Thursday, November 17, 2011

August 19, 25, 26, 1967: Grateful Dead "Lake Tahoe Tour"

The poster advertising the opening of Kings Beach Bowl in North Lake Tahoe, July 1967
In August of 1967, the Grateful Dead played three shows in the Lake Tahoe area in California. Lake Tahoe is a huge freshwater lake straddling the California/Nevada border, about 200 miles from San Francisco and 60 miles South of Reno. On Saturday, August 19, the band played Lake Tahoe's main venue, The American Legion Hall in the town of South Lake Tahoe. The next weekend, on Friday and Saturday, August 25 and 26, the Dead played Kings Beach Bowl in North Lake Tahoe. If you just peruse Deadlists or a similar database, these just seem like casual California shows that were part of the Dead's never-ending touring, and in some ways they were. Nonetheless, the Lake Tahoe rock scene in the 60s was unique, and a closer look at it will lend some interesting perspective to these performances.

Lake Tahoe had always been San Francisco and Northern California's playground, and there is a long American history of entertainment in resort areas. The Catskills in New York or the 'Silver Circuit' in Nevada (Las Vegas, Reno, North Tahoe) have lengthy post-WW2 traditions. One peculiar feature of Lake Tahoe, however, was that there was gambling on the Nevada side of the lake (usually referred to as 'North Lake Tahoe'), so the casinos focused on the high-end trade there. The California side (usually referred to as 'South Lake Tahoe,' although the geography doesn't quite fit that) was more of the family side. After Lake Tahoe boomed following the 1960 Winter Olympics, the California side of the lake was left for "the kids," because the adults wanted to go to Nevada and gamble. As a result, for a resort area, the California side of Lake Tahoe in the 1960s had a peculiar focus on rock and roll that is largely undocumented. I am in the process of sorting it all out, and the Grateful Dead's week in Lake Tahoe in 1967 makes an interesting snapshot of a unique American rock scene, and it will shed some light on why the Grateful Dead returned to Kings Beach Bowl more than once.

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe, straddling California and Nevada, is one of the West’s largest, deepest, clearest and most beautiful lakes. The lake sits six thousand feet above sea level, and the Truckee River feeds the lake, flowing into and then out of the lake. Truckee, California, about 12 miles North of Lake Tahoe and 30 miles West of Reno, was an original train stop on the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1899 the Duane L. Bliss Family built the Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company. The Southern Pacific Railway actively encouraged tourist attractions along its rail lines, and Lake Tahoe became a popular resort for the San Francisco Bay Area.

Many families in both the Bay Area and the Sacramento/Central Valley area would buy or rent second homes in Lake Tahoe, and they would spend much of the Summer and many Winter weekends at Tahoe. Part of Lake Tahoe's specialness was that it was a great resort for both Summer and Winter. After 1960, when the Winter Olympics were held at nearby Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe boomed again, particularly for Winter sports. Since the Lake was on the California/Nevada border, parents could go over to the Nevada side and gamble, leaving their teenage kids to fend for themselves.

Lake Tahoe Music in The 1960s
The first person to catch on to the vast quantity of teenagers in Lake Tahoe was a guitarist named Jim Burgett. He started putting on dances at the South Lake Tahoe American Legion Hall (at 2748 Lake Tahoe Blvd [US 50], South Lake Tahoe, CA) in 1958. The story is complicated, but by the mid-60s Burgett was holding dances at the Legion Hall seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For any teenagers spending a week, a month or a Summer in Lake Tahoe, every night was Friday night, and with the parents often away in Nevada anyway, the Legion Hall dances were the only show in town. Burgett's own band played most nights, but on occasion he hired out of town acts as well. When the Fillmore bands became popular, he would often hire them to give his own band a night off (Burgett also played six days a week at Harrah's Tahoe, believe it or not). The Jim Burgett saga is amazing, and well worthy of a book, which fortunately he is planning to write.

North Lake Tahoe, about 20 miles away, was less crowded and hence had less activity. However, the North Lake Tahoe set considered themselves cooler than the South, and a venue opened in North Lake Tahoe as well. Kings Beach Bowl, a converted bowling alley on North Lake Avenue, was opened in the Summer of 1967, but it was mostly only open on weekends. The sons of the owners had a band, and their dads created a place for them to play. Although the teenagers were not the bookers, they advised the booking agents on what was cool in Sacramento (where they were from) and San Francisco, so some very cool Fillmore bands played Kings Beach Bowl in 1967 and 1968, including Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield.

The Grateful Dead, August 1967
In August, 1967 the Grateful Dead had just finished a run through Canada with the Jefferson Airplane, and they were working towards their second album. Their temporary base of operations that Summer was generally thought to be Rio Nido, but the band seems to have taken the Lake Tahoe gigs as a sort of vacation. Apparently, Jerry, Mountain Girl and her daughter Sunshine spent the entire week in Lake Tahoe, and I suspect many other band members did as well. Anyone with urgent business could have driven the four hours back to San Francisco, but Lake Tahoe is so nice that there would have to be a pretty good reason to do so.

One odd story about the Lake Tahoe shows that I have read (although I am unable to track the quote) was that Jerry and Mountain Girl hated the motel where they were put up, so they simply went camping for the week between shows. Lake Tahoe was still empty enough in those days that it wouldn't have been too hard to find a place to camp, albeit somewhat unofficially, and it still would not have been hard to come into civilization for rehearsals, cigarettes or other essentials. Jerry had apparently been camping a lot as a child and was comfortable in a tent. This had to be the last time Garcia could consider doing such a thing.

Since Lake Tahoe was a resort area, it was probably part of band's contracts that housing was provided. However, there were a lot of tacky little hotels, the kind of places that made Motel 6 look good (I think my family stayed in a few). The general idea of Lake Tahoe was that it was so nice that you wouldn't want to spend a lot of time indoors, so the motel was just a place to sleep. For a mom with an infant and a guy who wanted to practice guitar all day, however, the woods were probably more fun than sitting in a little motel. Given the number of Bay Area teenagers in Lake Tahoe during that (or any) Summer, I can't help but think that at least one of them passed by Jerry and MG in the hills and thought "hey, the dude looks like Jerry Garcia."

We know that Robert Hunter re-connected with the Grateful Dead in Rio Nido the next week (ca. September  3), and we know that Mickey Hart had met Bill Kreutzmann, but not yet met the Dead, so the band was still in its original state. I assume much or all of the "Family" was up in Lake Tahoe, but since there is very little information about these shows, I can't quite say. Nonetheless, I do have some interesting context in which the shows can be considered.

The American Legion Hall in South Lake Tahoe, at 2748 Lake Tahoe Blvd, circa 1965. For a great story on the history of Jim Burgett and The Legion Hall, see the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
American Legion Hall, 2848 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA
By 1967, Jim Burgett had been putting on shows at the Legion Hall for almost a decade, and his shows were an institution with teenagers who regularly visited Tahoe. By this time, Burgett controlled the lease for the American Legion Hall, and his band played seven nights a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Since every night was Friday night for a teenager in Tahoe, the dances were generally packed. Burgett's band were also regulars in Harrah's Tahoe, where they played six days a week. Think about that for a second: six days and seven nights a week, for three straight months.

Burgett's band played a mixture of rock and soul, and they are remembered fondly by Tahoe teenagers in the 60s. Like many Nevada musicians, they were established professionals who could play a wide variety of styles. They probably played some poppier material in the Harrah's lounge, but at the American Legion Hall they played a lot of Motown, Stax and songs like Eric Burdon's "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place," although of course that was merely ironic in lovely Lake Tahoe, since no one actually wanted to leave.

However, when outside bands were available, Burgett would book them, both to give his own band a break and to provide some variation for the regulars at his dances. Sometimes Burgett's band would be the opening act, or they would back a singer, but I think in the case of the Grateful Dead Burgett may have simply taken the night off. A long-gone Comment thread on a Lake Tahoe tourist site recalls the Dead rocking the Legion Hall until about 3 in the morning. While I'm sure the audience wasn't exactly straight, part of the appeal of the Lake Tahoe scene was the fact that it was not a bar scene. Parents were very comfortable letting their teenagers go to shows in Lake Tahoe, because there were no bars (although I'm sure plenty of beer was consumed in the parking lot) and relatively speaking, no older people. Some of the people going to the rock shows were probably in their early 20s, but in general the adults went to the Nevada side to drink and gamble, so the California side was judged safe for teenagers.

From people who were around at the time, the teenagers traveled in packs. If a family owned or rented a house in Tahoe, the kids in the family would invite all their cousins or school friends up for a week or two. When the parents went off at night to gamble, the teenagers went out on their own, and Jim Burgett's dances at the Legion Hall were the prime, if not the only, destination. Older siblings usually had the obligation to drive and look after the younger ones, so once again the dances were a good way for big sisters to keep an eye on their proverbial little brothers without having to spend too much time with them.  Many comment threads on Facebook and elsewhere recall the Dead's 1967 show at the Legion Hall, but details are naturally foggy.

Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Avenue, North Lake Tahoe, CA
Kings Beach Bowl was a gutted bowling alley on the California side of North Lake Tahoe. North Lake Tahoe, was a smaller and more latterly developed area than the Southern end. Originally South Lake Tahoe, CA had been for families and North Lake Tahoe, NV for gambling, but the California side of North Tahoe had grown up as well. According to one resident, the North Tahoe people saw themselves as "real," if part-time, residents than the more touristy South, and generally thought they were cooler. The Kings Beach Bowl was even smaller than the American Legion Hall, and was only open on weekends, but the North Tahoe teenagers thought that they were cooler. In any case, Kings Beach Bowl had the hip bands from the Fillmore, all of whom were familiar to the Bay Area teenagers who populated Lake Tahoe in the Summers. I have been working on a fairly complete chronology of the Kings Beach Bowl adventure, but I will save that for another blog, and just present a thumbnail sketch of the venue.

The operators of Kings Beach Bowl were Dave Jay and Allan Goodall. Allan Jay's sons were in a Sacramento band called The Creators, and they were friends with Allen Goodall's son. The senior Jay and Goodall put together Kings Beach Bowl so that The Creators would have a place to play. The members of The Creators were Warren and Gary Jay, and Skip Maggiora, Dickie Pomeine [possibly "Dickie Pomin"] and Pat Payton. For a light show, they hired some Sacramento college students who called themselves The Simultaneous Avalanche. The Simultaneous Avalanche had begun the Summer working for Jim Burgett at the American Legion Hall, but moved to Kings Beach Bowl "in search of fun and adventure" (according to the Avalanche's Rick Schultze, via another friend). The Creators and The Simultaneous Avalanche, all friends, were regular attractions at Kings Beach Bowl, with visiting headliners bought in from outside on most weekends.

Unlike the larger and more established Legion Hall in South Tahoe, Kings Beach Bowl was only open on weekends. However, while Jay and Goodall used a professional booking agent, they took the advice of their sons and their friends as to what bands to book. As a result, not only did some very hip Fillmore bands come through Kings Beach Bowl in the Summer of 1967, but some interesting touring bands like Buffalo Springfield and even Jimi Hendrix also found time for an extra gig at Kings Beach.

Kings Beach Bowl was just a converted bowling alley, and hardly a special building. Nonetheless, eyewitnesses recall it fondly. I only know of one photo of the inside, from when the Buffalo Springfield played on August 18-19, 1967 (I even know where you can find it). Most of the attendees were based in North Tahoe, but largely came from the Bay Area and Northern California, so they had heard of all the Fillmore groups. For many, it was the first chance to see these groups. The commercial area of North Lake Tahoe was so quiet and safe that parents had no problem allowing teenagers and their friends to go to shows on their own.


Kings Beach Bowl only presented shows on weekends, unlike the American Legion Hall, which was open 7 days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In 1967, when it opened, Kings Beach only began on June 15. The Grateful Dead would have been the last or next to last event presented, as I still have not been able to determine if Kings Beach was open Labor Day. I believe that bands were housed in a nearby vacation home for the weekend. Lake Tahoe houses at the time were not opulent, but they were usually spacious and secluded, just the thing for a band who liked to travel with all their crew, girlfriends and families and engage in various extracurricular activities. Since Allen Goodall worked for the Sheriff's department, there were not problems with the cops.

August 25-26, 1967, Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/The Creators
What happened on the weekend of August 25 and 26, 1967? No one remembers. However, the Grateful Dead came back for two more weekends, so it must have been a good time.

As soon as the band returned to the Bay Area, they seem to have gone to Rio Nido and begun work on "Dark Star." I estimate that Phil Lesh picked up Robert Hunter in Palo Alto that week too. putting Hunter up at the Russian River so he could hear the band rehearse and put lyrics to "Dark Star," so it was a pretty momentous week. Somebody must have remembered something, however, because the Dead made plans to return in the Winter and the next Summer.


The poster for the Feb 22-24 '68 shows at Kings Beach Bowl in North Lake Tahoe
February 22-24, 1968, Kings Beach Bowl,  North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/Morning Glory
After the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics, Lake Tahoe became a major Winter Sports destination. However, families were less likely to spend entire weeks there during the school year, and in the Winter mobility was limited, so there were fewer entertainment options. However, Winter holidays were still big family events in the Lake Tahoe area, so it was no surprise that Kings Beach Bowl put on an event over the Washington's Birthday weekend. In ancient times, both Lincoln's (Feb 12) and Washington's birthdays (Feb 22) were National holidays, and they were celebrated on whatever day of the week they happened to fall (sometime later they were replaced by the always-on-Monday 'Presidents Day'). In 1968, Washington's Birthday was on a Thursday, so that suggested a great ski weekend for February 22 through 25.

The Grateful Dead and The Morning Glory (a Marin band) headlined three nights at Kings Beach Bowl, with the accompanying "Trip Or Ski" poster. The assumption was that many people would come to Lake Tahoe to ski, and they would need something to do at night. Since the Dead were working on Anthem Of The Sun at the time, Dan Healy recorded the three nights. Among other things, the Kings Beach weekend was one of the first times Betty Cantor worked on the live recording of a Grateful Dead show. Note that the poster (above) has no directions beyond saying "North Shore." The geography was so simple, and there was only one main road (North Lake Avenue), so an actual address was unnecessary.

Two of the nights were released in 2001 as part of Dick's Picks Volume Twenty-Two (the February 22 tape had problems). The Dead's tapes are the only known live recordings from Kings Beach Bowl. I have no idea how well attended the Trip Or Ski event was, but I know that Kings Beach Bowl repeated the experiment in Winter 1969, albeit without the Dead, so it must have had some success.

July 12-13, 1968, Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/Working Class
Kings Beach Bowl had another season of shows in 1968. However, although a good time was had by all, the relatively tiny venue was getting priced out by the growing popularity of Fillmore bands. At the same time, some groups who had appeared the year before. like Quicksilver Messenger Service, were now touring nationally, so they were less available.  The Grateful Dead played that weekend, however, so clearly the band enjoyed the Kings Beach vibe. By 1968,  not only was the American Legion Hall still going strong, but there was another, larger venue in South Lake Tahoe, called The Sanctuary. This, too, is another story, but suffice to say the Dead had three choices of venues to play in Lake Tahoe, and they chose the smallest one, so clearly the circumstances at Kings Beach Bowl were to their liking.

The house band at Kings Beach Bowl in 1968 was a Sacramento band called The Working Class. Over that July weekend, The Working Class revised their membership and evolved into a group called Sanpaku. Sanpaku was a very interesting group in its own right, as I can say with authority since I am Sanpaku's self-appointed historian. The band has some very interesting memories of the July weekend with the Dead, but we will need to wait until the book comes out.

Aftermath and Prequel
After 1968, Kings Beach Bowl largely closed down, except for the occasional show. In 1969, even the loyal Grateful Dead would have been too big to play there in any case. In the Winter of '69, snow caved in the roof of The American Legion Hall, and Jim Burgett moved his operation over to the much larger Sanctuary, which he took over and re-named The Fun House. Thus Lake Tahoe moved from three venues in Summer 1968 to one in Summer 1969. The Fun House had a successful run into the early 70s, but the Grateful Dead had long since moved to larger venues.

Although the week of August 19-26, 1967 seems lost to the mists of history, I think the scenario goes something like this: the Grateful Dead and their family (literally and figuratively) were looking for a holiday week in Lake Tahoe, although why exactly they needed a "break" from Rio Nido isn't plain. The band had a successful gig in South Shore, and were put up in a cheap hotel for a few days. The hotel was so unappealing that Garcia and Mountain Girl actually went camping, a remarkable detail on its own terms. If the camping week was capped off by a relaxing weekend in a North Lake Tahoe vacation home, as I think it was, it must have led to some very fond feelings towards Kings Beach Bowl and its operators. Thus for the brief time as a San Francisco/Fillmore enclave in the 60s, the Dead chose Kings Beach Bowl as their preferred destination.

Poking around the web on various message boards and comment threads, one finds that numerous people have fond memories of the Lake Tahoe scene, particularly Jim Burgett's dances at the American Legion Hall. However, one very commentator piqued my interest, and although like all internet comments they have to be considered with some reservations, it's a fascinating tidbit. Specifically, one old Tahoe hippie recalls seeing the Grateful Dead at the American Legion Hall in the Fall of 1966, well after Labor Day. There were less than 50 people present, and it was so laid back that Pigpen actually wore guns on stage, in an old West styled holster.

This crazy story is not as far fetched as it sounds. Jim Burgett was kind enough to respond to a few questions, and he told me that while he held the master lease to the American Legion Hall, outside of the Memorial Day to Labor Day window he often leased it to outside promoters. In many cases, Burgett and his band were on tour, so Burgett only had a general idea of what was being presented at at the Legion Hall (he knew a concert promoter would be using it, for example, but he might not know who the bands were). Thus some San Francisco entity could have leased the Legion Hall to put on a Dead show, and found out that the audience wasn't there in the Fall. I even have some clues as to who the promoters might have been, but that is too long a tangent to go into here. Hopefully I will have sorted out more of that story when I tell the entire Lake Tahoe 60s rock story on my other blog.

Most Deadheads know about the Trip Or Ski shows in February of 1968, because of the poster and Dicks Picks. However, the Grateful Dead seemed to have packed a surprising number of shows into a few years at Lake Tahoe, and as old memories are slowly recovered--you know who you are!--we look forward to finding out more.









5 comments:

  1. From a David Lemieux interview about Dick's Picks 22:

    Bill Kreutzmann didn't play drums on the Other One>New Potato suite on 2/24/68.
    "I talked to Billy about it. Billy was skiing all day, and he was so tired that he sat out for a couple minutes. So on The Other One, there's no Billy... He remembers being so tired from skiing all day, getting to the show and just saying, "Oh man I'm exhausted, I don't know if I can play."
    (On the tape after New Potato, Phil says, "If Bill Kreutzmann will just come back up on the stage and play some more music with us, I promise never to say anything nasty about him.")

    Lemieux says Bill "was telling me about how much fun it was. Mickey [Hart] raved about how much fun these shows were — a bowling alley with ten-foot ceilings packed with all these Tahoe hippies."

    So the drummers, at least, had very fond memories of the Kings Beach Bowl...

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  2. Mountain Girl tells the story of the Lake Tahoe camping trip with Jerry in Greenfield's Dark Star book, page 109 - too long to quote here.

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  3. I was a Legion Hall regular from 66-68. Burgett's band actually was a great R&B band, but they suddenly became old school the summer of 67. IIRC the first shocker that summer was The Electric Prunes, then Buffalo Springfield (yes, they played SLT as well as Kings Beach, and one of them, legend has it, bought a place up in Tahoe Vista near Kings Beach), then the Dead. As a Bay Area kid I knew of all three bands but hadn't seen them yet, and certainly didn't expect to stunble on them in bucolic SLT.

    So the American Legion show, that unlikely location, was my first Dead show. Little did I know at the time how historic a milestone in my life that night would be (though I must admit I wasn't blown away, I was 15 and focused on getting drunk and copping a feel). Getting with the program came later that year with getting a drivers' license and learning how to get to the Fillmore and Avalon :-)

    Geography: "South Lake Tahoe" is the name of the city where the Legion Hall is located but is not used to describe the rest of the California side of the lake. There is/was a large public campground near the water's edge not far from the Legion Hall which may have been the site of Jerry and MG's campout.

    --Wilbur

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  4. Wilbur, thanks so much for the great recollections. All of my sources were North Shore so it's interesting to hear a comparable perspective from the other side of the lake. Is their a 'generic' term for the southern part of Lake Tahoe? 'South Shore'? The North Shore people say "North Shore," but they are all partisans.

    Very interesting to hear about the Buffalo Springfield show at Legion Hall. I suspect there are a number of shows from Legion Hall in the 66-68 period that we don't know about. It's also interesting to hear about the Electric Prunes, who were reputed to be a terrific live band. They certainly sounded good on the 1967 Live From Stockholm cd.

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  5. Great history. It is Dickie _Pomin_, i'm pretty sure: old North Shore fsmily, Randy Pomin still has a business in Lake Forest. And I remember seeing the Quicksilver guitarist (John Cippolina?) s well as some Dead members, playing at the old Reindeer Lodge on Mt. Rose in 73 and 74.

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