Thursday, June 11, 2015

July 2, 1967, El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA: Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival and Be-In (Early Palo Alto)

Fans at the Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival and Be-In at El Camino Park in Palo Alto, on Sunday, July 2, 1967. The photo by Bill Howell is from the Stanford Daily of July 4 '67.
It is a classic trope of Grateful Dead historians to recall and describe their first Grateful Dead show. I can recall my first Grateful Dead show, a little bit, but if I had not spent many years trying to track it down, it might have been largely forgotten until now. Over the years, I confirmed bits and pieces of information about the show, but other facts were contradictory or uncertain. Indeed, my research was more archaeological than historical, taking a few known details and attempting to construct a complete picture.

My principal effort was focused on the date. However, thanks to the Internet--if only Classical Archeologists had access to some sort of Ancient Roman Internet, but I digress--I am happy to report that while I wasn't far off, many of my suppositions were actually incorrect. A premier Grateful Dead scholar found a detailed review of my first show, in the Stanford Daily campus newspaper, and now the facts are clear: on Sunday, July 2, 1967 at El Camino Park in Palo Alto, the Grateful Dead headlined the Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival and Be-In.

Some Historiography
I will deal with the history of the history of the Palo Alto Be-In in my appendix, in the interests of college professors who care about such things. However, a few key points are worth making at the beginning of this post. In 1972, I got an FM radio of my own, and my musical world expanded. I promptly listened to all my older sisters LPs, and I rapidly decided that the Grateful Dead were my favorite group. Within a few months, I recalled that I had already seen the Grateful Dead. I remembered that when I was 9 years old, my family had gone to El Camino Park, Palo Alto's oldest park (ca. 1914) and seen the Grateful Dead at a free Be-In. I distinctly recalled the park and the psychedelically painted drumset, along with hippie girls painting people's faces. This wasn't really a recovered memory, since it had only been five years earlier. I asked my older sister about it, and she recalled that the Dead had played "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl."

Whenever a performance date in Grateful Dead history is disputed, readers reflexively cite existing sources. In this case, however, every single citation has me as a source, without exception. The first Grateful Dead list that circulated were from the Paul Grushkin Book Of The DeadHeads, which was based on Dennis McNally's current list at the time (and itself based on the Janet Soto list). More informally, a list compiled by John Dwork circulated amongst various people. I had told both Dennis McNally and John Dwork about having seen the Grateful Dead in Palo Alto in 1967, and that is why early lists say "June 1967" without a date. I also made sure that the editors of Deadbase knew about it, and that is why "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" appears in Deadbase setlists for the Palo Alto Be-In (dated "June-xx-1967").

Once the Internet was fully operational, I made an extended effort to identify the exact date of the Palo Alto Be-In. Indeed, in a lot of ways, searching out dates such as this was one of the reasons I started this blog. In any case, for reasons I will detail below I came to the conclusion that the likely date of the Palo Alto Be-In was Saturday, June 24, 1967. Subsequently, this date has been accepted as definitive and circulated in various sources, such as I can say confidently that I was the source, not just because I was the only person interested, but because since I now know the date was wrong, I can say with certainty that no one independently confirmed my research.

The July 4 1967 Stanford Daily had a relatively detailed news article about the Sunday July 2 Be-In at Palo Alto's El Camino Park (text reproduced below)
The Stanford Daily, July 4, 1967
The Stanford Daily was the campus paper for Stanford University. Per its name, it appeared 5 days a week during the school year, and once a week the rest of the time. Stanford being Stanford, and all, they have digitized their archives and seem to have continually improved their search function. As a result, a professionally trained researcher was able to find a news article about the Grateful Dead's appearance in Palo Alto, repeated here in its entirety.

Free Sounds, Free Snacks, Free Sun Highlight Be-InSunday the Free University and The Experiment staged their Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival and Be-In at Palo Alto Park from 1 to 6 p.m. The action started promptly at 1:00 with four bands, the Anonymous Artists, the New Delhi River Band, the Solid State, and the Good Word supplying entertainment for the crowd. Gradually listeners grew from a few hundred to a few thousand. Beads, flowers, headbands, bells, painted faces, and multi-colored clothing were in abundance on Be-In participants. Smiles and happy laughter came from all directions during the easy-going afternoon. Free oranges and punch were provided by the Free University and The Experiment, while wandering participants also gladly surrendered their refreshments to those around them. One incident which marred the pleasant atmosphere of the Festival occurred when a policeman found a young man with an American flag draped casually over his shoulder. He was beckoned aside by the policeman who took the flag away and inspected it for possible stains or tears. However, the flag-bearer ran away at the first opportunity, leaving the officer with the flag.  
The highlight of the afternoon came at 4:30 when the Grateful Dead stepped on stage. As the group launched into "Dancing in the Street," the crowd of 4,000 moved closer to the stage. After coaxing from the "Dead," some of the crowd started dancing in a large circle, holding hands and swirling around. Snake dance lines wound through the crowd while tamborines, marracas, kazoos, and bells kept the beat of the music. The "Dead" kept up the performance for about a half hour, and then promised to come back for more. After they left the stage, the audience settled down and listened to some blues and more psychedelic music from the other bands. At the Be-In, the Free University provided tables for class enrollment and sold copies of various underground publications.

If you click on the link, you will see some contemporary photos. One of the photos has an intriguing caption:
The typical Be-In crowd was on hand Sunday at El Camino Park. The crowd includes those who are seriously involved in the aims of FUPA and The Experiment and the clean-cut teenagers who wish they had the guts and don't.

A cryptical poster for the May 14, 1967 Be-In at Alma Park in San Jose, featuring Country Joe and The Fish, The New Delhi River Band, Sweet Smoke, The Anonymous Artists Of America and Wakefield Loop
What Do We Know?
El Camino Park was an athletic field across from both The Stanford Shopping Center and ‘El Palo Alto’ (the tall tree that gave the city its name). The Park (at 100 El Camino Real) was at the intersection of Palo Alto Avenue, Alma Street and El Camino Real at the Palo Alto/Menlo Park border, and within easy walking distance of downtown. It is Palo Alto’s oldest park, first open in 1914. As a metaphor for the history of the Grateful Dead, El Camino Park was perfect: it was within walking distance of both The Tangent (at 117 University Avenue in Palo Alto) and Magoo's Pizza (at 639 Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park), as well as Kesey's Perry Lane cottage, The Chateau and Dana Morgan Music, so the whole arc of the Grateful Dead's history was as near as could be.

Palo Alto and Stanford University were less politically explosive than UC Berkeley across the bay, but no less embedded in the 1960s. There were two main activist groups in the Palo Alto area. One was called "The Experimental Group", or sometimes just "The Experiment," based at Stanford University. There was also a group of people who founded the Mid-Peninsula Free University, known as the MFPU, and colloquially as "Free U." Both of these groups were trying to provide what they saw as a relevant, alternative education not constrained by the traditional boundaries of a University. While The Experiment was based on campus, and Free U off campus, many of the participants were the same people. The instructors for both movements included both University Professors and regular people in the community. By early 1967, The Experiment and MPFU had merged, and they decided to hold a Be-In in Palo Alto as a fundraiser.

The story of MPFU in Palo Alto is an interesting one, but outside the scope of this blog. Suffice to say, the notion that Universities should and could teach something other than just traditional disciplines came pretty directly from the Free U. On one hand, this opened up wide pedagogic vistas for professors from diverse disciplines to take new approaches to their classes. On the other hand, the idea that "Basket Weaving" was a legitimate subject for higher education--your mileage may vary--also came directly from the Free U, as a look at their earliest catalogs will tell you.

On January 14, 1967, the first Human Be-In was held at the Polo Grounds in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The name "Be-In" was both a play on and a distancing from the traditional campus events protesting Civil Rights and the Vietnam War: Sit-Ins, Teach-Ins, Do-Ins and so on. The Human Be-In was implicitly detached from politics, much to the dismay of the Berkeley activists like Jerry Rubin who spoke there. In a real but informal way, despite there being no Internet, Be-Ins caught on. By June of 1967, Be-Ins had been held in Los Angeles (Griffith Park), Vancouver (Stanley Park), San Jose (Alma Park), New York and elsewhere. San Francisco bands showed up wherever they could. In many cities throughout 1967, particularly those near college campuses, there would be a little "Be-In" with a local band, but it was no less real to the participants, even if it had no Fillmore groups.

Since the network news had covered the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park, the music industry caught the wave, and it all led to the Monterey Pop Festival on the weekend of June 16-18, 1967. All of the San Francisco bands, with only the barest of record sales, if that, were high profile guests with hip acts from London, Los Angeles and New York. Attendance at the Monterey Fairgrounds was somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000, far more than anyone had anticipated. After Monterey Pop ended, the Dead's crew cheerily absconded with the rented Fender amps. According to Rock Scully and a few others, they used the amps to put on free concerts for a short while. The Palo Alto Be-In was clearly one of these events. After a while, Scully contacted Fender and told them in which warehouse their borrowed amps were located, and invited them to pick them up. Scully thoughtfully added, "if you're going to San Francisco, be sure to where flowers in your hair."

Just a few days earlier, on June 28, 1967, the New Delhi River Band had played a lunch time show at the ritzy Cabana Hyatt House on El Camino Real. History has no record of who was Miss Boutique
The Warlocks, The New Delhi River Band and Some Palo Alto History
The members of The Warlocks had lived in Palo Alto prior to 1965, even though many of the most famous events in band history took place in nearby Menlo Park. On December 18, 1965, the Grateful Dead had played the Palo Alto Acid Test at a then-new club called The Big Beat (the story of which is told in fascinating detail in David Browne's new book So Many Roads).  Still, The Grateful Dead had left Palo Alto behind in February 1966, leaving first for Los Angeles and then returning to the Haight Ashbury. The Dead had played Stanford University once, at Tressider Memorial Union deck on October 14, 1966, but they had not played Palo Alto proper. This isn't surprising--there were no venues in Palo Alto for them to play.

David Nelson, a co-conspirator of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter since early 1962, had "gone electric" a little later than his friend Jerry. However, in mid-1966, Nelson had founded the New Delhi River Band, which had sort of become the leading psychedelic band in the South Bay, however dubious and unremunerative an honor that might have been. I have made a study of the long-hidden history of The New Delhi River Band, and suffice to say by mid-1967 they were at the high water mark for a local band. The NDRB included bassist Dave Torbert and future Kingfish drummer Chris Herold along with Nelson (guitarist Peter Schultzbach and singer John Tomasi were also members). No recordings of the band have yet surfaced--Nelson says he has some--but all accounts say they were a fine psychedelic blues band.

Garcia, Nelson and Robert Hunter had formed the bluegrass trio The Wildwood Boys in 1962. Five years later, Hunter was in New Mexico, but both Garcia and Nelson were playing guitar in psychedelic blues outfits. The Dead had an album and were Fillmore and Avalon headliners. The New Delhi River Band were just headliners at the Fillmore of the South Bay, The Barn in Scotts Valley, an important and now-lost venue. Here they were playing for free in front of 5000 people, where it had all began. It had to seem like big things were just around the corner. And they were, although not in the way that everyone might have envisioned.

Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival and Be-In, El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA: New Delhi River Band/Solid State/The Good Word/Anonymous Artists Of America/Grateful Dead
Although details about the Palo Alto Be-In have been hard to come by, quite unexpectedly several rolls of film turned up. Happily, they are in the safe hands of the Grateful Dead Archive at UC Santa Cruz, and can be viewed in detail by anyone so inclined. If only every Dead show had 145 photographs.

From the photos, we can see pictures of the Grateful Dead performing, along with another group, The Anonymous Artists Of America. According to an eyewitness from an earlier post of mine on this subject the AAA (as they were known) came on after the Dead. Given the newspaper article, it makes sense that the Dead played from about 4-30-5:00pm, and then the AAA came on to end the event. So it seems that the photographer arrived at the show with the Dead, and stayed until the end, which is why there are no photos of the earlier bands. [update: careful analysis from a Commenter shows that the photographer must have been there the whole time, but he seems to have focused on the Dead. There appear to have been several other bands, but not pictures of all of them performing. Two bands preceded the Dead, neither of them NDRB or Solid State. AAA seems to have been after the Dead, and there was at least one other band after that, but impossible to discern more than that. There was also a peculiar band playing ornate marching band instruments that performed from a flatbed truck). 

The Anonymous Artists Of America were formed by a bunch of Stanford University dropouts. They had an electronic music device, a sort of primitive synthesizer called a Buchla Box, designed by electronic music pioneer Don Buchla. The AAA lived in a giant, crumbling mansion in the San Bruno Mountains that used to belong to a railroad baron. The AAA weren't really very good at their instruments, by their own admission, but they focused on being creative. The AAA was very hooked into the Prankster/Underground scene, and indeed they had performed at the infamous Acid Test Graduation on Halloween 1966.

The AAA also played regularly at The Barn in Scotts Valley. Often the New Delhi River Band would headline Friday nights, while the AAA would headline on Saturday. The members of AAA are pretty obscure today, but one of the singers was Jerry Garcia's wife Sara. After Jerry and Sara had split up, Sara--a Stanford dropout herself--had left the Pranksters and joined up with the AAA. So it was no surprise to see them at the Palo Alto Be-In.

I have to assume that The New Delhi River Band and Solid State started off the Be-In. [update: a careful look at the complete photo set shows that the first two bands were neither New Delhi River Band nor The Flowers. So there must have been more groups, and those two might have come on at the end, after The Dead and AAA. It's plain that the Daily writer didn't really know, and was taking someone else's word for everything but the Dead performance he witnessed]. If it really started at 1:00, and the Dead came on at 4:30. something else must have filled up some time. Palo Altans who attended many of the El Camino Park Be-Ins have the traditionally vague memories, and they recall seeing Timothy Leary, Eldridge Cleaver and others speaking at them. However, I don't know which events they might have been. More likely, speakers from the Free U filled up time between acts.

Solid State was the new name of a local psychedelic jazz rock band formerly called The Flowers (sometimes just Flower). They had been hooked in with Ken Kesey, not surprisingly, since tenor saxophonist Paul Robertson was one of Ken Kesey's attorneys. Another member of Solid State was bassist Gordon Stevens, whose family ran Stevens Music in San Jose (at 1202 Lincoln Ave in the Willow Glen neighborhood), where all the San Jose band like The Syndicate Of Sound got their gear. For much of the Spring, The Flowers had been the house band at The Poppycock, Palo Alto's first psychedelic club. Even I don't know anything about The Good Word.

So the Grateful Dead came on at 4:30, per the Stanford Daily. This makes sense to me, too. My family must have heard about it somehow, and while my Dad didn't really care about rock music he was interested in culture. If there was an interesting cultural event happening a mile from our house, then he was intetested. So it makes sense that we got there at 4:00 or something, and heard the Grateful Dead play, and then left. Based on the review, and my sister's memory, perhaps the Dead only played "Dancing In The Streets" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl."

An MPFU newsletter that advertised a June 23, 1968 El Camino Park Be-In featuring The Sons Of Champlin, Charlie Musselwhite and Berkeley's Notes From The Underground
There were several more free concerts at El Camino Park. The Steve Miller Band and The New Delhi River Band headlined another Free U event on October 1, 1967. There were two more in 1968, one on June 23 that featured the Sons Of Champlin, and one on September 29 that featured Steve Miller (with guest Carlos Santana), Frumious Bandersnatch, Phoenix and possibly others. After that, however, even tolerant Palo Alto had had its fill, and there were no more free concerts in El Camino Park.

The MidPeninsula Free University had a tumultuous history, but it pretty well came to an end by 1971. David Nelson and then Dave Torbert had joined Jerry Garcia in the New Riders Of The Purple Sage. A close look at the Be-In photos shows John Dawson hanging out backstage, so he was there, too. So not only the Dead, but some other people at the El Camino Park Be-In went on to rock stardom, even if the AAA, the New Delhi River Band, The Good Word and Solid State are largely lost in the mists of time.

There were only two more rock events at El Camino Park. In 1972 there was a concert featuring the Indian Fusion group Shanti. And on June 8, 1975, Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders headlined at El Camino Park over Kingfish and the Rowan Brothers. The concert was not free, but it was a mellow event by all accounts. Did Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Dave Torbert recall that they had played before, for free, on a Summer's Day in 1967?

Appendix: Historiographical Error Log
Since all the information about the Palo Alto Be-In comes from me, I thought I would briefly parse out how I came to my earlier incorrect conclusions. In a post some years ago, I proposed that the correct date was Saturday, June 24, 1967, and the groups were the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and The Holding Company and The Sons of Champlin.

Because of Rock Scully's assertion that they borrowed the Monterey Pop amps, used them and returned them shortly after, I knew that the Palo Alto Be-In had to be soon after the Monterey weekend of June 16-18. There was a big event on Wednesday, June 21, the Summer Solstice, so it seemed logical that the Dead would play the next weekend as well.

One of my eyewitnesses said he thought that the Palo Alto show was the day before Jimi Hendrix played for free in the Panhandle, and since that date was known to be Sunday, June 25, Saturday the 24th fit nicely.

The same eyewitness, a Palo Alto resident who went to most of the Be-Ins, couldn't remember whether it was the Dead or Big Brother. He admitted that it wasn't such a big deal to him: Jerry Garcia had been his guitar teacher, so although he liked the Dead, he had already seen them a bunch of times. He did distinctly recall the Sons Of Champlin, but now I think he was thinking of the 1968 show.

Various other people on Facebook posts and the like said that Big Brother played El Camino Park, which made it seem like they played. Based on Big Brother's schedule, the Palo Alto Be-In seemed the only likely candidate, so I figured they both played. It now seems that Palo Altans who recall Big Brother at El Camino were just imagining it. Big Brother did play a very obscure show at the relatively nearby Foothill Junior College, but it would be hard to mistake one place for the other.