|The 1981 Grateful Dead double-lp Reckoning, recorded at the Warfield Theater and Radio City Music Hall in September and October 1980|
The Warfield was a premier rock concert venue in San Francisco from late 1979 onwards. It was a beautiful old theater, with wonderful acoustics, and over time more and more rock fans were willing to pay premium prices at the Warfield instead of a lesser price at a giant arena. You could probably write a book about the rock history of the Warfield, and it would be a good overview of late 20th century rock music. Merely from the perspective of the Grateful Dead, after Jerry Garcia moved forward in 1995, the Warfield became the home base of Phil Lesh And Friends, and there were numerous intimate, fantastic performances for those ensembles as well, making the Warfield a Deadhead nexus for 25 years.
In many ways, the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia were instrumental in making the Warfield a viable venue at the end of the century. In that respect, it was a modern replay of an old 60s story, where the Dead were among the first to try out new venues. The Warfield story is different because the Dead were already established when they first played the Warfield, but it is no less interesting for that. This post will look at the history of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead at the Warfield Theater.
|The Fox-Warfield Theater around 1964. "Black Sabbath" was a Boris Karloff movie (Ozzy Osbourne was a child living in Birmingham). The Fox-Warfield sign was on the marquee into the early 1980s, long after Fox had sold their interest,|
The Warfield was one of the great Market Street movie palaces in San Francisco. It first opened on May 13, 1922. The theater was built by Vaudeville promoter Marcus Loew (1866-1938), and the theater was named after David Warfield, one of his best friends, and an original investor in what would become the MGM-Loews empire (of course, for the complete story, as always, you have to go to JerryGarciasBrokendownPalaces). The Loew's Warfield originally presented Vaudeville along with movies and theatrical productions. There may also have been a speakeasy associated with the theater in the 1930s. When Vaudeville died out, the Warfield mostly showed movies, but live performances returned in the 1940s.
Since there were live performances at the Warfield in the 1940s, they must have hired plenty of musicians. It is at least plausible that saxophonist Jose Garcia, Jerry's father, may have performed at the Warfield. He gave up music after his kids were born--exactly when isn't clear--but he could still have played the Warfield before he gave it up. Nonetheless. at the very least Jose Garcia would have known that the Warfield was one of the principal entertainment venues in San Francisco, and in some alternate Philip K. Dick universe it would have made him proud to know that his son ended up the king of the venue.
The Warfield, under various names, continued as a movie palace. By the 1960s, the theater was known as the Fox-Warfield, a name it would keep for some time. The theater went through various owners, and the theater chain National General refurbished the theater in 1969. The theater re-opened in 1970 with a guest appearance by Mae West, promoting her film Sextette. Throughout the 70s, the film mostly showed second-run fare. National General seems to have sold the Warfield to Mann Theaters, and by the end of the 70s it was owned by one Mike Thomas, who ultimately sold it to Bill Graham. In 1979, the theater was still known as the Fox-Warfield, and that was what was on the marquee, even though I think there was no longer any connection to a Fox Pictures entity. If you bought a ticket at BASS (a Ticketmaster forerunner), it said "Warfield Theater," but informally the place was called the Fox-Warfield or The Warfield, If you lived in San Francisco or had been to the theater, you called it "Fox-Warfield" to casually indicate that you knew what was on the marquee (a very San Francisco thing).
|Bob Dylan's controversial 1979 album Slow Train Coming|
November 1-16, 1979: Bob Dylan (14 shows)
The first rock shows at the Fox-Warfield were very dramatic: 14 concerts by Bob Dylan over a period of 16 days. Dylan was still a legendary figure in rock at the time, and although he had toured somewhat during the 1970s, he was not the perpetual road dog that he would become a decade later. When Dylan played live, he either played in huge arenas or made some sort of quasi-stealth appearance. The Fox-Warfield shows were a complete break not only for Bob Dylan, but for major rock acts in general. Here was a major headline act playing for two weeks at a small theater, when two nights at a basketball arena would have sold more tickets. The shows were a major event, and a major coup for Bill Graham, and they sold out instantly. Of course, no one knew what Dylan would play--he was Dylan, after all.
On August 20, 1979, Dylan had released his most controversial album, Slow Train Coming. All of the songs emphasized his new-found Christian faith, a startling development for a nice Jewish boy from Hibbing, Minnesota. On October 18, 1979, Dylan had performed three songs from the album on Saturday Night Live with his new band. Still, performing songs off your new album was what people did on SNL, and anyway, he was Dylan. His new band was small, but they were disciplined session pros (Fred Tackett-guitar, Bill Smith-keyboards, Tim Drummond-bass and Jim Keltner-drums) supported by three gospel-style backup singers.
Opinions varied about Slow Train Coming, although few Dylan followers were unreserved fans of it. However, what no one expected at the Fox-Warfield shows was that Dylan would do nothing but his new "Christian" songs, with nary an old tune to be found. Dylan's choice of material in concert was always a fraught subject, not least because he has so much great material, but the idea of him performing no old material whatsoever was not appealing. All of the songs were either from Slow Train Coming or new, unreleased material, much of which would turn up on Dylan's next album, Saved. No one was happy, except, apparently for Bob Dylan, who found himself once again in the center of a musical controversy.
Reviews were scathing. Even despite their being no Stubhub equivalent, people who had bought tickets for multiple nights could not dump their tickets fast enough. I saw one of the later shows, and while there were some enthusiastic fans, for the most part the crowd was grim and silent, with a lot of frustrated hostility directed towards Dylan. Bob, of course, fed off that hostility and played his new songs with great intensity. All in all, it was a very strange concert experience.
The one unequivocal winner in the strange equation was the Fox-Warfield. There were comfortable seats both upstairs and down, the sight lines were great from everywhere and the sound was tremendous. Although the Tenderloin neighborhood was unpleasantly seedy, the Fox-Warfield was accessible by both BART (at the Powell Street station) and numerous city buses. Bill Graham Presents immediately started booking shows at the Fox-Warfield, and it was an instantly popular venue. For acts on the rise, it was far better to see them headline a full show at the Warfield than second on the bill at the Oakland Coliseum. I saw The Clash at the Fox-Warfield, for example (March 2, 1980), on the London Calling tour, and it was an all-time show, even for an old hippie like me (for a complete list of Warfield bookings between 1979 and 1980 see the Appendix below).
March 25, 1980: Bay Area Music Awards ("Bammies")
Bay Area Music Magazine, or "BAM," was a free bi-weekly music publication in the Bay Area, which started in 1976. It played a huge role in publicizing Bay Area music, both for national bands from the region, like the Grateful Dead, and for more local acts. BAM also played a formative role in the career of many journalists, notably Blair Jackson and David Gans.
In 1978, Dennis Erokan, the publisher of BAM, decided to have a Grammy-like "Bay Area Music Awards," which was dubbed The Bammies, to publicize both the paper and the music. The "award" was a straight-up popularity contest, and the event was just a big party, but everyone had a good time. In 1980, one of the first years, the party was held at The Fox-Warfield. Although no members of the Dead performed (Garcia and others would play in later years), Garcia was definitely present in 1980. He probably won "best guitarist" that year, as he did most years.
The significance of this event was that Garcia had definitely been to the Fox-Warfield prior to the Dead's lengthy residency later in the year. I don't think it was that big a deal, but if Richard Loren had been running the idea by Garcia, he could have said "you know, the place where that awards show was held." Garcia would have at least had an idea of what he was agreeing to.
|The 1981 Grateful Dead double-lp Dead Set, recorded at the Warfield Theater and Radio City Music Hall in September and October 1980|
For any Deadheads who hadn't attended the Dylan shows at the Fox-Warfield, or hadn't even been aware of it, the Fox-Warfield Theater suddenly loomed large. Bill Graham Presents announced a 15-show run by the Grateful Dead, from September 25 through October 14 of 1980. The 15 shows were significant, too, since it was one more than Dylan, a fact pointed out in the local press.
For the previous few years, the Dead had only played larger, general admission venues, namely Winterland, the Oakland Auditorium and Oakland Coliseum Arena. Those Deadheads from elsewhere, who had moved to the Bay Area--and there were more and more of them--were generally used to seeing the Grateful Dead in larger arenas or small stadiums. The only time in the prior decade that the Dead had regularly played small theaters had been the Summer '76 tour where they re-introduced themselves to touring. The Dead had played the 2200-seat Orpheum in San Francisco for six nights, but fifteen nights was another order of magnitude.
As if this wasn't enough, the idea of playing almost every night for three weeks made the idea of traveling to see the Dead in San Francisco very appealing. I don't know how many people actually got to to do that, but the Fox-Warfield shows were definitely something that got Deadheads all over the country thinking about it. Shortly afterwards, the 9 shows at Radio City Music Hall at the end of October were announced, and it was a Brave New World indeed for the Grateful Dead.
Tickets for the 15-night Fox-Warfield run were only available by mail order. We all requested everything we could afford. I no longer remember the parameters. I think we ended up with tickets for nine shows. It was a completely different experience to not only know I would be attending numerous nights, but to have an actual reserved seat. I realize now that there had been occasional shows around the country at smaller, reserved seat theaters (like at the Richmond Mosque on May 25, 1977), but those had seemed be one-off events.
I was fortunate enough to attend the first Dead show at the Fox-Warfield on September 25, 1980. and it was magical indeed. We had heard faint rumors that the Dead might play acoustic, but I had written that off as wishful thinking. Yet lo and behold--when we walked into the gleaming Fox-Warfield and got to our seats on the lower balcony, there was the now-familiar stools for Bob and Jerry, grand piano for Brent and limited drum kits for Bill and Mickey. It was really going to happen. Of course, my friend and I spent our time guessing what song would come first (I went for "Dark Hollow," my friend for "Uncle John's Band"), but it was a burst of undiluted magic when "Bird Song" lit up the theater.
The 15 Dead shows at the Fox-Warfield were indeed magical, even for veteran Bay Area fans who had seen numerous Dead shows. Each show was three full sets, starting shortly after 8:00pm and going until well after 1:00 AM. The sound was perfect, and the relaxed vibe of sitting in an assigned seat, pretty much a new experience for Bay Area fans, meant that we could really focus on the details of the music instead of hassling with knuckleheads. The Dead played an astonishing wide variety of electric and acoustic songs throughout the run, and special moments were too plentiful to even count. Even if the Dead and Garcia had never played the Fox-Warfield again, the 1980 run alone permanently inscribed the venue as a legendary stop in the Dead's touring history. The albums Reckoning and Dead Set made sure that the rest of Deadhead nation knew about the Warfield as well.
|Bob Dylan's unloved 1980 album Saved|
November 9-22, 1980: Bob Dylan (12 shows)
The Fox-Warfield had had numerous great shows throughout 1980, culminating with the Dead's long run (see the Appendix below). Bill Graham surprised everyone with Bob Dylan's return for a 12-show engagement, seemingly to "make up" for the Gospel Debacle of the year before. Tickets did not move quickly. Remarkably, there were ads on the leading rock station, KSAN-fm, with Bill Graham himself talking over a rehearsal tape of Bob Dylan and his band performing (as I recall) "Blowin' In The Wind'." Bill assured listeners that Bob had assured him that he was rehearsing his old material. The implicit pitch was that it wasn't going to be an "all-gospel" Dylan show, all in all a very strange pitch for a radio ad. Still, the shows did not sell out.
Come the first few Dylan shows, and the reviews were not positive. Dylan, using the same band, did indeed perform about five old numbers out of 17 or so songs (on the first show, they were "Like A Rolling Stone," 'Girl From The North Country," "Just Like A Woman," "Senor" and "Blowin' In The Wind") but the balance was all of his new "Christian" material. Even the older songs were oddly re-arranged, in typical Dylan fashion, and didn't evoke classic Bob. No one was really pleased. There wasn't a rush to buy the remaining tickets for the other Dylan shows at the Fox-Warfield.
November 16, 1980: Bob Dylan plus Jerry Garcia
Bill Graham had his own remedy for Dylan shows that weren't selling out: invent some drama. Graham used his clout to get musicians to make guest appearances at the shows. Carlos Santana made a guest appearance on November 13, followed by Mike Bloomfield on November 15. For the seventh concert, the surprise guest was Jerry Garcia, who played electric guitar on 12 of the 22 songs, including "Simple Twist Of Fate." Garcia and Dylan had met previiously, but this was the first time they had played together on stage.
May 22 1981: No Nukes Benefit--Garcia, Weir, Hart and Kreutzmann/others
On April 25, 1981, 4 members of the Grateful Dead and John Kahn had played acoustically at a SEVA Benefit at Berkeley Community Theater. The significance of this event was that it triggered the pattern of Garcia playing benefits as an acoustic act, a far simpler process than arranging an entire electric performance with mountains of gear. The SEVA Benefit was followed by a similar anti-nuclear power benefit at the Fox-Warfield a month later. The headline act--introduced by Wavy Gravy as "Captain Jerry Bob KreutzHart"--was an acoustic performance by Garcia, Weir, Hart, Kreutzmann,Brent Mydland and John Kahn. Phil Lesh did not play either benefit, because apparently no one asked him.
Most of the people in the Fox-Warfield crowd in 1981 had probably seen at least one show from the Dead's long stand in the Fall, and it was great to hear some of the same material again in the same venue. Little did we know that this would be essentially the last performance of the "Acoustic Grateful Dead," save for a single benefit in 1994.
The Jerry Garcia Band played a very surprising show at the Fox-Warfield the next month. I happen to think this was a critical show in Jerry Garcia Band history, and it would take me several thousand words to explain, so I won't do it here (but I have done it elsewhere--warning: this ain't short). A few key points to ponder:
- Phil Lesh appeared as the bass player, and was even advertised as such. He also played the night before, in Santa Cruz. No explanation was given, prior to, during or after the show. For all we knew, he was permanently replacing John Kahn, although that turned out not to be the case
- This weekend of shows at Santa Cruz and the Fox-Warfield (and a stealth warmup in Salinas) were the debut of background vocalists in the Jerry Garcia Band, which would be a continuous feature of the JGB thereafter (save for a few transitional dates in 1982). The singers were not introduced from the stage.
- The Jerry Garcia Band had consistently played for Bobby Corona at The Stone in San Francisco, and only played for Bill Graham Presents outside of cities where the Keystone Family operated (Berkeley, Palo Alto and San Francisco). The June 1981 show was about the only exception to this rule.
February 16-17, 1982: Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead returned to the Fox-Warfield in February of 1982. These were the first two shows of 1982, warm-up shows on a Tuesday and Wednesday before two weekend nights at Golden Hall in San Diego (Feb 19-20) and a big Sunday night show (Feb 20) at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. At this time, the Dead's home base was Oakland Auditorium, but the Fox-Warfield offered a complete contrast. The delicate clarity of the Fox-Warfield was a wonderful counterpoint to the rocking intensity of The Aud.
March 29-31 1983: Grateful Dead Rex Benefits
The Grateful Dead returned to the Fox-Warfield for three shows in March of 1983. These shows were significant for any number of reasons. The most prominent reason was that these three shows were the first benefits for the newly-formed Rex Foundation. The Grateful Dead had always done plenty of benefits, but as concert receipts became bigger and they had more and more friends, it had become an issue as to who they would play for and how money would be distributed. Garcia partially dealt with that by playing acoustically at benefits of his own choosing, but it still left a problem with Grateful Dead Benefit shows.
After 1983, the Rex Foundation solved that problem. The Grateful Dead raised money for their own Rex Foundation, named after late roadie Rex Jackson, and the Foundation board decided how to donate that money. Gifts of $10,000 or so could be given to numerous organizations and projects, without a benefit having to be assigned to a specific cause (McNally p. 547)
The other significant development of the March shows was the debut of the Grateful Dead's new mail order ticket service. It had been done before, of course, particularly at the 1980 Warfield shows. Starting in 1983, however, Deadheads could get tickets by mail for almost all Dead shows. This innovation remained in place for the balance of the Grateful Dead's touring history. The relatively small scale Warfield shows, with only about 6900 tickets available, was a good dry run for the ticket service.
If I recall correctly, all of the tickets for the Fox-Warfield were only available by mail order. When the Dead went on tour, the more typical arrangement was that a percentage of tickets were sold by mail order--I think about half--and the rest were sold locally. This arrangement served a couple of critical functions. First of all, it made it possible for Deadheads all over to get tickets for almost any Dead show anywhere in the country. At the same time, tickets were available locally, to insure that the band could draw on fans in any given region. This was important for building an audience. Also, the money that the Dead got from ticket sales, months in advance of the actual shows, served as the financing for the tours themselves, rather than depending on promoter's advances. In effect, Deadheads were "Crowdfunding" Dead tours prior to the invention of the internet.
|A 21st century photo of The Warfield's interior|
The Fox-Warfield Theater Becomes "The Warfield"
After the 1983 Rex Benefit shows, the Grateful Dead never played the Warfield again. Jerry Garcia only played there a few more times in the 1980s, although eventually it replaced the Keystones as the permanent home base of the Jerry Garcia Band. Yet everyone forgets these facts, lost in a dreamy reverie of the truly historic connection between the Dead, Bill Graham, Jerry Garcia and 982 Market Street. In fact, the Warfield had a peculiar history in the 1980s, including two remodels, and they have been crucial to the story, and all but written out of the history.
In the Spring of 1983, the rock concert business in San Francisco was booming, as it was nationwide. Bill Graham Presents dominated the Bay Area scene, booking not only major arenas like the Oakland Coliseum Arena and the Cow Palace, but also controlling smaller venues like the Fox-Warfield and clubs like The Old Waldorf and Wolfgang's. The rock audience now ranged from teenagers to middle-aged adults, and many people with good jobs and kids were more than willing to pay a premium for a seated show that started at 8:00 and was over before midnight, so the Fox-Warfield fit that cohort perfectly.
Thus it was a complete surprise when Bill Graham leased out the Fox-Warfield to an apparently wealthy Polish brother-and-sister duo, who planned to remake the Warfield into a "high-end" disco. Their reasoning, apparently, was that San Francisco had no such place, and thus the market was ripe. Anyone who knew the Bay Area knew this was a fool's errand. Consider a few facts that separated San Francisco (then and now) from other entertainment capitals like New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere:
- 982 Market Street was in a dangerously seedy, crack-infested area. Rich people did not want to be wandering Market Street well after midnight. I'd been out on that street, and it wasn't pleasant
- Bars in SF close at 2:00am, not 4:00am like in New York. That meant said rich people were going to be out on those streets a lot earlier than in New York
- San Francisco, even in the Summer, is windy and really cold at night. If you were out on Market Street at 2:01 am in high heels and a crop top, you would freeze to death
- There are no cabs at night in San Francisco. It's not New York or Chicago. BART stopped at midnight. If you were too high to drive, you'd never get home, which is why you would freeze
- There has always been money in San Francisco, since 1849. However, San Franciscans style themselves as quasi-European (laugh at us if you want), and flashing it was never in vogue. Lots of wealthy San Franciscans liked going out, but if you wanted to admit that you only wanted to consort with the Special People instead of just going to a dive bar, you had to move to LA. The current Google-types who wear their jeans despite their million dollar stock options are just part of a hundred-plus years of SF tradition
The new Polish operators of the theater changed the name from the Warfield Theater to "The Warfield." Of course, only trainspotters like me had ever called it the Fox-Warfield, and even I referred to it in conversation as The Warfield, so it wasn't much of a change. But the official name change wasn't until the disco was in place in mid-1983. The big renovation was to tear all the seats out of the main floor, to provide room for dance floor instead. That had to have been expensive, and Graham didn't pay for it, his tenants did.
The Warfield re-opened as a disco in mid-1983, I don't know exactly when. It bombed almost immediately. Among the many things operating against it, besides the practical ones I mentioned above, was the fact that the idea was striving to make San Francisco "like other cities." People who live the Bay Area, even if they moved there last Tuesday, find that distasteful. All sorts of crazy ideas can be viable in the Bay Area--Acid Tests and home computers come to mind--as long as the locals are convinced that no one else is doing it. Once SF is supposed to emulate other cities, the door slams shut. The Warfield only lasted a few months in its disco incarnation. The Polish siblings gave up their lease, and Graham had his building back.
The timeline is a bit obscure here, although it has little do with the Grateful Dead. Continuous rock shows at the Fox-Warfield seem to end around June 1983 (June 7 Stray Cats/Mojo). There are no BGP shows until later in the year, and then save for one disco-oriented summer show (Peter Allen Aug 27), BGP seemed to return in force in the Fall (Little River Band October 14 '83). I think that Graham had rented the venue back from his bankrupt tenants, and was still working on revising the venue. Shows were intermittent until the Spring of 1984. The Warfield's peculiar status, by the way, helps explain why the Grateful Dead had played Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in October 1983 and April 1984, as The Warfield (as it was now known) wasn't really available.
By mid-1984, The Warfield had returned to the regular mix of BGP venues, and artists both popular and important continued to play there regularly. The tone of the venue had changed a little bit, however. When the Dead had first played there, the fully seated Warfield encouraged a reverential audience. By 1984, however, with no seats on the ground floor, the feel of the place was far rowdier. This wasn't all bad, by any means, but it was different. Certainly, for people like me, who still generally preferred a reserved seat, that option still existed in The Warfield balcony, and that set the venue apart from other clubs, where if you weren't willing to stand all night, you weren't going to see and hear the band very well. The Warfield could appeal to two audiences for the same act: the one that wanted to drink and dance close to the stage, as well as the one that wanted a reserved seat to contemplate the show undisturbed.
A Commenter says I have the timeline incorrect, and the Warfield was remodeled in 1988, not 1983. He very well may be right. The story is the same even if the date is wrong, however
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: The conversion of the Warfield, from full theater seating to open-floor GA downstairs and fixed seats upstairs, was much later than the 1983 date cited here. The takeover and conversion of the building by the wealthy brother-sister team for that ill-fated disco project was one and the same as the 1988 renovation mentioned later. I attended and/or worked many fully reserved-seat shows in the old theater configuration up to the time the venue was closed for the overhaul in September of '88. Also, Joe Satriani on 12/28/88 was not the first show back in the converted space. The reopening was a 10th Anniversary celebration for the Punch Line comedy club on November 9th. The first show I saw in that configuration was an amazing performance by Prince, at two o'clock in the morning of 11/11, after his regularly scheduled gig at the Oakland Coliseum
|Jane Dornacker as the leader of Leila and The Snakes (Pearl Harbor is center)|
Up until the early 1980s, although the Dead were huge on the East Coast, they could still play relatively small places in the Bay Area like the Fox-Warfield or Marin Vets with a minimum of fuss. By the mid-1980s, this wasn't really possible. Although explicit Deadhead census data isn't available, I am convinced that the massive influx of Deadheads from the East into the Bay Area in the mid-80s meant that local Dead shows were no longer treated casually. After Garcia's coma, there was no chance for a Grateful Dead show in a small venue, even in the Bay Area.
Jerry Garcia did return to the Warfield in 1986, however, albeit under sad circumstances. Jane Dornacker had become a popular radio personality on KFRC-am, reporting traffic from a helicopter. She had moved on to big success with WNBC in New York (660-am, now WFAN), reporting traffic. Sadly, she had died in a helicopter accident on October 22. 1986. Even more tragically, her husband had recently died, orphaning their 16-year old daughter.
However, not only was Jane Dornacker a popular and beloved media figure in the Bay Area, she had deep roots both in the 60s underground and the 70s New Wave scene. Way back when she was a San Francisco State student in 1966, she had appeared with the excellent but unfortunately named Final Solution, as Earth Mother and The Final Solution.Ultimately she married the band's bass player, Bob Knickerbocker. So all of the San Francisco underground had known her from way back in the 60s.
As if that wasn't enough, Dornacker was a comedienne, songwriter, actress and singer in the 1970s. She fronted a band called Leila And The Snakes (Jane was Leila, Pearl Harbor was one of The Snakes), she co-wrote a classic Tubes song ("Don't Touch Me There") and she even appeared in the movie The Right Stuff. So when Dornacker died, she wasn't just a Bay Area media figure, she was an old friend of many from way back. So the hastily-organized benefit had a stellar cast indeed.
Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir played an acoustic set, helped out by Mickey Hart. The prevailing version of the Airplane crew (with Paul Kantner, Marty Balin and Jack Casady) also played along with Todd Rundgren and The Tubes. All of them had social and professional connections to Dornacker. Vince Welnick was not only in The Tubes, he was probably in Todd Rundgren's backing band for the show, as well.
|The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band's album Almost Acoustic was recorded at The Warfield and Los Angeles Wiltern Theater in Fall 1987|
The Jerry Garcia Band finally returned to The Warfield at the end of November 1987. In October, Bill Graham had put on a remarkable two weeks of shows with Jerry Garcia at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on Broadway in New York. The shows featured an opening set by the newly-congregated Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, followed by a lengthy set by the full electric band. The billing was duplicated with three shows at The Warfield, followed by three shows at the similar Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. Part of the reason for these bookings was to record the shows for albums, since for various reasons that was prohibitively expensive to do on Broadway.
I saw one of the November Warfield shows, and it was a wonderful setting. The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band would have been somewhat overwhelmed at a rowdier place like the Kaiser Convention Center, but The Warfield was perfect for them. The open floor of The Warfield still lent a lively air to the electric set.
December 17, 1987: Joan Baez Christmas Concert/Garcia, Weir and Kahn
The Warfield was the site of another benefit, hosted by Joan Baez. Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and John Kahn were the configuration for this outing, joined by Baez for the last three numbers. Since Garcia never actually rehearsed for these events, it didn't matter precisely who was on stage, as long as they were willing to wing it with Jerry.
Feb 6 1988: Jerry Garcia Band
Mar 4-5 1988: Jerry Garcia Band
The modern era of the Jerry Garcia Band at The Warfield began in 1988. By this time, all of the Keystone clubs had closed, and in any case Garcia had become too big for them. The Jerry Garcia Band played a Warfield show in February and two in March. These weren't special events, tied to recording or anything else--just JGB gigs for his regular patrons. The March 5 show featured the truly unanticipated appearance of Howard Wales, for the first time in 17 years, letting it rip for a long version of "Don't Let Go."
The new configuration of The Warfield fit the latterday Garcia Band audience pretty well. Downstairs was an open floor and an accessible bar, more expansive than the Keystone Berkeley, but not too far from it. Upstairs was reserved seats, for the more restfully minded. Thus the basic spectrum of Garcia Band fans was covered by a single venue.
Once again, however, Bill Graham Presents took time out to remodel The Warfield. BGP held no rock shows at the Warfield between March 31, 1988 and December 28, 1988. In the intervening time, Graham used the Orpheum Theater for a few shows, and the Jerry Garcia Band played there seven times (May 7 and Dec 2-3 '88, and Jan 27-28, Mar 3-4 '89). More intriguingly, however, Graham booked a show for the Jerry Garcia Band at the old Fillmore on May 6 '88, which he had recently taken control of. It might seem that the Fillmore Auditorium ought to have become the home of the Jerry Garcia Band, but that was not the case. Subsequent shows were booked at the Orpheum, and the JGB returned permanently to The Warfield at the end of 1989.
The key issue for the home base of the Jerry Garcia Band was not the history, nor the sightlines, nor the sound, but the bar. Garcia's successful tenure at Keystone Berkeley was based on the endless amounts of beer that were sold there. Garcia fans showed up early and hung out, and Garcia came on late, took a long break and played even later. All that equaled massive beer sales. The Fillmore, lovely and acoustically excellent as it was, wasn't conducive to beer sales. The main Fillmore bar was at the back of the house, upstairs and away from the floor. There was even a stage in the bar, for bands to play while the other bands were playing on the main stage. The Fillmore bar mainly sold drinks to people who didn't want to hear the band that was currently on the stage, completely the opposite of the Garcia fans interests. The physical setup of the downstairs at The Warfield was all about selling drinks, and the remodel improved that facility, although I don't know the specifics. After 1989, The Warfield had completely moved from a "concert venue" to a "nightclub," even though there were still reserved seats upstairs. [update: as mentioned above, a Commenter suggests that The Warfield became a disco in 1988, not 1983 and there was only one remodel)
|1991's long-awaited live Jerry Garcia Band double cd was recorded at The Warfield in 1990|
BIll Graham Presents returned to The Warfield, newly remodeled, on December 28, 1988, with a show featuring guitarist Joe Satriani. There were intermittent shows throughout the year, but BGP didn't use the venue that much. After a few more shows at the Orpheum, the Jerry Garcia Band returned to The Warfield with two shows in December 1989. By this time, the downstairs was scientifically designed to sell the maximum amount of drinks to patrons. This wasn't a negative--if you were downstairs hanging out with your friends or watching the band, you didn't want to navigate to the back of the house and stand in a line to get a drink. The new configuration had a lower level dance floor near the stage, but most of the main floor had long tables and attentive waitresses. It wasn't hard to catch their eye and get a drink, so it made the Warfield a very pleasant place to hang out. The upstairs reserved seats had their own separate bar on the mezzanine. A Garcia show, including all the set breaks, went on for many hours, and The Warfield was now even better equipped than the Keystone Berkeley to sell as many drinks as the patrons wanted to buy.
Jerry Garcia played the Warfield in its various incarnations, by my count, a total of 100 times, and 123 if you include Grateful Dead shows (21) and Dylan guest appearances (see JGBP for a complete list). 91 of those shows were in the remodeled Warfield, from December 1, 1989 through the final JGB booking on April 21-23, 1995. Highlights were too many to count. Almost all of the acoustic shows with David Grisman and Jerry Garcia were at The Warfield (13 shows). I was lucky enough to see a few, and I can assure you that if Graham bought them to Broadway, it would have been like Cats or Wicked, and would never have closed. Garcia made another guest appearance at The Warfield with Bob Dylan, as well, in May 5, 1992 ("Cat's In The Well" and "Idiot Wind")
The Warfield was a great concert venue in its 90s incarnation, and no doubt remains so. The neighborhood was still seedy, but it didn't get worse, and there was a BART stop (New Yorkers or Londoners take subway stops for granted, but San Francisco isn't like that). It was nice to have a waitress bring you your drink of choice instead of having to fight your way to the bar, just for a Miller Lite. I have to think that the Garcia shows were the most profitable at The Warfield. As Deadheads got older, and had relatively more money, a night with Jerry was a night to hang out for hours with friends and buy some cold drinks. With the Keystone family gone and Garcia's health in decline, pretty much the only way to see the Garcia Band the last few years was at the Warfield. In that respect, it was almost like seeing The Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans--the real thing on a hometown turf that was deeply rooted in its own history.
And, following the theme of a building whose performers were part of the history itself, after Jerry Garcia moved forward in 1995, the Warfield became the home base of Phil Lesh And Friends, and there were dozens more great performances. Many of the Phil Lesh shows at The Warfield were one-time only bookings, such as with Trey Anastasio and Paige McConnell of Phish, so current fans have an equally rich memory of great shows there. Finally, in 2006, the venue was sold to a non-BGP entity, but Phil And Friends played the final show, appropriately enough. Guitarist Larry Campbell wrote the beautiful "Waltz For The Warfield," and it is a fitting tribute to the old girl--which, I should add, remains a popular venue to this day.
|London called, The Clash answered. You shoulda been there|
Appendix: Warfield Rock Shows Nov 79-Sept 80 (Between Dylan and the Dead)
November 1-16 Bob Dylan (14 shows)
November 28, 1979 The Police/Pearl Harbor and The Explosions (Wednesday)
This show was moved from the Berkeley Community Theater, which is surprising, considering that BCT was much larger than the Warfield (3500 vs 2300). That means The Police would not have sold as many tickets as expected, and that their world domination was yet to come.
November 29-30, 1979 Bonnie Raitt/Norton Buffalo (Thursday-Friday)
Norton Buffalo was probably a member of Bonnie Raitt's band at the time, and his own band opened the show.
December 15 Karla Bonoff/Steve Forbert (Saturday)
Karla Bonoff was better known as a songwriter (with songs like "Someone To Lay Down Beside Me," made popular by Linda Rondstadt) at the time than as a performer.
January 11, 1980 Linda Ronstadt/Joan Baez/Hoyt Axton Benefit for Cambodian Boat People (Friday)
This benefit was tied to a similar, larger event at the Oakland Coliseum Arena two days later, headlined by the Grateful Dead and The Beach Boys. I think Bill Graham and Joan Baez were hoping to put together a charity album.
January 19, 1980 James Taylor/Karla Bonoff (Saturday early and late shows)
James Taylor was huge, and could have played the Oakland Coliseum Arena, but here he was (playing double shows) at the Fox-Warfield. In many ways, this was parallel to what Bob Dylan was doing, providing a special event for serious fans.
January 25, 1980 Van Morrison (Friday)
Van Morrison was a most-of-the-year Bay Area resident who commonly appeared in Bay Area nightclubs, but his fans were far more likely to pay up to see him in a theater than to pay less to see him in big arena.
January 26, 1980 Lee Ritenour/Tower Of Power (Saturday)
February 17, 1980 The Specials (Sunday)
The Specials (aka Specials UK) were a popular Ska revival band, an offshoot of the "New Wave" music coming out of England. They were very popular in England, far less so in the States. No one remembers them now.
February 22, 1980 Jefferson Starship/Stoneground (Friday)
Jefferson Starship sold far more records than the Grateful Dead, but by now they were only a modest concert attraction in the Bay Area.
February 24, 1980 Weather Report (Sunday)
Weather Report had played Berkeley Community Theater the previous night (Saturday Feb 23).
March 1-2, 1980 Clash/Lee Dorsey/Mikey Dread (Saturday-Sunday)
I saw the March 2 show. The Clash in their London Calling prime, with Mickey Gallagher on keyboards along with the core four. I'm glad to have been there.
March 8, 1980 Gary Numan and Tubeway Army/Nash The Slash (Saturday)
Gary Numan was another New Wave act, with sort of an early electronica type of sound.
March 15, 1980 The Jam/The Beat (Saturday)
I'm pretty sure that "The Beat" was not the group later known as The English Beat. Raise your hand if you recall San Francisco's The Paul Collins Beat (as they were called in England, since there was both a UK and US band named The Beat).
March 23, 1980 J Geils Band/3-D (Sunday)
The J. Geils Band were like the Dead in many ways, a veteran touring act with a loyal live following, but an indifferent recording history at the time. Their new EMI album Love Stinks was the beginning of the group's rise to 80s arena and MTV stardom. The Fox-Warfield show was a Sunday night, but the night before J Geils had headlined the Oakland Coliseum Arena. And on the Friday night (March 21), Geils had headlined Pauley Pavilion at UCLA, so a show at the Fox-Warfield was a definite treat for their fans.
March 25, 1980 Bammies (Tuesday)
March 26, 1980 Graham Nash/Leah Kunkel (Wednesday)
Graham Nash, though a legend, was not a big draw on his own. Leah Kunkel was a pretty good singer. Her father (Russ Kunkel) was one of LA's great session drummers.
March 28-30, 1980 Jane Olivor (Friday-Sunday)
April 5, 1980 Iggy Pop/Mi-Sex (Saturday)
There's only one Iggy. From this entire year, only Iggy and Bonnie Raitt are still standing tall, still touring and pretty much doing what they always have done. Think about it, but not too hard.
April 12, 1980 Ramones/No Sisters (Saturday)
America wasn't ready for The Ramones when they surfaced in the mid-70s, but they were ready now. Sing it with me: "Rock, rock, rock, rock, rock, rock, rock and roll high school."
April 16, 1980 Boomtown Rats/The Pretenders (Wednesday)
Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats had released their fourth album on Columbia. "I Don't Like Mondays" was their big hit, from July '79. The Pretenders debut album had been released on Sire in January, although some singles had been released earlier. "Brass In Pocket" was released in November '79. An eyewitness reported that The Pretenders, though oozing talent and charisma, were still new to performing and had a very shaky presentation.
April 26, 1980 Triumph/Van Wilks (Saturday)
May 25, 1980 Pat Travers/Def Leppard (Sunday)
Hard rocking guitarist Pat Travers big song on radio was "Snortin' Whisky (and Drinking Cocaine)." Hard to make this stuff up. Def Leppard, part of The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, had just released their first album on Mercury Records, On Through The Night.
May 27, 1980 Ian Hunter/Motion Pictures (Tuesday)
Ian Hunter had left Mott The Hoople some years earlier, and was now touring with Mick Ronson. His previous studio album, 1979's You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic, had been recorded with Ronson and the E Street Band, and featured the great song "Cleveland Rocks." His live album, Welcome To The Club, had just been released in March of 1980.
June 19, 1980 Judas Priest/Ray Gomez (Thursday)
Judas Priest was another British heavy metal band. They had been around for some years, but they finally broke through in America with their 1980 Columbia album British Steel.
June 22-23, 1980 Peter Gabriel/Random Hold (Sunday-Monday)
Peter Gabriel had just released his third solo album entitled Peter Gabriel. Throughout this year. the Warfield featured a lot of acts in the prime of their career, across a wide spectrum of tastes.
July 16-17, 1980 Rossington-Collins Band/Ronin (Wednesday-Thursday)
Rossington-Collins Band was formed from the survivors of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ronin featured Waddy Wachtel and other LA session heavyweights.
July 24, 1980 Flash Cadillac/Benny And The Jets (Thursday)
Both of these groups were local cover bands. I don't know if this was some sort of special event, as it's very atypical. Bookings in this stretch included the Cuevas/Hearns fight and a touring production of "Aint Misbehavin"
August 15, 1980 Magazine/Pere Ubu (Friday)
Magazine and Pere Ubu were the hippest of the hip underground record collector alternative New Wave bands imaginable. I would have spent the show at the bar, but that's just me.
August 16, 1980 Devo (Saturday)
Devo was hip at the time.
August 23, 1980 Eddie Money/Tommy Tutone (Saturday)
Eddie Money, a former Bay Area club act, was on his third album (Playing For Keeps), but he had already peaked. Tommy Tutone was a local band on the rise, but they had not yet released their one big hit (1981's "867-5309/Jenny").
September 3, 1980 Christopher Cross/Toons (Wednesday)
Christopher Cross was a hugely successful pop singer, with singles like "Ride Like The Wind," and "Sailing."
September 25-October 14, 1980 Grateful Dead (15 shows)
October 16-17, 1980 B-52s/Ricky Jay (Thursday-Friday)
The B-52s were always riotous fun in concert. Ricky Jay was a magician.
October 23-24, 1980 Talking Heads/English Beat (Thursday-Friday)
The Talking Heads were still touring as a 4-piece at this time.
November 6, 1980 Gary Numan/Gary Myrick (Thursday)
November 7, 1980 Randy Hansen/Head East (Friday)
Randy Hansen was basically a Hendrix imitator, despite being white and right-handed.
November 9-22, 1980 Bob Dylan (12 shows)
There were guest appearances by Carlos Santana (Nov 13), Mike Bloomfield (Nov 15), Jerry Garcia (Nov 16) and Maria Muldaur (Nov 22).