke playing outdoors. Palo Alto resident Michael Parrish was a Cubberley High School student at the time, who took the opportunity to go to this Tuesday afternoon benefit show. He knows it was on a Tuesday between the April and June 1970 Grateful Dead Fillmore West shows, and so far it appears that April 28, 1970 is the most likely date.

This seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore the intersection between the Grateful Dead and Peninsula School.

Peninsula School, 925 Peninsula Way, Menlo Park, CA
Peninsula School was a K-8 school founded in 1925 and by all indications is still going strong. It was always a place for forward looking, free-thinking people, and by the 1950s it was the private school of choice for the progressive, ban-the-bomb, anti-McCarthy type parents who were common in the South Bay (if few other places). This isn't speculation on my part--my Mother was offered a teaching job at Peninsula School in the early 1950s, thus escaping Long Island and allowing her to marry my Father, leading directly to (among other things) this blog.

In the 1960s, while Peninsula parents were somewhat older than the Beatniks and proto-hippies who would make up the Grateful Dead, they weren't scared of them. Students who attended the school included John "Marmaduke" Dawson, writer Greil Marcus and me (albeit not at the same time). When the New Riders played Peninsula, Dawson alluded to the fact that Bob Weir had briefly attended the school as well (Weir apparently attended many schools briefly). Dawson would have completed 8th grade around 1961, and Weir's timing would have had to have been similar.

Given the tiny world of those of an open mind in the South Bay, its not surprising that there were many connections between the Grateful Dead and Peninsula school.

1961: Bob and Jerry
Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia were attempting to be a folk duo, and there first gig was at Peninsula School. Supposedly they received 50 dollars for a performance, a startling amount for the time.

1960s: Sara Ruppenthal Garcia
It is my understanding that Jerry's wife Sara was a music teacher at Peninsula. It was common at Peninsula for there to be a lot of part time music, art or what-have-you instructors, the wife, daughter or brother of someone connected to the school. Peninsula was the type of school where "music class" consisted of singing Woody Guthrie songs instead of "God Bless America," heady stuff indeed for the 1960s.

Since I attended Peninsula School from Nursery School through the 1st grade (approximately 1962-65), it is at least remotely possible that Sara came into my class and led the sing alongs. I have no way of confirming any of this, but its fun to think it might have happened.

June 3 1969: Jerry Garcia and John Dawson
John Dawson had written some songs, Jerry Garcia had a new pedal steel guitar and David Nelson didn't have a band. Garcia and Nelson decided to sit in with Dawson at his Wednesday night gig at a place called The Underground Hofbrau on El Camino Real in Menlo Park, starting May 7, 1969.

Outside of The Underground, the first public gig of the future New Riders--at the time unnamed--was at Peninsula School. Dead biographer Dennis McNally alludes to this event, and by triangulating I can approximate the date, but it could be any weeknight around that time. Banjoist Peter Grant had probably joined the trio, and possibly other players as well.

I had moved on to Public School by this time, but a friend of mine, then aged 11, went to the school and recalled the show (although its possible he was recalling the 1970 show). He and his friend snuck into the equipment room and someone knocked on the door. Since they weren't supposed to be there, they refused to let the person in. He plaintively said "but you have to let me in, I'm Jerry Garcia." Scared of their Moms, however, they remained silent until Jerry left and they could sneak away.

April  28, 1970 New Riders of The Purple Sage
As we can see from the photo, the New Riders played a Tuesday afternoon outdoor benefit at Peninsula School. Notwithstanding Dawson's ties to the school, the New Riders were about to join the Grateful Dead on their first National tour (starting on May 1), so they were probably looking for a gig to work out the kinks. At the time, the New Riders consisted of John Dawson on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, David Nelson on lead guitar and harmony vocals, Dave Torbert (ex New Delhi River Band, as was Nelson) on bass and harmonies, Garcia on pedal steel and Mickey Hart on drums.

May 28, 1971 New Riders Of the Purple Sage
The New Riders played another afternoon show at Peninsula, another sign of John Dawson's close ties to the school. The Grateful Dead and The New Riders had a huge show at Winterland that night, but they had squeezed an afternoon show in anyway. Michael Parrish also attended this show, and was quite surprised when he arrived to find no Garica. The normally reliable Garcia was so sick that the Winterland show was canceled (and rescheduled for May 30). The Riders played the gig as a quartet, however, the only known time that they played without Jerry during his tenure in the band.

The history of The Grateful Dead, The New Riders and Peninsula School seems to end at this point. The New Riders album was released a few months later, and they too became a successful touring band, much too big to play relaxed afternoon benefits in Menlo Park without causing a ruckus.


  1. Bob and Jerry first professional gig was on May 5, 1961 at the Arroyo Lounge in Arroyo Grande, California. They goy five bucks apiece for this and spent it on cigarettes. Their second and last professional gig was at Peninsula School's eighth grade graduation ceremony in early June, 1961. They got twenty-five bucks a piece for this.

  2. I wonder if John Dawson was part of the graduating class? Its possible.

    My sister was in Kindergarten at Peninsula at this time, but its unlikely the little kids attended the ceremony. I do know people who were probably there (friends of my parents), but they have certainly forgotten it.

  3. John Dawson did not attend 'Peninsula School' at that time. He was born on June 16, 1945 and graduate there at fourteen in early June, 1959. In September 1959 he left Menlo Park to relocate in NYC to attend local 'Millbrook School for Boys'. He returned in Palo Alto and/or Menlo Park only in the summer for the school's vacancy. He finally returned in the bay area only in 1966 to form The New Delhi River Band.

  4. I'm sure you are right about the timing of Dawson's graduation, but he was never a member of the New Delhi River Band, much less a founder. Pete Frame's tree is wrong on that account, and that has led to the confusion.

  5. Ooops! You'are right Corry. John Dawson never play in The New Delhi River Band. I checked again my personal archives and yes Pete Frame's family tree generate this confusion for years. Sorry!

  6. 1961: Bob and Jerry... Supposedly they received 50 dollars for a performance

    Hunter posted this on Deadnetcentral: "$50 my ass! We got $5. Decided to frame the check (first payment)but within a few days needed to cash it for cigarettes."

  7. JGMF you read my first comment? Bob Hunter's post is correct but he confuses the gigs because as I said above, him and Jerry got five bucks apiece (and spent it on cigarettes) in their first gig at Arroyo Lounge, Arroyo Grande, CA, on May 5, 1961.....but in their second and last gig at Peninsula School in early June, 1961 (Corry's post refers to this) they got fifty bucks (twenty-five apiece) exactly.

  8. How do you know? I *really* don't intend that question to sound snide, I really want to know. rh came over and read the post, presumably read the comments, too, and very clearly disagreed. He could well be mistaking the two gigs, but it's not obvious that that is the case. Where does the info regarding the payments and such come from?

  9. The info about the payments is from.....
    About Bob and Jerry first gig at Arroyo Lounge on May 5, 1961 the comments is: "Jerry says, "We got our first professional gig. We got five bucks apiece." Their innocuous little folk act was billed as Bob and Jerry, but they performed only two real gigs -- one at Arroyo Lounge. Bob says about the five dollar payday, "we decided to frame as the first musical earnings for either of us, but spent it on cigarettes instead."
    About Bob and Jerry second and last gig at Peninsula School in early June, 1961 the comments is: "Their second gig was at Peninsula School's eighth grade graduation ceremony in early June. That gig had been arranged by Danya Veltfort, whose younger sister was matriculating. Danya says, "Bob and Jerry took home fifty dollars for their troubles, good money for those days (and that crowd)."

  10. Thanks, Bruno. I still color myself uncertain abouut the payment issue for the Peninsula School gig, but that's pretty direct sourcing right there.

  11. Pacific High School did a gig at Penisula School probably 1967. Don't remember who jammed. Seems like there was some New Rider/new Delhi folk.

  12. Dan, this is very interesting, but not surprising. I know that the New Delhi River Band played a birthday party for a Pacific High School student in November of '67.

  13. Anyone know the address for the Arroyo Lounge, Arroyo Grande, CA?

  14. Secondly, why would two guys with no money travel to San Luis Obispo to the Arroyo Lounge in Arroyo Grande for their first gig? It's a 3 hours and 42 minute 216 mile trip from Palo Alto! I don't believe this happened. Was there an Arroyo Lounge on El Camino Real? That would be much more plausible.

  15. The Arroyo Lounge was almost certainly in East Palo Alto, where Garcia and Hunter lived at the time (at the time, East Palo Alto had Menlo Park postal addresses, so the distinction was trivial to non-homeowners).

  16. I had not thought about this for many years but my previous postulation resulted in me deciding (rightly or wrongly) that the Arroyo Lounge was part of the Wilbur Hall complex at Stanford University. My notes suggest that the performance may have been for some sort of freshman event. After all of this time I have no idea how I came to these conclusions.

    1. Both "Official Book of the Deadheads" p 194 and "GD The Illustrated Trip" p 22 locate the Arroyo Room at Stanford Uni.

      It is easy to find references to Arroyo Dorm in Wilbur on Stanford websites, for instance

  17. I'm on board with the idea that the Arroyo Lounge was the Wilbur dorm at Stanford (there is an Arroyo House that is one of the four dorms). At the time (probably still) Wilbur Hall was the Freshman Dorm housing complex. Stanford had lots of money, so it makes sense that there was some kind of budget for entertainment, and a few beatnik folksingers could get hired.

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  19. Arroyo House, Wilbur Hall is correct. Robert Hunter told my buddies and I that story during his break at a Friday afternoon frat performance at Stanford in 1976. He said they each got paid $5.