Friday, June 24, 2022

February 3, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead (Lost and Found) [FDGH VII]

The KQED-tv Special A Night At The Family Dog, recorded in February 1970, was released in 2007

February 4, 1970 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA:  Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Santana/Kimberly "A Night At The Family Dog" (Wednesday)
Most of the concrete information we have about the Family Dog on The Great Highway comes from Grateful Dead scholarship. Almost all of the surviving live tapes from the Dog are from the Grateful Dead, or are associated with the band. Of the non-Dead, non-Garcia tapes that exist, many were recorded by either Owsley or Alembic (Bob Matthews et al), each affiliated with the Dead. On top of that, what press coverage there was on the Family Dog was often anchored by reporting about the Dead or Jerry Garcia. 

For the wider audience of rock fans, and even of Deadheads, the most prominent knowledge of the Family Dog on The Great Highway was the Public Television special A Night At The Family Dog, recorded at a special concert for an invited audience on Wednesday, February 4, 1970. The show was initially broadcast on PBS-tv affiliate stations nationwide on April 27, 1970, and re-broadcast various times. With only three commercial networks and the occasional independent station, Public Television shows were widely watched in a way that would be unfathomable today. I assure you that the PBS Night At The Family Dog special was watched by young people nationwide in large numbers, and was probably influential in suggesting that events like this went on in San Francisco all the time. Certainly, if you were in cold Des Moines or windy El Paso and saw Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Santana sharing the stage, everybody dancing and a big jam afterwards, it would make you believe that San Francisco was the promised land indeed.

I have looked into this event at some length, starting a decade ago when I discovered a contemporary San Francisco Chronicle article about the Wednesday night filming of the KQED special by Ralph Gleason. Although Gleason was disingenuous about his role--he was co-producer of the TV special--it was a striking description, and our only source of information up until that time. It seems, however, that there was a lot more to the story. At least some of the music from the special was likely recorded the night before. Now, that may mean that there was a dress rehearsal the night before, with professional video and audio, some of it seems to have been used in the TV special. Alternately, it may mean the date of February 4 was incorrect.

So: while we might have the date wrong, we might actually be missing a show. There could be audio, and there could even be video. Let's look at what we know today.

The Grateful Dead's performance at Chet Helms' Family Dog on The Great Highway on February 4, 1970 is fairly well known today. The hour-long video of concert highlights, originally broadcast on Public Television, has since been released in 2007 on DVD as A Night At The Family Dog. In 2005, the Grateful Dead released the recording of their entire set from that night. Thus both the audio and some video are available from the show, a rare and potent combination. However, while the music is well-covered, and video is available, very little has been recalled about the circumstances of the actual event itself. Even the Dead's cd release is scarce on details. Still, you can watch the video, play the cd, light one up--legally, in most states--and get a feel for what it might have been like Back In The Day.

Grateful Dead scholarship never rests, however, and it seems that the video and cd may have been somewhat more of a pastiche than we originally thought. One of the best sources of the era has been Sally Mann Romano, the ex-wife of the late Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden. Her 2018 book The Band's With Me is a must-read for anyone interested in California rock history in the late 60s and early 70s. In a Twitter exchange, Romano recalled that the filming of the TV special was actually two nights at the Family Dog, on Tuesday and Wednesday (February 3 and February 4). The first was probably conceived as a rehearsal and sound check, prudent considering that filming live rock concerts was still in its infancy. Some very good evidence, however, suggests that at least some--and perhaps all?--of the TV special and the subsequent Archival cd release was actually from February 3.
Owsley Stanley's tape box for the recording at the Family Dog on February 3, 1970. The sticker says "Probably really 2/4/70"--I disagree.

What About Tuesday, February 3?
The Owsley Stanley Foundation has a long-term project of preserving Owsley's live recordings, even when the tapes themselves may not yet be released. Recently the Foundation announced that an Owsley 2-track recording of the February Family Dog had been preserved. The tape box itself says "See 16-track," an indicator that Owsley's recording was different than the Bob Matthews/Alembic recording that would have been the basis of the PBS video special. Owsley, always scrupulous about dates, has marked the box "Dead #2/Airplane #1, 3 Feb 70 Family Dog." A sticker on the box, in different handwriting, says "Probably really 2/4/70," since February 4 was the known date of the live recording of the special.

As I have documented in the previous post in this series, the Family Dog on The Great Highway had re-opened the previous weekend with a comparatively stealthy appearance by the Jefferson Airplane on Friday and Saturday, January 30 and 31. When I asked Sally Mann Romano about this on Twitter, however, she specifically did not recall that weekend's shows, and her recollections are uniformly precise. She plainly recalled going to the Family Dog for two days, presumably February 3 and 4 (Tuesday and Wednesday), and she understandably said that she surely would have remembered spending 4 out of 6 nights at the Dog. Mann Romano's recollection was the first indication of a rehearsal filming on the night before the official event. 

Now, the most-likely explanation for Mann and Dryden not going to the Dog on the prior weekend is in the only-the-Jefferson-Ariplane category. The most likely reason was that the Airplane were thinking about firing Dryden, and were trying out drummer Joey Covington, all without telling Spencer or his wife. Indeed, Dryden would be pushed out of the band a month later, and Covington took over the drum chair in March. The actual dating of Covington's arrival is confusing, and not a rabbit hole I will go down here, but suffice to say inviting Covington to a secret gig and not telling the current drummer was just another day in Jefferson Airplaneville. 

What we are left with, however, is the knowledge that there may have been a rehearsal at the Family Dog the night before the official PBS taping. Today, even small venues are set up for live video with synchronized sound--we can all do it ourselves on our phones now anyway--but this was new stuff in 1970. Video cameras were giant at the time, and needed their own locations. Separate trucks were needed for the video feed and the sound recording, and cable snakes would have been laid everywhere. It's not surprising that a full tech rehearsal was in order. And it's also likely that the entire rehearsal was filmed and the music recorded, if only to ensure that there was backup material in case the "official" event on Wednesday (Feb 4) had technical problems.

If there was a full rehearsal the night before, it would not be at all surprising to find out that the official video may have been a pastiche of both nights. At the time, the entire industry considered live recording another way to create product, not an historic record of an event. One track on the Woodstock movie soundtrack album, for example, was actually recorded at Fillmore East (CSNY's "Wooden Ships"). The Grateful Dead released the Family Dog show as part of their Download Series in 2005, but that series was poorly curated and had almost no recording information. The date was listed as February 4, but that was probably based on an assumption. The cd has 9 tracks. The final six are the same as the ones on Owsley's tape (above). I don't think the Dead repeated six songs--either there was only one show, or I think the Dead played better the first night rather than the second, and three of those tracks were used for the PBS video{see the Appendix below for track listings].

What About The Grateful Dead on February 4, 1970? First Hypothesis
If in fact, the existing audio and video recordings of the Grateful Dead were from February 3, not February 4, what did the Grateful Dead play on February 4? It raises the tantalizing possibility that there would have been existing professional recordings of the Dead from the "official" night that were never used. Since there was an invited crowd on Wednesday night, probably there were plenty of crowd shots, but the Dead's actual performance would have been different. My guess is that the Santana and Airplane sets were used from the 4th, as was the jam.

According to the Owsley Stanley Foundation, the tape with the Grateful Dead from February 3 includes two Jefferson Airplane tracks, "The Other Side Of This Life" and "Somebody To Love." Neither of those are on the Family Dog video. There's also some implications from the numbering--since there is a "Grateful Dead #2" and a "Jefferson Airplane #1" it follows there are additional tapes with the Dead and the Airplane. As far as a soundcheck goes, my assumption is that the Dead and the Airplane showed up for the soundcheck, and the Dead are famous for using soundchecks as an opportunity to play as long as they felt like it. Now, granted, we can hear some audience after "Hard To Handle," but it's not unlikely a few friends and family were around. 

Santana was a hotter band than the Dead or the Airplane at the time, and less likely to show up for the soundcheck the previous night. It's just an assumption on my part, but it's plausible. Kimberly, I should add, who opened the show, appear not to have been recorded. Kimberly were associated with Santana management, which suggests the privileged part accorded to Santana's presence.

Unfortunately, however, video tape and 16-track recording tape were expensive. If it was determined that the Dead's February 3 set was superior, then the Dead tapes for the 4th would simply have been erased. Owsley seems to have taped the rehearsal night, but it seems less likely he would have been allowed to tape the "official" performance, if only because space at the mixing board would have been at a premium. There remains the remote hope that some fragments exist, somewhere, or perhaps some production notes. It's a little more complicated since Bob Matthews recorded 16-track tape for Alembic, but it's entirely plausible that the existing recording was either from February 3 or an edit of the two nights.

Since no one had asked Sally Mann Romano, the existing Owsley tape was casually indicated (by the sticker) as incorrectly dated, when in fact I suspect it was accurate. Any missing Dead tape from the 4th has likely disappeared. Sic Transit Gloria Psychedelia. But here's to hoping some undated audio and video fragments of the Dead's performances on February 3 and 4 1970 can be identified and resurrected. I trust Owsley to have gotten the date right. 

An Alternative Hypothesis: Maybe The Date Was Wrong?
Of course, there's another possible explanation for the dating confusion. Maybe the date of the concert really was February 3, not February 4. February 4 has been accepted as the proper date for decades, but it's not supported by an advertisement or announcement, because there weren't any. Ralph Gleason's article was Friday, February 6, which suggests that he saw the bands on Wednesday, February 4. But the Chronicle was a morning paper, so if he went on Tuesday (February 3) he still could not have published until Friday.

It's true that Sally Mann Romano, my most reliable witness, remembers two nights, which is why that is my preferred hypothesis. But there are other possible explanations for her memory (the Airplane were not coming in off the road, unlike the Dead, for example). In any case, the context of her memory was that she and her husband were definitely not there four nights out of six (January 30-31, February 3-4). I'm still inclined to thinking that the Dead played two nights, but I am at least acknowledging another possibility.

[update: legendary scholar David Kramer-Smyth found a link (see the Comments) to a Good Times review of the event. It isn't very informative, but it does indicate the event was on Wednesday (February 4), so that points toward performances on Feb 3 and Feb 4]

"Hard To Handle"
Even casual poking around will lead you to online comments from people who recall seeing the public tv special in April of 1970 and being absolutely floored by the Dead. We did not have direct access to the video until it was released in the 21st century (I don't know if it floated around in collector's circles previously). The Dead performed three songs on the video: "Hard To Handle," "China Cat Sunflower" and "I Know You Rider." Only one of those songs was on a previously released album ("China Cat" was on Aoxomoxoa). "Hard To Handle" would not be officially available until Bear's Choice in early 1973, and the "China Cat>Rider" medley did not come out until October '72 (on Europe '72). So numerous teenagers got on the bus hearing songs that would not circulate officially for a few more years. Now, it turns out we didn't even have the date correct.

Appendix 1: A Night At The Family Dog TV show
Broadcast on Public Television stations on or about April 27, 1970
Produced by Ralph J. Gleason and Bob Zagone for National Educational Television (NET)

A Night At The Family Dog DVD
with Grateful Dead/Jefferson Airplane/Santana
Eagle Vision: released 2007

  • Incident At Neshabur - Santana
  • Soul Sacrifice - Santana
  • Hard To Handle - Grateful Dead
  • China Cat Sunflower - Grateful Dead
  • I Know You Rider - Grateful Dead
  • The Ballad of You And Me And Pooneil - Jefferson Airplane
  • Eskimo Blue Day - Jefferson Airplane
  • Super jam featuring members of Santana, Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane

 A Night At The Family Dog audio
Grateful Dead Download Series
Grateful Dead Records: released 2005

  • Hard To Handle
  • Black Peter 
  • Me and My Uncle 
  • China Cat Sunflower > 
  • I Know You Rider 
  • St. Stephen > 
  • Not Fade Away > 
  • St. Stephen > 
  • In The Midnight Hour

 (plus bonus tracks from other 1970 shows)

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 60s rock icon.

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 was a four-lane road that ran along the Western edge of San Francisco, right next to Ocean Beach. Downtown San Francisco faced 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 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, and that didn't help its fortunes. Most of the locals referred to the venue as "Playland."

The Family Dog In 1969
Chet Helms had opened the Family Dog at 660 Great Highway to much fanfare on June 13, 1969, with a packed house seeing the Jefferson Airplane and The Charlatans
. One of the goals was that the Dog would feature mostly San Francisco bands and a variety of smaller community events and groups. Since so many San Francisco bands were successful, and had record contracts, this didn't confine the venue to obscurity. A lot of great bands played the Family Dog in 1969, but the distant location and the gravitational pull of major rock events hosted elsewhere in the Bay Area kept the Family Dog isolated. We know only the most fragmentary bits about music played, events and audiences throughout the year.  Despite the half-year of struggle, Helms had kept the Family Dog on The Great Highway afloat. He had entered the new year of 1970 with a new plan.He had new backers, and he would merge his operations with the Grateful Dead's. It didn't happen, however, and the Family Dog on The Great Highway ws closed by the end of the Summer of 1970.


Appendix 2: Excerpts from Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle column, February 6, 1970

"Do you have a set schedule for what's going to happen?" the technician asked Bob Zagone of KQED. "We don't have a set schedule for anything, Zagone said. 'We have a loose schedule."

They were in the KQED mobile video tape recording truck outside the Family Dog. Several other trucks and a generator, roaring away like a power drill, were set up in the parking lot. Zagone and the KQED crew were getting ready to videotape a Jefferson Airplane party at the Family Dog for National Educational Television.

There's a young band called 'Kimberly' going on stage starting in a few minutes," Zagone said. "The it will be Santana. After that I don't know what's going to happen."

The cables were strung all along the sidewalk and into the hall and the huge TV cameras on dollies were rolling back and forth through the place in the wild assembly of San Francisco hip society.

On stage the musicians were plugging in their guitars and tuning. In a little while Kimberly, a neat, melodic band, began. Light men experimented with different combinations. Rock critics wandered through the hall. "It has the right feeling tonight," Mike Goodwin of Rolling Stone said. And poet Lew Welch pointed out that it was one of the few times in recent memories that you could actually get close to a band and not be jammed by the press of a crowd.

After Kimberly, Santana took over and the rhythms of the drums and the bass melded with the guitar and conga drum and rose to an incredible [something]. It ended with Santana almost leaning over backwards, hitting the guitar strings and bassist David Brown, his eyes squeezed shut, flailing away at the guitar. The crowd screamed. Out in the truck, Bob Zagone complained "we're not getting that audience noise" and Bob Matthews, who was doing the sound, whipped out a mike and set it up taping the audience.  

"We'll go dark as they start their set and bring the light up gradually," Zagone said and the Grateful Dead began. In the truck the multiple images on the little screens made a fascinating montage. Jerry Garcia's face silhouetted but still clear, approached the mike on the screen and he began to sing. The little screens that showed the pictures [of] the various cameras were registering, flicked from one to another. "Gimme a two shot," Zagone said, "Let's see both those guitars."

Out in the crowd, which was dancing or sitting on the floor and around the sides of the stage, John Carpenter of the L.A. Free Press said "when is it going to be aired?" and hoped a definite date could be set. The man from N.E.T said probably in April. "It's a good night," Carpenter said. "I had forgotten what San Francisco was really like. I've seen people I haven't seen in years."

On stage the sound was into those rhythmic phrases that make the Dead such groovy dance music and several guests were dancing behind the band and on the stage. Still photographers leaped up from the audience and shot pictures like the paparazzi in "Z."

Then the Airplane came on and Grace smiled and Marty sang "Do you want to know a secret, just between you and me," and the lights flickered off the sweat on his forehead as he sang and Spencer drove into the drums with a fierce concentration and Jorma sang "Good Shepherd" and the crowd gyrated and the cameras rolled back and forth.

It was a great evening. San Francisco within a week had two TV specials shot here. Both on rock. There will be more and if they end up on the screen as good as they are in person, the rest of the country will see something unique.



  1. It is an amusing read but I wish the review of the taping from the Good Times newspaper held more info.

    1. Fantastic research! A fascinating (if rather self-absorbed) description of the event. It does identify Wednesday (Feb 4) as the night, however. So that points to two events, on Tuesday (Feb 3) and Wednesday.

  2. I find the idea of two nights really persuasive, for all of the reasons you suggest.

  3. I have also updated my "San Francisco Sessions, 1970" post. It's a very poorly organized post. But, as Tommy Chong said of Cheech Marin's mention of beef jerky in his tune "Me And My Old Lady" (performed in Up In Smoke), that "kinda makes it organic".

  4. Random observations. Rewatching the video of Hard to Handle and China>Rider. I see Phil wearing a long sleeve shirt and a fringe vest. Bobby is wearing a long sleeve button down shirt. Between Hard to Handle and Chinacat. Bobby has changed into a short sleeve 'polo' type collared shirt. Also, Blair Jackson has a picture in his book of the taping. Bobby is wearing the polo and Phil is wearing a completely different striped t-shirt and no vest. No idea if it means anything.

    1. I think the only wardrobe change in the film is that Bob takes off his outer shirt. Photographer Robert Altman also took pics of the show in which both shirts can be seen.
      That photo in the Gear book seems to be from the actual show, but Phil's shirt change is a puzzler.

  5. This was NET television. PBS began broadcasting in Oct 70, eventually subsuming all NET stations.

    1. Wild Geese, thanks for this clarification

  6. Excellent work as always, and thank you for it. I check here often for new posts and, though I know it's impossible due to the work/detail etc. that goes into them, I wish they could be weekly! Cheers.

  7. Writing about the event in 1970, Ralph Gleason mentioned that the bands "had a two-night rehearsal and shooting schedule with the KQED mobile video unit " at the Family Dog: "The Family Dog ballroom...became a TV production center for two nights - one rehearsal and one live party."

    So the rehearsal night has long been known, but now I'm mulling over the possibility that some of the recorded performance may be from the Feb 3 rehearsal.
    - Could Owsley have misdated his tape Feb 3? Possibly, but he was usually accurate on tape dates.
    - Could the Dead have repeated the setlist on both nights? Very unlikely.
    - Could the Vault tape of 2/4/70 be misdated? Extremely unlikely. For one thing, a full audience is evident. It also (partially) came into circulation with that date long before the CD release.
    - From the Airplane, Jack & Jorma are wearing the same clothes in their set as in the "Super Jam," indicating that the Airplane's filmed set was on Feb 4. Garcia is also wearing the same shirt as in the Dead's set, but, knowing Garcia & shirts, this is not much of a clue.
    - A stronger clue for me is the onstage dancers during the Dead's songs (mentioned in Gleason's Chronicle article). The few other crowd shots could have been filmed separately; but would the girls onstage have been dancing madly in a rehearsal? Maybe...but the songs used in the TV show are the same performances as the CD.

    So, weighing the possibilities, I think it most likely that Owsley did misdate his tape, he probably didn't record anything on Feb 3, and the rehearsal has been lost to time.
    I would guess the rehearsal may have been similar to, say, the 4/21/72 Beat Club soundcheck: a few scattered songs interspersed with long dead pauses while the TV crew worked things out. Family & friends could have been present if they wanted, but dancing & applause would have been minimal. Anything filmed on that date was left on the cutting room floor....

    1. Fantastic research. I find you analysis pretty convincing. There was definitely two nights, but all the evidence points to the DVD being from the "official" night. The only exception is Owsley's usually-perfect dating. Here's to hoping that there is an Owsley tape dated Feb 3 '70 #1--with some unheard jams from the rehearsal night.

      I'm sure you are correct that any video is long gone, too expensive to preserve, but I feel we can at least pine for some audio. The Beat Club session is probably a good comp--a song, some sitting around, a jam, more sitting around, and so on.

    2. I wonder about that Dead #1 reel too, what might be on it.... Kimberly and Santana went on before the Dead, and Owsley is highly likely to have taped those sets too.