Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Grateful Dead At The Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA 1967-68 (Vintage LA)

The color poster for the first Pinnacle concerts at the Shrine Exposition Hall, on November 10-11, 1967. Buffalo Springfield, the Grateful Dead and Blue Cheer played both nights.

The Shrine Exposition Hall: The Grateful Dead in Los Angeles 1967-68
The rise of the Grateful Dead is a tale of two cities. The first is San Francisco, where the Dead rose to underground infamy, and the second is New York, where the Dead became economically viable. Dead fans in Manhattan and Brooklyn made playing the city perenially profitable for the band, and that was the platform for expanding their audience to New Jersey, Philadelphia, Long Island, Boston and the rest of the East Coast.

Los Angeles is America's other great entertainment capital, however, and the Dead had an opposite experience when they played Los Angeles. Sure, they sold a few concert tickets, but so did every other band, ever. On the whole, Los Angeles was pretty indifferent to the Grateful Dead in the 60s, and so the story of the Dead in LA is never even addressed.

Los Angeles, more than any other American city, traffics in the glorification of its own history, particularly when it comes to entertainment. LA always celebrates old theaters or nightclubs from brighter days, so often historical sites are better known now than they were back in the day. Looking at the best retro-LA sites, like VintageLA, is like reading about American popular culture history from the inside, and 60s rock history has its place in that world. VintageLA, for example--which I can't recommend enough--has features on the Aquarius Theater and The Whisky-A-Go-Go. Yet it has nothing about the Shrine Exposition Hall, which tried to be the Fillmore scene for Los Angeles. The Grateful Dead were essential to the rock history of the Shrine, as they were for many 60s rock venues, yet the tale of the Dead at the Shrine Expo Hall remains obscured. This post will illuminate the essential role of the Shrine, and the Dead's part in that, and point to why both the Shrine Expo and the Grateful Dead never lived up to Los Angeles expectations (see here for a broader, less Dead-centric rock history of the Shrine Exposition Hall in the late 60s).

The Shrine Auditorium and Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, at 665 West Jefferson Street

The Grateful Dead in Los Angeles, 1966-67
The music industry played a huge role in Los Angeles, since so many record companies were based there. However, live performances by rock bands in the mid-60s were focused more on "personal appearances," to keep bands' names and faces in front of current and prospective fans, rather than aimed at persuading listeners to buy records based on the music heard at the show. There were a lot of nightclubs for teenagers, and shows at high schools, that featured brief sets on minimal sound systems. There was a substantial nightclub industry, too, but that was oriented towards selling drinks. Danceable music, like at the Whisky-A-Go-Go, was designed to get patrons hot and sweaty so that they would purchase plenty of liquor to cool themselves down.

None of the existing performance models had any room for the early Grateful Dead. They were a dance band, of sorts, but their audience didn't drink, and in any case was mostly too young. Playing short sets missed the point of the Grateful Dead, and without a good (for the time) sound system, their music didn't make much sense, either. In any case, the long-haired Dead were scary barbarians back in the day, and not necessarily welcomed with open arms at a High School. What the Dead needed were underground gigs, but there weren't initially many of those in an industry town like LA.

When the Grateful Dead made their first assault on Los Angeles, in February of 1966, they attempted to create their own underground scene. The buzz of the Acid Tests had worked its magic in San Francisco, and Bill Graham and Chet Helms had teamed up at the Fillmore to start presenting similar events weekly. This formula failed in Los Angeles, however. The Dead had found some friends and put on some Acid Tests and "regular" shows in February and March 1966. The events, while fun, were thinly attended and made no money. The Dead's trip to LA had been intended to make the band more successful. It failed. Like many out-of-towners before them, the Dead returned home to where they were popular, and re-invested themselves in their previous incarnation. They would not return until the next year, when the band had been signed by an LA record company.

January 20, 1967 Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA Timothy Leary/Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead were booked by Warner Brothers Records to record their debut album the week of January 30. 10 days earlier, the band had a relatively high profile Friday night show appearing with LSD promoter Timothy Leary. The Dead (and certainly not Owsley) weren't that sympathetic to Leary, but they were linked in the public mind. Santa Monica, while not technically LA, was right next to it and was generally seen by everyone as part of Greater Los Angeles, so this show would have counted as a return to the city. The show was well-attended, Leary gave a speech, and the Dead played a set. A good time generally seems to have been had, and the band got paid and got some attention. Warner Brothers can not have been sorry that their underground band was doing something "hip" like this.

There is a plausible rumor that the Dead played a show at the Aragon Ballroom in Venice Beach on Sunday night, January 22 (later The Cheetah, see April 30 below). That is someone else's research, however, so I won't elaborate. The only point to make here is that if they did indeed play it--and they might have--it remains awfully obscure, so it may not have done too much to increase underground buzz.

A poster for the first shows at the Kaleidoscope (1228 Vine St), which were blocked by an injunction. The shows may have moved to the Ambassador Hotel in LA for the weekend of April 14-15, 1967
April 14-15, 17, 1967 The Banana Grove (Embassy Ballroom), Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Canned Heat
After the Grateful Dead's first album was released on Warner Brothers in March, 1967, the Dead made some effort to "make it" in Los Angeles. Their first booking was at a nascent underground venue called The Kaleidoscope. The obscure venue is known today mainly for its unique, round posters (well, and my detailed history, too).

The Kaleidoscope was a venture by Canned Heat's managers (Skip Taylor and John Hartmann) to open a Fillmore-style venue in Los Angeles. For 1967, this was quite an inspired booking. Jefferson Airplane had just released Surrealistic Pillow and "Somebody To Love" was climbing the charts, while the Grateful Dead were underground legends who had just released their first album. Canned Heat were unknown to all but a few Los Angeles club goers, but they were an excellent live band. Taylor and Hartmann continued to work on the Kaleidoscope concept, eventually taking over the Earl Carroll Theater at 6230 Sunset (I have written about that venue at length, and VintageLA has the history of the theater itself).

This original weekend was supposed to be at a building on 1228 Vine Street (at La Mirada near Fountain), but a last second injunction stopped the event. For the weekend, the show was moved to the Embassy Ballroom in the Ambassador Hotel, at 3400 Wilshire, which also housed the legendary Coconut Grove Ballroom (I am planning to write about the weekend at the Ambassador in some detail). The ballroom was nicknamed "The Banana Grove" for the weekend.  All three bands played Friday and Saturday, but the Monday night event (April 17) appears to have been a sort of LA event for the release of the first Dead album, Taylor and Hartmann at least briefly considered keeping the Kaleidoscope at the Ambassador, but that's not what happened.

April 30, 1967 The Cheetah, Venice, CA: Grateful Dead/Yellow Balloon/New Generation (early and late shows)
With no real underground venue in Los Angeles like the Kaleidoscope, the Dead took conventional rock bookings instead. The Cheetah was at 1 Navy Pier on Venice Beach, right next to Santa Monica. It too was part of Greater Los Angeles, and not a suburb. However, the Cheetah was mostly a teen club at the time. Teenagers would come to meet people, dance, and return to the suburbs. A 45-minute set from the strange looking San Francisco band with no hit single, nor potential hit single, wasn't going to win over the type of kids who were going to the Cheetah at the time.

June 16, 1967 The Hullabaloo, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Yellow Payges/The Power (early and late shows)
The Friday night before their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, the Dead were booked at the Hullabaloo. The Hullabaloo was promoted by a popular Los Angeles top 40 dj (Dave Hull), and was designed as another teen hotspot. It had a rotating stage, so as one band played, the next band set up. It was LA, and all, and sometimes good bands played the Hullabaloo, but that wasn't why people went. Once again, the sort of stylish teen scene represented by the Hullabaloo was the complete opposite of anything that made the Grateful Dead tick.

In a September '67 interview, Frank Kofsky asked Garcia if he had played in LA.
GARCIA: Yeah, but we've never *really* played LA. We've played in the Cheetah down there.
KOFSKY: Yeah, which is a drag.
GARCIA: We played at all the shit places. And we can never get it on because it always brought us down so much. I mean, the people and promoters down there are all horrible, graspy... The whole LA snap, the whole hype, you know: bread, dollars and cents, and that's it. We've never gotten it on in LA. We've played there but we've never *done* it. 
Kofsky mentions the upcoming 9/15 Hollywood Bowl show & Garcia says, "We want to do that just for the flash of playing in the Hollywood Bowl...[but] nothing's gonna happen."

September 15, 1967 Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead [Big Brother canceled] Bill Graham Presents The San Francisco Scene
September 16, 1967 Elysian Park, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead (free concert)
The Hollywood Bowl, at 2301 North Highland Avenue, is one of Los Angeles' most famous performing venues. The amphitheater is carved into the hillside, and a distinctive bandshell covers the stage. Hollywood Bowl is owned by Los Angeles County (the town of Hollywood was merged into LA in the 1930s), and even in a town of fabled entertainment venues, Hollywood Bowl stands out. Capacity is around 17,000, so events at Hollywood Bowl are major indeed.

In the Fall of 1967, since San Francisco was the hottest city in the rock business, Bill Graham took to booking Fillmore bands elsewhere. Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company and the Dead had very few albums, and almost no hits, but they were legendarily infamous even by this early date. So you might expect that the confluence of them in an outdoor Hollywood venue would make for a major 1967 event. But it didn't. No one seems to recall the show. The only fact I know for sure is that Big Brother canceled and did not play. I have seen a picture of Bob Weir on the empty stage, so I know the Dead made it to the venue.

A useful source explains the shortcomings of the Hollywood Bowl as a rock venue, though not specifically for the Dead. Jimmi Seiter, the road manager for The Byrds, discussed the Bowl in Volume 3 of his voluminous memoirs (The Byrds My Way). Sieter explains why there weren't very many good rock concerts at Hollywood Bowl:
The union in those days hat the long haired hippies so of course the Byrds were put into that category...Another bad thing about the Bowl was that there was a very strict curfew since there were many homes that were affected by the sound of the shows so they had a strict 10:30pm curfew and if there was a problem they would turn off the power to the stage. This made for some very short performances when a band would play too long, but this was one of the drawbacks to a show at the Bowl.
So it's no surprise Big Brother dropped out, as there probably wasn't even time for three sets, and if the Dead and the Airplane couldn't play loud, what was the point? So it's no surprise that we have no fond psychedelic eyewitness reports from Hollywood Bowl.

The next day, the Dead and the Airplane played a free concert in nearby Elysian Park. I gather this was fairly well attended, though not a huge event. In many cities, however, any free concert by the Grateful Dead was the first time a major rock band (with a record) had ever played for free, and was also a local hippie clarion call. Ever-hip Los Angeles was different. The Human Be-In set off a wave of similar events around the country, and Los Angeles had had it's first "Love-In" at Griffith Park in March of 1967. So there had already been a fair number of free rock concerts in LA before the Dead and the Airplane played Elysian Park. So the Dead didn't make a big splash with what in most towns would be the stuff of legends.

The April 7, 1967 LA Times advertised a week-long Sport Cycle (bicycle) show at the Shrine Expo Hall

Meanwhile, Back At The Shrine
The Shrine Auditorium and Exposition Hall was built in 1925 by the Al Malikah Temple of the Masonic Order.  The building is in a Spanish Colonial Style with a Moorish flair.  The main entrance to the Auditorium was at 665 West Jefferson Street.  The stage is huge (186 by 72 feet) and it is a popular home for the Academy Awards.  The Auditorium has 6,489 seats on three levels.  The Exposition Hall, part of the same complex but around the corner at 700 West 32nd (at Figueroa) is a 56,000 square foot open area that was (and is) used for trade shows and conventions as well as rock concerts.  The Expo Hall had a capacity of about 5,000. In the late 1960s, most rock concert listings that say “Shrine” are typically at the Exposition Hall rather than the Auditorium. From the 1970s onward, however, almost all rock concerts listed as "The Shrine" were at the Auditorium (including the Dead's return in the latter 70s).

FREAK OUT Hot Spots! Insert to the first Mothers of Invention album, with a map of underground sites in 1966 Los Angeles (Freak Out album released June 1966)
August 13, 1966 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA:  Mothers of Invention/others
Los Angeles is an Entertainment industry town, and proud of it. Thus any cultural progression--new contrarian, regressive, progressive, even revolutionary--gets assimilated into modern entertainment. Any performer who can be accused of "selling out" is also buying in, because it's the nature of the beast. In the Summer of '66, with the Vietnam War expanding, the Watts Riots still haunting the city and hair getting longer everywhere, Los Angeles had an underground rock scene, just like the Fillmore and Avalon. We like to think of Frank Zappa as an iconcoclast, or should I say, Frank wanted us to think that, but the very first Mothers Of Invention album included a map to LA's nascent 1966 underground.

One of the founding events of the Los Angeles underground was a show at the Shrine Exposition Hall on August 13, 1966, featuring the Mothers of Invention and several other (then unknown) acts. Just like the Family Dog events in San Francisco, Southern California "Freaks" suddenly realized there were a lot more people like them than they realized. The Shrine was apparently simply rented, probably because it was centrally located and available.

September 17, 1966 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Mothers of Invention/Little Gary Ferguson/Factory/Count 5/West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band
October 15, 1966 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Little Gary Ferguson/Davie Allan & The Arrows/Kenny Dino/The Mugwumps/Dolores Johnson/The Way Out/The Fabs/Vito “Freak-In” Presented By Pat Morgan

In September and October there were sequels at The Shrine Expo Hall. The Mothers headlined in September, with some other undergroundish bands, and there was a light show as well. The October event didn't advertise the Mothers, and there were none after that. I have no idea what happened at the third one--was it a financial debacle, or did the cops hassle everyone? In any case, there were no more Freak Outs, but the Shrine Expo Hall had been proven as a possible venue for Fillmore style "Dance Concerts."

December 18, 1966  Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Quicksilver  Messenger Service/Loving Impulse
(possibly canceled)
Big Brother and Quicksilver booked a show at Shrine Expo Hall, and a poster circulates. I'm not convinced the concert actually took place. The importance of the poster, however, is it means that word had gotten around that the Shrine Expo Hall might make a Southern California Fillmore stand in.

An alternate poster for the Dead's November 10-11 '67 debut at Shrine Expo

November 10-11, 1967 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Buffalo Springfield/Grateful Dead/Blue Cheer Pinnacle Concerts Presents
By the fall of 1967, almost every psychedelic rock band had played Los Angeles, at a wide variety of venues, but there was no venue that played the role of the Fillmore. At the Fillmore, the mere fact of playing there meant you were a hip band, and fans came just to see what was hip. All over the West Coast, there were comparable places--the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Eagles Auditorium in Seattle and The Retinal Circus in Vancouver, for example--but none in Southern California. The Kaleidoscope had been conceived to fill the void, but the City Council (and perhaps the cops) had throttled it pre-birth. There may have been a few hip little nightclubs, like the Magic Mushroom, but no venue where the rising underground bands played on a regular basis.

To tell this story properly, I should tell the entire story of the Shrine Exposition Hall as a Southern California Fillmore. That story is too long to tell here, even for me, so I will limit the narrative to the general outlines of concert promotion at the Shrine Expo Hall, and the critical role played by the Grateful Dead as part of the story.

The first regular promoter of rock shows at the Shrine was Pinnacle Dance Concerts, the partnership of Sepp Donahower, Marc Chase and John Van Hamersveld. Supposedly some of the money was supplied by the heir to a cereal fortune, but that may be apocryphal. Pinnacle promoted concerts at the Shrine, both the Expo Hall and the Auditorium, on many weekends between November 1967 and August 1968. As far as I know, during the week the Shrine presented the usual run of corporate or civic events, but I don't know that for certain.

Van Hamersveld was a poster artist, at the time most famous for the promotional poster for the legendary surf film Endless Summer. By 1967, he was the the head of design for Capitol Records. Over the course of his career, Van Hamersheld did the covers for over 300 albums. Among his many, many classic album covers were the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street and the Grateful Dead's Skeletons From The Closet. Van Hamesveld did the posters for Pinnacle Productions, and many of the posters were so good that we remain familiar with them today.

After Pinnacle's debut with Buffalo Springfield and The Dead, they put on a series of shows at Shrine Exposition Hall. Pinnacle only used the Shrine on weekends, and not even all of them, and the Exposition Hall seems to have had the usual trade events and the like throughout the whole period. There weren't as many rock concerts at the Shrine as at the Fillmore, but Van Hammersveld's posters are fairly recognizable today. Pinnacle must have made at least some money, since they kept putting on shows.

When I started researching the rock history of the Shrine Exposition Hall, I was very surprised to find that there was no accessible on-line list of the Pinnacle rock shows. As a result--and being me--I made my own list, and posted it elsewhere (I will add, as a Grateful Dead footnote, that the band did not play the Shrine on December 13, 1967, nor did anyone else--it was a Wednesday, so they didn't debut "Dark Star" there).

March 9, 1968 Melodyland Theater, Anaheim, CA: Jefferson Airplane and Friends (early and late show)
By early 1968, Jefferson Airplane were selling a lot of records, and they were genuine rock stars. Los Angeles, however, was still about "entertainment." The Airplane played a weekend, with two shows each night, at the Melodyland Theater, just across the road from Disneyland. On Saturday night, the Grateful Dead were billed as "Friends," for whatever reason. It seems both bands played two short sets twice a night. The Airplane had Grace Slick, a genuine star, but the Dead were never going to win over a crowd in that kind of format.

May 17, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Steve Miller Band/Taj Mahal
May 18, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Steve Miller Band/Taj Mahal/
[with Jefferson Airplane as unbilled guests] Pinnacle Presents
By May of '68, Pinnacle had put on a steady run of hip shows at the Shrine Expo Hall. For the weekend of May 18-19, the Grateful Dead returned, along with another rising San Francisco group, the Steve Miller Band. The Miller Band had just released their debut album on Capitol, the great Children Of The Future. Taj Mahal was a well-known local act, whose debut album had just been (or was about to be) released on Columbia. 

In line with being cool, the Airplane "showed up" at the Grateful Dead concert on Saturday night. This was probably announced on FM radio. Pinnacle would not have had the Airplane drop in if ticket sales had been more robust. It's worth noting that the Dead, Airplane and Steve Miller were all playing the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival in Santa Clara this weekend. The Dead would have played the Shrine on Friday night, flown up to San Jose, played the Fairgrounds on Saturday afternoon, and then returned to the Shrine for the Saturday night show.

llumaniti Alert: in an interview, poster artist and Pinnacle partner John Van Hammerseld, interviewed in Paul Grushkin's Art Of Rock book (p.255), says that George Lucas was part of the light show crew at some point in 67-68. So for those of you who feel that there was a secret connection between the Grateful Dead and Star Wars...

July 11, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Blue Cheer
The Grateful Dead returned in 1968 to headline a rare Thursday show at Shrine Expo Hall. It's hare to read the poster, but I'm not sure if it was a Pinnacle show. Certainly Pinnacle produced the weekend show, with a triple bill of Butterfield Blues Band, Sly and The Family Stone and the Velvet Underground. Presumably, the fact the Dead could play on a Thursday suggested they had an audience, but they weren't a big enough draw for a weekend show. The Dead's weekend booking was at a tiny place on Lake Tahoe's North Shore, so it wasn't like Shrine promoters were being outbid by a high-powered gunslinger from another city.

There is one interesting detail about the July Shrine Expo show: future Jerry Garcia Band drummer David Kemper, then a teenage high school graduate, had just moved to Los Angeles. In a great Jake Feinberg interview, Kemper described seeing the Dead at the Shrine, but not remembering much, "thanks to Mr. Owsley." The timeline strongly suggests that it was this show.

[update: Commenter Brad makes a good case for July 11 as a spurious date. The poster was apparently completed in 1972, and Brad and LIA report that there is no supporting publicity. So we still don't know which show Kemper saw...maybe in May?]

Headliners for the Newport Pop Festival in Orange County were Tiny Tim (Sat Aug 3) and Jefferson Airplane (Sun Aug 4). The Dead played Sunday.
August 4, 1968 Orange County Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa, CA: Newport Pop Festival, with Jefferson Airplane/Eric Burdon and The Animals/The Byrds/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Iron Butterfly/Things To Come/Illinois Speed Press/Blue Cheer
The Newport Pop Festival, a two-day outdoor event at the Orange County Fairgrounds, was just one of many events trying to capitalize on the Monterey Pop vibe. When these kinds of concerts were a success, they generally overwhelmed the venue or the community, but if they weren't as crowded, they lost money. Still, the Newport Pop Festival is somewhat fondly remembered. The Dead played with their San Francisco friends, and got to check in with some other pals. Garcia's old bluegrass compadre Clarence White was playing one of his first shows as the lead guitarist for the Byrds, and the Dead went back a ways with Eric Burdon and The Animals as well.

Still, putting on a good show at a big outdoor event probably didn't do that much for the band. There were a lot of groups, and the Dead probably played about an hour, like everyone else. Some fans probaly liked them, but I doubt that all the high school and college students were still raving about them when school started the next month.

August 23-24, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dea/Taj Mahal/others Pinnacle Dance
Everyone seems to have had fond memories of psychedelic rock concerts at Shrine Expo in 1967 and '68, but they don't seem to have been that profitable. Pinnacle's next-to-last stand was on the weekend of August 23-24, with a weekend of concerts by the Grateful Dead. There was one more weekend of Pinnacle concerts, two weeks later (Sep 6-7, with John Mayall/Junior Wells/Taj Mahal), and Pinnacle stood down.

The Shrine concerts were recorded by the Dead, and released by the band on the 1992 album Two From The Vault. The release, although brilliantly restored, has some very misleading liner notes. All of the pictures on the archival cd are from the Auditorium rather than the Exposition Hall. The liner notes, full of details about frequency response, seem oblivious to the fact that there were different venues in the same building.

An ad for a canceled concert at the Shrine Expo Hall on September 27-28, 1968, presented by "Zenith Sunrise," and featuring the Grateful Dead and Buddy Miles Express
September 27-28, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Buddy Miles Express/Black Pearl/Little John Farm  [canceled] Zenith Sunrise presents
The Pinnacle company fell apart after August. An intriguing artifact is this poster for scheduled Grateful Dead concerts at Shrine Expo on the weekend of September 27-28. The poster says the shows will be presented by Zenith Sunrise. The concerts never happened. Presumably, Zenith Sunrise was a reformed version of Pinnacle, but it didn't happen. Much of the Pinnacle team reconvened as Scenic Sounds, and started putting on shows around Southern California. The Dead were very loyal to promoters, so I assume that if they took the September booking, it would have been with the same principals as Pinnacle.

October 18, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Grateful Dead/Cleveland Wrecking Company
December 13-14, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Grateful Dead/Magic Sam/Turnquist Remedy

Over in suburban Torrance, what was formerly the Blue Law had been reconfigured as The Bank. A group of hippies, one of whom had inherited some money, put together the Fillmore-like operation. On one hand, Torrance was more or less the suburbs, which was where young rock fans lived. Places like Torrance were also where the local police absolutely, positively did not want some hippie establishment.

The Bank had opened in July. A lot of cool rock bands played there in the Summer and Fall, even more so once the Shrine was no longer booking shows. Pink Floyd and Ten Years After both played there, as did a number of San Francisco bands. The Grateful Dead played The Bank in October, and then again at the very end of the line, in December. By the end of '68, so many people were getting busted at The Bank that crowds had dramatically thinned out. This was exactly what the cops wanted, and spelled the end of the venue. The window for a Fillmore-style ballroom in Southern California was closing.

Scenic Sounds presented Country Joe and The Fish and the Grateful Dead at the Shrine Exposition Hall on December 20-21, 1968. The Dead never played Shrine Expo Hall again.
December 20-21, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA:  Grateful Dead/Country Joe and The Fish/Spirit/Pulse/Sir Douglas Quintet/Mint Tattoo Scenic Sounds Presents
The Pinnacle group reconstituted itself as Scenic Sounds. I know that John Van Hammersveld was the Art Director for Capitol Records by this time, and the cereal heir was gone (if he was ever really there). Scenic Sounds rented Shrine Expo Hall again for a few more shows in the Fall. Near Christmas, Scenic booked the Dead again, this time with Country Joe and The Fish as headliners. It is largely forgotten that outside of San Francisco, Country Joe and The Fish had a higher profile than the Grateful Dead.

Apparently there were two stages, so there could be more bands. Pulse was.a peculiar act, a conga player with a light show, and the drums apparently triggered the lights. Sir Douglas Quintet and Mint Tattoo were Bay Area bands, so it must have been a long evening. Country Joe and The Fish didn't really have a bass player at this point, so Spirit's Mark Andes filled in for the weekend, according to witnesses.

Yet with that, the Grateful Dead never played the Shrine Exposition Hall again. Pretty much, that was the end of Shrine Expo as a meaningful rock venue. Sure, promoters rented it once in a while, and there were occasional rock shows. In fact, there still are. Not often, but sometimes. The Shrine Exposition Hall is still a going concern, and now and again there is a concert there.

Still, the narrative for the Grateful Dead in the 60s in Los Angeles is the opposite of practically everywhere else. In New York, in Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest, in Miami, in Philadelphia--the Dead rolled into town and stuck a flag in the ground. Buoying every new psychedelic ballroom, playing the first free concert in town, playing longer and louder than anyone else. It was the stuff dreams were made of. Los Angeles isn't like other towns, however, and is proud of it. The Shrine Exposition Hall was just another venue. Sure, there were some great shows, because great bands were on tour, but Shrine Expo didn't have a big impact on Los Angeles culture or music, even though it's bona fides were as great as any other contemporary venue. 

Aftermath: Pacific Presentations
The significant impact of Pinnacle concerts at Shrine Expo was the genesis of subsequent concert promotion companies. The Pinnacle team became Scenic Sounds. In early '69, Scenic Sounds started booking regular concerts on weekends at the Rose Palace in Pasadena. The ever-loyal Grateful Dead played for Scenic twice more at the Rose Palace, on March 21-22, 1969 and then again on May 10.
Scenic Sounds in turn became Pacific Presentations. Pacific put on concerts all over the country, particularly in secondary markets like San Antonio or Rochester, where there weren't major promoters. A band like the Dead was willing to play the hinterlands, but they wanted to work with promoters they already knew, so Pacific Presentations promoted a lot of Dead shows all over the country.

Pacific grew into one of the largest concert companies in the United States, promoting thousands of concerts all over the US and Canada. The company established and popularized venues such as the Hollywood Palladium, and the Santa Barbara County Bowl. Pacific put together California Jam in 1974, which set the record for paid attendance. The company also promoted entire tours of Rod Stewart & The Faces all through the 1970s, helping make the artist one of the biggest attractions in the world. In the late 1970s, Gary Perkins, Brian Murphy, and Bob Bogdanovich split from Pacific and formed Avalon Attractions. Danny Kresky was also with Pacific. After around four years, Danny left to start his own company, DKE in Pittsburgh. Donahower stayed with Pacific and promoted tours with Bob Marley & The Wailers and other attractions. 
Sepp Donahower is currently the sole owner of Pacific Presentations. After Perkins left Avalon a few years later, Irving Azoff and Bob Getties bought into Avalon and it was sold to SFX a few years later. SFX was then sold to Clear Channel, and Clear Channel spun off their concert company into Live Nation, which now has merged with Ticketmaster.


  1. Thanks Corry, there are a few of these locations I haven't driven to drink in the history.

  2. FWIW, here's what I wrote about the September 15, 1967 Hollywood Bowl concert in my ill-fated, never-to-be-published tome, 'Feed Your Head: San Francisco's Psychedelic Rock Revolution 1965-1969," which in day-by-day format followed the comings and goings of the GD, Airplane, Big Brother/Janis, Quicksilver, and Country Joe & the Fish. :

    Friday 15
    Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead
    Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood, CA
    “Bill Graham Presents the San Francisco Scene,” say the ads and poster for this concert. Originally, Big Brother is supposed to appear, too, but they back out at the last minute—some say their manager feels that in the wake of the group’s triumph at Monterey Pop they shouldn’t be third-billed. This is one of the biggest paid gigs to date for the Airplane and the Dead—about 15,000 fans turn up.

    In a September 18 review, the LA Times’ Pete Johnson calls the concert “generally a bad evening thanks to inept sound balancing, bad singing, and an exhibitionist audience, spurred by some poorly chosen words from Grace Slick and Marty Balin of the Airplane.” The singers encourage fans to defy venue security and rush the stage.
    The sound system derailed the Dead, Johnson says, because their voices could not be heard over the instruments, although, as he notes “at best they are not an overpowering singing group. Weak microphones crippled ‘Cold Rain and Snow’ … but they recovered with ‘Morning Dew,’ during which they invited the audience to dance on the grass which carpeted the front of the stage. A few straggled up at first, then more, until the crowd numbered about 200 for the last number, an excellent, lengthy tour de force, punctuated by applause for Jerry Garcia’s lead guitar playing.”

    The Airplane perform on a the stage filled with “metaphysical props” such as an hourglass, a globe, a wooden Indian, a weather vane capped with a gold eagle, a wooden rocking horse, a wooden seal, a wooden cat with a monkey’s face, and a purple altar. Slick is dressed in a full Girl Scout uniform for the occasion. The setlist is mostly drawn from Surrealistic Pillow but includes several from the album they have been recording in L.A., such as “Young Girl Sunday Blues,” “Two Heads,” and “Martha.” “Marty Balin and Miss Slick sang with more vigor than precision, a sloppiness most noticeable in their last three songs,” according to Johnson.

    Grace invites dancers to come up in front of the stage, but this time Bowl security intervenes. She and Balin persevere, and eventually “waves of people washed onto the performing area, first filling the left of the stage, then the right, then bridging in a solid mass across the center, screening the Airplane from the view of the rest of the crowd.” After a couple of numbers, Marty relents and urges people to go back to their seats—a plea that is mostly ignored. Then the power cuts out at the end of “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil,” and finally, after a long, awkward period of confusion, people head away from the stage. The Airplane eventually play another couple of songs, but a promised jam with the Dead never materializes.

    * * *

    By the way, Big Brother played the following night, September 16.

    1. Thanks Blair. Great to get the report from the scene. A huge crowd, terrible sound, wrong venue.

  3. aturday 16
    Big Brother & The Holding Company
    Monterey Fairgrounds, Monterey, CA; Monterey Jazz Festival
    If this seems like an odd booking, at least promoters have the sense to put Big Brother on the same bill as several other electric blues artists, including B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, and Big Joe Turner. The following week in the Chronicle, Ralph Gleason notes: “An old-line jazz critic was outraged at the rock bands’ presence, but I think it’s reasonable to say he was only suffering from cultural shock. Big Brother was really a delight and Miss Joplin is a gas, easily the most exciting singer of her race to appear in a decade or more.”

    After Joplin’s death three years later, Gleason will recall tonight’s performance: “There she was, this freaky-looking white kid from Texas on stage with all the hierarchy of the traditional blues world, facing an audience that was steeped in blues tradition, which was older than her ordinary audience and had a built-in tendency to regard electric music as the enemy.

    “The first thing she did was to say ‘shit,’ and that endeared her right away. Then she stomped her foot and shook her hair and started to scream. They held still for a couple of seconds, but here and there in the great sunlit arena, longhairs started getting up and out into the aisles and stomping along with the band. By the end of the first number, the Monterey County Fairgrounds arena was packing with people writhing and twisting and snaking along in huge chains. Nothing like it had ever happened before in the festival’s ten years, and nothing like it has happened since.” As usual “Ball And Chain” is the show-stopper, earning the band a standing ovation.

    1. I think the Airplane had played the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival, right? And it was one of the inspirations for Monterey Pop. I didn't realize, however, that Big Brother had returned to Monterey the same year.

    2. Well, if you can stand one more...

      Saturday 17
      Big Mama Thornton, Jefferson Airplane, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, Jon Hendricks
      San Francisco Jazz Festival, Monterey County Fairgrounds, Monterey, CA
      Folk festivals want them, jazz festivals want them—suddenly Jefferson Airplane are a hot commodity outside the San Francisco ballrooms. This afternoon concert is mostly dedicated to blues, with the Butterfield group being the great crossover between the more traditional acts and the new rock sound represented by the Airplane. In the Chronicle, Ralph Gleason complains about a number of different aspects of the festival weekend, from the motley programming to the shortness of most of the sets (because of the sheer number of acts booked), noting in his September 19 column that “the Jefferson Airplane was cut off before it really had a chance to start and, of course, the announced ending with Waters, Butterfield, and the Airplane [jamming together] never materialized.”
      Philip Elwood of the Examiner is more enthralled with the show, praising all of the acts and writing: “The Jefferson Airplane, quite young and popular, were the rookies in the league but they handled their equipment (electronic, instrumental, vocal) more professionally than anyone on stage all afternoon.”

      However, composer Leonard Feather, esteemed jazz writer for the Los Angeles Times, trashes the band in his review titled “Hard Rock Stones Sweet Sound of Monterey Festival.” “Does rock’n’roll have a valid place in a jazz festival? ... a resounding, roaring amplified, hyperthyroid, ‘No!’

      “The big beat desecrated the name of Monterey when a group known as the Jefferson Airplane was dragged in, stomping and screaming, as the finale … Jefferson Airplane, with its raunchy voices and reverberating guitars, never got off the ground. … Its sledge-hammer rhythm, monotonous melodious concepts, and almost nonexistent harmony had all the delicacy and finesse of a mule team kicking down a picket fence. The slim excuse presumably used to dump rock on the fairgrounds was its distant relationship to Negro blues.”

      Not everyone from L.A. was so disgusted. The underground Free Press critic Eileen Kauffman writes: “The festival caught fire this year while the Jefferson Airplane, a San Francisco rock group, was on stage. A number of couples began dancing in the aisle, but only on the right side of the arena. A man in shorts began to dance and the police dragged him out. Then there were shouts of booing and catcalls. Then, suddenly, a mother and her son got up to dance, and the right side of the arena caught the spirit and urged them on … when the act ended—the curtain just suddenly came down on the Jefferson Airplane—everyone was keyed up and ready for more music, more dancing, more of the groovy atmosphere one always finds at Monterey.”

  4. Such a shame to hear that "Feed Your Head" is "never to be published!" I've been waiting years for that book. I hope an e-book or online publication will be an option someday.

    It's interesting to read about the indifference with which Los Angeles greeted the Dead in the '60s. I wonder if the point is a little exaggerated in this post - reading this, you'd think that every show was a flop, all the audiences small and uninterested, and hardly any local fanbase existed.
    Yet by the early '70s, the Dead were making regular yearly stops in the Los Angeles area, often two or three-night stands in large venues, so they did eventually find an audience there.
    The mismatch seems to have been more with the available venues (and, perhaps, promoters) than with the jaded Los Angeles listeners turning up their noses at the San Francisco sound.

    Jefferson Airplane, for instance, was a far more successful band than the Dead during the '60s, with national popularity and airplay. What did this translate to in terms of Los Angeles shows - did they play different kinds of venues than the Dead?
    Skipping some multi-band festivals, these were the Airplane dates in the area:
    Aug '66, Dec '66 - runs at the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood (where the Dead never played)
    4/9/67 - the Cheetah, Santa Monica (with the Doors)
    4/14-16/67 - Kaleidoscope (with the Dead)
    7/15/67 - Anaheim Convention Center (with the Doors)
    9/15/67 - Hollywood Bowl (+ free park show with the Dead)
    2/23-24/68 - the Shrine
    3/8-9/68 - Melodyland, Anaheim (with the Dead)
    3/22-24/68 - Kaleidoscope, Hollywood [possibly also 4/30/68]
    3/30/68 - USC Los Angeles
    (5/18/68 - the Shrine, unbilled)
    11/9/68 - CSU Long Beach
    7/28/69 - free park show
    10/31/69 - LA Forum (+ free park show)
    2/7/70 - Anaheim Convention Center

    Starting in smaller but well-publicized places, by mid-'67 the Airplane were able to reach some bigger venues than the Dead could on their own at that time. What's striking is the Dead's history of playing repeatedly at the Shrine; the Airplane didn't often return to these venues, and were surprisingly scarce at the Shrine.
    While the Dead never did play some of those venues (avoiding the LA Forum even in later years), they played a wider variety of places in the area - from the Hullabaloo to the Bank to the Rose Palace to the Thelma Theater to Thee Club to the El Monte stadium... While I can't calculate the number of people they reached, the Dead were playing just as many (or more) shows in the area as the Airplane, and I get the impression they were seeking out just the right venue. What could they do if all the best places kept closing and few friendly promoters could be found? But there must have been at least some local demand for the Dead, if the Shrine brought them back four times in '68 alone.

  5. The LA Free Press raved about Pinnacle's concerts at the Shrine, but it seems some of the billings were more rewarding musically than financially, as too many shows lost money with small audiences. One reviewer consoled himself: "Pinnacle did lose money on the Traffic concert, but...they gained the admiration and respect of anyone in the audience who could recognize great music and a rare opportunity when it was upon them."
    But San Francisco bands weren't overlooked. When Big Brother played the Shrine in May '68, the Free Press noted that it was "the biggest crowd since The Airplane played there a few months back," and praised Big Brother as better stage performers than "the bored, world-weary" Airplane and Dead.

    The LA Times, reviewing the Dead's August '68 appearance, mentioned that "Pinnacle has been having financial problems and the Grateful Dead, who appeared in the first Pinnacle concert, appeared to help them out."
    The Free Press concurred: "[Pinnacle] lost a bundle and nearly called it quits. The Grateful Dead came to their aid and, hopeful the place would stay in business, played for scale."
    The effort didn't work, since Pinnacle only put on shows for a couple more weeks and the Dead's next appearance in September '68 was cancelled. But it shows the Dead's loyalty to these promoters - they'd play for less just to keep the Shrine shows going!

    Too lengthy to quote here, but for a couple Free Press reviews, see the comments to these posts:
    ("Pinnacle: Far More Impressive," LA Free Press 4/5/68)
    ("Pinnacle's Feast or Famine Gamble," Free Press 9/13/68)
    I'm sure more Shrine articles can also be found in the Free Press archives.

  6. Tangentially related, but I just came across this anecdotes in Jackson's & Gans' This Is All a Dream We Dreamed oral history:

    ALLAN ARKUSH: They were playing at the Shrine Auditorium [in Los Angeles], during the baseball playoffs in [October] 1976. Jerry said: 'Oh, you gotta go say hello to the band. They’re right down there, on the right.' I walk there and I see these old guys playing poker. I said, 'I thought you said that’s the band.'
    Garcia says, 'Yes, that’s the band.' Then he told me this thing about the Shrine Auditorium. If you were a rock band coming into their place, the union rules said that you were usurping the job of the house band. You had to hire the house band and pay them off, because you were taking their jobs. He thought it was endlessly funny.

  7. The 7/11/68 date is questionable, the Rick Griffin poster was made WAY after the fact (1972-ish) and I couldn't find any references at all beyond the poster. There's also footage of the Dead and the Airplane at Newport HERE:

    1. Very interesting Brad. That might explain why I couldn't find any reference in the LA Times. Now, that in itself isn't definitive, but it certainly points to a questionable date.

      I had wondered why the Dead would be booked at the Shrine in LA on a Thursday night. Any idea why Griffin used that date? Could it have been based on an earlier sketch or design (I'm imagining that the show was contemplated, and a poster planned, and then was canceled).

    2. Much as I hate to see a 1968 show disappear, more evidence also points against this date:
      - I didn't spot any ad for the show in the LA Free Press that week.
      - Pinnacle never put on isolated Thursday shows at the Shrine. They always booked weekend shows.
      - And Blue Cheer would play at the Shrine just two weeks later.

      The lack of an actual 1968-vintage poster is also troubling. This date could fall in the same mythical category as the "12/13/67 Shrine" show.

  8. The Mothers Of Invention's Freak Out! album NEVER included an insert map of "Hot Spots". Early pressings featured an address in the gatefold where listeners could write and obtain (I believe for $1.00, might have been a little more) the map. This might qualify as splitting hairs, but I'm kind of a stickler for accuracy where 1960's bands are concerned.

    1. SRR, thanks for this. I didn't realize the insert wasn't included (that would explain why none of my copies ever had it). I'm all for splitting hairs, keep up the good work

  9. Hello, I just started a blogspot and am trying to figure out how to customize the thumbnail photo for a new entry so it doesn't crop awkwardly. If anyone in this lovely community could be of assistance please let me know.