Thursday, April 14, 2011

285 UCB Campus Drive, Boulder, CO: Macky Auditorium November 23, 1975: Jerry Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins

(an April 2011 photo of Macky Auditorium on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Construction on the 2000 seat venue was begun in 1910, although it was not completed until 1923)

Boulder, Colorado is the best American city without an ocean, and is in the top rank in any case. With perfect air that other parts of the country have to pay to simulate with air conditioning, the Rocky Mountains looming in the background and a perfect mountain stream running through downtown, it's not surprising that Boulder has been a preferred destination for emigrants and tourists for some decades now. For 100 years or so, the principal "industry" of Boulder was the University of Colorado at Boulder, the flagship of the CU system, founded in 1877.

Why, then, does Boulder have almost no meaningful 60s rock history? One 60s band came out of Boulder, the excellent Zephyr, featuring Tommy Bolin and Candy Givens, but even they say that they were the only band in Boulder. Denver has a very interesting rock history rock history in the 60s, if not a satisfactory one. Chet Helms opened a branch of the Family Dog in Denver, in an effort to compete effectively with Bill Graham. It was a very clever idea, providing touring bands with a paying show partway to San Francisco. However, the Denver Sheriff, with the support of the political establishment, harassed the Family Dog into closing, and Denver's role in the 60s rock scene was to some extent superseded by Salt Lake City, of all places.

Why, then, was there no rock scene in Boulder in the 60s? If the heat was on in Denver, why didn't bands play Boulder? While Boulder was not a big town--it still isn't--why wasn't it an incubator for bands to get it together, in preparation for heading to Denver and then the rest of the country? The Macky Auditorium, completed in 1923, was a 2000 seat venue that could have accommodated the touring bands of the day, and yet there seem to have been no meaningful rock concerts there until the Jerry Garcia Band (with Nicky Hopkins) on November 23, 1975. While there seem to have been regular concerts after 1975, I can find no record of anything remotely hip before that.

While only a few "college towns" like Berkeley and Cambridge were substantial enough cities to sustain a music scene on their own, college towns generally played an important role in music from the 60s onward. A modest town with a big University generally couldn't have its own Fillmore, but there was usually a folk club and a popular dive bar for the local talent. As the 60s wore on, bands like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or The Doors might come through and play the gym or the main auditorium, with the local heroes as the opening act. The students became fans for life, even more so if a band played for free one afternoon, and especially so if the College Dean banned all rock concerts after some legendary blow out. This narrative was particularly true of college towns in striking range of California, so there are lots of fond, if fuzzy, 60s memories in places like Palo Alto, CA or Eugene, OR.

The Grateful Dead, always the pioneers, did play the University of Colorado Student Union on Sunday, April 13, 1969. However, this unique event seems to have been a "throw-in," after the Dead had played shows at the University of Arizona (Friday April 11) and University of Utah (Saturday, April 12). The band was on their way to Omaha (Tuesday April 15) and then Purdue University (Friday April 18), so playing the no-doubt tiny Student Union was probably just gigging for gas money. When the Dead put out a few successful albums in the early 70s, why didn't the band play the Macky at CU? The Dead were playing theaters and gyms up and down the East Coast, so why weren't they headlining at the Macky?

Other than far too limited Grateful Dead activity (limited by the standards of the Dead's relentless touring, anyway), all my research into Boulder bands, venues or concerts in the late 60s and early 70s turned up a dry hole. While its true there have been demographic changes since the 60s, in that undergraduate enrollment at CU-Boulder has nearly doubled (15,000>29,000), and the population of the town has increased by 1/3 since 1970 (66,000>100,000), that has largely been true of many towns with flagship state Universities, and that didn't stop those towns from having it going on in the 60s.Why not Boulder?

Why Not Boulder?
It turns out that "Dry Hole" was the correct metaphor. While Colorado lifted prohibition in 1933, along with the rest of the country, the town of Boulder did not. The city of Boulder did not allow the purchase of alcohol until 1967, and the first bar in the city did not open until the Boulderado Hotel obtained a liquor license in 1969. As a result, 1960s Boulder was a very different town economically than most other major college towns.

Sophisticated archival research is my preferred mode of inquiry, but it's very difficult to uncover something that is not present--you can't read a review of a show that did not take place. Conveniently, however, one night in The Boulderado, Boulder's first luxury hotel (built 1909), I had a very informative conversation with a worldly Boulder resident named Phil, who was born and raised in Boulder, lived and worked many places, and had returned to Boulder in semi-retirement (if I were a country songwriter, his story might make a good song, but I'm not).

In 1960s Boulder, there were no bars, only places that sold 3.2% beer. A post-prohibition Colorado law defined anything with less than 3.2% alcohol as "non-alcoholic," and brewers rapidly figured out they could brew weak beer and skirt the law. This eventually became codified into practice, and watery beer was available for adults, but stronger beer, wine or mixed drinks fell under a different set of laws. While the rest of Colorado came out of Prohibition in a somewhat typical fashion (although the 3.2% beer thing turns out to a surprisingly critical to the rise of Colorado microbrews, but that is too tangential even for this blog), the city of Boulder limited its residents to the purchase of 3.2% beer. It wasn't illegal for adults to drink or possess alcohol, but they couldn't buy it in Boulder.

As a result, the city of Boulder was quite a sleepy place. All the good restaurants were outside of town, since otherwise they couldn't have served wine with dinner. There was no night life, because there were no bars. The adult men all belonged to private clubs--Phil's father often went to the Elks Club, across the street from the Boulderado, because he could get a drink there. Private clubs, however, cannot get a license for live music that allows outsiders, so none of those clubs could serve as a venue.

It may seem that hippie pyschedelic rock bands would not have needed bars, but in fact the opposite is the case. However much 60s bands liked playing free concerts and all night rave ups, the ecosystem of music requires paying gigs. If there aren't a few bars to provide steady work, you don't have working musicians, certainly not any drummers, and as a result you have no bands. It may also seem that coffee shops and folk music would be immune to an absence of bars, but the reality is that the opposite was the case. While it's true that the 60s Folk Scare started in coffee shops, so that high schoolers could get involved, coffee shops thrive in districts where there are bars. After all, what would be the point of meeting a pretty girl and bonding over Pete Seeger songs if you couldn't invite her across the street for a beer? Even Berkeley's Freight and Salvage (opened 1968), the first venue not to allow smoking, was across the street from the Albatross Pub.

The seemingly obvious parallel to 60s Boulder would seem to be Palo Alto, a town that Boulder generally aspires to be. Palo Alto had strange liquor laws, stemming from it's founding as the college town for Stanford University in 1875. In the 1960s, despite a profusion of Acid Tests and the like, there were still no bars in downtown Palo Alto, because of an old law (supported by most downtown area residents) that no liquor could be sold within 1 1/2 miles of the Stanford Campus. Yet Downtown Palo Alto was a bohemian enclave of folk clubs in the early 1960s, and Jerry Garcia was only the most famous of the early folkies hanging around Downtown looking to make music.  Why did sleepy Palo Alto--and trust me, it was sleepy--have a nascent little folk and rock scene, and Boulder seemingly have none?

One simple difference between Boulder and downtown Palo Alto's liquor laws was that Palo Alto allowed beer and wine to be sold at restaurants. Thus nightclubs (like St. Michael's Alley, The Top Of The Tangent or The Poppycock) could set themselves up as restaurants and at least sell beer. Furthermore, there could at least be restaurants downtown, which while they did not cater to young hippie musicians, at least created a downtown that provided some potential employment for their girlfriends. Boulder's restrictions had neither of these ameliorating factors.

The most important difference, however, was that despite downtown Palo Alto's restrictive liquor laws, it was a relatively tiny blip on a very busy suburban Peninsular strip from San Francisco to San Jose. Even within the city limits of Palo Alto, much less all the neighboring towns, there were bars, nightlife and music gigs. While the bands that formed in Palo Alto couldn't find a paying booking in downtown Palo Alto, there was no lack of employment in the bars, coffee shops and pizza parlors on the El Camino Real strip. El Camino (an extension of Mission Blvd in San Francisco) ran from The City all the way to San Jose, and parts of it were within walking distance of downtown Palo Alto. Thus downtown Palo Alto's isolation affected the town itself, but did not have much impact on the area just around it.

Boulder's metropolitan circumstances were very different. A Boulder County resident explained to me that in the late 1960s, the city of Boulder started buying up all the land around the city. Effectively, the city created a 7-mile wide Greenbelt around itself, but at 1960s prices. In this way, Boulder was far ahead of Palo Alto (oh, if Palo Alto had only bought up Menlo Park and Mountain View in 1966...). What this meant, however, was that while downtown Boulder was sleepy, there were no nearby towns to pick up the overflow. You could walk from downtown Palo Alto to downtown Menlo Park, which helps explain while the Palo Alto-born Grateful Dead actually got their professional start in Menlo Park. The nearest towns to Boulder were 10 or more miles away, as they are today, so Boulder was isolated by choice and not just geography.

Certainly the University of Colorado was full of students, probably about 15,000 undergraduates or so. However, CU is up on a hill above the town (mind you, a "hill" in the Rockies would be called a "mountain" in some parts of the country). While presumably the students enjoyed 3.2 beer in great quantities, any serious socializing or interesting dates probably required a car anyway, and if you had a car, why go to sleepy, dry Boulder when you could go to a bar in another town? You're in the car anyway--why not drive to where it's more fun?

Boulder Now
Now, of course, Boulder is Mile High Palo Alto. There are nice restuarants, lots of bars, some converted movie theaters that make great rock venues, and bands play the Macky Auditorium, the CU Events Center (gym) and even Folsom Field, if the bands are big enough to fill up a football stadium. Boulder's population has stabilized, since the city owns all the pristine land around it (Palo Alto's population has been the same since the 1970s), and as a result of the natural advantages of Colorado and the boom in Denver, Boulder is a desirable happening place to live, musically or otherwise, if you can afford it. The University of Colorado has joined the Pac-10, so Boulder is now rightly on a par with Berkeley, Palo Alto, Eugene or Westwood, and it certainly belongs there. Yet a look into Boulder's vacant rock history from the 1960s shows that Boulder has transformed itself into something very different than it was in the past.

I could be wrong about this. Maybe Zephyr was just the only Boulder band that made it out. None of the economic pointers suggest that, however, and I think that Boulder did not have an interesting 60s music history because the economic conditions did not support it. However much the creativity and desire of individual musicians is essential to making music, if the material conditions for a successful music scene are not in place, it will be no accident when there are no memorable bands or concerts to recall. Of course, as always, I will be delighted if if any long time or long ago Boulderites can prove me wrong, and tell me about a secret history of Boulder venues and musicians, but I think that Boulder's very virtues were foundational in insuring that its 60s music history was largely silent.

21 comments:

  1. clap, clap, clap

    A few quickies.

    The Legion of Mary had played Macky on 3/16/75. The GD had played Folsom Field on 9/3/72 (September 3). There were actually a fair number of rock concerts at these venues. So this will all have to be documented.

    I don't think there are concerts at Folsom Field anymore.

    I think we'll find that there was a vibrant music scene (which would disconfirm the alcohol hypothesis).

    I believe that the Boulder Daily Camera just donated its archives to the Boulder History Museum, just a few blocks north of the Boulderado on Broadway. An article in that paper had one of the folks involved saying something like "the hippy files are incredible", so there's probably a ton of stuff to uncover.

    Leland Rucker did a documentary that I haven't seen yet called "Sweet Lunacy: A Brief History of Boulder Rock", which I have not seen.

    Did you get inside Macky? It's pretty gorgeous.

    Thank you for sharing!

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  2. Thanks for the update about Legion Of Mary playing Macky on March 16, 1975. I seemed to have completely tuned out on the Dead playing Folsom Field in '72.

    I would love to be proved completely wrong about Boulder, and find a delicious underground rock history that everyone has forgotten (well, except for Zephyr).

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  3. I believe that the Macky Auditorium was primarily used for classical music and theatrical events. It's not clear how Jerry Garcia and his musical cohorts got classified as a safe act for this relatively elegant venue, but he did play there several times between 1975 and 1982.

    I didn't move to Boulder until 1981, but at that time the main concert venue on campus remained the Glenn Miller Ballroom, which was more resilient to the smoke and general disarray generated by a rock concert. Elsewhere in Boulder, Tulagi's on the hill had apparently had quite a history as a small rock venue (at least in the 1970s), and of course Boulder became a popular hangout for country rockers like Stephen Stills, Firefall, and others in the late 1970s.

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  4. Crypt, do you think the Dead played Glenn Miller Ballroom in '69? I was trying to figure out where they may have actually played.

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  5. I do. But I don't think it was so-named. I think it was just "Ballroom". Somewhere I have a newspaper ad.

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  6. I concur with JGMF - it was the GMB. It is easy to see the ballroom crowded with CU students and Boulderites hearing the Dead there. The Ballroom is not a great venue, but it could probably hold a couple of thousand people in a pinch. Phish played some early shows there in the 1980s, and I saw the version of Kingfish with Billy K. without Bob W. there in 1984 (the night of the infamous altercation between Kreutzmann and Matt Kelly).

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  7. This post was undersourced and underresearched, which is what happens when posts are written in Hotel Lobbies. I'm still intrigued by Boulder's 60s not-history...were the Grateful Dead the only interesting group to play Boulder in the 60s? And for that matter, the early 70s? Was there no history, or a secret history that we don't know about.

    I would love it, of course, if some long ago 60s Boulderite (preferably a member of Zephyr) could set me straight. Maybe I'm all wet, and the lack of alcohol made it a better but more hidden scene.

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  8. For my taste, every post doesn't have to be the last word - that would suck! I love the ones that force thinking, incite research, etc.

    At some point I'll be getting what I can together on these questions. Thank you for opening what I suspect will be an ongoing conversation!

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  9. There certainly were not a lot of high-profile Boulder shows in the late 60s or early 70s. A quick check finds that Bill Graham only ventured there twice in all the years he was promoting (with George Carlin in 1974 and popular British beat combo The Rolling Stones in 1981). Others I know of include the 1969 and 1972 Grateful Dead shows and one of interest:

    September 7, 1969: Folsom Field, University of Colorado Stadium, Boulder, CO Country Joe and The Fish, Steve Miller, Tim Hardin, Buddy Guy, The Sons of Champlin, Conal Implosion

    At the far end of the timeline, we have the following vaguely interesting performances:

    April 9, 1972: Fieldhouse, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO West Bruce and Laing, Free)

    November 16-17, 1972: Tulagi’s, Boulder, CO Michael Bloomfield and Mark Naftalin

    January 22-27, 1974 Tulagils, Boulder, CO Country Joe McDonald with the All Star Band

    The January 27 show was also the final performance of the All Start Band, although nobody is blaming the beautiful city Boulder for that.

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  10. I was at the Quicksilver show at the CU Field house and the Grateful Dead shows at Mammoth Gardens.

    I was back in Colorado to deal with some unfinished legal business so I wasn't working, just hanging out although I showed up before the sound check at the Quicksilver show and was able to help install the great sounding but VERY complicated Countryman piano pickup in the baby grand they'd provided for Nicky Hopkins.

    After the failure of the Family Dog experiment in Denver, out of town promoters were reluctant to do "hippie shows" in either Denver OR Boulder.

    Barry Fey and Chuck Morris emerged as the local promotion heavyweights for the next decade.

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  11. The sound in the field house must have been abominable.

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  12. the reverb time in the field house was so long that the show might still be going on somewhere in the rafters

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  13. I just came across a brief article about QMS gear in Guitar Player September 1970. Let me know if you need a scan, anoldsoundguy, happy to oblige! Might bring back some memories (which nonetheless seem crystal clear, I must say!).

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  14. This is a really fascinating site. Thanks for your work on it, and I hope you continue to update.

    dn

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  15. I am wondering if you have specifically left out the history of Boulder and Caribou Ranch because it is in the 70s... The Eagles perfomed one of their first shows at Tulagi in Boulder... Everyone from Elton John to John Lennon to Stevie Wonder to Chicago to the Rolling Stones were coming to a little ranch just west of Boulder....
    http://www.caribouranchradio.com/about-caribou-ranch/caribou-ranch-history

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  16. Ted, the 70s in Boulder seemed pretty interesting, but you are correct to observe that they were outside my research area (even I have to draw the line somewhere). My specific interest in this case was Boulder's odd liquor laws, and how they seem to have handicapped the influx of rock that happened in most college towns around this time.

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  17. Love all of this - thank you so much. I dearly remember rolling into Boulder one evening in the fall of '71 and our hosts rushing us out the door and on to Tulagi --- because Charlie Musselwhite was there. One of those not-to-be-forgotten nights.

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  18. Gawdamighty, I have a lot to add to this...

    I was part of a communal group who moved from Colorado Springs to Boulder in the spring of 1967. We opened a ballroom (The Kingdom of Endor) at 1111 Pearl St. (Upstairs) that featured our house band, Baby Magic', and the lightshow I was part of. Black Oak Arkansas, Alice Cooper, Zephyr, and other bands played in our venue. The city chose to have police officers stand on the sidewalks outside asking passer's by to sign noise complaints. Weeks of city council meetings ended in our license revoked. Six months later the city tracked down a few of us and offered to build and fund a youth center if we would run it, since they realized we had not created the influx of 'hippies', but had offered a safe place for them to gather, as we had argued.

    After closing us down, we migrated to UC, to infiltrate the student council, to access the student fees account. We set up a 'consultancy' to the council, which was delighted to grant us a budget to provide students with 'appropriate entertainment. Whoa...did we.
    We used the Glenn Miller Ballroom for many of our monthy gigs. We called them "Balls for Peace", and featured Steve Miller several times, the Grateful Dead several times, Zephyr of course, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and many more. I know these details because I was part of the lightshow collective called Spontanuity Lights. We did all the gigs.

    We eventually got the student council to put up the funds for the big Folsom Stadium show mentioed above. Again I did the lightshow, including a 16minute long 16mm film depicting evolotion from black swirling ink projected by overhead projector onto the huge screen, thru the entire story, up to and including pictures from only the week before of the stadium, empty, ready for the show. Memorable night, that one.

    We also used the Field House once I can recall, for the Jefferson Airplane. That one I did not do lights for...they chose not to have a lightshow.

    I personally, as an aside, produced an event at Macky Hall, featuring Dr Timothy Leary, music provided by Zephyr. This was a fundraiser for his legal costs. I managed to get the student council to pay him $1000...now that was a magical night for all!

    Sorry for the lack of dates on all this. It comes from memory, as I have precious little in the way of documentation, aside from the lightshow materials.

    Tulagi's did have lots of big names play there. Alice Cooper played there the night after playing at our club, doing his screen door bit at both venues. Many, many more name bands of the day played Tulagi's.

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    Replies
    1. Scott, thank you for the fascinating snapshot into a hitherto lost Boulder ballroom. I knew Zephyr had played Boulder a lot, but I couldn't quite figure out where. You have made a stellar contribution to the Archaeology of Rock and Roll.

      It's great to find out there was a psychedelic ballroom, however briefly, on Pearl Street. Do you know what became of the building?

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