Monday, August 31, 2009

March 10-15, 1967, Whisky A-Go-Go, San Francisco, CA: The Grateful Dead (canceled)

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I have since changed my mind about these gigs, having found more evidence. My general points still stand, but I now think the Grateful Dead played the SF Whisky through March 15, 1967--see here

A thoughtful commenter on my post about the San Francisco Whisky reminded me of the scheduled performance by The Grateful Dead at the San Francisco Whisky-A-Go-Go from March 10 through 16, 1967 (Friday through Thursday). I was aware of this event, but I completely dropped the ball in mentioning it. I take some solace in the fact that I am fairly certain that the shows never occurred, which is how I drew the conclusion that the SF Whisky did not last until March of that year. However, since I never explained it, I could hardly have expected anyone to follow my reasoning. I will attempt to rectify this with the current post.

To briefly recap earlier posts, the world famous Whisky-Go-Go in Hollywood opened on January 11, 1964. It drew its name from a disco in Paris, and there already was a similarly named, though unrelated Whisky-A-Go-Go, in Chicago (on Rush and Chestnut). The Hollywood Whisky entrepreneur, Elmer Valentine, seems to have allowed or licensed the name and "concept" to other operators. The San Francisco Whisky-A-Go-Go, now thoroughly forgotten, opened in April, 1965 and seems to have lasted until early 1967. It was located at 568 Sacramento (at Montgomery), sort of near the Financial District but somewhat far from the action on North Beach. The Doors, along with The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, played some gigs at the SF Whisky in February of 1967, but although they were scheduled for two weeks, after two days of tiny crowds The Doors handed off their gig to The Wildflower. The Doors, at least, reported that the venue had gone from a "Go-Go" club, with scantily dressed girls dancing to the music (the Hollywood model) to a topless club, with topless waitresses, a pretty common business practice in the Bay Area at the time.

Most Grateful Dead chronologies, including Deadlists and, list March 10-16, 1967 shows for the Dead at the Whisky in Hollywood. This flies in the face of the fact that the surviving poster clearly indicates that the Dead were scheduled to play at the San Francisco Whisky (h/t to commenter psychlops). The book The Grateful Dead: The Illustrated Trip gets the location correct, although they do not comment on the shows themselves. In any case, most chronologies correctly suspect that the shows did not occur. In order to understand why this is the most plausible scenario--over and above the fact that no surviving tapes, photos or eyewitness accounts exist--we need to discuss the peculiar backstory of the Love Conspiracy Commune.

In 1966, the San Francisco underground exploded into the light, with local bands, drugs and scenes suddenly making waves in the National and Local press. All sorts of people flocked to San Francisco, some of them musicians, some of them future hippies, and some of them looking to make a buck. By 1967 a trickle had become a flood, and what was once a local happening was turning into a conflict between commercial potential and cultural authenticity. This tension would peak at the Monterey Pop Festival in the Summer, but the fault lines were already clear. Although Bill Graham and Chet Helms were the best known promoters in San Francisco (then and now), plenty of other people and groups put on concerts and happenings.

The Love Conspiracy Commune is usually known only from posters, having presented four events in San Francisco:

February 14-27, Whisky A-Go-Go (568 Sacramento): The Doors/Peanut Butter Conspiracy
The Doors are replaced by The Wildflower from February 16 onwards.

March 3, 1967, Winterland (Post and Steiner): Love/Grateful Dead/Moby Grape/Loading Zone/Blue Crumb Truck Factory "The First Annual Love Circus"

March 6, 1967, 8th and Irving Streets: The Love Conspiracy Commune Presents A Psychedelic Happening
No specific bands are mentioned in the poster, but Liqour, Beer and Sandwiches at low prices figure prominently in the poster.

March 10-16, Whisky A-Go-Go (568 Sacramento): The Grateful Dead

Who were The Love Conspiracy Commune, and how did they appear on the scene so suddenly to book rising underground stars like The Doors, The Grateful Dead and Moby Grape, at an established (if struggling) venue and a major hall (Winterland)? The one specific account of the Love Conspiracy Commune comes from the excellent book by Rolling Stone writer Charles Perry, Haight Ashbury: A History (Rolling Stone Press 1984). Perry writes in detail about a conflict about the March 3 show at Winterland. Local politics were too complicated to go into here, but suffice to say there was tension between those who felt that the scene should stay free or at least cheap, and those who saw it as a commercial bonanza. A sort of collective called The Diggers protested the show for being too expensive ($3.50, pricey at the time).

Perry details a complicated confrontation (p.150-151) in which The Diggers ended up picketing the Winterland show, and The Dead refused to play unless the picketers got in for free. The promoters relented, and some picketers were let in, though apparently not all. Amongst the various broadsides passed back and forth

"One of the group, said the Diggers, had admitted that the Love Conspiracy Commune was backed by "some mob." The mob was a group of dealers from the University of North Carolina who jokingly called themselves the "Chapel Hill Mafia" (p.150)."

While this accusation seems like the sort of criticism that angry ideologues hurl at each other, Perry points out later (p.189) that a Methedrine/DMT lab associated with the Love Conspiracy Commune, on Baker Street (in Pacific Heights), was busted on May 3, so the Commune may indeed have had some shady underpinnings.

The March 6 poster is interesting too. It promises a "Happening" with no specific bands, and makes clear that "Liquor, Beer and Sandwiches" will be available. While hardly illegal, this is clearly an effort to turn an Acid Test into a profitable dance party--dare I call it "A Rave"--and it too must not have gone over well in The Haight. Of course, I have never read or heard a single thing about the March 6 event, so I do not know what happened.

However, by the time of the scheduled March 10-16 Whisky event with the Dead, the "Love Conspiracy Commune" had already caused an ugly rift with the Haight community, and put the Grateful Dead in the middle of a political dispute. The Dead were always comfortable with chaos, but shied away from conflict, and I can't imagine them wanting to play a downtown club with topless waitresses for an out-of-town group who had already shown poor judgment at best.There is no record of the Grateful Dead shows at The Whisky, other than the poster, and I have no reason to think they played the gigs.

My own theory about the Love Conspiracy Commune is that they were connected to drug dealers of some kind, who were looking to make a splash quickly (perhaps to hide money). They blew into San Francisco and took over the booking of an available club, The Whisky A-Go-Go, not realizing it was in the wrong part of town and antithetical to the local scene. They seemed to have the ready cash to book a big event at Winterland, too, but they seemed to have drastically misjudged the local participants, who were still devoted to events that reflected the community as it was perceived, and not ready to fully exploit it commercially. The "Happening" on March 6 that advertises refreshments is actually the most jarring note, and a sign that the San Francisco scene still had an underground feel to it, even if it was slowly conceding ground to commercial realities.

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy/Wildflower shows went through February 27, and I have never seen an ad for an SF Whisky show other than the March 10-16 Dead poster. Its my belief that the SF Whisky had closed by March 10, if not even sooner after February 27, as another misguided enterprise from The Love Conspiracy Commune.

Crossposted on Rock Prosopography 101


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  2. March 6, 1967, 8th and Irving Streets: The Love Conspiracy Commune Presents A Psychedelic Happening…The band is mentioned..The Care Package..they had three 45rpm's 1966/67 and had a sound like the Association.

    1. WthS, thanks for this, I had no idea Care Package was the name of a working band.

    2. You can hear a couple of their songs on Youtube.

  3. Phillip Elwood in the SF Examiner 3-15-67 wrote this more of a review of the club than the band but proof that these shows happened