Tuesday, April 13, 2010
1119 SW Park Avenue, Portland, OR Masonic Temple Rock Performance List 1966-69
I have been working through the history of psychedelic rock in Portland, Oregon in the late 1960s. Portland makes an interesting study, as it was very much a part of the West Coast scene, but not quite economically robust enough to create lasting traction. I have made a pretty good start at identifying the history of the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, and I am working on other projects as well (see here and here). However, the nature of the Oregon scene at the time meant that there was relatively little contemporary record of concerts and other events at the time. As a result, some intriguing venues remain somewhat mysterious. Perhaps the most fascinating venue, beyond the Crystal, was the Masonic Temple ballroom.
The Masonic Temple was built in 1925, at 1119 SW Park Avenue at SW Jefferson Street. The Masonic Temple building is now part of the Portland Art Museum (the address is 1219 SW Park). The 4-story building still includes the Grand Ballroom, which is probably a remodeled version of the Ballroom used for rock concerts in the 1960s. The current capacity is about 1000 (per the site), so perhaps up to twice that many could have been squeezed in.The Masonic Temple was a regular, if intermittent venue for Portland rock concerts in the 60s. I do not know if a specific promoter controlled the lease; more likely, the hall was simply for rent. In particular, the Masonic Temple had a number of high profile Fillmore-type bands in the Summer of 1967, exactly when the Crystal Ballroom was at a low ebb since its founding partners (Mike Magaurn and Whitey Davis) were in absentia that Summer. There seems to have been intermittent concerts throughout the end of the 1960s, but our information is spotty.
The definitive work on the Portland music and cultural scene as folk music transformed into electric rock is Valerie Brown's excellent article in the Oregon Historical Quarterly of Summer 2007, Music On The Cusp: Folk To Acid Rock in Portland Coffeehouses 1967-70. However, Brown's superb research is focused more on the musicians themselves rather than the specific concert venues, and while she alludes to the Masonic, that is not the focus of her article. Since there is so little information extant, I am posting what little information is available, along with some informed speculation on my part, in the hopes of finding out more.
The random shreds of information available about rock concerts at the Masonic Temple offer tantalizing hints of out-of-town bands and a thriving local scene. Yet hints can be deceiving--perhaps only the most interesting events are memorialized, and the truth is smaller and duller. I am inclined towards the former possibility, however, and have pursued this on the assumption that Portland's Masonic Temple is an interesting story waiting to be told. Anyone who recalls more about specific shows at Masonic Temple in the 60s, or knows anything about the promoters or economic backdrop, or even just has intriguing speculation, please Comment or email me.
Portland Masonic Temple Performance List: 1966-69
October 29, 1966 PH Phactor Jug Band/US Cadenza/The Weeds/ Inc w/Joe Uris/The Sodgamoli Jug Band/Dave Coffin/Earl Benson
The first rock poster presents a mixture of electric rock bands (The Weeds and US Cadenza) and more folk-oriented acts. The Weeds would have just arrived in Portland at this time, probably the week before, having run out of gas on the way to Vancouver. This show was not the first "ballroom" rock concert in Portland (that is another topic), but it represents a very early event(h/t Ross for the Masonic posters).
July 15, 1967 Battle of The Bands
United Travel Service was one of the bands (which is how we know the date). This suggests that many of the events featured local bands, and were more oriented towards dancing than anything else. I simply have no idea of whether there were many or few concerts at the Masonic Temple between October 1966 and July 1967.
July 18, 1967 Grateful Dead/Poverty’s People/U.S. Cadenza/Nigells
The Grateful Dead had played in Portland before, at the “Portland Acid Test” at Beaver Hall (at 425 NW Glisan) in January 1966 (the exact date has never been satisfactorily confirmed to my knowledge), but this was the first time they played an advertised rock concert. Anticipating future touring, the Dead had played the weekend in Seattle and Vancouver, and played a Tuesday night on their way back to San Francisco.
In the 1960s, while many bands flew from concert to concert, their equipment traveled by truck, and most major engagements were on weekends. Many medium sized cities thus featured mid-week rock concerts on weeknights, as bands migrated from city to city. This touring schedule was particularly prominent for cities on major Interstate Highways. Thus bands playing California and then Chicago might play weeknight shows in Salt Lake City, Omaha or Des Moines, because they were intermediate stops on I-80.
In the case of Portland, even the limited information available to us now suggests that the relatively small Masonic Temple could host weeknight shows by Fillmore headliners who were in between California and Seattle or Vancouver. Portland (particularly in the 1960s) was considerably smaller than any of those cities, but was more or less halfway from San Francisco to Seattle on I-5.
July 26, 1967 The Doors
At this time, although The Doors were extremely popular on the strength of their debut album and the single “Light My Fire,” they were still considered an “underground” band. The Doors would never play an Oregon venue as small as the Masonic Temple again. This was a Wednesday night show, and once again Portland fans benefited from being in the middle of the West Coast (besides the obvious inherent advantages of living in Portland).
August 11, 1967 Moby Grape/Peanut Butter Conspiracy
This date comes from The Peanut Butter Conspiracy list of shows, which refers to a double bill with Moby Grape. The Moby Grape list does not confirm this booking. However, while Moby Grape was billed at The Avalon (August 10 thru 13), on at least one or all of those shows they did not play. Supposedly it was because Skip Spence was unavailable, but perhaps it was because they had a gig in Portland.
In any case, although not widely regarded today, the Conspiracy were a popular band amongst hippies, and whether or not Moby Grape played, the Masonic Temple seems to have had another interesting show by an out-of-town band (or two). There is a chance that the Conspiracy and Moby Grape actually took place at the Crystal Ballroom, but concerts during the Summer of Love in Portland seems to be a murky subject indeed.
The poster says “Grand Opening”, but its not clear what that means. Presumably new promoters had taken over, but of course its unknown whether there were concerts at the Masonic Temple since the Summer. I will note that while our information about Portland rock concerts stems almost exclusively from surviving posters, it does seem that Masonic posters pop up when there was little or no known activity at the Crystal Ballroom. I know of no Crystal concerts between December 3, 1967 and February 2, 1968, and while I wouldn't read too much into those dates, there may not have been room for two concert halls in Portland. The Crystal was the leading rock venue in Portland until July 1968, when it closed, and no Masonic Temple posters seem to have endured from that specific time period.
The Family Tree was a Northern California band with a great live reputation who were very popular in Oregon. Lead singer Bob Segarini went on to lead both Roxy and The Wackers, among other bands.
June 1, 1968 “Rock Festival”
25 bands including Portland Zoo/The Epix/Stone Garden/Brigade/Soundvendor/Music-Box/The Redcoats/The Echoes/The Mod’s/The Wom-Bats/The Quents/The Phantoms/Fringe Benefit/Peppermint Express/The Le-Sabres/Back Street Electric Band/C.C. Riders/Dark Ages/Peace Corps/The Grail/The Band of Angels/US Cadenza/others
It seems surprising that all the bands played in one day, but then there are multiple floors at the Masonic Temple, so perhaps this took place in multiple rooms. Once again, I have no idea how much or how often there were concerts at the Masonic after the December "Grand Opening."
July 10, 1968 Kaleidoscope/Crazy World of Arthur Brown
The Kaleidoscope, who invented "World Music" about 25 years before most of the world (Jimmy Page and a few others excepted) were ready for it, had played some well received shows at the Crystal Ballroom in May. It seems surprising that the Kaleidoscope wouldn't play the Crystal again, but I take it that the Crystal was on very shaky financial footing and may have already closed by this time. The City of Portland officially closed the Crystal on July 12, 1968, but the venue may not have put on shows for some weeks prior to this.
Arthur Brown is best known for his hit single "Fire," and the band was reputed to have a wild stage show in an era when bands usually just stared at their amplifiers while they jammed. Both the Kaleidoscope and Arthur Brown had records and a following, so once again the Masonic seems to be stepping into a breech left by the (imminent) demise of the Crystal Ballroom.
November 8, 1968 Thundering Heard/Muddy Valley/Crawdad Band
This date comes from a poster or flyer or advertised for auction. It suggests that many local bands played regular gigs at Masonic Temple, but of course its hard to say for sure.
The poster says “Temple Dance”, but the venue is not actually the Masonic Temple. The show took place a few blocks away, in one of the ballrooms at the Governor Hotel at 614 SW 11th Street (at Alder). The Governor Hotel was built in 1909 (as The Seward Hotel), and has several ballrooms. The Hotel and the ballrooms are still in use.
The term “Temple Dance” suggests that it is a “Brand Name” (to use a modern term) that would be a self-evident reference, another sign that there were many more Masonic Temple events than we have posters for. The same bill, with Butterfield Blues Band and Pulse, had played Seattle’s Eagles Auditorium the night before (Saturday, March 15 1969). Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop had long since left the Butterfield Blues Band (in 1967 and 68 respectively), but guitarist Buzzy Feiten and a horn section supported Butterfield admirably.
The Light Show was provided by PH Martin's Magic Medicine Show, which presumably was Gary Ewing's popular light show at the Crystal Ballroom. The hip Portland music scene was small, so its reasonable to assume that there were many more connections between the Masonic Temple and the Crystal Ballroom.
April 13, 1969 Deep Purple
This was the original version of Deep Purple (with Rod Evans on vocals), touring the West Coast behind their hit single “Hush.” It’s possible that Deep Purple was not the headliner. As this is a Sunday night show, one is left to speculate whether this performance was actually at the Masonic Temple or at the Governor Hotel, as for the Butterfield show above.
June 25 was a Wednesday night. The random assortment of dates that we have found for the Masonic Temple makes it hard to guess whether weeknight gigs were typical or rare. However, we know that the Steve Miller Band were on their way to Seattle, where they played the next night (June 26), and probably elsewhere, so once again Portlanders were treated to a weeknight headliner by virtue of their location.
The Steve Miller Band would have just released their excellent third album, Brave New World, in June of 1969. Boz Scaggs and organist Jim Peterman had left the group, and I'm not certain if guitarist Bobby Winkelmann would have joined by this time. The group may have just been a trio with Miller, bassist Lonnie Turner and drummer Tim Davis.
These gigs were for a Tuesday and Wednesday night. Alice Cooper had recently signed with Frank Zappa’s Straight Records label, and would have been touring in conjunction with their first album (Pretties For You). There were major events in the Pacific Northwest the previous weekend, including the Seattle Pop Festival in Woodinville, WA (July 25-27) and the one-day Eugene Pop Festival (Saturday July 26). Alice Cooper was playing both events, and I assume that Steve Miller Band played at least one of them, although they weren't billed for either of them.
I have only vague information about rock concerts at the Masonic Temple after 1969. That in itself does not mean anything, given the scattered nature of our sources, but the concert business changed considerably after 1969. I do know of a Sons Of Champlin poster that is probably from the early 1970s (on the PNW Band site). In Portland, in particular, an old rule outlawing music at venues that served alcohol was changed in 1973, allowing bars and taverns to compete in the music business, so its unlikely there was a substantial music history to the Masonic Temple after that. In 1992, the building was purchased by its next door neighbor, the Portland Art Museum, and it was rechristened the Mark Building.
The scattered evidence of Portland's Masonic Temple in the 1960s suggests a number of very interesting stories, just beyond my current reach. Anyone with information, corrections or interesting speculation is encouraged to Comment or email.