Thursday, August 26, 2021

August 28-30, 1969, Family Dog at The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Hartbeats/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen/Rubber Duck (Archaeology) [FDGH II]


The historical record of the Grateful Dead is a profound contrast with other legendary, high profile 60s bands. When The Doors, Jimi Hendrix Experience or Led Zeppelin hit a town, we can find posters, newspaper reviews, fond reflections and sometimes some police reports. We get a good picture of what happened at those concerts, but with only a vague feel for the music that was played. If Jimi killed it on "Red House," or Robert Plant inserted a Buffalo Springfield song into a medley, we usually don't know, or at least not for sure.

The Grateful Dead's 60s history is the opposite. Thanks to Owsley, and a few other fellow travelers, we have a surprisingly good tape record of the band's history. Sure--it isn't anywhere close to complete, but we have tapes of far more Grateful Dead concerts than just about any other 60s rock band that toured heavily--only Frank Zappa's archive is anywhere close. But this leads to the odd scenario where we have complete, or almost complete, tapes of Dead shows, and almost no information about the shows themselves. Were they sold out? Did the play any sets before or after they were taped? Who opened? Did the crowd like it, or did they leave early? We often have no idea. 

On the weekend of August 28-30, 1969, the Grateful Dead played from Thursday to Saturday at the Family Dog on The Great Highway in San Francisco. The Family Dog was Chet Helms' successor to his Avalon Ballroom, where the Dead had played many times from 1966 through 1968. The Family Dog on The Great Highway was far from downtown. The Great Highway is the westernmost road in San Francisco, running right along Ocean Beach. The venue was at an aging amusement park called Playland-At-The_Beach. Helms had taken over the former Edgewater Ballroom (previously Topsy's Roost) and turned it into a rock ballroom. The Dog was a bit smaller than the old Fillmore, and perhaps 60% of the capacity of the Fillmore West. So Helms was competing with Bill Graham again, farther from downtown and not as big. Helms was an underrated entrepreneur, but he wasn't in a great competitive position.

The Grateful Dead played a remarkable weekend at the Family Dog on The Great Highway from August 28-30, 1969. Thanks to Owsley, we have a pretty good idea of the music played. We know almost nothing else.

The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, ca. 1969

The Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
The Family Dog was a foundation stone in the rise of San Francisco rock, and it was in operation in various forms from Fall 1965 through the Summer of 1970. For sound historical reasons, most of the focus on the Family Dog has been on the original 4-person collective who organized the first San Francisco Dance Concerts in late 1965, and on their successor Chet Helms. Helms took over the Family Dog in early 1966, and after a brief partnership with Bill Graham at the Fillmore, promoted memorable concerts at the Avalon Ballroom from Spring 1966 through December 1968. The posters, music and foggy memories of the Avalon are what made the Family Dog a legendary icon of 60s rock.

In the Summer of 1969, however, with San Francisco as one of the fulcrums of the rock music explosion, Chet Helms opened another venue. The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, on the Western edge of San Francisco, was only open for 14 months and was not a success. Yet numerous interesting bands played there, and remarkable events took place, and they are only documented in a scattered form.

660 Great Highway in San Francisco in 1967, when it was the ModelCar Raceway, a slot car track

The Edgewater Ballroom, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA

As early as 1913, there were rides and concessions at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, near the Richmond District. By 1926, they had been consolidated as Playland-At-The-Beach. The Ocean Beach area included attractions such as the Sutro Baths and the Cliff House. The San Francisco Zoo was just south of Playland, having opened in the 1930s. One of the attractions at Playland was a restaurant called Topsy's Roost. The restaurant had closed in 1930, and the room became the Edgewater Ballroom. The Ballroom eventually closed, and Playland went into decline when its owner died in 1958. By the 1960s, the former Edgewater was a slot car raceway. In early 1969, Chet Helms took over the lease of the old Edgewater.
One of the only photos of the interior of the Family Dog on The Great Highway (from a Stephen Gaskin "Monday Night Class" ca. October 1969)

The Family Dog On The Great Highway

The Great Highway is a four-lane road that runs along the Western edge of San Francisco, right next to Ocean Beach. Downtown San Francisco faces the Bay, but beyond Golden Gate Park was the Pacific Ocean. The aptly named Ocean Beach is dramatic and beautiful, but it is mostly windy and foggy. Much of the West Coast of San Francisco is not even a beach, but rocky cliffs. There are no roads in San Francisco West of the Great Highway, so "660 Great Highway" was ample for directions (for reference, it is near the intersection of Balboa Street and 48th Avenue). The tag-line "Edge Of The Western World" was not an exaggeration, at least in North American terms.

The Family Dog on The Great Highway was smaller than the Bill Graham's old Fillmore Auditorium. It could hold up to 1500, but the official capacity was probably closer to 1000. Unlike the comparatively centrally located Fillmore West, the FDGH was far from downtown, far from the Peninsula suburbs, and not particularly easy to get to from the freeway. For East Bay or Marin residents, the Great Highway was a formidable trip. The little ballroom was very appealing, but if you didn't live way out in the Avenues, you had to drive. As a result, FDGH didn't get a huge number of casual drop-ins from around the Bay Area, and that didn't help its fortunes. Most of the locals referred to the venue as "Playland."


The Thursday (August 28, 1969) SF Good Times shows the added Grateful Dead night on that evening

August 28, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Mickey Hart and The Hartbeats/New Riders of The Purple Sage
Prosopographical research on rock shows at the Family Dog on The Great Highway is closer to Archeology. We often have very limited information about what shows were even scheduled, and almost never have information about the bands that actually played or anything that happened. Since the shows were generally--apparently--thinly attended, eyewitness accounts on blogs and message boards are few and far between. For 60s research, Grateful Dead performances are usually our best hope of getting some information, since Deadheads and the Grateful Dead cosmos have made a half-century long effort to document everything.

Thursday, August 28, 1969 has had no provenance save for the Grateful Dead. The Family Dog had advertised the Grateful Dead for Friday and Saturday (August 29 and 30), supported by the then unknown New Riders of The Purple Sage, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and Rubber Duck. The Dog pretty much never had shows on Thursday night as part of a weekend run. Yet the Grateful Dead vault had a tape labeled "Hartbeats" from the Family Dog, recorded by Owsley Stanley himself, and dated August 28. It should be noted that Owsley's tape labeling was known to be scrupulously accurate.

I speculated about the tape and the mysterious performance in a blog post many years ago. My speculation at the time, reasonable but in the end incorrect, was that the Dead had set up their equipment in advance of their weekend show, and had taken the opportunity to jam a little bit. My blog Commenters and I generally speculated that this may have been a response to Jerry Garcia's request at a meeting of The Commons (on Tuesday, August 12) for the Dog to host jam sessions during the day. There was no flyer, no advertising, no trace of the event, so the general assumption was that the hour long tape was members of the Dead having some fun with some friends.

Update: once I posted this, fellow scholar David found a contemporary ad for the show from the SF Good Times (above). It seems the Dead added a Thursday night show.

The lineup for the tape was Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, organist Howard Wales and a brief appearance by a flute player. Starting back in 1968, Garcia, Lesh, Hart and Kreutzmann had played some gigs at the Matrix as Mickey Hart and The Hartbeats, sometimes joined by some guests. They typically played some instrumental Dead jams and a few blues numbers, which is exactly what transpired on the tape. It all seemed to fit--a weeknight jam for Garcia, for a few random hippies, when the Dead's equipment was already set up.

Yet one anonymous Commenter said:

I was there for the concert on the 28th and remember all the bands playing, the Dead, New Riders, and Commander Cody. There was also a short set from Mickey and the Heartbeats which played either during or after the normal Dead set. The hartbeats did High Heeled Sneakers and maybe even Schoolgirl. It was a fantastic night.

Memories are a tricky thing, and it was always possible that the Commenter was remembering Friday or Saturday, or combining Thursday and Friday. But guess what? It's looking like he remembered pretty well, whoever he (or she) was.

Update: a correspondent writes
I attended these shows. I have no memory of Commander Cody or Rubber Duck playing at all. Rather, there was a group called Phoenix. The line up was Phoenix as the opener, then New Riders, then the Dead with the bonus Hartbeats one night. There were stages at either end of the hall and while Phoenix was playing at one end, the Riders were setting up at the other and then the Dead while the Riders played. God showed up as well in the form of Pig and Jerry tearing it up and leaving we poor mortals smoking wrecks. When it was over, we stumbled out and across the Great Highway to collapse on the sand and let the crashing surf bring us back to earth.

Phoenix was a San Francisco band with roots going back to the Acid Test days (when they were known as Universal Parking Lot). Is the Internet great or what?  It's also fascinating to see that two stages were in use, in a complete break from rock concert orthodoxy.

Dawn Of The New Riders

In early 2020, the Owsley Stanley Foundation released a great 5-disc set called Dawn Of The New Riders of The Purple Sage. One of the discs had a complete New Riders set from Thursday, August 28 (see below for the list). As if that wasn't enough, Bob Weir joined the New Riders for several numbers, previewing a never-fulfilled concept called Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck. So that means Weir was at the Family Dog that night, so a Grateful Dead set suddenly seems very likely. It remains to be seen whether the Dead set was recorded by Owsley, and whether it can surface, but given the paucity of evidence we typically deal with for the Family Dog, I'm going with the likelihood that the Dead played a set, along with the "Hartbeats" jam and the New Riders.

Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia, from the back cover of their 1971 Hooteroll? album. Tame as it may seem now, passing a joint on the back cover of your album was A Statement at the time.

Howard Wales
Over the years, the most intriguing part about the Family Dog "Hartbeats" tape was the presence of organist Howard Wales. In a much later interview, Tom Constanten complained that Wales had "a bigger stack" (of Leslie Amplifiers, presumably) than him, a whiff that there was some competition involved. I had always assumed that Wales was sitting in when TC wasn't there, but now it seems more likely that the whole band was there, and the Hartbeats jam was something extra.

Now, Howard Wales was an experienced musician and a brilliant player. Wales was from the Cincinnati area, where he had backed guitarist Lonnie Mack in the mid-60s. Wales then ended up in El Paso, TX, working in a jazz trio with tenor saxophonist Martin Fierro, and after that in Seattle. By 1968, Wales had made landfall in San Francisco. He joined a blues trio that had just moved from Milwaukee, The New Blues. They became a quartet called the AB Skhy Blues Band. The band's debut album had been released on MGM in 1969, and they performed regularly around the Bay Area.

Howard Wales was part of A.B. Skhy when they released their 1969 debut on MGM Records

Wales must have met Garcia somewhere. I'm not aware of AB Skhy opening for the Dead prior to this, and Garcia in general did not "hang out" at the Avalon or in bars, so it's mysterious how they connected. The geography of the Family Dog isn't irrelevant here. I don't know where Wales lived, but it's a safe bet it wasn't out in the essentially suburban Sunset district. Wales wouldn't have come to the Family Dog at all, and even less likely if he brought his own organ, without the guarantee of jamming. The Great Highway was a long way from anywhere, and nobody jammed with the Dead in '69 unless they were invited, which means they had received the Garcia seal of approval. So how Wales ended up at the Family Dog this night is not just a mystery, but part of a larger puzzle that may never be solved.

Of course, we now know the story that Wales and drummer Bill Vitt were managing the Monday night jams at the Matrix in the Spring of 1970, and Jerry Garcia started showing up. Garcia showed up because he wanted to jam with Wales. Vitt, in turn, would invite bassist John Kahn, and Garcia and Kahn's partnership would begin there. But the roots of it seem to trace back to the Family Dog. Somehow, Wales was invited to jam with the Hartbeats configuration, and we even have a tape. A few years later, we had the Howard Wales/Jerry Garcia album Hooteroll? (released on Douglas/CBS in 1971, but recorded in October 1970, yet it all seems to have started for undetermined reasons at an unpublicized Thursday night at the Family Dog. It's distinctly possible that Garcia had somehow previously jammed with Wales at the Matrix, a regular jamming site, and invited him out to the Dog for a more serious go at it. No wonder TC had some anxiety even years after the fact.

Known Facts

  • Knowledge of the show comes from a Bear cassette master of the show labeled "Hartbeats," with the date of the show and  the location. 
  • Although there are some tape flips and some resulting missing snippets of music, the tape seems to be 81 minutes and sounds like a complete set.
  • The band lineup appears to be Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart and organist Howard Wales.
  • A flute player joins in at the beginning of "Dark Star," just shy of the 10-minute mark, but he is hard to hear and seems to drop away 
  • The Grateful Dead were playing on Friday and Saturday night (August 29-30), so it seems plausible that they might set up their equipment a day early to have some kind of jam session.
  • This is the first time I am aware of Howard Wales playing with Jerry Garcia
  • I know of no advertisement, notice, flyer or review of this show, and I have looked at just about all of the SF Chronicle and Examiner dates as well as the relevant listings for the Berkeley Barb (and Tribe), and there is no listing or mention for even a "jam session" at the Dog
  • Did anyone other than Owsley use the name "Hartbeats" for this show? Was that just convenient shorthand for a jam, or were they introduced that way? It wasn't actually used in 1968, and although I'm aware that it appeared on a 1969 bill at the Matrix and 1970 at the Dog and the Matrix, we don't have have tapes of any "Hartbeats" sets at those shows
  • It seems logical that the Grateful Dead proper would play a set, and our sole (anonymous) eyewitness recalls that
  • It's plausible but uncertain that Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen would play a set. They were new in town, and would not have been socially connected to the Dead at this point, so an invitation to a stealth event isn't as likely. In any case, they likely appeared on the next two nights, but we don't positively know that either (see below for a more thorough discussion of Cody and the Airmen)
  • Who played flute? I discuss that a little bit here--one possibility is Steve Schuster, another is Andy Kulberg of Blues Project, both socially connected enough to be invited

August 29-30, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen/Rubber Duck (Friday-Saturday)
By the end of August, 1969, the Family Dog on The Great Highway was widely known to be in poor financial straits. Although some excellent bands had played the Dog since it had opened in June, save for the opening night attendance had not apparently been exceptional. There was so little coverage of Family Dog concerts that we can only infer things like ticket sales, but all the evidence points to underwhelming crowds. Chet Helms and the Family Dog had significant tax problems stemming from 1967, which had been the Family Dog's most successful year. Helms' public acknowledgement of his tax problems (in the Examiner and elsewhere) was a clear indicator that the Great Highway shows were not selling well enough to resolve his issues.

The Grateful Dead had played the Family Dog at the beginning of the month. The opening Friday night had been undermined by the brief "strike" of the Light Show Guild. The Dead had played the next two shows (on Saturday and Sunday, August 2-3), and the Examiner reported that Saturday, at least, was a "packed house." We have no idea about Sunday's crowd. Still, the Grateful Dead were one of the few bands that returned to the Family Dog over and over, so they must have done alright. Although the Dead did not yet have a traveling circus of Deadheads following them around--which was initially an East Coast phenomenon in any case--the band had a solid core of local fans. Unlike other groups, when the Dead played all around the Bay Area, they increased their demand rather than reduced it. So whoever might have been seeing the Grateful Dead at the Great Highway, returning less than a month after their last appearance was an attraction, not a detriment.

The poster for the canceled Wild West Festival at Kezar Stadium. The Grateful Dead were booked for Friday, August 22, 1969.

Grateful Dead Touring Plans, August 1969

The Grateful Dead had begun the month of August at the Family Dog, but they were mostly booked at rock festivals for the month. The Grateful Dead's bookings were:
August 1-3, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
August 16, 1969 Woodstock Festival, Bethel, NY
August 20, 1969 Aqua Theater, Seattle, WA
August 22, 1969 Wild West Festival, Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, CA
August 23, 1969 Bullfrog 2 Festival, Mt St Helens, OR
August 24, 1969 Vancouver Pop Festival, Paradise Valley Resort, Squamish, BC
August 29-30, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
September 1, 1969 New Orleans Pop Festival, Baton Rouge Speedway, Prairieville, LA

Of course, the Dead's actual performance schedule was quite different. They didn't play the first night at the Family Dog (August 1), they were rained out at Aqua Theater and played a bar (El Roach, Ballard, WA August 20), and then the Aqua next night (August 21), the Wild West was canceled (so NRPS got to  play Bullfrog 2 on Friday August 22), they added an extra date at the Family Dog (August 28) and the band canceled out in British Columbia. Rock concerts were turning into big money, but the market was far from stable.

Still, it's only possible to discern the Dead's touring schedule without knowing what they had planned, even if it didn't work out. The Dead's weekend at the Dog at the end of August did not appear on any schedules or press releases, and wasn't even mentioned in the newspaper. Indeed, the flyer up top is the only trace of any advertisement. Now, the Dead were booked as the headliner at the opening night (Friday August 22) of the canceled Wild West Festival. Since Bill Graham was booking the Festival, you can take as a guarantee that no Bay Area Grateful Dead show within 3 weeks of the Festival could be advertised until after the Festival show. So the Dead may have planned to play the Dog all along, but they couldn't have announced it in advance. The fact that there was no mention in the newspapers during the weekend, either, can be blamed on weak operations by the Dog. The way the footer of the flyer is written (with days of the week), it's clear the flyer was made for circulation the next week (August 29-September 4). 

The Dead apparently played on Thursday night, even though we only have tapes for the New Riders of The Purple Sage and "The Hartbeats" (the jam with Garcia, Lesh, Kreutzmann, Hart and Howard Wales). Given the precarious financial circumstances of the Family Dog, my suspicion is that the Dead did not have a guarantee, like they would have gotten from Bill Graham at the Fillmore West. Rather, they were getting a percentage of the door, and taking the risk or reward of the result. That makes sense of the Thursday night show--if the Dead thought they could get a few more admissions from a casual Thursday night show, they would take it. Since the band and crew could sleep at home, there were no travel costs. Publicity probably came from announcements on KSAN and other fm radio stations. By 1969, newspapers and posters actually played only a small role in concert promotion, particularly right around the day of a show.

The New Riders of The Purple Sage
One significant historical note was that this weekend's booking at the Dog was the first time in the Bay Area that the New Riders of The Purple Sage were booked to open for the Grateful Dead, as they would so many times in the forthcoming years. The band had opened for the Dead at Longshoreman's Hall back on July 16, but they hadn't been advertised and the bad didn't have a name. The New Riders name debuted at the Matrix on August 6, and the Riders had been booked to open at the Aqua Theater in Seattle on August 20 (since it was rained out, they actually opened on August 21). The New Riders had played two gigs on Tuesday nights at the Family Dog (August 12 and August 19), but the band was still largely unknown to even the local followers of the Dead. These nights at the Family Dog were the first of dozens, if not hundreds, of times that the New Riders would open for the Grateful Dead.

At this early stage, the New Riders were

John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
David Nelson-electric guitar
Bob Matthews-bass
Mickey Hart-drums 

Bob Matthews was an old Palo Alto friend of the band, and was one of the Grateful Dead's "staff engineers." He had mixed Live/Dead with his girlfriend and partner, Betty Cantor, and the pair would go on to produce Workingman's Dead, among many other albums. Matthews would give up his career as a musician at the end of 1969 to focus full time on being a recording engineer and producer.  

During this period, the Grateful Dead were experimenting with a configuration they called "Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck." Bob Weir would duet on a few country covers with John Dawson, backed by the Garcia and the New Riders. Thanks to Owsley, we have a few hints about this idea, even though it was dropped by 1970 ( a few of the tracks from the August 29 and 30 show were released on the Owsley Stanley Foundation 5-disc box Dawn Of The New Riders of The Purple Sage).

A photo of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, ca 1969, published in the August 11, 1969 Berkeley Barb. The photo was probably taken a few months earlier in Ann Arbor, MI

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Ann Arbor, MI 1967-69

University of Michigan graduate students George Frayne (Fine Arts, piano) and John Tichy (Physics, guitar) had formed the group in Ann Arbor in 1967 as Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, as an homage to an obscure movie serial (actually called Kommando Kody). The group was a loose aggregation of local musicians, and was a continuation of a band that Frayne and Tichy had begun as undergraduates. Although the story got changed and embellished with each telling, it does seem that the band chose the name and then had to “decide” who was “Commander Cody,” since people kept asking. For obscure reasons, George Frayne was designated as Commander Cody.

George Frayne had received his MFA in Spring 1968 and got a position teaching Art at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh (the main campus was at Madison—Oshkosh was a satellite). The Commander Cody band continued on with various members throughout the 1968-69 school year. Frayne did come home to play with Commander Cody on weekends, but ultimately the band “fired” him in order to be able to play more gigs. The Commander Cody band was particularly interested in playing “honky tonk” country music, in a Bakersfield style that was distinct from the fashion popular in Nashville, as well as rocked up versions of Texas Swing music, all of which was largely lost on the R&B-oriented fans in Michigan. The band finally ground to a halt in the Spring of 1969 when guitarist Bill Kirchen headed out West to California. 
  • Billy C Farlow-vocals, harmonica, acoustic guitar
  • Bill Kirchen-lead guitar, trombone, vocals
  • Steve “West Virginia Creeper” Davis-pedal steel guitar
  • Andy Stein-fiddle, tenor sax
  • George “Commander Cody” Frayne-piano
  • Lance Dickerson-drums
  • Gene Tortora-bass

When some of the Ann Arbor crowd found a gig in San Francisco, the call went out to the rest of the band. The story is somewhat complicated,  but fortunately I wrote it all out elsewhere. By July 1969, the Lost Planet Airmen had assembled in Berkeley. They "debuted" on Telegraph Avenue, playing acoustic (Frayne on accordian) in front of Cody's Books, although--in perfect Berkeley fashion--they were soon interrupted by a riot. The band found a house in Emeryville, and started to book gigs.

The Emeryville, CA house on  the left was reputedly the "band house" for Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, ca 1969

According to an article by Rolling Stone writer Ed Ward (RIP), Cody and The Airmen debuted at audition night at a Berkeley club called Mandrake’s, at 1048 University (near San Pablo Avenue). Mandrake’s was a little beer joint that generally featured blues and danceable rock. The Cody crew had so many friends from Ann Arbor that they managed to pack the place on a weeknight, so they were immediately booked. While the Cody band was a terrific outfit, it was a fact that Ann Arborites moved to Berkeley with their social life intact, so Cody already had a built in fanbase in Berkeley.

The Airmen's integration into Berkeley was so seamless that their audition show at Mandrake's was reviewed in the next week's Berkeley Barb (August 11, 1969). Clearly written by a friend of the band, the article included a photo of the group (above) and the headline "Real Country Rock." However, a waitress who worked at Madrake's at the time thinks that the photo was not from the club, although she recognizes Cody and the Airmen circa 1969. We have assumed the photo was taken in Michigan, and given to the Barb writer for publication, but I would love to know exactly where it was taken.

Since their appearance at Mandrake's, the Airmen had hustled their way onto the bill at one of the Wild West Benefit shows at the Family Dog (Saturday, August 23), and then played some sort of "Golf Festival" at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. Thus their weekend booking with the Dead at the Family Dog was only the second time the band had been advertised in the Bay Area. An eyewitness (above) recalled Cody and the Airmen playing Thursday (August 28) as well, but we have no way of determining that yet.

Rubber Duck featured mime Joe McCord, backed by musicians who improvised behind him. McCord's backing band fluctuated, and on occasion even included Jerry Garcia and Tom Constanten, but it's unlikely (though not impossible) that they performed with him this night. Typically McCord was backed by Berkeley musicians, who often included drummer Chicken Hirsh, bassist Tom Glass (aka poster artist Ned Lamont) and keyboard player Toni Brown (for more on the McCord/Garcia connection, see the Comment Thread here). In 1971, Constanten would perform in the group Touchstone, who released the album Tarot, apparently the music used to back McCord.

What Happened?
As always with the Family Dog on The Great Highway, we don't really know. Thanks to Mr Owsley, we know the shows occurred, because we have tapes for the Grateful Dead and the New Riders. The extant Dead tapes are about 90 minutes, so it seems pretty likely that the Dead played one long set each night. Maybe we are missing an encore or a fragment or something, but the sets seem pretty complete. We have one eyewitness comment, from Saturday night. On the archive, Commenter @cvdoregon says

I was with the Poppycock Light Show company and we did this show. It was fantastic! I spent time with Jerry Garcia backstage and the rest of the band. Loved every minute of it. Great memory...although we were all pretty stoned =)

The Poppycock was a rock club in Palo Alto. Other than his comment, however, we don't really know anything. Were the shows packed? Empty? Since the Dead came back regularly to the Dog, they must have done pretty well, but we can't tell much beyond that. Some fine music got played, but we are left to wonder what it was really like. 

Appendix: Setlists

Setlist: New Riders of The Purple Sage, August 28, 1969, Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA

John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
David Nelson-electric guitar
Bob Matthews-bass
Mickey Hart-drums
Six Days On The Road (Dave Dudley-1963)
I Am Your Man (John Dawson original)
Last Lonely Eagle (John Dawson original)
Whatcha Gonna Do (John Dawson original)
[introducing the famous Bobby Ace]
Mama Tried [w/Bob Weir] (Merle Haggard-1968)
Cathy's Clown [w/Bob Weir] (Everly Brother-1960)
Old, Old House [w/Bob Weir] (George Jones-1965)
Me And My Uncle [w/Bob Weir] (Judy Collins-1964)
Seasons Of The Heart [w/Bob Weir] (George Jones-1965)
Slewfoot [w/Bob Weir] (Porter Wagoner-1966)

note: save for the Dawson songs, I have listed the best known cover versions, not the songwriters

Setlist: Hartbeats, August 28, 1969, Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, C

Jerry Garcia-guitar, vocals
Howard Wales-organ
Phil Lesh-bass
Bill Kreutzmann-drums
Mickey Hart-drums
#unknown-flute ("Dark Star Jam")
It's A Sin
High Heeled Sneakers
Dark Star Jam#>
  The Eleven Jam>
  Dark Star Jam

New Riders of The Purple Sage, August 29, 1969, Family Dog on The Great Highway
To Have the Hurting End
(John Dawson original)
Games People Play (Joe South-1968)
All I Ever Wanted (John Dawson original)
Connection (Rolling Stones, from Between The Buttons-1967)
Mama Tried [w/Bob Weir] (Merle Haggard-1968)
Cathy's Clown [w/Bob Weir] (Everly Brothers-1960)
Fair Chance to Know (John Dawson original)
Seasons of My Heart [w/Bob Weir)] (George Jones-1965)

Grateful Dead, August 29, 1969, Family Dog on The Great Highway [[1:19:54]
Casey Jones [5:08] ; [0:10] ; 
Easy Wind [7:55] ; [0:18] ;
Me And My Uncle [3:07] > 
  High Time [7:03] ; [1:03] ; 
New Orleans [3:24] > 
  Searchin' [3:21] > 
  Good Lovin' Jam [0:26] > 
  Good Lovin' [4:#00] ; [0:30] ; 
Dire Wolf [4:28] > 
  King Bee [7:38] ; [0:15] ; 
Turn On Your Love Light [30:07] ; [0:43]
New Riders of The Purple Sage, August 30, 1969, Family Dog on The Great Highway
Superman (John Dawson original)
Henry (John Dawson original)
All I Ever Wanted (John Dawson original)
Last Lonely Eagle (John Dawson original)
Saw Mill [w/ Bob Weir] (Buck Owens-1963)
Whatcha Gonna Do (John Dawson original)
Cathy's Clown [w/Bob Weir] (Everly Brothers-1960)
Mama Tried [w/Bob Weir] (Merle Haggard-1968)
Six Days On The Road (Dave Dudley-1963) 
Grateful Dead, August 30, 1969 Family Dog on the Great Highway [1:27:42]
China Cat Sunflower [2:55] >
  Jam [2:43] >
  Doin' That Rag [7:42] ; [0:47] ;
Morning Dew [10:47] ; [0:25] ;
Easy Wind [8:20] ; [0:10] % [0:04] ;
Dark Star [28:52] >
  St. Stephen [6:26] >
  The Eleven [6:35] >
  Drums [5:14] >
  High Time [5:38] ; [1:04]