Monday, July 20, 2009

June 24, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto: "Palo Alto Be-In" Grateful Dead/Big Brother And The Holding Company/Anonymous Artists Of America

References to this concert have appeared off and on in Deadbase over the years, and sometimes in other lists (such as Dead.net) as “undated June 1967.” I have seen a grainy photo from the event, but on the whole this show has slipped through the cracks of Grateful Dead scholarship. As the last of the 1967 “Be-Ins,” and the Grateful Dead’s first concert in the town where the band was formed, the El Camino Park Be-In deserves a higher profile.

El Camino Park was an athletic field across from both The Stanford Shopping Center and ‘El Palo Alto’ (the tall tree that gave the city its name). The Park (at 100 El Camino Real) was at the intersection of Palo Alto Avenue, Alma Street and El Camino Real at the Palo Alto/Menlo Park border, and within easy walking distance of downtown. It is Palo Alto’s oldest park, first open in 1914.

After the initial “Human Be-In” in Golden Gate Park (on January 14, 1967), The Diggers, the Grateful Dead and other like-minded souls were holding Be-Ins in the Bay Area and around the continent. There were Be-Ins (or similar events) in Los Angeles (Griffith Park), New York (Tompkins Square) and Vancouver (Stanley Park), for example, and around the Bay Area in Berkeley (Provo Park), San Jose (10th and Alma) and finally Palo Alto. The Palo Alto event was the last of these events, and while no one has ever specifically claimed responsibility for its organization, it does seem that it was intended to cap a brief era that had begun only a half-mile away at Perry Lane.

The date is not an absolute certainty, but can be triangulated from the Dead’s schedule (eyewitness David Biasotti saw Jimi Hendrix in Golden Gate Park the next day, so the event was on a Saturday). It was a nice day, and there were a few thousand people present, but it was not a large crowd. While Palo Alto’s leading hippies were migrating North to San Francisco or West to the Santa Cruz Mountains, the scene’s beginnings were still present. Palo Alto, while unhip, was a tolerant town and seemed perfectly willing to allow revelry to take place in a city park on a weekend afternoon. My father, not interested in rock music per se, but having the foresight to recognize cultural touchstones when they occurred in his town, took his whole family—I was nine years old. I mainly recall Bill Kreutzmann’s psychedelically painted drum set, and my younger sister getting her face painted by nice hippie girls. My older sister recalls the Dead playing “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.”

Woodside High School graduate David Biasotti recalls that The Sons of Champlin played with a horn section, rare for them at that time. Other witnesses recall Tim Leary’s presence. The Anonymous Artists of America lived in a commune in the Santa Cruz Mountains, near the notorious Kesey spread, and the Pranksters had willed them the famous “Thunder Machine.” The AAA were a loose aggregation, and one of the members was Jerry Garcia’s ex-wife, Sara Ruppenthal Garcia (although she may have left the group by this time).

For those familiar with the saga of the borrowed amplifiers used for Monterey Pop (a story retailed by Joel Selvin and Rock Scully in their books, among others), this was almost certainly one of the events where the “borrowed” equipment from the Festival was used before it was returned. Ken Kesey’s parties on Perry Lane (today the site of Oak Creek Apartments) had begat psychedelia, and The Warlocks performances at Magoo’s Pizza had begat the Grateful Dead, and just a few years later, the former Palo Alto band anchored what may have been the biggest concert in Palo Alto up to that time.

Palo Alto continued to have a number of free concerts in El Camino Park through the next 18 months, although none of the groups were as high profile as The Dead or Big Brother. At least two were headlined by the Steve Miller Band (in Fall 1967 and August 1968), then a popular regional group, but hardly underground legends. After 1968, Palo Alto pretty much gave up concerts in El Camino Park, and save for one Jerry Garcia/Kingfish/Rowans gig on June 8, 1975 (not a free show), the park has been rock-free ever since.

Crossposted at Lost Live Dead.

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