Sunday, April 11, 2010

Family Dog At The Great Highway, August 13, 1969 New Lost City Ramblers/New Riders Of The Purple Sage

In my previous post, I speculated about what may have occurred at The Family Dog on Thursday, August 28, 1969. The show is only known from Bear's handwritten label on the tape, which says "Hartbeats-Family Dog 8/28/69." I have never found any evidence of an advertised show or an eyewitness, which begged the question of how Howard Wales ended up there, as well as the identity of the mystery flute player.

However, Ross has done some critical research in contemporary Berkeley papers, and his Comments were so revealing, I am posting them in their entirety. To summarize, however, we have some good evidence about a number of events:
  • A hitherto unknown performance by the New Riders of the Purple Sage on Wednesday, August 13, 1969 at the Family Dog On The Great Highway, billed as part of a "Hoe Down" with the New Lost City Ramblers
  • A firm identification of Jerry Garcia at a meeting of the Family Dog on Tuesday, August 19, which would explain Dennis McNally listing the date, even if it is unlikely that Garcia played, and
  • The likelihood that the Family Dog was being used by musicians for public jam sessions during the day, which sheds an entirely different light on August 28, 1969
Here are Ross's comments:

Part 1: My comment is going to be a mixture of fact and speculation. I have not checked with Jerry Garcia’s Middle Finger but have looked at the Jerry Site regarding various dates in August 1969 and this post – and the associated scanned evidence which will have been mailed by the time you read this – will resolve or speculate to resolve:

(a) Propose an alternate solution for the August 28, 1969 tape – based upon something confirmed shouted by Jerry Garcia on August 19, 1969 – seemingly confirming that the Grateful Dead returned to San Francisco right after Woodstock.
(b) Provide a rationale for the removal, or at least annotation of, the tentative Tuesday, August 19, 1969 date from the Jerry Site.
(c) The erroneous use of the word “Tuesday” in the Berkeley Tribe.
(d) A new date for the New Riders of The Purple Sage, with “Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, and starring the fair-haired John Dawson on vocal and acoustical (sic) guitar”.

Part 2: The story starts around 6:00 am UK time this morning. With a cup of tea in hand I set about reading the overnight postings from Corry and found this article speculating on the August 28, 1969 Hartbeats tape. As ever, the conjecture was well founded. After hunting through the relevant copies of the Berkeley Barb, San Francisco Good Times and the Berkeley Tribe to no avail, I stumbled in to an article I must have only read recently and somehow not taken in. It sat immediately below a piece on the Wild West Festival which I recalled scanning only a few weeks ago. I am unable to post the article as part of a comment, but will e-mail it to both Corry and Joe this morning. So for now I shall quote from the article.

The piece appears on pp5 and pp24 of the August 22-29, 1969 Berkeley Tribe – anything contained in parenthesis within quotations has been added by me.

Our story begins: “It was Tuesday afternoon (August 19, 1969 – a known date of the meeting of the Common) at the Family Dog.” Just to be clear to some readers who may not be totally au fait with the location, the Family Dog had relocated from the Avalon Ballroom to the Family Dog at the Beach on the Great Highway by this time.

So attempting to address the four issues noted above in order:

(a) The second paragraph is what prompted me to write this, and I quote: “Nights? Nights?” Jerry Garcia was shouting, “what about during the day? We got musicians running around looking for a place to jam – why not here?”. The article then goes on to discuss various matters including the previous week’s hoe down, the following week’s light show and tape experience and generally encourage folk to come together to rejuvenate what was clearly a waning scene. So how about this: What if Chet did take Jerry’s advice and opened up the Great Highway for musicians to jam during the days? What if this tape is from August 28, 1969 and was recorded in the afternoon – when Andy Kulberg, or any one else for that matter, would likely have no binding commitments? Reading this article has raised an issue that I had never considered before – that maybe there were daytime jams with a “hanging out” style audience at the Family Dog. This would suit the itinerant musician Garcia. We know that the venue was used for meetings during the days – and meetings of the Common were reasonably well recorded.
(b) I am going to take a flyer that the tentative date on the Jerry Site was originally sourced from someone reading this article, figuring out that Jerry was there during the day – reading a review of the NRPS appearance with the erroneous “Tuesday” and mistakenly assuming a NRPS show on the same date. As I will explain below, the “Tuesday” should have been a “Wednesday” and on the basis I would either annotate or remove the reference to a NRPS show on this date. However, I could imagine future prosopographers speculating that we now have evidence of Jerry returning to San Francisco immediately after Woodstock, and of Jerry being at the Common meeting in the same building earlier in the day, then it would not be unreasonable to assume that he took to the stage, guitar in hand, later that evening. There is nothing to substantiate that – but I would guess it could be speculated that it happened that way.

Part 3:
(c) About a quarter of the way in to the article discussion begins “Last Tuesday (August 12, 1969) night, the Common put on a good ol’ hoedown. The dance hall was transformed in to a psychedelic barn with bales of hay, charcoal-roasted corn at ten cents a hit, and the New Lost City Ramblers (who were scheduled to play the Family Dog on August 15 and 16 with Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites, Southern Comfort, Devil's Kitchen and Taj Mahal). Now the hoedown and square dance is a well documented event with a handbill circulating. I don’t have a copy to scan but it does appear in Eric King’s book as FD-690813 – and the date can be clearly seen as August 13. This is key to fixing the date. The hoedown had been advertised in the press and on a handbill as August 13, which was a Wednesday rather than a Tuesday. As such I consider the use, by Art Johnson of the Berkeley Tribe, of the word “Tuesday” in relation to the hoedown and square dance was erroneous – and probably led to an incorrect entry being made in to the database at the Jerry Site.
(d) So hopefully I have now established the date of the hoedown, square dance, hayride and apple bob put on by the Common as Wednesday August 13, 1969. So to continue. The article then has a lengthy paragraph discussing a barter system that folks with no money could use for entry. This is then followed by the following eye watering paragraph: “At the square dance Tuesday (should be Wednesday as shown above) a new San Francisco band made its debut (not quite a debut but certainly an early show). The New Riders of the Old Purple Sage, with Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, and starring the fair-haired John Dawson on vocal and acoustical (sic) guitar. The sound was as smooth as the Dead is, yet it had this sweet country pulse and tune that made you swoon.” Too good to be true. Again I think reasonable justification for the erroneous Jerry Site date. I did for a lingering moment think that the Tuesday referred to in the above quotation could have been August 19, but the following paragraph discusses the previous week’s event, a sock hop put on by Fuzzy Dice Productions. That was held on Thursday August 7 – and again it is well documented.

Although it is still pretty early on a Sunday morning, I am reasonably comfortable with these ramblings. Ross.

Ross insights lead me to a few interesting follow up points.
  • The August 13, 1969 "Hoe Down" show is known from an existing flyer, but no acts were listed. Mike Seeger and The New Lost City Ramblers were playing the weekend show at the Family Dog, so its plausible that they were in town early. In 1992, Jerry Garcia and David Grisman released their cd Not For Kids Only, an album modeled directly on the work of Mike Seeger and The New Lost City Ramblers. Its interesting to see that Garcia actually shared a bill with him. 
  • As Ross points out, we know that Jerry Garcia was at a meeting at the Family Dog on August 19, but we don't know if he--or anyone--played. Probably not, but we know he was there...
  • If the Thursday, August 28 show was a musicians jam session held during the day, all sorts of mysteries become clearer. The show was never advertised because it wasn't really a show, beyond the fact that a few casual fans wandered by. If it were an afternoon show, working musicians like Howard Wales or Andy Kulberg (if he was indeed the flautist) would have no interference from their nighttime gigs.
  • The mysterious September 7 jam tape (rock and roll oldies with the Hartbeats, Jack, Jorma and Joey Covington) might be more likely to be in the afternoon than in the evening.
  • I have always dismissed the Thursday, September 11, 1969 date at the Family Dog as an illusion: it was a Thursday, it wasn't advertised, and it made no sense. I'm changing my tune. While the tape itself is a bit of mystery--a nicely recorded audience tape of a single tune, "Easy Wind," with an earlier, simpler arrangement and a guest slide guitarist--the date suddenly makes lots of sense. If it was a Thursday afternoon jam session, some Dead members were there and played some music. It was never advertised, because it wasn't a show, and it was more of a "Hartbeats" event (if you will) than a Dead show. I'd still like to know what happened to the rest of the tape, but it may not be a Grateful Dead tape at all.
  • Incidentally, if my supposition about September 11, 1969 is correct, the guest slide guitarist could be anyone in the Bay Area. I have always dismissed the idea that it was Jorma Kaukonen, as he didn't play slide much at the time (or ever, really). Since everyone is eligible as a possible guest, I'm going to nominate one Robbie Stokes. Stokes was the lead guitarist for a band called Devil's Kitchen, who had relocated to the Bay Area from Carbondale, IL and had become the house band at the Family Dog. Since their equipment was permanently set up there, they jammed regularly with visitors. Stokes, an excellent slide guitarist, went on to move to Marin County, and played on Mickey Hart's Rolling Thunder and Robert Hunter's Tales of The Great Rum Runners.


  1. Just to be clear ...

    You propose that TJS list the NRPS 8/13/69 hoedown with NLCR.

    You propose that we heavily caveat, if not delete entirely, the 8/19/69 listing. I prefer the heavy caveats, just to keep it in the record.

    BTW, I agree totally that this sheds a whole new light on 8/28/69, 9/7/69, etc.

    It is also exciting to see this direct connection with the NLCR. If you listen to their arrangements on songs that both did, it's clear that Garcia/Grisman were working right off the NLCR songbook that Mike Seeger published at a few points.

  2. I hope the trip back was good. As for August 19, I am proposing annotating it along the lines of:

    Source: pp5 and pp24 of the August 22-29, 1969 Berkeley Tribe
    Jerry Garcia attended and spoke at a meeting of the "Common" - folk with a common aim - on the afternoon of August 19, 1969 at the Family Dog at the Beach. There is no evidence to confirm that he played that day, but it appears that he did play with the NRPS at a hoedown featuring the New Lost City Ramblers on August 13.

    If I did not e-mail the article, let me know and I will get right on it. Ross

  3. I agree with Ross's annotation. We know Jerry was there, so that's a long way from saying he didn't play.

    It is a nice touch that Garcia got to play on the same bill as NLCR. A prelude, in a way, of his time in Old And In The Way where he got to play some bluegrass festivals with other groups.

  4. Guys, can I get a ruling on the name of the venue? The post title says "At" (The Great Highway), which is what the Jerry Site has used. Ross's comment uses "On" instead of "At". COAU uses "at 660 The Great Highway".

    I understand this would probably be projecting precision backward that didn't exist at the time, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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  7. It should really be Family Dog on the Great Highway - occasionally it is listed as "at 660 Great Highway" or "at the Beach". I am not good myself as applying this rule.


    Chet Helms: "I have applied for and received a dance permit to open at 660 Great Highway ... and I shall call it 'Family Dog On The Great Highway'."

    I am inclined to change The Jerry Site and other listings to this precise name, and to try to be consistent, based on this pretty definitive statement. Thoughts?

  9. I agree that if we can achieve consistency it would be a great benefit. I will search and change all of my listings to match.

  10. I know I went to the 8/29 and 8/30 shows at Playland. 8/28 is questionable. In spite of what Chet wanted to call it, the site had been Playland long before he brought the Family Dog to it and was Playland after he left. To my knowledge the Playland name stuck even while the Dog was is residence. The venue for those shows was not a theater in the round but rather two low rise stages at either end of the rather small hall. One band played while the other band set up. When one band would finish, we all would turned around and walk over to the other stage. By low rise, I mean those stages couldn't have been more than two feet off the floor. None of the nights were particularly well attended. My ticket number for the 29th which I bought at the door was 234. (I have no idea why I remember that but I do.) It was a great venue and having the ocean on the other side of PCH was plus. A nice place to kick back after the shows. The break wall at the beach, by the way, was the site of some of the early photos of the band

  11. To correct my error:
    "When one band would finish, we all would turn around..."

    That's what I get for redrafting in midstream.

  12. Paul, very interesting to hear about the double stages. It explains how the FDGH could book quite a number of bands and still manage to get through all of them in an evening.

    Do you recall if unannounced shows were regular? Did people sometimes find out about a show as it happened, with no flyers and no advertising? It does seem like that must have happened more than once.

  13. I found out about these shows from a small flyer (ca. 4x6 inches) stapled to a utility pole. Word of mouth was of course a vehicle but I couldn't tell you if any events were intentionally publicized solely that way.

  14. I played banjo on a few tunes on the August 13 gig. Garcia, Nelson, and I held the NLCR in high esteem. I remember Garcia's excitement leading up to the gig. After both bands played, we played some tunes together.

  15. Amazing. Particularly since the NCLR kind of took a break after about 1969, and did not play much for a while (although they never actually broke up). Its great to see the old and the new meet, just as Mike Seeger met and played with a prior generation of traditional musicians.

    You don't recall what songs the bands played together, do you?

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  17. How's this for interesting? In an interview conducted on 8/20 or 8/21/69 in Seattle and published in the Helix v5 n4, Garcia mentions talking to John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers. The discussion is about musicians getting ripped off, and from the context Garcia makes it sound like the conversation just happened.

  18. Paul, you mentioned 8/29 and 8/30/69 ... can you tell me more about those nights (who played, etc.)? Thanks!

    Yellow Shark, this Tribe article (1) is really quite fantastic. Perhaps this is well known, but it really seems like the aim was to reproduce the Haight-Ashbury of 1966 in the Sunset of 1969. Too bad it doesn't seem to have materialized.

    A propos of nothing, I am guessing that the Sunset is quite foggy.

    (1) Johnson, Art. 1969. Uncommon Common. Berkeley Tribe, August 22-29, 1969, pp. 5, 24.

  19. Oh yeah, another comment relating to the Art Johnson article. I hate to muddy the waters, but I have some misgivings about relying on the handbills/posters to pin the date, rather than Johnson's article. Yellow Shark, somewhere or another we have discussed methodology, but wouldn't you agree that a contemporary report (granted, probably written a week later) should be preferred to handbills and such for this purpose? We have no idea if the posters were printed a week in advance or whatever.

    Here are two points from my current read, which lends less certainty to things than your read.

    First, the opening line "It was Tuesday afternoon at the Family Dog" says nothing about the date. In fact, it seems deliberately open-ended to me. This could have occurred any time between May and August, or so. It doesn't very much sound like Johnson is describing a meeting from two days ago (8/19) on today's deadline (8/21) for tomorrow's paper (8/22), to me. In brief, I am not so sure we should pin this episode to 8/19 (all while recognizing that there may well have been a meeting of The Common on that day, too).

    Second, I am not as sure about 8/19 being wrong for the description of the NLCR/NRPS "hoe down". Johnson is probably writing on Thursday, 8/21 for the Friday, 8/22 publication. (Corry, if that's wrong, tell me ... don't you think most of this stuff was finalized the day before it went to press)? He first says that there was a hoedown "last Tuesday night". I find this formulation falling into an ambiguity in (at least American) English, whereby we sometimes mean "the last one that passed" (i.e., here, 8/19) or, of we are within a few days of the most recently-passed Tuesday, we can mean the one before that (i.e., 8/12). In his second mention of the event, he just says "At the square dance Tuesday, etc. etc.", which to me sounds more like 8/19. If it were the 12th he would at least have said "last Tuesday".

    After all that pedantry, let me make a simpler point. If NLCR was at the Dog 8/15/-17 weekend, isn't it just as likely that they stayed over a few days (until Tuesday 8/19) as that they arrived a few days early (Wednesday, 8/13)?

    All in all, I want to revisit the question of 8/13 and argue in favor of 8/19, based on the logic above and based on the superiority of a contemporary ex post account over an ex ante advertisement.

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    2. Some more notes about the chronology here:

      Basically, 8/19 is a possibility for the square dance (since one reliable Ramblers biographer places it after their Family Dog weekend), but the available handbill for Aug 13 was printed the SAME DAY. No question about the date...unless the square dance was so successful the Family Dog decided to have another one the following week!
      I don't discount this as a possibility. The 8/21 Good Times said specifically that "last night (Wednesday) was a 'Square Dance Class' with the New Lost City Ramblers." From the context it seems to be Wed Aug 20, which means that either the Ramblers played square dances at the Family Dog two weeks in a row, or the newspaper dates are just vague and screwy - take your pick!

      The Ramblers did arrive early (reportedly checking out a Family Dog show on 8/14, so playing there on the 13th wouldn't be a stretch). It was the start of a 3-week tour for them; after a stint at the Ash Grove, they returned to the Bay area for shows at Freight & Salvage Aug 26-28 and the Inn of the Beginning, Aug 29.

  20. Just to cross-reference, the Family Dog had another hoe-down on November 18, 1969, this time a square dance with David LaFlamme playing with Garcia & the New Riders.
    Some comments on the Family Dog square-dance phenomenon here:

  21. Do you all think we should list all of the NRPS and all of the NLCR for the bit where the two bands played together? Open to recommendations for listing personnel at

    1. I don't think it's likely. NLCR were the "headliners," so I think Garcia and Nelson came and sat in with them. Dawson probably knew the tunes and sang a little bit. BUt Matthews and Hart would have known nothing about their music, nor had anything to add (electric bass and trap drums).

    2. Good point. Would you lean toward a "Jerry Garcia - Misc" classification, like a true ad hoc thing, or showing NLCR as the band, with JG and DN sitting in? I think your comment is clear enough, but I want to be sure the options are clear, too.

    3. True ad hoc--likely Jerry and Dave sitting in, but we can't know at this distant remove

  22. We reading something about the short lived Devil's Kitchen and thought it might be relevant to the discussion here:

    Wednesday, August 13, 1969: Family Dog On The Great Highway, Playland Amusement Park, 660 Great Highway, Ocean Beach, San Francisco, California
    Devil's Kitchen, or at least some of them, along with the New Lost City Ramblers and the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, played during an afternoon "hoe down" (square dance) show put on by the Common, a local community group formed by Chet Helms and other San Francisco's luminaries. "One of my memories was at Chet Helm's all-acoustic afternoon jam (no microphones or amps) at the Family Dog on the Great Highway," Bob Laughton recalls. "I was playing acoustic guitar and singing bluegrass with Jerry Garcia on 5-string banjo. The two of us were encircled by a chorus of a dozen rockers strumming away on their acoustics. I probably was the only one of the band [Devil's Kitchen] who played. Robbie [Stokes] may have strummed behind Jerry and me, but in our band I was the most familiar with singing and playing that style of music, from my earlier bluegrass days with the Dusty Road Boys. Later that day I backed up John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers on a solo set, it was very memorable day for me! Watching us in the audience were Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Rick Grech (Blind Faith was at the Oakland Coliseum the next day). Later I told Clapton that I liked to play 'really loud acoustics'."

  23. Maybe it circulates in bootlegger circles, but recording of the NLCR performance on August 16 1969 at the Family Dog on the Great Highway exists in the Mike Seeger Collection at UNC Chapel Hill's (amazing) Southern Folklife Collection. Only available for listening on site however.

    1. Thank you, Anon!

      Paging Corry Arnold. Corry Arnold to the white courtesy telephone, please.

    2. I saw the listing in the UNC Library link. Of course, now the blog has to identify someone who lives in Chapel Hill and has no other obligations and can just visit during library hours (naturally it would help if said person knew someone with university affiliations).

    3. Anonymous here. Sorry I forgot to include my name on the comment, but did want to say that the archivists at the SFC are great and you can reach out to them about this research. Usually, they are really receptive. Michael

    4. For those not in Chapel Hill, the New Lost City Ramblers' Aug '69 shows at the Family Dog are narrated in Ray Allen's book "Gone to the Country: the New Lost City Ramblers & the Folk Music Revival" (p.192-194). The author listened to the tape and describes their set.
      Aug 16 was one of their regular shows without guests, by the way; the Dead were up in Woodstock. Apparently no tape survives of the notorious hoedown.
      One song from this show was released on a NLCR compilation, 'Wildwood Weed.' Sounds like they went over well with the Family Dog crowd!