Wednesday, February 17, 2010

660 Great Highway, San Francisco September 4, 1969 The Playland Girls Of 1969

Chet Helms's succesor for his legendary Avalon Ballroom was The Family Dog On The Great Highway, located at 660 Great Highway, where the Pacific Ocean meets San Francisco (or "The Edge of The Western World" as it was known). The Family Dog was a venue with a rich and complicated history, and the project was fraught with possibilities, most of which were only partially realized. The biggest factor was the dramatic changes in the live rock concert market, so that the Family Dog was too small to compete with the major venues nearer to downtown San Francisco and Oakland, while a few years too early to benefit from being near the suburbs.

While the list of Family Dog shows at the Great Highway location from 1969-70 is interesting, it also represents an unsuccessful, undercapitalized enterprise. Ironically, it turns out that many of the events at the Family Dog which were not, in fact, Family Dog events hold a lot more historical interest, even if they were not economic successes. At various times, I have written about a Light Show performed to unreleased live tapes from The Matrix club (August 26, 1969) and an unannounced Grateful Dead/Jefferson Airplane show at the Dog (September 6, 1969), and there are a number of other intriguing events as well.

The most widely known of the "non-Dog" events was a TV special called A Night At The Family Dog, featuring The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Santana and recorded on February 4, 1970. While a tad misleading--the Airplane rarely played The Dog, and Santana never played any other time at the Great Highway, much less all three bands together--it still gives a nice flash of the wide-open, free flowing San Francisco scene. Probably more people saw A Night At The Family Dog than ever attended a show there (you can rent the DVD from Netflix--I did).

Another intriguing event at The Dog was something called "Monday Night Class," a series of lectures by a local figure named Stephen Gaskin. Up to 1500 people would attend these events, which featured lectures and questions from the audience about topics like philosophy, drugs, sex and love (really, 1500 people--I'm not making this up). Granted, the events were free, but there was an interest in this sort of thing that was not being served by other sources. Gaskin would go on to start a successful commune in Tennessee called The Farm that was another story entirely, well outside the scope of this blog, but interesting in its own right.

Chet Helms had a monthly bill to meet, and on a personal level felt that The Family Dog should serve as a sort of hip Community Center. Although commercial hippiedom was in full flower in 1969 San Francisco, it was still focused on enterprises like head shops, rock concerts and t-shirts. There weren't many spaces for new ideas. That left the Family Dog as one of the few substantial buildings that welcomed somewhat untypical propositions. It does appear right now that the most interesting presentations at the 1969-70 Family Dog were those events that were not explicitly Family Dog concert productions.

As a result, I am now very interested in "Non-Dog" events at The Family Dog On The Great Highway, even when I know very little about them. The ticket above is for an event apparently called The Carnival Ball and Coronation Honoring The Playland Girls of 1969. It was sponsored by Playland-At-The-Beach, the amusement park right next door to the Family Dog ballroom. The ticket was sent to me by a member of the band Devil's Kitchen, who provided music for the show. Apparently it was  fairly conventional fashion show/beauty pageant, and the two bands provided dance music. In this case, Helms was simply renting his hall, but it was still an interesting intersection of cultures.

Devil's Kitchen was a band from Carbondale, IL, who had moved to San Francisco in Spring 1968. They  became the "house band" at The Family Dog, opening many of the shows there, even ones for which they did not appear on the bill. They also played other clubs around the Bay Area. The band members were guitarist Robbie Stokes, keyboardist/vocalist Brett Champlin, bassist Bob Laughton and drummer Steve Sweigart. While Stokes remained in the Bay Area for a dozen years or so, the rest of the band members ultimately returned to the Midwest later in 1970. Ironically, a recording of the group's performance at The Family Dog on March 22, 1970, promulgated by Wolfgang's Vault, roused the band back to life, and that is how I got in touch with them (Brett Champlin responds very kindly to emails, and to answer the obvious question, he is a 4th cousin of Bill Champlin but they had not met prior to the band arriving in SF).

According to Brett Champlin, Devil's Kitchen were just another dance band at this show, providing music after the pageant was complete. The Metropolitan Sound Company was a soul band from Oakland, playing original soul music with a Hendrix touch, and the bands probably alternated. While the ticket rather enticingly says "Dress Optional," I take that to mean that guests were not obligated to dress formally, rather than at all.

Brett Champlin only vaguely recalls the event, since he still has the complimentary ticket, so it was probably just another night for a working band. From an archaeological perspective, however, it points out that considerably more seems to have occurred at The Family Dog On The Great Highway than the limited run of Family Dog posters would suggest, and suggests that there are probably interesting events, hitherto unknown, waiting to be dug up.

Update: Judith Vacek Crowned Queen Of Playland
The September 6, 1969 San Francisco Chronicle reports
Judith Vacek shoots a good game of pool, measures a classic 36-26-36 and is "Playland Girl '69."
The 20-year old Tiburon girl was officially crowned as the Queen Of Playland At The Beach Thursday. The contest was conducted all summer and decided by popular vote of the public.
Miss Vacek, who aspires to be an airline stewardess, received a 1970 Ford Maverick that went along with her new title.

While a new world was dawning in the 1960s, the casual sexism of this news item is a reminder that the world of 1969 was a lot closer to 1959 than 1979. In any case, a pretty girl who can play pool sounds a like a lot of fun, and an apt ruler for Playland.

While its easy to chuckle today at Ms Vacek's aspiration to be a stewardess, its important to remember that many of the fun things that women aspire to today--whether Firefighter, Fighter Pilot or Futures Trader--were effectively if not legally barred to women, and stewardess was actually one of the most exciting options available. Anyway, here's to hoping that Judith Vacek had a happy reign, and had some fun driving to the pool hall in her new Maverick.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

660 Great Highway, San Francisco August 26, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway: Great SF Light Show Jam

This paragraph from Ralph J. Gleason's column in the August 25, 1969 San Francisco Chronicle says
Tomorrow night at the Family Dog on The Great Highway there will be a lightshow spectacular--The Great SF Light Show Jam--with 13 different light shows and taped music from three years of unissued tapes from the Matrix including tapes of Big Brother, Steve Miller, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service
I had seen the Great SF Light Show Jam listed on various obscure flyers and thought little about it, since Light Shows are inherently of the moment. The idea that the Light Shows were performing to years of unissued live shows recorded at the Matrix--well, that's something else entirely.

Now, various Matrix tapes have circulated over the years, and I wouldn't be surprised if the ones that were used for the Family Dog show were the ones that we have already heard. Still, its a really intriguing thought. And the tapes must have sounded awfully good, not degraded (since so little time had passed) and blasted over a real concert sound system.

Sic transit gloria psychedelia. 

Update: The event seems to have been repeated a month later (on Thursday, September 25, 1969). Given the description, I don't think new tapes were added to the mix (since other, non-Matrix, tapes were used also), but its still interesting to think about (the clip is from Ralph Gleason's SF Chronicle column, September 24, 1969).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

345 Broadway, San Francisco August 1-2-3, 1969 Headhunters Amusement Park: Phanangang/Indian Puddin' 'N' Pipe/Quicksilver


This post is more about process than substance, but no less interesting for that. Did Quicksilver Messenger Service play an obscure venue on Broadway in San Francisco on the weekend of August 1-2-3, 1969?

The Evidence
Reviewing the entertainment listings in Berkeley's Tribe from August 1, 1969 reveals some surprising listings. The listings for Friday August 1 (above) and Sunday August 3 list the following

Phanangang, Indian Puddin' Pipe, Quicksilver, lights Optic & Illusion. Headhunters Amusement Park, 345 Broadway, 8 pm $2. 

(The listing for Saturday, August 2 is the same but excludes Quicksilver. Whatever the status of this listing, I am as inclined to assume that the absence of Quicksilver in Saturday's listing is simply a typo, although that says nothing about whether or not the band actually played)

Quicksilver Messenger Service
In Summer 1969, Quicksilver Messenger Service was San Francisco rock royalty by any standard. Their classic second album Happy Trails had received massive FM airplay, and was a favorite on turntables all over the Bay Area. Gary Duncan had in fact left the group, and it only barely existed, even though they were ostensibly recording an album on Capitol (which would eventually be released as Shady Grove). Although Quicksilver only consisted of John Cipollina, David Freiberg and Greg Elmore, plus any possible guest musicians, they were still a hugely popular group in San Francisco.

Although the band was regularly referred to as "Quicksilver," for obvious reasons, they were never billed that way (just as The Grateful Dead or The Jefferson Airplane were never formally billed as "The Dead" or "The Airplane"). From that point of view, it makes no sense whatsoever that a major San Francisco band that could easily headline a weekend at Fillmore West would be billed for two or three nights at a bar on Broadway, and not listed first to boot.

On the other hand, after several months of complete isolation, Quicksilver Messenger Service had started to play a few gigs. They had played near Monterey (at the Resurrection Theatre in Seaside) on July 18-19, and they played a few gigs in support of the Wild West Festival on August 22 and 23 (Fillmore West and Family Dog, respectively). All the reports suggested a tentative working out of a new lineup, and a low-key gig at a North Beach club is not so far fetched as it might initially seem.

The Venue
345 Broadway was the former site of a North Beach club called Goman's, which I have written about earlier. Initially it was known as Goman's Gay 90s, and it was owned by an old Vaudeville family. The club had mostly presented Vaudeville style reviews, in some sort of modified fashion befitting its name. In early 1967, at least, it did have "Breakfast Shows" from 2-6am, featuring the likes of The Sparrow, but that seems to have been an afterthought.

Starting in April, 1967, however, Goman's Gay 90s became Goman's Gay 60s, and featured Topless Dancers, a Light Show and rock bands. Topless clubs provided paying gigs to new bands in town who weren't yet of the status of a Fillmore or Avalon gig (like New Salvation Army Banned or West Coast Natural Gas). While not a great gig, necessarily, club owners were usually tolerant of whatever the band played as long as they kept the beat going, so it was a chance to get started in a new city.

By late 1969, however, the Topless craze had subsided. It wasn't unknown on North Beach, but it wasn't the auotmatic moneymaker it had been. I have to assume that the Goman family gave up on Goman's Gay 60s Topless club, which wasn't their style anyway, and operated a psychedelic nightclub instead. Whether the Goman's actually owned the building, subleased their club or simply let the property owner lease it is unknown to me. It is a fact of city life, however, that Use Permits tend to remain in effect, so a building licensed both to sell liquour and put on musical performances was likely to remain a nightclub.

Did Quicksilver Play Headhunters?--The Parameters
If Quicksilver Messenger Service did play Headhunters Amusement Park, it would have been because they felt they needed the work. The group had experimented with Nick Gravenites as lead singer and rhythm guitarist, and legendary pianist Nicky Hopkins had just joined, but a description of one of the Seaside shows (July 18) showed them to be quite ragged. An eyewitness account of the August 22 Fillmore West show (from diarist Faren Miller) suggests a much more together band, without Gravenites, but with occasional appearances by engineer Dan Healy on guitar and bass (yes, the once and future Dead soundman). Perhaps Quicksilver got it together by playing a few stealth gigs, and Headhunters may have been one of them.Phangangang and Indian Puddin and Pipe, while not well known, were common in Bay Area club listings at the time and would be typical of the groups one might expect to play Broadway.

I have no more information than I have presented here. What I am left with is a list of possible choices, that I have to consider in light of any future evidence (however slender) that may come to light. I am presenting them here so that readers can consider the sparse evidence that Rock Prosopography contends with.

Alternative Explanations
1. There was another group named 'Quicksilver.' 
This proposition is a self-evident "no" in 1969 San Francisco. It's like suggesting there was a band called "The Airplane" that was somehow different than Jefferson Airplane. I am dismissing this possibility out of hand.

2. The listing was a mistake, and 'Quicksilver' was a misreading of something else.
This proposition is the most likely. Generally entertainment listings had a deadline (usually something like Tuesday for the Friday edition), and some functionary at a venue made a phone call or sent in a list to various papers. Given that many flyers back in the day were psychedelically lettered and hard to read, some well meaning office clerk could simply have confused some unreadable thing as "Quicksilver" when it was something else entirely.

3. Some stealth Quicksilver gigs were planned, and they got inadvertently publicized.
This is the most intriguing proposition, though the likelihood is still well under 50%. Quicksilver was starting to play around, but didn't even have a stable lineup, and a gig or two at a low-key club would have given the band a chance to try themselves out at low risk. Following the logic here, if they had agreed with the club owner that they might show up, the band's name may have been on some internal log not meant for dissemination, and a well-meaning functionary may have simply phoned in the listing and read off their name, without realizing the implication.

From that point of view, the common shortening of the name to "Quicksilver" makes more sense. Also, the odd configuration of playing Friday (Aug 1) and Sunday (Aug 3) but not Saturday makes an odd kind of sense. The band may have listed nights they might show up, rather than having booked real gigs.

For the third and most interesting proposition, two future pieces of research might be of interest:
  • Who were the owners or operators of the Headhunters Amusement Park? If they were someone associated with Quicksilver Messenger Service or their management (West-Pole), then this hypothesis becomes more plausible
  • Fragmentary memories of seeing Quicksilver in North Beach or Broadway. It is common to read vague stories from old hippies who say things like "once I wandered into a bar on Broadway and found Quicksilver rocking the joint," and to dismiss them as acid-tinged memories of no value. However, there may be an element of truth to such a memory in this case.
My analysis stops here, as I have no further information. In the end, all I can suggest is that Quicksilver Messenger Service may have played a few stealth gigs at a Broadway nightspot on August 1, 2 or 3, 1969. Or not. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

505 Parnassus Avenue, Steiniger Auditorium, UC Medical Center Auditorium, San Francisco, CA March 4, 1967: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Steve Miller Blues Band/Robert Baker

March 4, 1967 Steiniger Auditorium, University of California Medical Center, San Francisco, CA 
Big Brother and The Holding Company/Steve Miller Blues Band/Robert Baker

This relatively obscure Spring 1967 event is interesting mainly for its venue. One recurring theme of San Francisco underground rock was how sympathetic fans of bands found gigs for them in unlikely places, which could not be repeated once the long-haired bands were revealed in the flesh. In particular, many educational institutions had an "entertainment budget" that allowed students (usually on some school appointed committee) to hire acts that were popular with the student body. In 1960s California, this generally meant folk or jazz music, and perhaps some Beatles-style rock bands for a dance. It did not usually include psychedelic weirdness.

This specific instance is interesting because the University of California at San Francisco was and is strictly a medical and professional school. While part of the University of California system (then including Berkeley, UCLA, Davis, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Riverside and Irvine), UCSF had no undergraduate component. All the students were studying for advanced degrees in medicine, to become doctors or other professionals. It was still the 1960s, however, and somehow some aspiring doctors managed to get the Med school's auditorium for a Benefit concert. Big Brother and The Holding Company were rising stars, and had been Fillmore and Avalon headliners for some time. The Steve Miller Blues Band, while based in Berkeley, were also up and coming (Robert Baker was a hip comedian).

UC Medical Center was within walking distance of the Haight Ashbury. While I am unable to determine the current name of Steiniger Auditorium (which may in fact have been remodeled or replaced), I am fairly certain that it was at what is currently known as "The Parnussus Campus" at 505 Parnassus (at 2nd Avenue). This is just up the hill from The Panhandle and The Haight. As a result of some peculiar features of Haight Ashbury geography, if Janis Joplin was coming from the apartment she shared at the time with Joe McDonald on Lyon Street, it would have been quicker for her to walk rather than drive.

I do know of one other rock show at UC Medical Center, at the Student Union on Arguello and Parnassus (which don't precisely intersect, but close enough). Sopwith Camel and The SF Mime Troupe played a show there on May 27, 1967, but even then that was a smaller deal than Big Brother. Still, the Med School seems to have caught on, and after 1967 aspiring doctors seemed to have had to go the Fillmore and Avalon like everyone else.

Friday, February 5, 2010

135 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA November 8-14, 1969 The Poppycock

Palo Alto had a thriving bohemian scene in the early 1960s, spawning both Ken Kesey's acid tests and The Grateful Dead, among other things. However, the tiny scene centered around Dowtown Palo Alto and nearby Menlo Park (where Kepler's Books was located) rapidly scattered to San Francisco and Santa Cruz when things got interesting. Palo Alto was a college town, liberal and progressive, but oddly sleepy--one San Francisco columnist (a former resident) accurately called it "a hotbed of social rest," which it remains today. By the late 1960s, Palo Alto was in a funny niche--a town whose residents were tolerant of long hair, funny smelling smoke and new ideas, but not particularly interested in exploring it themselves.

The net result was that Palo Alto had a thriving if small concert scene in the late 1960s, which hardly bothered the tolerant residents, but at the same time not large enough to develop any traction on its own. The town of Palo Alto had a very odd history, the essence of which was that railroad mogul Leland Stanford founded the town on the basis of being anti-liquor, in contrast to sinful Mayfield just a few miles away (California Avenue to any locals from this century). Although the history of alcohol and Palo Alto had undergone some twists and turns, by the mid-1960s you could buy beer at a restaurant Downtown, but there were still no bars. Thus any local beer joints had a surprisingly important status in Downtown Palo Alto, since a frosty Budweiser was the closest thing you could get to a drink.

I have written previously of the epic 1967 Palo Alto Be-In and the surprising series of free outdoor concerts that followed. Along with a willingness to allow the local hippies to put on free concerts in the city park nearest downtown (El Camino Park), Palo Alto also had its very own rock club, The Poppycock, a peculiar little venue all but forgotten by everyone except Ross and me. It was located near the train station, on University Avenue and High Street--could you make this up?--and next door to the pizza parlor where Jerry Garcia and other folkies had honed their chops to tiny audiences in the early 1960s. The building is still intact: here is a 2006 photo, and while it has been remodeled it gives a sense of the modest scale of the structure.
(for former or current Palo Altans, the building is at 135 University at High Street. The Tangent (and The Top Of The Tangent) was next door at 117 University. At the time of this photo, it was a branch of Stanford University Bookstore, who has since vacated, but the building is still for lease last I checked. The building has been substantially remodeled since its Poppycock days).

Downtown Palo Alto had kind of died in the mid-1950s, thanks to the opening of the nearby Stanford Shopping Center. The moribund real estate market allowed some hippie types to buy the three story 135 University building in about 1967. While offices were rented upstairs, the owners (whose names remain inaccessible to me) opened a Fish "N' Chips take out shop on the ground floor, with a beer joint/night club, complete with light show providing nightly entertainment. A couple of historic facts stand out about The Poppycock at this time
  • English readers of this blog will be startled to know that Fish And Chips was exotic enough in California to count as "ethnic cuisine", and
  • With no bars downtown (because they were against the law), a hippie beer joint was exactly the only place the local longhairs over the age of 21 could go hang for a drink
In 1967 The Poppycock was sort of like a lounge, as near as I can tell, with regular entertainment but not "names" (a local jazz trio did play there regularly, featuring Woodside High School student Mike Shrieve on drums). By 1968, however, the club had switched to a more rock-oriented format, albeit with some folk and Theater mixed in. The Bay Area was the place to be for rising rock bands, and a circuit was developing for working bands, that included The Matrix in San Francisco, The New Orleans House in Berkeley and The Poppycock. Bands on the road could "tour" the Bay Area, in between more high profile gigs opening at The Fillmore and The Avalon. At the same time, local bands had a place to build their audiences.

The audience of The Poppycock was slightly at odds with the town. The hippest people in Palo Alto were the local High School students, but of course they couldn't get into a bar, and were "forced" to go the Fillmore or whatever other concerts were nearby. Conversely, long-haired 20 somethings from Santa Clara to San Mateo had few choices for nighttime entertainment, since while there were plenty of bars in the South Bay, they didn't always play original rock music nor were they necessarily sympathetic to hippies. While a hippie in the South Bay was rarely subject to physical violence (it being a hotbed of social rest, after all), the point of going out was to meet like minded people, preferably of the opposite gender, and for hippies in the South Bay that meant The Poppyock.

As a result, the hip Palo Alto residents couldn't get into The Poppycock because they were minors. Most young working people didn't live in Palo Alto, however, because it was too dull and expensive, but paradoxically for those who lived in in the nearby counties the Poppycock was a destination, particularly on weekends, because the cheaper suburban towns weren't tolerant enough of longhair hippie establishments.

November 8, 1969 Poppycock Calendar.
Ross found this poster somewhere, I don't know where, but in any case only he and I would care. Its actually a pretty good snapshot of the kind of acts who played The Poppycock.

Saturday, November 8, 1969   John Fahey/Billy Joe Becoat
John Fahey was Berkeley's legendary pioneer of acoustic guitar, a huge influence on both Country Joe and The Fish and Leo Kottke. If that makes sense to you, you'd like John Fahey. Billy Joe Becoat apparently recorded an album for Fantasy this year, but I know nothing else about him.

Sunday, November 9, 1969 The Rhythm Dukes
The Rhythm Dukes at this time featured former Moby Grape members Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson, along with bassist John Barrett and drummer John Oxendine, both formerly of the group Boogie. Stevenson had played drums in Moby Grape, but he switched to guitar for this group. This promising group lived in Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and were a good example of the type of band that played The Poppycock because there were few other South Bay outlets for original music.

Monday, November 10, 1969 Open Mike-Auditions
Tuesday, November 11, 1969 Folk-Blues Workshop
The Poppycock was professionally connected to The Top Of The Tangent, next door, although it may have been called The Trip Room by then. The Folk Blues Workshop was a kind of "Best Of The Hoots" ensemble that played different clubs around the Bay Area. The best known graduate of this process was folksinger Jim Page (no, not him), now based out of Washington State.

Wednesday, November 12, 1969 Canterbury Fair
Although I know nothing of Canterbury Fair, they were a familiar name on Bay Area rock venues at small clubs during this period.

Thursday, November 13, 1969 New Riders Of The Purple Sage
At this time, Jerry Garcia had recently helped establish The New Riders Of The Purple Sage as a vehicle for him to play pedal steel guitar. Old Los Altos pal John Dawson wrote and sang the songs, and David Nelson provided the electric guitar licks, Buck Owens style. Phil Lesh played bass and Mickey Hart played drums. During this period, the New Riders played a lot of Bay Area clubs on weeknights, as long as the Dead were not on tour.

The Grateful Dead had formed in Palo Alto, as The Warlocks, but to my knowledge they never had a paying gig in the town. They played The Big Beat Acid Test (in South Palo Alto, at 998 San Antonio Road), and they had even auditioned at Palo Alto's first folk club, St. Michael's Alley, at 436 Hamilton (they flunked). But there were no gigs in Palo Alto for long hair bands, to my knowledge, and they had to start playing various clubs in the South Bay along the El Camino Real Strip, which ultimately led them to San Francisco.

The Grateful Dead had played the Palo Alto Be-In on June 24, 1967, but of course that was a free concert. I believe the November 14, 1969 Poppycock gig to be the first time Jerry Garcia got paid for a show in downtown Palo Alto since the days of Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band Champions in 1965.

It very well may be that the New Riders appeared again the next Thursday--the band definitely were scheduled for Thursday November 20, and the poster seems to imply multiple Thursdays.

Coming Soon
November 28-29 Cal Tjader
[undated] San Francisco Mime Troupe
December 31 Charlie Musselwhite

Jazz musician Cal Tjader, a critical figure in Latin jazz, was actually born in the South Bay and of Swedish extraction. As such, he was a popular local figure, independent of local rock currents.

The San Francisco Mime Troupe had been a popular counterculture attraction for some years. The Poppycock had a fair amount of theater events, particularly on weeknights.

Charlie Musselwhite had taken a month's leave from his job in a Chicago steel mill in 1967, and he stayed for over 30 years. It is possible that his band already featured Ukiah guitarist Robben Ford.

We are working on a complete Poppycock venue history, but it remains in progress. Anyone with insights, corrections or recovered memories (real or imagined) please Comment or eMail.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

100 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA June 23, 1968 Free You Be-In

El Camino Park in Palo Alto, bordered by Alma Street, Palo Alto Avenue and El Camino Real, was Palo Alto's first park. Built in 1914, it was just across the street from El Palo Alto, the "tall tree" that gave the city its name, as well as across another street (El Camino Real) from the Stanford Shopping Center that revitalized Palo Alto after the 1950s. The park was also midway between Perry Lane, where Ken Kesey's first parties took place in the early 1960s, and downtown Palo Alto, where various folkies like Jerry Garcia were playing above a pizza parlor. In the Summer of 1967, it was the site on June 24 of a substantial Be-In featuring the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and The Holding Company, The Sons of Champlin and other groups. This event was the culmination of a series of Be-Ins that had taken place from January onwards, in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, San Jose and elsewhere.

After the Monterey Pop Festival, however (held on June 16-17-18, 1967), rock concerts started to turn into big business. Many cities grew uneasy about free concerts in public parks, as much for the size of potential crowds as concern about "the hippie element." Cities such as Fremont, which had had a successful event in the Summer of 1967 (the June 18 Banana At Noon event), nonetheless felt uneasy about large groups of long-haired kids congregating in a park to hear loud music. Berkeley, being a lively college town, not surprisingly encouraged the free concerts in the main park (Provo Park at Grove and Allston), but Berkeley prided itself on not being typical. While Palo Alto was a considerably smaller town than Berkeley, it was still a college town, and there was a regular concert scene there too from 1967 onwards, which has been all but forgotten. In particular, the city of Palo Alto regularly allowed free concerts at El Camino Park, with fairly substantial San Francisco bands.

After the June 24, 1967 Be-In, I know for certain of a Fall 1967 concert with the Steve Miller Band and The New Delhi River Band. This June 23, 1968 event with Charley Musselwhite, The Sons of Champlin and Notes From The Underground also stands out for the fact that it was publicized with a mail order flyer. While none of these three bands were major acts, they all were regulars at Bay Area rock clubs and had appeared further down on the bill at places like The Fillmore and The Avalon, so they weren't without appeal. I also know of an August 1968 El Camino Park event (probably August 11) with The Steve Miller Band and Frumious Bandersnatch. The World Historical significance of that pairing was that the Frumious (from lovely Lafayette, CA) met Steve Miller, and 4 of 5 members of the the group ended up in the Steve Miller Band over the next few years (one of them, David Denny, is still in it). There was also evidence of a Sepember 29, 1968 show with Quicksilver Messenger Service and The Youngbloods (and Ace Of Cups/Cold Blood/Freedom Highway/Frumious Bandersnatch/ Flamin Groovies), another Free You event.

While five concerts in the park in two years may not seem like a lot, it was about four more than any city besides San Francisco and Berkeley. While the Sons, Charley Musselwhite and Notes From The Underground were hardly the Dead and Big Brother, they were groups with albums and followings, and none of them were local. Cities like San Jose tolerated free concerts by local groups, but they were very uneasy about substantial events featuring out-of-town bands. Charley Musselwhite, from Chicago but relocated to San Francisco, had a fine album on Vanguard, however, and Marin's Sons had been signed to MGM and then Capitol (although their debut album would not come out until early 1969).  Berkeley's Notes were also on Vanguard.

I only know about this event through the flyer. The MidPeninsula Free University, known colloquially as "Free You" was  an alternative education establishment based at a Menlo Park storefront. Their headquarters was walking distance to El Camino Park (at 100 El Camino Real) as well as to Kepler's Books (and not coincidentally, to Perry Lane). This concert was advertised on the back of a monthly flyer mailed out to interested students, meaning that the show had been scheduled some time in advance. Palo Alto had had a sort of hip bohemian scene from about 1960-66, spawning the Acid Tests, the Grateful Dead and a few other things, but most of the interesting people had moved North to San Francisco or South to the Santa Cruz Mountains by this time. Those who remained, however, while somewhat straighter, were also of the liberal, open-minded persuasion who didn't fear loud music and new things on the Village Green.

I don't know anyone who went to this specific event, although I do know people who went to the first Be-In (me, for one--age nine) and both Steve Miller events. Although a Steve Miller concert may have seemed like just another event to the locals, I know of a 14-year old from New Jersey who went to the 1968 Steve Miller concert and as a result he moved to the Bay Area as soon as he turned 18, so the events could still be powerful (particularly if you were from Piscataway).

El Camino Park events were just a small part of the interesting, if forgotten, rock scene Palo Alto in the 1960s. There was a club called The Poppycock (at 135 University Avenue), and a variety of other intriguing if minor events, including a series of sort of guerilla performances in Downtown Palo Alto itself, at a place called Lytton Plaza. I have been doing research on this history for some time, and I am looking into presenting all of it. In the meantime, however, we can contemplate a sleepy college town, not necessarily hip but tolerant of oddballs, where free concerts in the city park could be organized and promoted with the casual assent of the community.