Saturday, January 30, 2010

September 6-7, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway, San Francisco Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead

I recently wrote an extensive review of the Grateful Dead's touring itinerary for July and August 1969. However, the first weekend in September of 1969 offers up some peculiar mysteries about the Grateful Dead's performing schedule that have not, to my knowledge, ever been addressed.

September 6, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway Grateful Dead/Jefferson Airplane
The September 6, 1969 Grateful Dead show is known from a circulating tape. There is also a circulating Jefferson Airplane tape with the same date, where Garcia and Hart join in for some jamming. This has led everyone to assert that The Grateful Dead and The Jefferson Airplane played The Family Dog at The Great Highway on Saturday, September 6, 1969. I am inclined towards that view, too, but it still begs a number of questions that have never been addressed.
  • Most bookings at The Family Dog, and most ballrooms, were for Friday and Saturday--did the Dead also play Friday night (Sep 5)?
  • If the Dead were playing on Sep 6 (and possibly Sep 5), why wasn't it mentioned on the August 29-30 poster, when the Dead headlined Friday and Saturday nights?
  • The Jefferson Airplane did not have an extensive professional relationship with Chet Helms--they only played the Avalon one weekend in 1966--so why would they play a stealth show at The Family Dog?
  • There is no known flyer of any type for the Family Dog this weekend. Given the drawing power of the Airplane and The Dead (the Airplane were much bigger at the time), they could easily sell the place out by word of mouth, but why?
I know of no eyewitness accounts, reviews or even second hand accounts of this show, so at this point all of my questions remain unanswered. What follows is some speculation about these shows--I don't know any more than anyone else, which is close to nothing, but most Bay Area Dead shows from the 60s have a wide variety of historical ephemera, like posters, reviews or eyewitness accounts, and this show has none.

There are a couple of things to consider about the Bay Area rock scene at the time, and particularly about Chet Helms. There was a lot of hostility in 1969 San Francisco between those who still thought music should be free, and those who were benefiting from the big business that rock music had become. Bill Graham was the symbol of commercialized rock music, and Chet Helms was the flag bearer for music as a benefit for the community. Helms Avalon Ballroom, fondly remembered though it was, had been a mess as a business and Helms had given it up at the end of 1968.

Helms had opened a new Family Dog operation out on Ocean Beach, called the Family Dog At The Great Highway (the address was 660 Great Highway). It was smaller than Fillmore West, and quite a few miles from downtown. It only arguably even competed with the Fillmore West, which was probably why Bill Graham was one of the people loaning Helms money to get the venture started. The venture had opened with great fanfare on June 13, 1969, with a concert featuring the Jefferson Airplane. The San Francisco rock scene was actually a lot like High School, and the Airplane and Helms were not particularly close. The Airplane only played the Avalon a single weekend (July 22-23, 1966), and as the Airplane were always associated with Bill Graham, they had no cause to play for Helms.

The fact that the Airplane played the opening of the Family Dog At The Great Highway was a clear implication that Bill Graham had indirectly blessed Chet Helms venue. My own belief is that Graham feared a major promoter from Los Angeles or New York backing Helms at Winterland, a much larger hall. Helms's savvy combined with competent financial controls would have made a formidable competitor for Fillmore West. However, Chet Helms in a modest sized venue some miles from downtown and freeway access offered little threat to Fillmore West or larger shows promoted by Graham in the East Bay. If Helms succeeded, Graham would have simply called in his loans. In any case, The Family Dog at The Great Highway offered some opportunities for bands on their way up, and if they were good then Graham could always book them at the Fillmore, just as he had done with the Avalon back in the early days.

By August of 1969, however, Helms financial situation at the FDGH was precarious, and he had had a significant falling out with Bill Graham. The Spring and Summer of 1969 was the time of great outdoor rock festivals, and the big San Francisco Rock Festival was supposed to be a giant free concert held in Golden Gate Park on August 22 and 23. The event collapsed under its own weight, with acrimony on all sides. Bill Graham was seen as the bad guy, insisting that a certain amount of money was required for the show to be safe and successful. At the same time, an effort by Light Show operators (led by Jerry Abrams) to unionize had led to more bad blood, including a picket line at a Grateful Dead show at the Family Dog on Friday August 1. The financial disaster that followed the thinly attended weekend, combined with Bill Graham withdrawing financial backing, nearly undermined the Family Dog operation entirely.

It was in this financial context that the Grateful Dead headlined another weekend at the Family Dog at the end of August. On Thursday, August 28 there appears to have been some sort of jam with Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales (the Bear cassette is labeled "Hartbeats") and the Dead headlined Friday and Saturday night (August 29 and 30) over The New Riders of The Purple Sage, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and The Rubber Duck Company, all making their San Francisco concert debuts (although all three had done a few low-key club gigs).

Thus it begs a series of questions: assuming the dating on the Dead and Airplane tapes to be correct (and there's no reason to doubt them), what were the Dead and Airplane doing playing an unadvertised show on a Saturday night, the weekend after the Dead had played the same venue? I know of no other scheduled show at the Family Dog that weekend, so the performance is plausible within both bands' timelines, but its still a strange event. With that in mind, here are my proposed answers.

  • There is no known flyer of any type for the Family Dog this weekend. Given the drawing power of the Airplane and The Dead (the Airplane were much bigger at the time), they could easily sell the place out by word of mouth, but why?
Most major concert promoters had a contractual requirement that bands could not play advertised shows within a certain amount of time and distance of a booked performance, like 60 days and 50 miles. It was understood that musicians would play on the fly, but the shows couldn't be advertised. The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead were booked by Bill Graham for two nights at Winterland on October 24 and 25, and neither band would have wanted to wreck their relationship with their best paying customer.

Since the show could not be advertised, it cut down on Chet Helms overhead--no poster artist, no radio ads--thus making it a more profitable show.
  • The Jefferson Airplane did not have an extensive professional relationship with Chet Helms--they only played the Avalon one weekend in 1966--so why would they play a stealth show at The Family Dog?
Helms Family Dog may not have been the direct beneficiary. The sources of funding for Helms post-Avalon ventures have always been obscure, but it all seems to have been borrowed money. The scenario that makes the most sense here is that Helms owed someone (or several someones) money that were friends of the Dead and the Airplane, and the concert helped settle his debts. The Airplane weren't close to Helms, but they had plenty of mutual friends.
  • Most bookings at The Family Dog, and most ballrooms, were for Friday and Saturday--did the Dead also play Friday night (Sep 5)?
  • If the Dead were playing on Sep 6 (and possibly Sep 5), why wasn't it mentioned on the August 29-30 poster, when the Dead headlined Friday and Saturday nights?
If my thesis is correct, its clear why the Family Dog poster from the week before couldn't mention the secret Dead/Airplane show. But what benefit would there have been for Helms to keep his venue dark on a Friday night? I don't think the Dead and the Airplane played, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of jam session type event. Since the most determined jammers in San Francisco were Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, it seems like a good bet. If we ever find out anything about this weekend, I wouldn't be surprised to find some sort of event on Friday night as well, if a considerably less dramatic one.

September 7, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway
This show too is only known from a tape. Its about an hour of rock and roll oldies, from an ad-hoc group that appears to include Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Joey Covington along with Garcia and another drummer. I see two likely possibilities:
  • the tape is really from the end of the night before (Sep 6), but was dated September 7 since it was after hours
  • the bands left their equipment there and had a Sunday afternoon jam, a not uncommon event earlier in the Fillmore era. It makes sense that the players who were regular at The Matrix were the ones who showed up.
If you accept the second hypothesis (and that is the one I am most inclined to), I can't imagine a show just an hour long. Given the players present, I would have to expect a Hot Tuna set (although they did not use that name yet) and some sort of Garcia/Hartbeats type of configuration too (presumably with Garcia, Jack Casady and some drummers). The extant tape has a sort of "encore" type feel to it, and despite its raggedness would make sense as punctuation to a couple of hours of blues and jamming.

Of course this is all speculation on my part. However, I would point out that no one has anything else to offer that I am aware of. If anyone has any new ideas, distant memories or hard evidence they are eagerly invited to Comment.


  1. Nothing whatsoever to offer, but a question: what has become of the surviving records/paperwork (if any!) of Helms/Family Dog? Not that it would resolve the question at hand even if it existed, but someone needs to track that stuff down if it hasn't been already.

  2. Would that there were some records. It does seem that some of Helms's backers did not want any records whatsoever, which may have been part of the problem.

    I don't think Helms was a record keeping type of guy to begin with, and I think that suited some people who wanted to be near the business but not exactly the center of attention.

  3. Presumably the 9-6-69 date must be correct since the Airplane released their show with the same date!

    A couple extra comments -

    One, the Taper's Section has a Midnight Hour that's dated 9-6-69 - since it's not on the circulating tape, it's one more indication that the 45 minutes of Dead show we have are quite incomplete.

    You might suspect the same of that half-hour 9-7-69 oldies bash, but given the "quality" of the playing, I'd be shocked if that show were much longer.
    It reminds me a lot of the 12-31-70 "aftershow" with Weir & Hot Tuna, so you're right that it may have been a very-late-night encore to the 9-6 shows.
    On the other hand, the presence of the mystery "Hartbeats" show the week before indicates that maybe there was more music going on that day.

    As for the Airplane & the Family Dog - they did not play there too many times.
    According to this site (which is outdated but the first I could find) - -
    they played a run there on June 13-16, 1969, which was recorded by KSAN. (Indicating some fanfare for the new venue? I guess this site may be wrong in saying this was 3 shows.)
    Then we have this 9-6-69 show (with the Dead), and then a televised show on 2-4-70 (with the Dead & Santana). [Have to love how the 1970 TV show was called "A Night at the Family Dog", as if the Dead & Airplane showed up there every night...]

    This makes me wonder if the "mutual friends" that Helms and the Airplane had who arranged these shows were, in fact, the Dead?

    The Dead played at the Family Dog almost every month from Aug '69 to April '70, so they seem to have had an attachment to the place... It also makes me suspect whether Graham actually required that the Dead couldn't advertise shows there, given how close the shows in Feb '70 were. (The 2/4/70 show was just the day before a Fillmore West run! Maybe TV-audience invite only?)
    As for April '70, those Family Dog shows were billed as Hartbeats/Bobby Ace shows, and their loss is much lamented.

  4. An additional query - your Family Dog showlist includes the Airplane's 7-7-69 the Fillmore West? What happened there? Perhaps you've written about it somewhere...

  5. "Presumably the 9-6-69 date must be correct since the Airplane released their show with the same date!"

    Is that Charly release really legitimate? I have this (JA 9/6/69) one and the Golden Gate Park (JA May 7, 1969) one, and they are basically the circulating sbd tapes. One of them, I can't remember which one, even has the mislabeled filler material from 4/15/70 included, complete with the speaker-shredding mix problems (though I think they are mildly attenuated on the Charly release).

  6. To answer a couple of questions: the Family Dog promoted some shows as fundraisers for The Wild West Festival, which included a July 7 69 show at Fillmore West headlined by Jefferson Airplane (and Quicksilver at FDGH on Tuesday July 8, with Dan Healy on rhythm guitar)

    The Feb 4 70 Family Dog show was a TV event, with an invited audience

    There were many ties between the Dead and the Family Dog, not least that in early 1970 (per McNally), Lenny Hart tried to move the Dead's operations from Novato to The Family Dog. However, Lenny's attempt to merge the Family Dog and the Dead was undermined by his unwillingness to let Chet Helms or anyone from the Dead's office see his accounts, and Chet pushed him back to Novato.

    I have no reason to believe any of the dates on any of the recently released Airplane cds.For this period of the Airplane, the best source I know is, in fact, me:

    As to the "mutual friends" of Chet, the Dead and the Airplane, who may have needed paying back, I have always assumed that their loaned cash was being hidden from the IRS, Daddy's Accountants or Law Enforcement (if not all of the above).

  7. Just to expand a little on the Wild West Festival. There were in fact two shows on July 7 - including the the one mentioned at the Fillmore West (which had been rented for the day) featuring the Jefferson Airplane, Ace of Cups, Phoenix and Fourth Way. Slipping through the net is a show that took place on the same day at the Great Highway featuring Joan Baez and It's A Beautiful Day. They were both fundraisers for the planned August 22, 1969 Wild West Festival at Kezar Stadium with Grateful Dead , Quicksilver Messenger Service , Youngbloods , Country Joe and the Fish , Jefferson Airplane , Santana , Miller Blues Band, Steve , Sons Of Champlin, Janis Joplin, Mike Bloomfield & Friends , Turk Murphy, Edwin Hawkins Singers and Fourth Way scheduled.

    As there is a well known and easily available poster for the event, there appears to be a common misconception that the event took place in August. The reality is that the event was cancelled because of funding.

  8. I should have made it clear that the Wild West Festival was not linked with Chet helms, but rather with a group (Wild West Musical Council) comprising Bill Graham, Ralph Gleason, Ron Polte and Tom Donahue.

  9. Thinking about the September 6 and 7 shows - and I have yet to be convinced that they exist at all – but a postulation.

    The Grateful Dead had been scheduled to play August 1-3 at the Family Dog with Ballet Afro-Haiti and Albert Collins. We know that the August 2 and August 3 shows took place, and that Garcia played the Bear’s Lair on August 1 as he was supporting the Light Artists Guild with their strike on August 1.

    When asked about the trouble he could be getting in to contractually by refusing to cross the picket line, Garcia told the Tribe “It doesn’t have anything to do with unions or picket lines. I know where the Guild is at and I know how much they need to do their thing. I would prefer to play but won’t cross their picket line.”

    So - a thought. The Grateful Dead failed to meet their obligation to play on August 1. Agreement is struck with Chet for them to fulfill the obligation at the first opportunity. This somehow arises on September 6 when there is nothing advertised or scheduled at the Family Dog. As there were always promises of music, poetry or other events happening on the Great Highway, there would always be a ready made audience.

    Maybe the Dead play a set or two. It seems unlikely to me that the Jefferson Airplane were there – and if they were, it seems more probable that it would be the Jorma, Jack and Joey subset. The September 7 R’n’R set is in my view misleading – the proverbial red herring (it also circulates (or used to) as the New Orleans Pop Festival).

  10. The Sept. 6th dating is also supported by the provenance of the tapes. These were tapes that came into general circulation not long after Dick Latvala passed away, and they were, I think, from his personal copies of GD vault tapes. Not that this is a guarantee of good dating, mind you, but these aren't some mystery tapes that emerged out of the ether, and by 1969 the GD vault tapes seem to be pretty systematically and pretty accurately labeled.

  11. I keep finding more reasons to believe that the Dead played the Family Dog on Sep 6, and fewer reasons to believe the Airplane did. Does anyone have any idea of how the Airplane tape was dated?

  12. The Airplane tape also came out of the GD vault when Dick died, along with a number of other high quality JA tapes such as 10/25/69, 10/26/69, 4/15/70, the September 70 shows, etc.

  13. From looking over existing Airplane tapes, I would now find it more believable if the so-called 9/6/69 Airplane tape was really Winterland 10/24/69.

    We know the Airplane and Dead actually played together on 10/24 show (unlike 9/6/69)

    There are Airplane tapes (presumably recorded by Bear) from the 10/25 and 10/26 (Sunday afternoon) show--why not 10/24?

    The Airplane closed the show on Friday 10/24, so its plausible that Garcia and Hart joined them for a sort of encore jam

    I can talk myself into a Hot Tuna type afternoon gig on 9/7/69, and a Dead show on 9/6/69, but I just can't convince myself of a Dead/Airplane show on 9/6.

  14. Thanks for that rock prosopography link, I clearly have more digging to do in that site!

    Given the jam with Garcia & Hart in the "9/6/69" show, it's almost certain to be a date where the Dead played as well.
    10/24/69 might be a good guess. Although the sbd of the Dead's show for that day hasn't surfaced...

    The "9/7/69" show was formerly attributed to 9/1 Baton Rouge...which was improbable. Nor is the "9/6" show likely to be from 9/1. Somehow I suspect that the 9/1/69 pop-festival conditions wouldn't allow for an 'extra' jam set between the Airplane & Dead, but you probably know more about that.

    The big question is the accuracy of tapedates....if that 9/6/69 Airplane show was taped by Bear & kept in the Dead's vault, isn't it unlikely to have a wrong date or be mixed up with the 10/24/69 show? I'd think the burden of proof would be on anyone disproving it.
    There's also the possibility that a careful check of the tapes might pin down the location more (by spoken comment or audience sound).

    Deadlists notes that the Vault has an 80-minute SBD of the 9-7-69 show, so we're also working with the problem of a very incomplete tape. Eaton's listing is quite specific and, I believe correct (though it doesn't mean that the full Airplane appeared that day).
    It's quite possible a simple email to Dave Lemieux at the Dead Vault would clear this up.

  15. There's an extended manuscript tradition with Grateful Dead tapes, starting with the Vault itself. There's no such tradition for Jefferson Airplane tapes. I can think of any number of explanations for a mis-dated Airplane tape, starting with taping over an already used tape and sticking it in the wrong box (been there, done that).

    There's no doubt that Bear was careful and organized when working with Grateful Dead material, but I don't think that has to apply to every piece of tape in a box. I'd love to hear what Lemieux has to say, but I'm not certain that it would give us a definitive answer.

  16. If you listen to the 9-6-69 Midnight Hour at the Taper's Section, at the end Garcia says, "Jefferson Airplane, coming up next."

    I should have thought to check that yesterday, rather than wandering into all this speculation! It seems like pretty definite proof to me for the Airplane's 9-6-69 show.

  17. I've got to agree with you that Jerry saying "Jefferson Airplane, coming up next" is pretty definitive. So much for wondering if the Airplane played.

    Nonetheless, the show remains an oddity--Two Fillmore West headliners playing a stealth show across town with no advertising. The Great Highway isn't convenient to Marin, and there was nothing nearby, so this wasn't a casual gig.

    I'm still wondering about September 7, too.

  18. Good find, LIA!

    Ahhh ... what days when this group of misfits could just kind of show up, sit in with each other, do some oddities, etc. If you look at Family Dog GD setlists from 1969, they were *always* pulling out the weird stuff there. Seems like an exceptionally loose environment. So the September 7th stuff has never surprised me that much -- it seems very much in keeping with the rest of the evidence.

  19. The Dead after all, flew all the way to Atlanta simply to play a free show! (as far as we know....) So there's not much surprise in them showing up on an 'empty' weekend at the Family Dog.
    From the tape it sounds like a decent-sized crowd - I presume there was some word-of-mouth at least, rather than a few stray onlookers wandering in to see who was there...

    Could the Airplane have played simply because the Dead asked them to, or because they felt like it?
    Was the 5-7-69 park show a similar situation?

    Just out of curiosity, was the Family Dog a seated venue? During Midnight Hour (a lousy version, by the way, with Garcia barely playing) Pigpen spends a great deal of time telling the audience to "Get up! Come on, stand up!"
    It's hard to imagine a Dead audience sitting placidly in front of the stage. So I wonder if this was just a bit of poetic license that Pigpen always took in Midnight Hour, regardless of what the audience was doing.

    Now I'm curious what else is on the Sep 7 tape...

  20. David Lemieux very kindly wrote to me and said that he would look into the source of the dates on the Airplane tape boxes. He also said that in general Bear's dating of tapes was extremely accurate, so if its his dating, its very trustworthy. Good to know.

    The Family Dog did not have seats on the main floor--I think there were a few around the edges. It was smaller than Fillmore West, and probably a comparable size to the original Fillmore. I have a picture somewhere, I'll see if I can find it and post it on the Archaeology Blog.

  21. Ah, I figured Pigpen was just doing his usual rap, it seems to be the same in many Midnight Hours. It's like in Lovelight - at every show he seems to find guys with their hands in their pockets - right, Pig, as if.

    If Lemieux could be persuaded to play more of that 9-7-69 show on the Taper's Section, that would be very illuminating.

    After '66, Bear's dating was indeed quite accurate. I have a hard time recalling any misdated Vault tapes from his time. (Missing tapes, though, is another matter, as late '68 seems to have mostly disappeared - a vexing question in itself!)

    On the subject of tapedates, though - the Seattle 1/22-23/68 shows... Part of the 1/23 show was released with that date, yet Deadlists notes that there's no evidence for Seattle shows on that tour until 1/26-27. Do you have more information?

  22. One more tidbit - checking out the Night at the Family Dog video, the area in front of the stage seems to have been kept mostly clear for the cameras, so it looks like a small audience that night. But there are definitely people sitting on the floor & the ends of the stage among the dancers...

  23. Just to answer one question. The Great Highway Building was not seated. It was an entirely open room with balconies behind and to the right of the stage. Some of the most popular events saw the room packed full on Monday nights (beginning September 15, 1969 for a couple of months) when Stephen Gaskin was presenting his visions for the future. Gaskin would soon move to The Farm in Tennessee with members of Mt Rushmore and many others. It is a story we only touched on in the Phoenix family tree.

    The good thing is that both film (as in the moving pictures) and still photographs survive of the Monday night events. I am on the road so to speak at present but will return to base for a couple of days later in the week and will try and find some examples.

  24. I had time to look up 660 and it seems that there were balconies on both sides as you look out from the stage. It was once called Topsy's Roost and a fair amount of information survives.

    1. This is all really old news but, for the record, pictures of the old Topsy's Roost operation will show balconies along both long walls, but in a "modernization" of the building sometime in the late '50s or early '60s the balcony along the West side of the building was framed and sheetrocked in.
      At the time the Family Dog operated the venue, that area housed the band room, "office space" devoted to the mail order business in reselling old Avalon posters, and some storage.
      How do I know? Because I worked there.

  25. This post motivated me to finally put something up on the GD Venue blog I created a couple years ago. I've written a history of the building that became the FDGH, complete with color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was...

  26. Corry, I am giving a close listen to 9/6/69 Airplane set. Did David Lemieux report anything back from his vault research?

    As this thread seems to have concluded nearly two years ago, I think the dating is pretty well airtight.

  27. Anything David has been kind enough to report has been included in threads. I think Sep 6 '69 is a sure thing. I'm not convinced yet about Sep 7. I have learned, however, that many FDGH shows featuring major bands were barely advertised at all, so it's not out of the question that the bands played on Sep 7 as well.

  28. I have to think that Yellow Shark is onto something with his idea of a makeup show. More generally, the unusual involvement of the Airplane with Helms here strikes me as having to do with the whole light guild strike and all that. I think there was a conscious effort to try to create an improbably awesome scene way out on the Great Highway. Having the GD and JA do word-of-mouth gigs would be one way to try to build such a thing, to be sure!

  29. Yes, I was there that night, working for the light show company that did the show. Both bands were there and traded sets, then both bands took to the stages at either end of the ballroom and jammed together until 2 a.m.

  30. As to film of the Family Dog Ballroom, I recall seeing an early '70s 'alternative spirituality documentary' called Sunseed, (, which has footage of Stephen Gaskin and Swami Satchidaanada at what I believe is the Holy Man Jam at FDGH. DOn't know where to find it these days.

  31. There was an effort to form a cooperative of bands,musicians,light show performers and other notables through group meetings at the Play land venue (FDGH). The schedule and design of shows was worked out by group discussion. Several events were promoted by this group,Holy Man Jam was one of them.


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