While the famous Boston Tea Party is fairly well represented on the Web, The Psychedelic Supermarket, an obscure and unloved venue on Kenmore Square, remains shrouded in obscurity. There are a variety of impressionistic memories, but this post is an attempt to collect the available information about performances at Boston's Psychedelic Supermarket. This is a work in progress, with a considerable number of gaps, but it is the only attempt I know of to accumulate all the performance dates at the venue. There is considerably more information to be uncovered, but I am hoping to use this post as a starting point.
The street address of the Psychedelic Supermarket was 590 Commonwealth Avenue, but actually the venue was in an alley behind Commonwealth Avenue, near Kenmore Square and backing onto Boston University. The "street address" made it easier to find. The venue was a converted parking garage, with acoustic qualities to match, and it was not remembered fondly by bands or patrons. Supermarket Promoter George Popadopolis had run a Boston coffee house called The Unicorn since the early 1960s, and by the mid-60s he was booking electric blues bands as well as folk music.
Boston's first and most famous psychedelic venue was the Boston Tea Party (at 53 Berkeley Street) and the second was The Crosstown Bus at 337 Washington Street in suburban Brighton. The Crosstown Bus ran afoul of the city and the police, however, apparently over licensing (the J. Geils Blues Band managed to get their equipment out just before the place was padlocked), just as the hottest band in the country had a booking there.
The Psychedelic Supermarket appears to have debuted with Cream from September 8-16, 1967. It appears that George Popadopolis seems to have hastily created this venue to facilitate Cream, in order (apparently) to cash in on the dates dropped by the hastily closed Crosstown Bus. Memories of the club's debut suggest that it was not ready. It seems possible that a plan by Popadopolis to create a club was abruptly accelerated to cash in on the availability of Cream. Apparently, the venue was initially a parking garage during the day, and then the lower floor of the garage was converted to a concert facility for the evening. Eyewitnesses recall little more than cold concrete, no amenities and poor sound. There was some suggestion that an effort was made to make the venue more palatable throughout 1968, but it was never a comfortable facility.
The Unicorn, Popadopolis's other club was a coffee house with folk music on 815 Boylston Street (h/t The Funky Judge for the exact address). Now an Apple Store, it was near Boston University and Commonwealth Avenue, just across the Charles River from Cambridge and all its college students. As music evolved, some electric groups started to play The Unicorn as well. A Butterfield Blues Band performance from the Unicorn in 1966 has been widely circulated (for more about Popadopolis and the Cambridge folk scene, see the fine 1979 book Baby Let Me Follow You Down by Eric Von Schmidt and Jim Rooney). Thus Popadopolis's move into rock promotion, while sudden, was consistent with his prior businesses.
The Supermarket does not appear to have had much in the way of collectable or interesting handbills or posters, so the shows are somewhat lost to history. Some handbills are around from the 1967 era, but they seem based on blank format with an inserted photo and dates (a common practice at the time).
A veteran Boston commentator has unfond memories of the venue;
“The Psychedelic Supermarket (located where Kix and the Nickelodeon Cinema in Kenmore Square are now) was a blatant attempt by George Popadopolis to cash in on a trend. He had run the Unicorn, a Boston folk club, for some years before deciding to expand in early 1968. Seating of 300 was in the lower tier of a garage that was completely concrete, except for the stage. Cream played a memorable gig there in February '68 (sic—actually September 1967)not to mention Janis Joplin and the Holding Company. Stories of Popadopolis' financial finagling are a legend.. . groups would cancel contracts and leave because they would be paid less for long stands. The exposure was supposed to make up for the lesser pay!! One out of two bands would leave a gig after one set for various reasons and regular club-goers remember him raising ticket prices from $4.50 to $5.50 when he knew that a show was going to sell out.”List of Known Performances at The Psychedelic Supermarket
Anyone with corrections, additions or new information, please Comment or email me. There are many blank spots in the schedule. Numerous local and regional bands acknowledge performing there, such as Tangerine Zoo or Crow (with a teenage Donna Summer as lead vocalist), but I have not been able to identify any dates for those groups. The Tom Swift Electric Band was apparently the "house band" and played many of the shows at the Supermarket as an opening act, but that too has been very difficult to pin down. I also do not know if the Supermarket was open only on weekends, like the Boston Tea Party, or all days of the week. I will be appreciative if anyone can comment on the general schedule of the place.
(Thanks to some useful correspondence, I have updated the list since the original post--new or changed dates are shown as added or updated)
September 10-16, 1967 Cream
Cream was on their first American tour, and had just finished an exciting run at San Francisco's Fillmore. While they may not have played all seven nights, they played most of them, and by all accounts Clapton absolutely tore down the house. They apparently played Brandeis University one night (Saturday September 9), and and some eyewitnesses allude to "six nights," so perhaps Cream played from Tuesday September 11 through Saturday September 16. In any case, although the club was not ready for prime time, it was a memorable event (updated).
A photo survives.
October 24-29, 1967 Chuck Berry
The Massachusets Institute of Technology in Cambridge has every surviving copy of its newspaper scanned into an archive, befitting the legacy of a top-flight Engineering school. The Tech is a fantastic resource for the Boston and Cambridge rock scene in the late 1960s. This set of shows was advertised in The Tech. The ad in The Tech (10.24.67) says “for benefit of Multiple Sclerosis.”
Its impossible to know how many shows were actually held at The Psychedelic Supermarket. Were there shows every night, or every weekend? Were there only shows when there was a headline act? I have never found a definitive answer to that question, particularly in the early days.
October 31-November 13, 1967 Electric Flag/Blues Children/The Illuminations
The Electric Flag, Mike Bloomfield's newly minted "American Music Band," after debuting for two weekends at the Fillmore (some with Cream), played two full weeks at the Supermarket. A flyer survives, although I am not entirely certain about the dates. The engagement may have begun on Friday November 1. The J. Geils Blues Band, then a local group, may have opened some of the shows (updated).
November 15-16, 1967 The Yardbirds (CANCELED show)
November ?-, 1967 Procol Harum (updated)
November 24-25, 1967 Mothers of Invention
December 8-9, 1967 Grateful Dead
I have written about the Dead at the Supermarket elsewhere. There is an extant flyer, which has the same format as other flyers. Steve Grant's review of The Dead at the Pscyhedelic Supermarket in the Tuesday, December 12, 1967 edition of The Tech (Volume 87, issue 52, page 6).
December 29-30, 1967 Grateful Dead
It is an apocryphal Dead story that the Dead played Boston on December 30 and flew home to San Francisco the next day, expecting to jam with Quicksilver at Winterland on New Year's Eve. However, a potent batch of brownies--no doubt filled with chocolatey goodness--caused many of the exhausted band members to fall asleep and miss the jam. Regardless of whether you believe the brownie story, it does confirm that the Dead were on the East Coast so I am inclined to believe they played Psychedelic Supermarket two weekends of December 1967.
January 5-6 1968 Moby Grape
January 12-13, 1968 Chuck Berry(added)
January ? 1968 The Fugs
An article in the February 23, 1968 edition of the MIT student newspaper (The Tech) mentions previous gigs at the Supermarket by Moby Grape, The Fugs, Spirit, Procol Harum and Electric Flag, but these could have been at any time from September 67 thru February 68. There is a circulating audience tape of The Fugs at The Psychedelic Supermarket from some time in 1968, so it is probably from one of these shows. Moby Grape was touring the East in January and February 1968 (updated).
Februrary 16-17, 1968 Colwell-Winfield Blues Band
The Colwell-Winfield Blues Band were a progressive blues band featuring two saxophones. The band released a 1968 album on Verve, and broke up in 1970. Horn men Colin Tilton (tenor sax) and Jack Schroer (alto) went on to become Van Morrison’s horn section during the Moondance period.
February 23-24, 1968 Big Brother and The Holding Company/Blood Sweat & Tears
Blood, Sweat & Tears, still featuring founding member Al Kooper, were touring in support of their recently released debut album. A well-recorded audience tape circulates of the band’s first night performance, the only known live tape of the Kooper-led B, S& T.
March 1-2, 1968 Charles Lloyd (added)
March 8-9, 1968 Country Joe and The Fish
The Friday night show (March 8) is reviewed in the Harvard Crimson (March 16, 1968), including an interview with Joe McDonald. Barry Melton is referred to as “lead guitarist Barry Nelson.”
On March 15, 1968, at 10:30 pm, Boston classical music station WBCN-fm begins broadcasting ‘underground’ rock on the overnight shift. WBCN transforms the rock music scene in Boston and the Northeast, as fm rock stations did all over the country. The midnight-7am shift is handled by “The Woofuh Goofuh. ” The Woofuh Goofuh is Hallucinations lead singer Peter Wolf, who handles the overnight shift for the next year (unless he has a gig). He becomes an underground legend as a dj in Boston before he ever becomes famous as singer of The J. Geils Band in the 1970s.
March 15-16, 1968 Psychedelic Supermarket, Boston, MA Eden’s Children (updated)
March 22-23, 1968 Butterfield Blues Band
An audience tape circulates from March 23, featuring guitarist Elvin Bishop and saxophonist David Sanborn.
March ?, 1968 Mothers of Invention
According to the most informed Zappa chronologies, The Mothers played a weekend in March as well as the November, 1967 shows.
April 19-20, 1968 Tim Hardin (added)
May 10-18, 1968 First Annual Boston Pop Festival
This is mentioned in the “Making The Scene” column of The Tech. The “festival” was hosted by the Boston Arts Project, and the acts “include Colwell-Winfield Blues Band, Eden’s Children, Faith and others.”
>May 10, 1968 Listening/Hedge & Donna/Miss Lark/Freeborne
>May 11, 1968 3rd World Rasberry/Dave Morgan/Megan
May 24-25, 1968 Canned Heat (added)
Contributor Adam found an ad for these Canned Heat shows in the paper Boston After Dark.
June 3-6, 1968 Electric Flag (added)
June 25-29, 1968 Walk On Water (added)
July 25-26-27, 1968 The Fugs (added)
September 27-28, 1968 Traffic (added)
October 4-5, 1968 Colwell Winfield Blues Band
An enthusiastic review in The Tech (October 8, 1968) fails to say where the band was playing, but I am inferring it was at the Supermarket.
October 11-12, 1968 Blood, Sweat & Tears/Tom Swift Band
The October 12 (Saturday) show is known from a review in The Tech (Oct 15 '68)), and the Friday night show was confirmed by Billboard magazine. The Tom Swift Electric Band featured guitarist Billy Squier (who had many hits in the 1980s) and keyboard player Barry Flast. The implication seems to be that The Tom Swift Electric Band was performing regularly at the Supermarket through much of its brief lifetime.
Billy Squier has said that The Tom Swift Electric Band was the "house band" at The Psychedelic Supermarket, and opened many shows there, including the Moody Blues and Steve Miller Band. I don't know exactly when Squier's band became regular performers at the venue.
November 1-2, 1968 Moody Blues/Tom Swift Electric Band
There used to be a lengthy and amusing online description of seeing the Moody Blues at the Supermarket, but I can't find it any more.
November 8-9, 1968 Blue Cheer (added)
Blue Cheer had just completed a European tour. Guitarist Randy Holden had replaced Leigh Stephens just before the tour.
November 15-16, 1968 Sly And The Family Stone (added)
November 22-23, 1968 Psychedelic Supermarket, Boston, MA Procol Harum/The Spikes
Reviewed in The Tech (12.6.68).
December 6-7, 1968 Steve Miller Band (added)
January 10-11, 1969 The Unicorn, Boston, MA Iron Butterfly
The Unicorn, also called The Unicorn Coffee House, took over the site of the Psychedelic Supermarket at 590 Commonwealth. The Unicorn had been a smaller, folk-oriented venue in Cambridge that moved to the larger site. I'm not sure if the Unicorn in Cambridge was still open by this time, but since George Papadopolis owned both venues, this would have been a merger of sorts.
March 28-29, 1969 The Unicorn, Boston, MA Joni Mitchell/James Taylor (added)
An eyewitness in the Comments recalls Joni Mitchell being an hour late due to snow, but sounding all the better for it.
Nonetheless, other than the Iron Butterfly poster, I have seen little other evidence of the Unicorn as a post-1969 venue, so I think this was a late effort to lend some credibility to the venue that seems not to have succeeded. As the rock business got bigger after 1968, many small to medium sized venues faced great difficulties, and it is no surprise that a highly competitive market like Boston would have some casualties.
The building later became a movie theater (initially called the Nickelodeon), and was eventually torn down to provide a new science building for Boston University.
I am hoping that enough additional information will arise that I can significantly update this list (thanks to those who have already contributed additional dates and corrections).