|A poster for an October 15, 1966 concert at the Sausalito Heliport on Bolinas St. Nothing is known of the concert, but the Dead ended up using the Heliport as a rehearsal hall for sevaral months in late '66-early '67.|
This little project has been more slippery than it appears. No one writes the history of rehearsal halls, and there are no posters, ads or reviews to provide context or confirmation. There are the occasional tapes, of course, but even they offer almost nothing about the space itself. With no audience to talk to, any between song chatter says nothing about location, so any identifying details remain invisible. Thus this list is mostly sparse, lacking in color, and probably both incomplete and inaccurate. Anyone with further details, corrections, insights or useful speculation is encouraged to add them in the Comments or email me (note: thanks to some amazing Commenters, this post has been substantially updated since its original publication).
|The back of what was Dana Morgan's music store on Ramona Street, as it appeared in 2009|
According to McNally, members of Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Champions started fooling around on electric instruments as early as the Summer of 1964. Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Pigpen all worked at Dana Morgan's music store on Ramona Street, and they would play instruments in the back room, facing the alley. Per McNally, one of Garcia's folkie banjo students was dismayed to see Garcia playing electric back there as early as December 1964. Once Kreutzmann came on board as drummer, and the store owner's son was added on bass, the Warlocks were born.
Various suburban houses, Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA
After a month of unsatisfactory performances by bassist Dana Morgan Jr, he was replaced by Phil Lesh. Owner Dana Morgan, who didn't like the band's sound anyway, reclaimed the instruments and shooed all his instructors away. Garcia and Weir, at least, found new students and access to equipment at Guitars Unlimited in Menlo Park, but the fledgling group had nowhere to practice. According to McNally, they rehearsed anywhere they could: at Sue Swanson's parent's house in Menlo Park, at Phil's apartment in Palo Alto and presumably other places.
|2504 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, site of the Questing Beast, where the Dead almost rehearsed in 1966. Don't google the site at work.|
According to legend, the Warlocks new patron Owsley Stanley intended to move the band to Berkeley, where they were to rehearse at a place called The Questing Beast. The Questing Beast was a sort of psychedelic folk club, with suitably far out painting on the walls, and Owsley was reputed to have been at least a regular customer, if nothing else. 2504 San Pablo had formerly been the site of the Cabale, the folk club where Garcia and others had seen the influential Jim Kweskin Jug Band in March 1964, so it wasn't without history. And the history of The Questing Beast is indeed interesting, but whether or not Owsley truly intended to move the band there or that was just a fable, he led them to Los Angeles instead, and the Grateful Dead had no connection to the Questing Beast.
"Pink House" Los Angeles, CA
While in Los Angeles, the band presumably rehearsed in the large, pink house where they stayed. According to McNally, it was located just off Western Boulevard, in the North Adams District at 2511 3rd Avenue.
The Straight Theater, 1702 Haight St, San Francisco, CA
After several weeks in Los Angeles, the Grateful Dead and their friends moved to a crumbling mansion in Marin known as Rancho Olompali. McNally has them rehearsing at Olompali, and then moving rehearsals to the Straight Theater after that, but further research has revealed that to be out-of-sequence. Ace Commenter Yellow Shark sorts it out:
I think the proposed timeline for the Straight Theatre is a little out. I was always pretty certain that by the time of the May 19, 1966 Straight benefit the Grateful Dead were already using the Straight as a rehearsal hall and that the benefit (held at the Avalon Ballroom) featured those acts that were using the Straight to rehearse (The Grateful Dead, The Wildflower, Michael McClure (at that time working with the Wildflower as a lyricist) and The Outfit). So my view was always that The Straight rehearsals were much earlier than suggested here.
Anyway, after reading what is a great post I thought I would check with Reggie to see if he could help with the timeline, and if he could shed any light on way the Grateful Dead stopped using the facility to rehearse. This was his reply:
"When we got into the Straight in early April 66 the Dead began rehearsing almost immediately. They rehearsed as I ripped out the first 26 rows of seating. Soon due to a combination of things like building the floor during the day rehearsals were scheduled at night. Then the QMS, the Outfit, and others rehearsed at night. The Dead moved on due to other factors like scheduling freedom and certain members of the Dead moving out of the Haight to Marin."
The Straight Theater, at 1702 Haight at Cole, was an old movie theater in the Haight Ashbury district that many of the local hippies wanted to turn into a Fillmore-style ballroom. The city was against it, for the usual variety of reasons. The Grateful Dead had played a benefit for the Straight at The Avalon on May 19, 1966--strange that the Avalon was putting on a benefit for a future competitor, but such was hippie paradise.
I do not know why the Dead left the Straight, nor precisely how long they rehearsed there, but McNally just says the situation "fell apart" (p.152). The locals considered the Straight a community resource, and probably were more than happy to hang out watching the Grateful Dead rehearse. That was probably not what the Dead wanted, however, and the security for their equipment was probably poor. Since Quicksilver and The Outfit were rehearsing there as well, it probably meant that equipment had to be moved around as well. Bands don't like to have to pack up their equipment each night at a rehearsal hall, as it cuts into time that could be spent rehearsing, which would have already been constrained by the shared rehearsal space. However, the fact that the Dead and Quicksilver shared rehearsal space so early in their career accounts for the extraordinary closeness of some of the members and crew over the years.
Rancho Olompali, CA
I think it was the commute from Rancho Olompali that led the Grateful Dead to drop the Straight Theatre for rehearsals sometime in the summer. The well documented “party” on May 22 followed soon after the benefit and I suspect that by early June the rehearsals were shifted up to Rancho Olompali. The rental lease on Rancho Olompali ran out sometime over the summer and there was a move up to Camp Lagunitas – perhaps in July. I do not know how well it lent itself to rehearsals. Perhaps this is the time slot for 895 O'Farrell?In any case, by June 1966 the Grateful Dead were able to leave their equipment set up where they lived, on the grounds of the Rancho Olompali mansion. "Rehearsal" may have been an inaccurate description of the Summer's events, but the band could play without interruption, when they desired to do that.
895 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA
After the end of their idyllic stay in Olompali, the Dead migrated over to an unused Girl Scout camp on Arroyo Road in the town of Lagunitas. At the time, while towns in Eastern Marin, like San Rafael, were prosperous suburbs full of San Francisco commuters, Western Marin was still an empty, largely agricultural area, and there were plenty of underused spaces. However, while the camp could house the band and their friends, they were not allowed to rehearse there for noise reasons. McNally said that was the trigger for rehearsing in the Straight Theater, but they must have rehearsed somewhere else.
Over the years, a building at 895 O'Farrell Street (at Polk) has been identified as a former Grateful Dead rehearsal hall. The building was the former site of a Pontiac dealership, among other things. It is two doors down from the Great American Music Hall. I had never been able to figure out when the band would have used it, but Yellow Shark's unraveling of the timeline for the Straight Theater seems to sort it out. The Dead rehearsed at the Straight in April and May 1966, then Rancho Olompali in June, and sometime in July they had to find a new place. I think the bands rehearsal hall in July and August 1966 was at 895 O'Farrell.
Some time after the Dead rehearsed there, 895 O'Farrell had a brief and peculiar history as a competitor to the Fillmore. In July 1967, the original four members of the Family Dog re-established themselves as the Psychedelic Cattleman's Association. They put on a weekend of shows and ran into trouble with the police. The venue re-opened in September 1967, but it was only open for about six weeks. The venue is mostly only known to poster collectors (for a good look at the posters, see our write-up here).
The final promoters of rock shows at 895 O'Farrell were two brothers from Antioch, CA, Jim and Artie Mitchell. They discovered another, more profitable enterprise for the theater, however, and the venue has had a lucrative, sordid and sad history ever since. Don't google it at work.
|Gale Garnett's second Columbia album Sausalito Heliport. The cover photo was probably not taken at the Heliport, however.|
According to McNally, when the rehearsal space at the Straight Theater was no longer viable, roadie Laird Grant managed to get the Grateful Dead rehearsal space at the Sausalito Heliport. In the 1967-68 period, many San Francisco bands rehearsed at the Heliport. The noise caused by the helicopters insured no complaints from any neighbors about mere rock bands. Sausalito is right off the Golden Gate Bridge, so it wasn't inconvenient for San Francisco bands (or even Berkeley's County Joe And The Fish). Enough bands rehearsed at the Heliport that it was a sort of musicians hangout, with jam sessions occurring regularly. Singer Gale Garnett even entitled her second Columbia album Sausalito Heliport.
In late 1966, a very small number of concerts seemed to have been held at the Heliport, including one with the Grateful Dead on October 15, 1966 (the poster is up top). I think the Heliport was too hard to get to for 1966 hippies, as Marin was largely unpopulated in those days, and I don't think the Heliport was an appealing venue. My suspicion has always been that someone tried to put on a few concerts, which didn't succeed, but in so doing the bands figured out that they might have found a good rehearsal space instead, and the Heliport owners were happy to have paying clients. Based on what little information I have, the Grateful Dead seem to have been among the first bands to rehearse at the Heliport. Yellow Shark has some intriguing suggestions:
I believe that the band were already rehearsing at Sausalito Heliport by the time of the October 15, 1966 performance with the Transatlantic Railroad (I have never found out what the "TJ" stands for on the poster). The band had moved back to the City in early October and was living in 710 and the commute to the heliport was an easy one. Sausalito had by October 1966 a scene of its own growing with the Ark hosting regular performances, the No Name Bar which remains to this day and The Kingston Trio’s Trident – latter Horizons but now renamed to the Trident.As far as I can tell, the Heliport is currently called The Commodore Center Heliport, and it is located on Bolinas Street, off Richardson Bay. about a mile Northwest of Gate 6, where the ferry boat Charles Van Damme was permanently docked (aka The Ark). Helicopters were supposed to be a big thing in the 60s--I firmly believed as a child that I would grow up to commute in a helicopter, and I'm still disappointed not to do so--so I think that when the Heliport was constructed in 1963 they anticipated considerably more traffic than they actually had, leaving numerous hangars free for other forms of aerial transport.
|Reader Phil sent in this photo from the entrance to the Heliport, taken in June 2015|
The Heliport is just where you described it, clearly visible from 101 as you go north towards San Rafael. Although it no longer hosts band rehearsals to my knowledge, it seems to be much the same building as it was back when the Dead rehearsed there.I believe the Dead rehearsed at the Heliport from the end of 1966 through about May 1967. There are a few famous Spring '67 Gene Anthony photos of Garcia, Mountain Girl and others at the Heliport.
Warnecke Family Ranch, Healdsburg, CA
According to McNally, the Dead spent the month of May 1967 in Sonoma County: "Late in May, the band fled the city to John Warnecke's family ranch on the Russian River north of San Francisco near Healdsburg" (McNally p. 195). John Carl Warnecke Jr was a friend of the band, and he seems to be one of a number of people who worked with the band in trying to promote shows. Canyon filmmaker Robert Nelson made a short film of the band in 1967, and parts of it were filmed at the Warnecke ranch.
That isn't even the interesting part. It seems that family patriarch John Carl Warnecke (1919-2010) became friends with John Kennedy at Stanford in the 1940s. Warnecke Senior trained as an architect, and did various commissions, including the 'Eternal Flame' at John F. Kennedy's gravesite. However, it also seems that Warnecke was the architect for the McHenry Library at UCSC, which was built in 1968. So that means while the Dead were at the Warnecke Ranch, the architect was working on the McHenry Library where the band's Archive ended up. Hey--Stanford, never head a chance, it was already implicit that UCSC would get the Archive.
In any case, as we know from the short film, the Dead built a platform on the Russian River where they could jam and rehearse, writing the song "Alligator" in the process. However, if the Dead had their equipment at the Warnecke ranch in May 1967, then it wasn't at the Sausalito Heliport. Thus I am fairly confident, though not absolutely certain, that the Dead gave up the Heliport as a rehearsal space in May 1967. Since they would spend much of the Summer of '67 on tour, this was probably a financial decision as much as anything else.
|Members of the Dead hanging out at the New Ptrero, circa 1968 (via @Tripsntunes)|
Potrero Theater, 312 Connecticut St, San Francisco, CA
In late 1967, the Grateful Dead got a new rehearsal space, at the long-disused Potrero Theater, near 312 Connecticut St (at 18th St) in the Potrero Hill district. The theater had been constructed in 1913 as the Altair, but when it got sound equipment in the 1930s, it was renamed the New Potrero. It had closed in 1963, and had long fallen into disuse. The Potrero Hill neighborhood district was neither nor hip nor prosperous at the time, so it too was kind of forgotten (assuredly not the case today). Apparently, the theater was in terrible shape--according to Joel Selvin, Mountain Girl visited once, saw all the rats and never returned again. Nevertheless, the Grateful Dead rehearsed at the Potrero for about a year, and the rehearsals were in many ways the truest rehearsals that the band ever held.
Like all these things, it is difficult to parse out the timing, but it appears that the Dead moved into the Potrero shortly before Mickey Hart joined the band. Hart's arrival triggered an interest in actually working with difficult rhythms. Stories abound of the Dead rehearsing difficult numbers like "The Eleven" over and over, in order to get the feel for playing something that complex. In that sense, the work at the Potrero were true rehearsals, rather than just jamming or working on songs. The band was trying to get better as a band, and playing the same difficult parts over and over was a rare form of band discipline.
It was during the Potrero Theater period that the Grateful Dead went from Pretty Cool to Something Special. The psychedelic powerhouse shows of 1969 would not have been possible without endless rehearsal at the Potrero. After the Potrero, when they stretched out and jammed, the Grateful Dead were doing so from a foundation rather than a mere willingness to take a risk. Yet after the Dead left the Potrero, they never rehearsed that much again, and never in a disciplined fashion where they worked on developing as an ensemble. Once seems to have been enough.
warehouse, Novato, CA
The Grateful Dead officially moved out of 710 Ashbury in March 1968. Within a few months, every member of the band had moved to various locations in Marin County By the end of the Summer, rehearsing in San Francisco made little sense. Manager Bert Kagenson found them a warehouse near Hamilton Air Force Base in Novato, and that became the Grateful Dead's new base of operations. I do not know the exact location, and in any case it is probably a housing development now.
The principal function of the Novato warehouse was to store and work on the band's ever growing mountain of equipment. Owsley in particular liked to experiment. Fellow traveler Ron Wickersham was critical to these experiments, but Wickersham, unlike Owsley, was not on the Dead's payroll. Wickersham and his wife (then girlfriend) Susan started the Alembic Sound company. Alembic focused on live sound for rock and roll, modifying and creating instruments, amplifiers and other equipment for the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and ultimately many others. Alembic then moved out of the Dead's warehouse into their own facilities and studio.
I do not know how much the Dead rehearsed at the Novato warehouse. Honestly, I am not 100% certain that they rehearsed there at all. The one detailed description of a 1969 jam at their facility, by Fleetwood Mac road manager/soundman Dinky Dawson, actually desribes the location as Sausalito. Since Dawson had never been to California before, its entirely likely that he mistook Sausalito for Novato. However, it's also possible that the Dead had some other temporary facility in 1969--the Heliport?--in Sausalito.
My own feeling is that the Novato warehouse was used as a rehearsal facility at first, and ultimately got turned into a mad scientist workshop for Owsley. I think the Dead could rehearse there when they needed to, but for the most part they didn't. Around September 1968, approximately when they moved their equipment to Novato, the band also started recording at Pacific Recording in San Mateo. The Dead spent five months in the studio recording what was to become Aoxomoxoa. They spent over $100,000 recording in the studio, but the net result was that whatever 'rehearsing' they needed to do seems to have been done in the studio. Thus I believe the Novato warehouse was never really set up as a full-time rehearsal studio.
unknown building, Western Marin County, CA
Thanks to Commenters, it seems that Blair Jackson reported that the Dead abandoned Novato for an unknown place in Western Marin, near Pt. Lobos. Another Commenter makes the alert point that the band's office move to Fifth and Lincoln happens in April 1970, and it coincides with both the move to West Marin and the aftermath of the Lenny Hart debacle.
|The Grateful Dead performed at the Santa Venetia Armory on December 29, 1966. By 1971, it appears they were rehearsing there.|
When did the Grateful Dead abandon the Novato warehouse? It's unclear (update: see Comments). Where did they rehearse between 1971 and 1974? That too is unclear. Based solely on a Keith Godchaux rehearsal tape from September 1971, I am assuming that they rehearsed in the Santa Venetia Armory, at least at that time. According to Garcia's apocryphal story about meeting Keith and Donna Godchaux at the Keystone Berkeley, he invited Keith to the "rehearsal hall," and Keith was so good that Garcia phoned Bill Kreutzmann to come join them. According to McNally, the Dead's rehearsal studio was in a warehouse off Francisco Boulevard (p.411). This location would not have been far from the future site of Le Club Front on 20 Front Street.
What are we to make of the tape where Keith rehearses labeled "Santa Venetia Armory?" If the Dead rehearsed near Francisco Boulevard, why would they have worked with Keith at the Santa Venetia Armory? I see two possibilities:
- the tape reference to Santa Venetia Armory is just incorrect. There is almost no way to check corroborating evidence for a rehearsal tape
- The Dead rehearsed at the Warehouse, but they rented the Santa Venetia Armory to try out a new sound system. Touring with a grand piano was brand new for the Grateful Dead, and they had a substantial tour coming up. So perhaps they rented a genuine, if small, venue and tried out their stage setup
The Santa Venetia Armory, at 155 Madison Avenue, was the National Guard Armory, and a regular site of “Teen” dances in the mid-60s. It was used briefly for psychedelic rock concerts in 1966-67, before it was superseded by the Fillmore and the Avalon. The Armory itself may still be active, although it uses the address of 153 Madison.
NRPS Rehearsal Studio, San Rafael, CA
One of the intriguing gaps in this little history of Grateful Dead rehearsal spaces is the early 1970s. Other than the Godchaux tape, which may or may not be representative, I could only find one other reference to a rehearsal space. It does raise the question as to how much the Grateful Dead actually rehearsed in the early 1970s. Perhaps they toured so much that they could just use soundchecks for rehearsal. In any case, any information about early 70s rehearsal spaces, however fragmented or vague, is of great interest.
The Grateful Dead were still writing a fair amount of material in the early 1970s--where did they learn to play each of those songs? I can imagine that some cover versions could be whipped up with some conversation and a quick run through at a soundcheck, but "Stella Blue" or "Eyes Of The World?" At the Maples Pavilion show on February 9, 1973, the Dead debuted seven new songs, and they must have practiced them somewhere.
Update: scholarly Commenter runonguinness made an important find, from an article by Charles Perry that was originally published in the Rolling Stone edition of November 22, 1973
Of course, any band needs a practice studio. Sometimes the Dead use the New Riders' studio, located in the San Rafael industrial neighborhood. The studio is rented, natch, from an old friend of the Dead's, Don Wrixman. He rents another part of the building to some woodcraftsmen, and yet another is the Dead's sound and lighting equipment warehouse. The original Dead warehouse, which the equipment has long since outgrown, is now a workshop for repairing electronic equipment and building speaker cabinets.
As for a practice hall for the Dead themselves, they might build one someday on a piece of land they own known as "Deadpatch". When Weir's home studio is complete,the band could fit there, though Weir built it - with some of the heaviest insulation ever put into a building - so he could practice by himself...
The pieces start to fall into place here. The New Riders were managed by the Dead, and they had a rehearsal studio, so the Dead could use it. However, they couldn't use it all the time, so the Dead periodically had to rent other spaces. At the time, the Dead's offices were on 5th and Lincoln in San Rafael, and Sam Cutler's Out Of Town Tours was at 1333 Lincoln, a few blocks North. I believe the NRPS staff offices were at about 2nd and Lincoln. (update: a Scholarly Correspondent [also the NRPS archivist] reports that the NRPS office was at 1212 Second St, between B and C. The band shared it [and management] with Commander Cody in the mid-70s, and finally gave up the building in 1981. It was an Old Edwardian house that got torn down in 2019). I presume the rehearsal studio was across Highway 101, in the more industrial area where the Francisco Boulevard warehouse, and later Club Front, were located (update: our Commenter points out that the warehouse on Francisco Boulevard [above] may be the same as the NRPS studio. The Dead may have simply started sharing it with them) [update 2: the NRPS rehearsal space was on Irwin Street. It's not clear if it was the same one as referred to here].
[update 20230626: Jesse Jarnow figured out from interviewing Dead employees for the Deadcast that the "New Riders rehearsal studio and warehouse" was in fact 20 Front Street. Eventually the Jerry Garcia Band took it over and then the Grateful Dead.]
Stinson Beach Community Center, 32 Belvedere Ave, Stinson Beach, CA
McNally alludes to the Dead having spent January of 1973 rehearsing, but he doesn't say where. He does mention a sad event in March, where Pigpen wants his picture taken with the band, and they refuse, as they are busy rehearsing for a tour. McNally identifies them as rehearsing at the Stinson Beach Community Center.
Was this a temporary space, just for March? Had the band rented the Community Center earlier in the year, when they rehearsed the Wake Of The Flood material? Information about the Dead's rehearsals and rehearsal spaces in the early 1970s remains surprisingly scarce. I can imagine how the group might rent Stinson Beach Community Center for a few weeks at a time, but they can't have been using it as a permanent space, as it had too many other functions.
Did the Dead still rehea rse at the warehouse on Francisco Boulevard? The fact that they rented the Stinson Beach Community Center does hint that they did not have a p ermanent space suggests that the New Riders were busy at home, and that the Dead needed to use another space temporarily.
Stinson Beach is in isolated community in Western Marin. Jerry Garcia and Mountain Girl lived there, and the Rowan Brothers lived nearby, which was responsible for the genesis of Old And In The Way. The Community Center's main assembly hall can accommodate about 200 people. The building seems to have been built in the 1960s. Since Stinson Beach is so small, it had to be be near Garcia's house. Old And In The Way even played a show here, one of their very last (on September 30, 1973), as a kind of warm up gig for their last few dates.
I am reliably informed that the Dead rehearsed the material for Mars Hotel in the studio, presumably as part of the recording process. I guess the unfinished feel to Mars Hotel songs comes from the fact that they learned and recorded the songs in a brief three-week stretch (March 30-April 19, 1974) at CBS Studios in San Francisco. This was a far cry from the ten days it took to record the mostly road-tested material for Wake Of The Flood (August 6-15, 1973 at The Record Plant in Sausalito).
Ace's Studio, Bob Weir's house, Mill Valley, CA
Once the Grateful Dead gave up touring, any chance to sneak in rehearsals at soundchecks went away. It makes sense that the Dead needed their own space, and the studio above Bob Weir's garage seem to fit the bill. Nick Meriwether has suggested that the band encouraged the studio at Weir's for just this reason--without it they would have had nowhere to play. When the band moved into Ace's, it was as close a situation as they had had to the Potrero Theater. They weren't rehearsing to become a better band, as they had in 1968, but they weren't trying to record an album as quickly as possible, either. The many tapes that survive show a relaxed band exploring in a leisurely manner, another episode in the Grateful Dead's musical history that would not be repeated.
As everyone knows, the Grateful Dead worked up the material on Blues For Allah throughout the first several months of 1975, even if the final versions were recorded rather quickly. The Grateful Dead recorded four songs for the Reflections lp in August 1975 (I have a lot to say about that, but you'll have to wait), and the debut Kingfish album was recorded at Ace's as well, in late 1975. However, by 1976, Ace's studio seemed to retreat back to a personal studio for Weir, with few outside projects, even from within the Grateful Dead family.
Keith and Donna Godchaux's house, Paradise Dr, Corte Madera, CA
A parallel story to the secret history of Grateful Dead rehearsal spaces is the even more murky history of Jerry Garcia's rehearsal spaces, such as they were. For one thing, I do not believe that the Jerry Garcia-Merl Saunders band, to the extent it was even a "band," ever had a fixed place to rehearse. It is interesting to think that Jerry Garcia's infamous preference to simply working things out at the Keystone Berkeley rather than in rehearsal may have been an economic decision as much as anything else. Since, as near as I can tell, the Grateful Dead had no fixed place to rehearse in the early 70s, Garcia and Saunders didn't either. Has anyone ever heard a Garcia/Saunders rehearsal tape? I don't think there was ever a rehearsal. It was cheaper to just work out the arrangements as they went along, and that fit Jerry's approach to his own band anyway.
There are a very few early Jerry Garcia Band rehearsal tapes in circulation. There is a rehearsal with Nicky Hopkins, dated to September 1975, a rehearsal with James Booker dated January 7, 1976 and then one with Keith and Donna Godchaux dated January 25, 1976. The last two are usually attributed to Club Front, but for reasons that will become clear over the next few paragraphs, that attribution seems unlikely. Rather, I think they were rehearsal tapes that were retroactively assigned to Club Front, since I think the Front Street Warehouse did not become the JGB rehearsal space until the end of 1976.
I think when the Jerry Garcia Band absolutely had to have some kind of rehearsal, they rented a studio. It might have been expensive, but renting a studio for a few hours a year was still probably cheaper than having a permanent rehearsal hall. For example, an otherwise inexplicable recording session at The Record Plant on May 31, 1974, with Michael Omartian and Ron Tutt (and Garcia, Saunders and John Kahn), includes a jam (released as "Cardiac Arrest") and the old standard "Some Enchanted Evening." The mystery of the recording session is partially explained if we look at it as a kind of getting-to-know-you jam for Tutt. It couldn't take place in a rehearsal hall, because neither the Dead nor Garcia/Saunders had such a place.
However, in a Blair Jackson interview in the Winter 1987 Golden Road, John Kahn had some interesting comments about how much the Keith and Donna Garcia Band liked to play together:
Keith used to live over on Paradise Drive [in the Marin town of Corte Madera], so we used to play over there all the time. He had a room set up so we could just go in and play. Tutt was out of town a lot, but that was OK. You could practice without a drummer. Plus, Tutt was so good that there was nothing that we could come up with that he couldn't figure out right away. I lived in Mill Valley, and Jerry lived in Stinson Beach, so it was real easy for us to get together. Anyway, we had this scene where we would get together just about every night and play. We'd do just about everything. We had Dylan songbooks and we'd do stuff like play everything from Blonde On Blonde. Then we'd do all sorts of Beatles songs. It was great. Most of it never got past that room.Wherever the few recorded rehearsals of the Jerry Garcia Band had been held, most of the rehearsing seems to have been done at the Godchauxs' home. Keep in mind that until the middle of 1976, the Dead had no money from touring, and were hemorrhaging money on the record company and the Grateful Dead movie, so rehearsing at home was their only real option. The only band clubhouse was Ace's studio, but Weir wasn't in this band, so it's not surprising that the rehearsing didn't take place there.
Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market St, San Francisco, CA
The Grateful Dead officially returned to touring on June 3, 1976 in Portland, OR. Some rehearsal tapes exist from the previous week at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. On May 21, 1976, the Jerry Garcia Band had played a concert at the Orpheum (it was a great show, immortalized on the archival cd Don't Let Go). While the band could play together at Ace's studio, that wasn't a formal stage configuration. The band had also been off the road for so long they had no road set-up either.
It's my supposition that the Grateful Dead rented the Orpheum for a week not only to rehearse, which they certainly needed, but to try out their equipment and sort out any problems in advance of the road. They purposely rented a theater that was approximately like most of the refurbished old theaters that they would be playing on the forthcoming tour. In order to pay for the rental of the Orpheum, I think the JGB played the concert to foot the bill. It's important to remember that the Dead had no touring income, were working on an expensive movie and were about to lose their record company, so a Garcia concert was about their only choice.
I assume that the Garcia Band played the show on the Dead's prospective sound system, and they simply didn't load out the equipment. Rather, they just left it there for technical tweaking and band rehearsal until they left for Portland. From what I can tell, the show was not promoted by Bill Graham, but the Bill Graham Presents staff were hired to run the show. This would have meant that the Dead (or whoever financed the concert) took any financial risk or reward, but did not have to put together a staff to run the theater.
The Orpheum Theater was 1192 Market Street, near 8th, was built in 1926. It was in a seedy area, but not nearly so seedy and rundown as the Fox-Warfield a few blocks away (at Market and 6th). The Orpheum was typically used for 'legitimate' theater of various kinds, although it had originally been built as a movie theater. It was only rarely used for rock shows, although the Grateful Dead played six famous concerts there in July of 1976.
Sound City Studios, Van Nuys, CA
The Grateful Dead recorded Terrapin Station at Sound City Studios, Keith Olsen's facility in Van Nuys in the early part of 1977. Olsen made the Grateful Dead rehearse the material extensively, including 'section rehearsals.' meaning the vocals were rehearsed separately, the rhythm section was rehearsed separately and so on. Whatever the cost of this, it seems to have obviated any need for the Dead to acquire any kind of rehearsal facility.
With the enforced rehearsal, it was likely no accident that the Spring 1977 tour featured some of the tightest and most pristine Dead performances in many years, and arguably ever. This, too, was not a phenomenon that was repeated.
Le Club Front, 20 Front St, San Rafael, CA
By the end of 1976, with the Grateful Dead back on the road, headlining stadiums, and a new Arista contract, the cash flow situation would improve. In either late 1976 or early 1977, the Garcia Band rented an unused warehouse on Front Street in San Rafael as a rehearsal space. Initially, 'Club Front' was strictly the property of the Garcia Band. The Jerry Garcia Band didn't rehearse there, exactly--it appears they just played. Kahn described in Golden Road (Winter '87) what the band liked to do:
We had this trip where we'd call ourselves the Front Street Sheiks and we'd play dumb piano jazz and stuff like that. We did some recording down at the rehearsal place [what evolved into the Dead's studio] right after they got their 24-track. We'd be down there every night of the week playing these old songs like "All The Things You Are," and "Night In Tunisia, " things like that. Keith and Donna were always together, so Donna sang with us too.It seems that the musical pallette of the mid-70s JGB was much broader than that which we saw on stage. Yet the Garcia Band used Front Street to explore, rather than to explicitly rehearse difficult music, since it appears that many or most of the songs they played at Front Street never appeared in concert.
In mid-1977, the Jerry Garcia Band were planning to record for Arista. They made some preliminary demos at Front Street, and Ron Tutt liked the drum sound so much, he persuaded Garcia to let Betty Cantor turn Front Street into a recording studio, and Cats Under The Stars was recorded there (as was the unreleased Robert Hunter album Alligator Moon, apparently). However, at some point later in 1978, the Front Street studio was transferred over to the Grateful Dead. Money changed hands on an accounting basis, but I do not believe the Garcia Band received any actual cash.
From late 1978 onwards "Le Club Front" was the Grateful Dead's recording studio, rehearsal hall and hangout. Although the band did a fair amount of recording there over the years, they did not do much rehearsing. Even when Brent Mydland, Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby joined the band, they learned far more songs by playing along on stage, rather than formally being rehearsed. The Jerry Garcia Band had even fewer rehearsals. Apparently, band members would receive the music for new songs at sound checks--the likes of Melvin Seals and David Kemper were experienced studio hands--and a quick run through at a soundcheck counted as "rehearsing" a new song.
It was a telling irony that when the Grateful Dead finally had full possession of their own rehearsal and recording facility, they used it only for occasional recording and very rare rehearsals. The development processes that took place at the Potrero Theater, or Ace's, or even at the undisclosed location where the Wake Of The Flood material was first practiced were mostly ghosts by the time Front Street was firmly in the band's hands.