Tuesday, June 21, 2011

September 2, 1967 Cabrillo College Football Field, Aptos, CA: Grateful Dead/Canned Heat/others (Canceled?)

The poster for a rock festival at the football field at Cabrillo College, Aptos, CA on September 2-3, 1967

Both the Grateful Dead and the University of California at Santa Cruz were founded in 1965, after many years of planning, so UCSC made a suitable home for the band's archives. I have written at length elsewhere about the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia's various appearances in Santa Cruz County between 1967 and 1987. The nearest that the Grateful Dead themselves got to the campus, however, as a performing entity at least, appears to have been their very first performance in the County. According to a well-circulated poster the Dead headlined a rock festival at Cabrillo College, just a few miles from the UCSC campus, on September 2, 1967. Since the Grateful Dead played Rio Nido the next two days (September 3 and 4), and those dates are fairly well confirmed, everyone, and most especially me, has presumed that the Dead headlined the first day of the Cabrillo College "Magic Music" Festival, on Saturday September 2.

I have always romanticized this event, entranced by the idea of the Grateful Dead headlining an outdoor show at the tiny Cabrillo stadium. Sadly, however, I am now leaning towards the conclusion that the show never took place. I would be delighted to be wrong, but difficult as it is to prove a negative, I can find no evidence that the show actually occurred, and I find it difficult to fathom that such a seemingly remarkable event in the history of Santa Cruz County rock music in the 1960s would pass by thoroughly unremarked.

[Update 2: thanks to the invention of the Internet, another researcher has found a newspaper listing from the August 29, 1967 Santa Cruz sentinel that the event was canceled].
Commenter Steve Hathaway tells us
It was indeed cancelled. The Tuesday August 29, 1967 edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel has a short article headlined "No 'Rock' Festival At Cabrillo." Full article:
Contrary to information being circulated on handbills, the Magic Music Festival will NOT be held at Cabrillo College September 2 and 3. The performances of the rock and roll bands has not been authorized by the college, according to Cabrillo officials.
Hope that puts it to rest. BTW, I have one of the handbills and have posted images of it and the article at:http://www.45worlds.com/memorabilia/item/nc490994us 
What Is Known About The Event?
The "Magic Music Festival" is only known from a poster that appeared in Paul Grushkin's book The Art Of Rock. Since The Art Of Rock preceded the internet, posters published in that book were a principal source of original research for show lists, not least because the excellent reproductions allowed much of the fine print to be read. However, AOR (as it is known), was appropriately enough about the Art of rock posters, rather than as a sourcebook for archival research. As a result, many fine posters of canceled or re-scheduled shows were published there without comment, since the purpose of the book was not to document events. As a result, publication of a poster in that book indicates nothing about whether the event occurred.

The poster itself says
2 Days And Nights Of Magic and Music
Dancing On The Green
Lights By STP
Arts Crafts Lights Color Sound Displays
Sat Sun Sep 2-3 
3-12 PM
Cabrillo College Stadium
Tickets $2.50 At The Door
The bands listed are

Grateful Dead, Canned Heat, Leaves, Andrew Staples, Sons of Champlain (sic), New Delhi River Band, Second Coming, New Breed, Bfd. Blues Band, Gross Exaggeration, Yajahla tingle Guild, People, Jaguars, Art Collection, Morning Glory, Ben Frank's Electric Band, New Frontier, Chocolate Watch Band, Other Side, E types, Mourning Reign, Imperial Mange Remedy, Omens, Ragged Staff, talon Wedge, & Others.
The entire event sounds deeply logical. September 2 and 3, 1967 was the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. The Monterey Pop Festival had just happened an hour South of Santa Cruz a few months earlier, and the Cabrillo College Football Field was larger than any facility at the newly opened University of California at Santa Cruz (and may still be, as the UCSC Banana Slugs do not play football to my knowledge). There were three bands of the status to headline the Fillmore or Avalon, namely the Dead, Canned Heat and the Chocolate Watch Band, as well as a number of popular local hippie and hip rock groups.

It's worth noting, however, that all that is known about this event is that there was a poster published in the Art Of Rock. To my knowledge, every other reference to this show stems ultimately from this poster. Almost all the groups on the poster are the sort of hip band favored by collectors, archivists and 60s scholars like myself, and various websites, blog posts and articles in magazines like Cream Puff War or Ugly Things have covered these groups in some detail, as even the most casual google search will reveal. Yet I have been unable to find a single reference to this show actually happening--no band remembers opening for the Dead or Canned Heat at Cabrillo, nobody recalls a drug bust or LSD freakout or meeting their girlfriend at what would otherwise be a memorable event in Santa Cruz County. I realize it's impossible to prove a negative proposition, but am I supposed to believe that the first and still biggest rock event in Santa Cruz County happened at the end of the Summer Of Love and left nary a trace?

To give just one example, I looked again at the history of Talon Wedge, the last band mentioned on the poster. At the time, Talon Wedge was a Cream-styled heavy blues band in Santa Cruz. By 1969 they had evolved into a terrific band called Snail, who ruled Santa Cruz County bars and clubs for many years. Snail even released two underrated albums (Snail and Flow) in the late 1970s, and future Elvin Bishop and Jerry Garcia Band drummer Donnie Baldwin was a member of the band for a large part of that time. A great site called Garage Hangover has a great overview of Talon Wedge and early Snail, and includes a copy of the poster, but nothing is ever mentioned about the show. An absolutely amazing Comment thread recaps the entire history of Snail, with many of the members of the band and their friends weighing in with great, detailed memories. Yet among all 53 Comments, not a single one recalls an outdoor show opening for the Dead. If the show had been held, would none of the Santa Cruz teenagers remember it?

The Poster
A closer look at the poster suggests that it was a preliminary poster for a planned event, but the event itself was not close to occurring. Whether the poster was printed long in advance of the show, or whether the poster was just wishful thinking by an ambitious promoter remains unknown at this time. However, a number of things stick out about the poster. First of all, while the poster says "Cabrillo College Stadium," there is no map, no indicator of what city Cabrillo College was in and no directions of how to get there. It's one thing for a poster of a school dance to have no "directions" (the students know where the gym is), but this is a regional rock festival. Cabrillo is easy to get to, but shouldn't it say "Park Avenue exit off Highway 1, six miles South of Santa Cruz?" or something to that effect.

Also, the bands are listed in some kind of random order. Once a two-day event gets close to happening, prospective patrons want to know who will be playing what day. A poster that just listed the bands would have to have been a promotional item pushing an event some time off in the future. The band listing is why I think that the poster was published in mid-Summer, anticipating a Monterey Pop-like event that never actually happened. I have done considerable research on the 60s rock history of Santa Cruz County, with respect to The Barn in Scotts Valley, the New Delhi River Band and a variety of other tributaries. As a result, I have been in contact with a lot of people from that time, and not a one has mentioned this event, even when I specifically asked them about it, so I just can't buy that the event actually occurred.

Some Speculation
The Monterey Pop Festival took place on the weekend of June 16-18, 1967. Although the event did not really make economic sense, as all the bands played for free, a flurry of similar events were promoted up and down the West Coast over the next 18 months. I have to think some enterprising promoter thought that the Santa Cruz area would make a good candidate, given a resort area on Labor Day weekend. Cabrillo College would not have been in session until after Labor Day, so some College functionary may have given a provisional OK to use the football field.

Cabrillo College was a junior college that had opened in Aptos in 1959. It was the first institution of Higher Education in Santa Cruz County. It was a lively, interesting place, and had a well regarded Music Festival, featuring 20th Century composers, that started in the early 1960s. The campus itself is in a beautiful setting that most resorts would envy. It was a forward looking place and would not have been inherently hostile to a rock show presented on its campus.

However, Santa Cruz County was considerably smaller and less populated than it was today, and the "hippie" population was still tiny and not well liked (as opposed to now, where the opposite is the case). No rock concert (of the paying variety) had ever been held on the Cabrillo campus, to my knowledge. I can't imagine that the college would have tolerated a giant, Monterey Pop event on the sleepy little campus. The local roads and parking lots would have been completely overwhelmed. If the two-day festival was ever a serious proposition, I think it got shot down long before it came anywhere near fruition. All that remained was a poster of what might have been.

The Carl Connelly Stadium at Cabrillo College, June 2011
Having come to the mournful conclusion that the Cabrillo show never took place, I decided to look at the facility as it stands today. The venue is now called The Carl Connelly Stadium. While I'm sure that the stadium did not have artificial turf as it does today, the location of the stadium on the site (see photo above) indicates that it could not have been bigger or significantly different that it is today. As is typical of Junior College athletic fields, there are almost no bleachers. There were almost certainly fewer buildings in those days, so there may have been considerably more room to allow people to dance and watch the show, but it is not a large site. I have to think that after the size of Monterey Pop became known, any willingness on the school's part to host such an event evaporated. More's the pity.

Please Prove Me Wrong!
I normally write blog posts with the intention of being right, but I'd much rather be wrong in this case. I would love it if after I posted this, some close personal friend of the Yajahla Tingle or someone would chime in with memories of the event, whether or not the Grateful Dead played. It would still be the first outdoor rock concert of any size in Santa Cruz County, and almost all the bands have their share of fans. So here's to hoping against all the evidence that maybe there was an outdoor concert overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, September 2, 1967, even if all the evidence points in the other direction.

Updates: I May Actually Be Wrong--Hooray!
Ross weighs in with a listing from the Berkeley Barb from that week. He is confident that the event occurred, and the listing hints that the event may have been a one day affair. It says "Dead, Staples, 2nd Coming, Morning Glory, Canned Heat, 8 more: Cabrillo College, Santa Cruz, 3pm-midnite, $2.50 benef LMN, SPAR, others, info Pat Sullivan, 1838 W. Bayshore Rd, Palo Alto."

I do not know what organizations "LMN" and "SPAR" represent, but all campus events would have had to benefit some outside organization (students could not use a college facility on a for-profit basis). Whomever Pat Sullivan may have been--hey, maybe he's a reader!--that is the first indication of a promotional entity behind the event. West Bayshore was a sleepy residential part of Palo Alto, so the address was probably just the promoter's house.

It's great to be wrong--now to look for some eyewitnesses...

Update 2: I spoke to soon. As quoted above, commenter Steve Hathaway found a notice in the Santa Cruz Sentinel  of August 29, 1967 that the show was canceled, because the college had not approved the two-day rock and roll performance. A Santa Cruz-area musician (Larry Hosford of the E-Types) told me that he had played dances on that field, but I suspect this event was far larger than the school was willing to countenance.