Traffic/Iron Butterfly/Blue Cheer/Country Joe and The Fish/Steve Miller Band
In 1968, the rock music business was at a critical crossroads, going from local entertainment to big business. This divide was particularly acute in big cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Palo Alto, as a hip satellite of San Francisco, was feeling the pressure. Free concerts in the park had gotten bigger and bigger, and the local rock nightclub was drawing out-of-town bands. University Avenue, the main downtown street, had become a sort of hippie hangout on weekends.
of the crucial dynamics of the late 60s rock concert business was the
rise of festivals. Rock festivals, with seemingly unlimited attendance,
appeared to offer a chance to cash in on the young audience in a big
way. 1968 was full of stories of exciting rock festivals of different
types, often incredibly fun and very often financial debacles. Palo Alto
came oh-so-close to having a rock festival debacle of its own, but I'm the only person who ever seems to have noticed.
A brief but intriguing listing in the September 7, 1968 ‘Teen Age’ section of the Oakland Tribune
(above) indicates plans for a San Francisco Pop Festival at Searsville
Lake. Searsville Lake was between Palo Alto and Woodside, on Stanford land, though
several miles West of the University campus. The Festival would have
featured Traffic, Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer, Country Joe and The Fish
and the Steve Miller Band. Needless to say, this event didn’t happen.
A San Francisco Pop Festival was indeed held in October (on the 26th and 27th), but the venue was the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, and none of the above named groups were present (Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon, Canned Heat and Procol Harum were among the acts).
would have been 10 years old, and although I would not have been
interested in the event at the time, it would have been a big event in
Palo Alto. I recall Searsville Lake quite clearly, and I doubt it could
have taken on a big rock festival. The lake had been formed by the
damming of San Francisquito Creek in 1889, inundating the little town of
Searsville. Stanford University had taken over the dam and the land in
1919, promptly leasing the area to a series of recreational operators.
The little lake was a pleasant swimming area with a little beach and
hiking trails. While the operators were presumably free to run their
business, Stanford had been suspicious of rock shows since 1966 and certainly had ways to block the event.
A postcard, probably from the late 1950s, shows the Searsville Lake recreation area. How would they have fit a rock festival crowd in there?
Searsville Lake had been a regular site of Stanford Fraternity parties, and an early 60s Palo Alto band called The Zodiacs had played them regularly, sometimes with stand-in bassist Jerry Garcia. Bill Kreutzmann’s group The Legends probably played there as well.
Searsville Lake is now part of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. Searsville Dam had never worked properly, and Searsville Lake had silted up significantly throughout its existence, and will eventually disappear. Stanford bought out Searsville Lake in 1976, closing the recreational area and making it part of the preserve.
An article in the September 28, 1968 Billboard Magazine sheds more light on the matter. The promoters were Bill Quarry (of "Teens and Twenties") and Ron Roupe (manager of the Chocolate Watch Band), promoters in the East and South Bay respectively. According to Billboard, they had a signed contract, and agreements for police and fire support, and had already sold 2000 tickets (for $5, big money at the time), when Stanford University unilaterally canceled the show.
A September 27, 1968 ad in the Stanford Daily for Cream at the Oakland Coliseum on October 4 shows Traffic as the opening act. In fact, Traffic was replaced by Delaney& Bonnie, but the booking fit with the plan for Traffic to play Palo Alto on October 5
According to Billboard, permission for the event was withdrawn when, reportedly, University officials objected to getting involved in the type of problems caused by this type of event. The article goes on to explain that the show was rescheduled with different acts for later in October, which was the event held in Pleasanton.
On the other hand, Traffic would have played my town.