Tuesday, February 9, 2010

New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Peninsula School, 920 Peninsula Way, Menlo Park, CA April 28, 1970

David Nelson and Jerry Garcia play at Peninsula School in Menlo Park on April 28, 1970. 
Photo by Michael Parrish

I have written recently about the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia's unexplored relationship to Menlo Park. In particular, New Riders of The Purple Sage songwriter John Dawson had graduated 8th grade from a progressive (and still thriving) establishment called Peninsula School, founded in 1925, and still located at 920 Peninsula Way, and as a result the New Riders played the school 3 times. Palo Alto resident Michael Parrish attended the second of these shows, on Tuesday April  28, 1970. He was kind of enough to send along a photo for my previous post, and he has been even more gracious to send some additional photos. 

In April 1970, the New Riders of The Purple Sage had existed in some form or other since May of 1969, but had been confined to occasional Bay Area club performances when the Grateful Dead were not performing. The sole exception to that had been a few shows in the Pacific Northwest in August of 1969, where the Dead seemed to have tested the concept of bringing their opening act with them. In May of 1970 the Grateful Dead set off on a famous tour of Eastern Colleges, and the New Riders would open most Dead shows for the next 18 months. 

Update: we have now determined that the show was Tuesday, May 19, 1970, thanks to a note in the Stanford Daily newspaper. I have left the language here intact, however, as save for the date it is generally correct.

Mickey Hart and David Torbert play at Peninsula School in Menlo Park on April 28, 1970. 
Photo by Michael Parrish

By the time of the National debut of the New Riders, while Dead drummer Mickey Hart remained on drums, Dead bassist Phil Lesh had been permanently replaced by Dave Torbert. Torbert had played with Nelson in the New Delhi River Band from 1966 to 68. Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and soundman Bob Matthews had rehearsed with the Riders in the meantime, but were apparently never considered as regular members.

The New Riders played the Peninsula School afternoon show on Tuesday, April 28 and then played The Matrix in San Francisco two nights later (April 30). The Dead/NRPS tour began in Alfred, New York on May 1. I am assuming that the Riders played this casual gig--apparently some sort of benefit, according to Parrish, but I can't read the sign behind them--as a sort of dress rehearsal for their upcoming tour.
Mickey Hart and John "Marmakuke" Dawson play at Peninsula School in Menlo Park on April 28, 1970. Photo by Michael Parrish

I used this photo in my previous post. However, viewed as a set, these three photos illustrate what a casual, fun gig the New Riders were for Jerry Garcia. Although the Grateful Dead were in dire financial straits in Spring 1970 (as they usually were), they were still legitimate rock stars. They had a huge, Owsley-designed sound system (even if Bear's travel with the band was restricted), a substantial road crew, and every show had the usual assortment of hangers-on, wannabes and would-be groupies. Yet while I am no expert on equipment, it looks to me to be a pretty casual setup. Mickey Hart seems to have no drum mikes whatsoever, and it appears there is nothing for amplification except the guitarist's amps. The Riders seem to have a "classic rock" set-up: Fender pedal steel and amps for Garcia, Fender Telecaster and Marshall for Nelson, and some sort of Fender bass for Torbert and an unidentifiable (to me--Blair J, are you out there?) bass cabinet. Presumably John Dawson's (miked) acoustic guitar and vocal mic are run through one of the speakers. Note also that we can see no other mikes for the harmonies, and Nelson and Torbert probably just stepped up to Dawson's mike like they were in a bluegrass band.

A sunny Tuesday afternoon in April, the Dead ready to leave on a National tour two days later. John Dawson agrees to a gig at his old school, and the band shows up with their rehearsal equipment. A few awed teenagers are around (one taking the photos, another visibile stage left behind Garcia), but otherwise just another nice Spring day in California, long ago. 


  1. Guys, 4/29 was a Wednesday.

    Here are the Tuesdays between the April and June Fillmore West GD runs, and how they look for a possible date for this gig:

    4/14: MP, was this too close to the GD April run, according to your recollection?
    4/21: very possible. I show Garcia & Wales at Matrix the night before, and nothing until Mammoth Gardens, Denver 4/24 GD show.
    4/28. Possible--nothing in the way. Makes most sense according to the "warmup for the tour" hypothesis.
    5/19: possible. Garcia and Wales were at the Matrix the night before (I believe this is the "Side Trips" show, BTW), GD are at Pepperland on 5/21, so JG was probably in town.
    5/26: possible.
    6/2 possible

    Now, I like having a date to file as much as the next guy, but what is the basis on which we are dating this as late April?

  2. Ha ha, I guess I need to do a better job of looking at my calendar. I will defer to Michael of course, but I'm liking the April 28 date.

    For now, I'm changing the date to April 28, so the post isn't incoherent.

  3. Their lack of equipment may have been for the benefit of the space--I attended Peninsula for 11 years and I think that's the old stage in the Big Field. Think of a dirt and dry-grass field about half the size of a football field, surrounded by old oaks, and ringed by the old carriage drive. I've performed there (there's a yearly rock concert by local artists and students the first Sunday in May) and the space is much better with limited amplification. Thanks for the photos!

  4. Thanks for the interesting perspective on the location of the stage (I attended Peninsula for four years, but I don't recall it with that kind of clarity). I'm sure you are correct about the space sounding better with more modest amplification. The interesting part to consider for me is whether the Riders knew that and brought less equipment as a result.

    The question for me becomes, how did they know that? A proto-NRPS had played Peninsula the year before, so perhaps they learned the sound space then.

  5. The next year they played on the porch of the school proper, which probably afforded both more electricity and more space. To my eyes, it looked like the band set up in an old handball court in 1970.

  6. I taught at PS later on (1985-1993). My best guess is that this is the handball court (as mentioned) on the "left" side of campus (if you're standing facing the Big Building). I have no idea how they'd have gotten power out there at all--short of lots of extension cords. The porch of the Big Building would be doable, although they clearly weren't playing on the porch on this day.

  7. Some evidence has turned up that suggests that this 1970 Peninsula show was between May 10 and May 14. The Dead had no gigs and the band members could have flown home. This is a plausible scenario.

    The Dead had shows in Kirkwood, MO (May 14), Fillmore East (May 15) and a Philadelphia stadium show (May 16). A final show in Fairfield, CT on May 17 had been canceled. I had long posited that the band's equipment was on the way home and met the band in Missouri, continuing on to CA. House systems were used for Fillmore East and Philly. The band would have flown home with their guitars, so an ad hoc NRPS gig would have been do-able.

  8. We have now determined for certain that the Peninsula show was on Tuesday May 19, per a note in the Stanford Daily. It was a benefit for the scholarship fund (Heather Garcia was a student there, apparently).


  9. Here's a direct link to the clipping of the article, a neat little feature of the Stanford Daily interface:

    "Campus Roundup," Stanford Daily, May 19, 1970, p. 3.