Wednesday, July 21, 2010

8201 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati, CA The Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati, CA 1969

(a photo of Friar Tuck's Pub at 8201 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati, CA, taken on July 12, 2010. The sign for The Inn Of The Beginning is visible at the top of the wall)

It is often a tricky enterprise attempting to photograph the sites of old venues. Addresses change, buildings are torn down or remodeled, roads and sight lines change, and what might be the site of an old venue may turn out to be misleading or mistaken. Not so with the Inn Of The Beginning in Cotati, California, where Jerry Garcia and The New Riders of The Purple Sage played at least four low-key shows in late 1969. Although the venue closed many years ago, the sign for the old club hangs proudly above the entrance, no doubt in the interest of aiding Rock Prosopographers everywhere.

The Inn Of The Beginning
Cotati was a sleepy, iconoclastic community that dated back to the 19th century, and a generally interesting place, for a rural area. As development expanded beyond Santa Rosa, the largest city in the County, Cotati was in danger of being annexed by Rohnert Park, a growing suburb of Santa Rosa. As a result, the town incorporated as a city in 1963 to control its own destiny.

As part of the dramatic expansion of state-funded education in California, Sonoma State College was founded in Santa Rosa in 1960 (taking the faculty, staff and facility of San Francisco State’s Santa Rosa Center, founded in 1956). However, by 1966 the entire Sonoma State campus had relocated to a new site in Rohnert Park. Calling the campus and the county “bucolic” does it a cruel injustice; year-round balmy weather and a beautiful setting made Sonoma State a desirable campus immediately. Eccentric Cotati, just next to Rohnert Park, immediately became the ‘college town’ associated with the Sonoma State campus.

The free-thinking history of Cotati made it a nice fit with the newly expanding Sonoma State campus. The Inn of The Beginning was founded in 1968 as a coffee shop and bar that provided both a  watering hole and a venue for local groups. The opening night band on September 28, 1968 was Bronze Hog, featuring guitarist Frank Hayhurst. Hayhurst, at one point, became co-operator of the Inn, and now owns a music store in Cotati.  The Bronze Hog played The Inn Of The Beginning in all its incarnations for decades, and the band still plays around the city periodically, and that sums up Cotati in a nutshell (for more on Cotati in the 1960s, see here).

Cotati’s friendly atmosphere and convenient location of The Inn made it an attractive place for the many world-class musicians who lived in Marin to use the Inn of The Beginning as a venue to work on new material or try out a new lineup. Over the decades, the likes of Van Morrison and Jerry Garcia played there many times, often with very little publicity. Ironically, this has led to an expansion of the legend beyond its actual width; the New Riders of The Purple Sage played there in 1969, but this has led to the unsustainable story that the Grateful Dead used to play there “every Tuesday.” Janis Joplin is reputed to have joined Big Brother there one night in 1970, and it is impossible to say whether she did for certain.

In 1969, however, after many major San Francisco rock luminaries had moved to Marin County, a show at the tiny Inn Of The Beginning in Cotati was an easy drive from both San Francisco and Marin. Thus the venue was an extra booking for working bands, and a chance for higher profile bands to play for a friendly audience without a lot of pressure. Jerry Garcia and his new band The New Riders of the Purple Sage took advantage of the Inn Of The Beginning to play 4 (or possibly 5) shows there:

September 18, 1969
A tape circulates from this Thursday night performance. It is unique in that Garcia shares the vocals with John Dawson, and he does not just la-la along on the background vocals. Since we have no other tapes until 1970, its impossible to say how typical this was(all clips are from Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle columns).

October 9, 1969
The New Riders played another Thursday night.

November 6, 1969
Yet another Thursday night. During this period, acts that played San Francisco clubs (like Elvin Bishop or Dan Hicks) mostly played weekends, so I presume local groups played on other nights. It seems that these discreet shows were effectively "extra" nights for the Inn Of The Beginning, when San Francisco club headliners weren't usually playing.

November 28/29, 1969
Ralph Gleason's column implies that the New Riders and Joy Of Cooking (from Berkeley) would play on Friday and Saturday November 28 and 29. His phrasing suggests that both bands would play both nights, but I actually think the New Riders played Friday and Joy Of Cooking played Saturday.

The New Riders were booked to play a show at The Inn Of The Beginning on March 12, 1970, another Thursday. After an exhaustive discussion on this blog, we decided that it was extremely unlikely that the group actually played the show.

(a photo of The Inn Of The Beginning and the attached bar "Spancky's", at 8201 Old Redwood Highway, taken on July 12, 2010)

The Inn Of The Beginning may have had a slightly different configuration in 1969 than it does now. There is a bar "Spancky's" at one end, and a small leather repair shop at the opposite end, all at the same address of 8201 Old Redwood Highway. I suspect that the 60s era club extended throughout the whole building, but as you can see it is not a large place. Thus I find it unsupportable that the Grateful Dead proper ever played there, charming as the idea might be. I would find it plausible, however, that the "acoustic" Grateful Dead played a show there in 1970, as it would be a good place to try out new equipment or material. If such a show took place, it was probably on a weeknight around either April or July 1970, and there was probably no publicity.

The Inn Of The Beginning lasted through the mid-70s in its original incarnation. It re-opened in the early 80s under the name The Cotati Cabaret At The Inn Of The Beginning, when it merged with an establishment across the street. The Inn remained a venue at least into the 1990s, but I'm not certain when it turned into an Irish Pub. Cotati and Sonoma remains as beautiful as ever, although the wine business has made the price of property formidable indeed, in return for which it has made the County a destination for food and drink of all types.


  1. I have a vague memory of attending Cal State College Sonoma (a.k.a "Chicken Shit Squared" for its acronym "CSCS") from 1971 to 1974. Apparently it's since been retitled as a state university. I guess my degree is more valuable now.

    I remember also seeing Old and in the Way with Jerry Garcia, Peter Rowan and Vassar Clements at the Inn of the Beginning. Can you verify that, or is my memory as clear as it is of school?

    1. My husband Paul Gold and I were at CSS at that time, although I attended Hutchins College. I wish he was still alive as I cannot remember who all played there, but I know that we saw at least 30 different major &/or up and coming groups there. Added to that were the impromptu concerts in the redwoods. Someone would tell someone else, and the grapevine chain would spread the word. Did you go to any of those too?

  2. Old And In The Way definitely played Inn Of The Beginning on July 18, 1973, which was a Tuesday night. If you saw them in the school year rather than the Summer, I wouldn't rule out another date. Cotati was an easy drive from Marin, after all.

    OAITW had an outdoor show at Sonoma State on Sunday, October 7, 1973,which was canceled due to bad weather. It was later rescheduled for the Gym on November 4. Any chance they played a stealth gig at The Inn on Oct 7, since they may have been in town anyway?

  3. Hmmm. With a memory as patchy as mine, I could be convinced that I attended a stealth gig. I like the one-off quality of that. Or, I could have driven up from Berkeley, where I lived during the summer.

    Either way, thanks!

  4. I was in the USCG in Petaluma and saw Canned Heat and Jesse Collin Young there in '78. I kinda stumbled onto it by getting off the bus heading for Santa Rosa to party. I made the right stops.

  5. I saw Jesse Collin Young at Sonoma State around 1977.

    The Cabaret the much larger building. hosted Jerry Garcia

    Kate Wolf around that time singing Red-tailed Hawk with scenery of Sonoma Mountain was the perfect match. I ran for city council of Cotati and lost by 21 votes. Yes, more than 22 people voted.

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  7. I saw the Kieth and Donna Band play there in 1975 with Bill Kreutzmann on Drums and Jerry Garcia on Guitar. I remember it because i was sitting in the way back watching the opening act when some guy sat down next to me who much to my surprise was Jerry. I just so happened to be learning how toplay guitar at the time and Jerry gave me some great pointers. I asked him if they were ever going to come out with a songbook for Europe 72 and he told me to forget about learning from songbooks, that I should learn the chords by ear. And that is so true, you gotta train your ear.

    1. Fascinating, thank you. It makes total sense that Keith And Donna would play IOTB, and that Jerry would just drop in. Bill didn't join the band until June, so maybe it was kind of a warmup gig. If Sonoma State was out of session, it wouldn't have had a very high profile.

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  9. Actually the Inn of the Beginning merged with the Cotati Cabaret which was originally the Women's Club and is now a Jewish Synagogue. I played a gig there right before it became the Cotati Cabaret.

  10. Hi everyone. My name is Laurence Morgan Chambers and I played guitar in Starfire Express at the Inn from 1974 to 1976. Those were some memorable days to say the least. Looking back, the 70's were so much better than what we have today.

  11. I saw lightning Hopkins and Queen Ida in 77 i think
    Also Bronze Hog. 5 Bucks to get in

  12. I attended Sonoma State, aka Granola Tech, from 74 to 78 and spent many a night dancing at The Inn. We often saw The Impostors play there, the Greg Kihn Band and many others I can't recall off the top of my head. It was a fun place!

  13. Stopped by for a quick beer early afternoon and Jimi Hendrix and band came in to practice for a show in SF later that night. They closed the doors and four of us were given the treat of a lifetime- OMG only in the 70’s !!

    1. John, this is completely fascinating. Dates within the timeframe would have been:
      October 10-12, 1968 Winterland
      April 27, 1969 Oakland Coliseum
      May 30, 1970 Berkeley Community Theater
      Any thoughts on which it might have been?

    2. I think this comment is spurious...however, if such an event did happen, it would have been before the Oct '68 shows at Winterland. The Experience had only played one show in the previous few weeks, and were about to record their Winterland shows for live-album consideration, so a little practice would make sense. (Though personally I think the Winterland soundcheck was the practice.)
      In April '69, Hendrix was in the midst of a tour, and had played in LA the day before Oakland; the band probably didn't do any rehearsals at that point.
      In May '70, Hendrix had cancelled a few shows the week before, and the Berkeley shows were being filmed, so again a little practice would make sense; but in this case we know the band rehearsed at the Berkeley theater that afternoon.