Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Dream Bowl, Vallejo, CA February-April 1969 (Solano & Napa County Rock History)

The Dream Bowl in Vallejo would be an entirely forgotten venue except for the fact that a few Grateful Dead tapes from February 21 and 22, 1969 remain in the vaults. Deadhead persistence seems to have unearthed the poster above.  Despite its brief tenure, however, The Dream Bowl has a quite interesting history, and the brief run of shows from February to about April 1969 represent an excellent idea just a little bit ahead of its time.

Known Rock Shows at The Dream Bowl, Vallejo, CA
February 7-8, 1969 It's A Beautiful Day/Country Weather
February 14-15, 1969 Sons Of Champlin/Blues Helping
February 21-22, 1969 Grateful Dead/Dancing Food & Entertainment/Amber Wine
February 28-March 1 Santana/Sanpaku

Although the run of "psychedelic" rock shows at the Dream Bowl is quite brief, it had been a music venue since the 1930s--possibly earlier--and had hosted big bands, Texas Swing music, rhythm and blues, country stars and teen rock and roll dances prior to its hippie incarnation. The Dream Bowl was apparently about 10 miles North of Vallejo on Highway 29 (currently the Napa-Vallejo Highway). Apparently it was near the intersection of Highway 29 and Kelly Road (just past Napa Junction). That would actually put it in the town of American Canyon, but as that town was only incorporated in 1992, the Dream Bowl would have been considered part of Vallejo back in the 60s. Supposedly the building still exists, as a furniture warehouse.

Vallejo, Solano County and Napa County
Vallejo, California is the largest city in Solano County, which is just East of Napa County. Vallejo provided access to San Francisco Bay for farmers from Solano, Napa and Sonoma. The area had become prosperous at the turn of the 20th Century when the San Francisco, Napa and Calistoga Railroad provided electric rail and a ferry connection to San Francisco. The initial Napa to Vallejo leg, along with the Ferry, opened in 1905, extending to Calistoga in 1908 (the same general right-of-way is followed by today's Napa Wine Train).

Solano, Napa and Sonoma Counties shipped produce throughout the West (via Southern Pacific) and was a San Francisco resort area as well. Sometime in the late 1920s or early 30s the Dream Bowl was constructed by contractor Walter Polley as a Dance Hall for Big Band music. Local and touring acts played the hall. Although the railroad waned in the 1930s, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges allowed increased transit across the area.

Area Music History
In World War 2 Vallejo housed a substantial naval base at Mare Island. As a result of the Mare Island base, Vallejo was also a center for shipbuilding in World War 2. Many workers from the South, both black and white, moved to the Bay Area to work in the Defense industry, which mostly revolved around building Merchant Ships. Other shipbuilding centers around the bay included Hunters Point in San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond and Marin City (not coincidentally, all those areas have had relatively large African-American populations since then).

Since the wartime Defense industry ran around the clock, there were large numbers of workers with money burning a hole in their pockets, waiting to be entertained. Musicians from the South played substantial shows up and down the West Coast, from San Diego and Los Angeles to the Bay Area, and in Portland and Seattle as well. The audience for these musicians had moved to the West Coast, so the performers did to. San Pablo Avenue in the East Bay had so many venues it was known as "Music Row." All types of music were represented, and the Dream Bowl seems to have done a prosperous business, as did most music venues around the Bay (not to mention bars) during the war. The Duke Ellington Orchestra, for example, played The Dream Bowl on February 7, 1945.

San Francisco Examiner columnist Phil Elwood recalled the Dream Bowl many decades later (published Oct 27, 1995), remembering seeing Big Jay McShann there
In 1944, I drove the family's '33 Chevy with its A-sticker (ask your grandparents) in the window up Highway 29 north of Vallejo to an oversized Quonset hut roadhouse-dancehall-brawl arena called the Dream Bowl to hear McShann's band on its first California gig.

The Dream Bowl would feature, for example, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys one night, McShann and his Kansas City jazz-blues band the next. Whites (only) went to Wills; blacks flocked to their music, such as McShann's. But any jazz and blues out of the black community drew some whites, like me.

Although the Vallejo shipyards reduced their activity after World War 2, the Naval Base at Mare Island was still active. The Bay Area had a considerably larger agricultural footprint than it does today, and country music was very popular in places like San Jose, Fremont and Vallejo. There are many reports of seeing country stars like Bill Monroe at the Dream Bowl in the 1950s, and Berkeley's Herb Pedersen (later in The Dillards and Desert Rose Band) recalls playing bluegrass shows there in the 1960s (with Vern And Ray).

Very casual googling shows that Vallejo area residents fondly remember going to regular Saturday night dances at the Dream Bowl in the early and mid-1960s, probably dancing to rock and roll. There are other recollections of seeing early performances by Vallejo's greatest musical export, Sylvester Stewart, later to become famous as Sly Stone, and that suggests that the Dream Bowl's history of providing all sorts of music for different audiences remained intact.

Napa Town and County Fairgrounds, Summer 1967
As rock music expanded beyond the confines of San Francisco, teenagers in the surrounding communities got interested. In the Summer of 1967 there were a series of concerts at the Napa Town and County Fairgrounds (at 575 Third Street), probably in the building now called Chardonnay Hall. The Grateful Dead (May 29), Country Joe and The Fish (June 15 ), Big Brother and The Holding Company (June 30), Quicksilver Messenger Service (uncertain) and Blue Cheer (uncertain) all seemed to have played that Summer, often on weeknights.

The Grateful Dead show seems to have been the first of the Fillmore invasions. The show went off without a hitch, but Napa was still quite rural, and when Country Joe and The Fish played two weeks later, some local toughs looking to "beat up hippies" ended up punching out Bruce Barthol and Barry Melton (the local toughs were apparently notorious). When Country Joe and The Fish put out a "board game" as part of their second album, one square said "Napa: You Lose" thus immortalizing the event in a tiny sort of way.

The San Francisco rock community was quite small, however, and when Big Brother played two weeks after the Fish, a few Hells Angels rode up with them and hung around the stage. The local toughs did not choose to harass the band.

I do not know of any interesting rock concerts in Napa in 1968. As the rock market got bigger, more and more Solano and Napa teenagers simply drove to the Fillmore or Avalon. There were a few interesting local bands, like Project Hope, but they were not major Bay Area acts. It does appear that the "false Moby Grape" played there (too long a story to go into here), and its possible that Blue Cheer was in 1968 rather than 1967, but the Napa Fairgrounds seem to have been sized out of the rock market.


The Dream Bowl, 1969
I do not know who was promoting psychedelic rock concerts at the Dream Bowl in early 1969, but it seems a logical progression for the venue. Since it was already a music venue, no special permission would be needed to change the musical lineup. And since it was relatively isolated (as near as I can tell), any noise would not be a bother. It appears that the parking lot had been a teen hangout on weekends anyway, so a mere change in entertainment was probably not so big a change for the community, even if they might not have approved of long haired hippie music.

One unseen hand in rock music in the Greater Bay Area in 1969 was the Millard Agency. The Millard Agency was part of Bill Graham's empire, but they booked talent into different venues rather than promoted concerts. An old Federal Law prevented band managers from acting as booking agents, so Talent Agents acted as middlemen, taking a fee for finding bookings for bands by providing acts for promoters. The Millard Agency, as far as I know, was spearheaded by two agents, Paul Barratta and Barry Imhoff, but there must have been other agents as well.

A look at concerts around the Bay Area in 1969 shows the ubiquity of Millard Agency clients. The Millard Agency had a relationship with the Grateful Dead (involving paying back a $12,000 loan from 1968), but the agency also booked Santana, Its A Beautiful Day, Elvin Bishop, Lee Michaels, Cold Blood, AUM, Sanpaku, Country Weather and Frumious Bandersnatch. Although some of these acts are quite well known now, in early 1969 Santana, IABD and Elvin Bishop did not yet have records. Nonetheless all the Millard bands played small and middle sized venues around the greater Bay Area--High School and Junior College gymnasiums, rock nightclubs and outdoor events.

By 1969, rock was big business and fans would make great efforts to see the biggest bands at the Fillmore West. Yet not everyone was able (or willing) to drive to San Francisco, so some of the second tier Fillmore bands could play outlying areas and bring the Fillmore cachet with them. Famous as the Grateful Dead are today, they were not nearly as popular as Janis Joplin or the Jefferson Airplane, so they too played the outlying areas.

The first month of Dream Bowl bookings, on the poster above, is dominated by Millard Agency acts: The Dead, Santana, IABD, Country Weather, Sanpaku and Dancing Food and Entertainment (with Tom Glass and Naomi Eisenberg) were all Millard acts. This seems like a conscious strategy to create a whole new paying venue for the Agency clients. It seems like a great idea, too, but it appears to have been about two decades too early. Other than an April 25-26 show with The Sons of Champlin (who came through the West-Pole Agency, not Millard), the Dream Bowl seems to have disappeared as a music venue of any sort. Either Napa and Solano Counties lacked the population, or the Dream Bowl wasn't a pleasant place to see a rock band, or both. Without direct eyewitness memories, its hard to be certain. One of the few eyewitnesses suggests that the March 1 Santana concert was the last one. I do recall seeing a Sons of Champlin poster for the Dream Bowl on April 25-26, but that is no guarantee it actually occurred.

Update: A Commenter reports that the April 25-26, 1969 Sons Of Champlin show did indeed occur. The billing was Sons Of Champlin/Rose/Amber Whine. Rose was a Marin County band, who were friendly with some members of The Sons. The fact that the April show occurred lends even more mystery to the history of the Dream Bowl, since it didn't quite close after the March shows.

Now, of course, Napa and Sonoma are both world-famous wine-growing regions, with wealthy residents and free spending visitors; the new town of American Canyon and Vallejo itself have expanded substantially (probably too much, for the moment, but that's a different issue) and nearby attractions include the Marine World Park and nearby Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point). A rock venue that presented Santana, Its A Beautiful Day or the Grateful Dead would be welcome indeed by people in the region, but the moment seems to have passed and left only a furniture warehouse.

A number of questions still remain:
  • What was the exact location of The Dream Bowl?
  • Is the building still intact?
  • Who were the promoters in early 1969?
  • Were there any rock shows prior to February 7, 1969?
  • Were there any shows later than March 1, 1969?
Anybody with insights, corrections, speculation or recovered memories (real or imagined) is encouraged to Comment or Email me.

24 comments:

  1. Hey Corry,

    Another awesome post. A year or so ago I located what I believe to be the building that was the Dream Bowl. Coordinates are Latitude 38°13'49.43"N, Lon 122°15'25.22"W. (If you plug that in to Google Maps it shows a building identified as Caltest Analytical Lab) Below is what I wrote for my Google Earth placemark (yet to be posted publicly anywhere). The clincher for me was comparing the 1949 and 1965 topo maps - there's only one building in that stretch of road that existed at both times. Also, your quote about an oversized Quonset hut provides more confirmation that I'm right. If you look at the building in Google Street View you can see that the core of it is a quonset hut. It appears that the building was expanded at some later date.

    From my GoogleEarth placemark:

    The Dream Bowl was a popular dance hall from the 1940s - 1960s presenting primarily, but not exclusively, big name country & western musicians like Johnny Cash and Buck Owens.

    Location based on 9/21/09 Napa Valley Register article - "The Dream Bowl. What a memorable spot that was. It was a very popular dance hall on Napa-Vallejo Highway (today’s Kelly Road) just north of the Napa Y. It held dances most Saturday nights, and frequently the band of the night was one of the big bands of the era. The building is still there and now houses a cabinet shop." The Napa Y was the name given to the junction of Napa-Vallejo Highway and Highway 12.

    This building also house Caltest Analytical Lab

    The Dream Bowl existed as early as 1945 according to a Duke Ellington performance itinerary. A comparison of the 1949 and 1968 USGS topo maps shows that this is the only major building that existed in both those years north of Napa Y.

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    1. I as a kid went to the Dream Bowl on several times to watch live performances. I remember seeing June Carter, jonny Cash and strange as it sounds Micheal Landan. Landon at the time did a stand up comedy act about his experience on Bonanza.

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  2. Man, you've got all this great stuff--you have got to get rolling on your blog and get it out there.

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  3. Yeah I know. Actually, my main project has been the Google Earth thing, locating every venue the Warlocks/GD played (at least up until 1980 or so), with info on each venue and hopefully a pic or two. I've got a lot done on most years up to '74 or so but free time seems to be less and less these days. But you have certainly added a wealth of information for me to incorporate so it's time for me to get back to it!

    Ultimately I'd like to construct GE tours, flying from venue to venue within a tour with snippets of music from shows at each "stop" but that's a much bigger project.

    It's an obsession but it's pleasing...

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  4. By the way, I've been getting historic topography maps from http://www.gelib.com/historic-topographic-maps.html

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  5. Amazing stuff. Don't forget that along with the flight path on Google Earth for each tour, you've got to have a driving map to follow the trucks as the motor up and down the Interstates...

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  6. psych, I'll second what Corry said. Animations of all of this sort of thing will be a lot of fun!

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  7. I saw a Johnny Cash performance there in 1964.Does anyone have photos of that performance?

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  8. The building identified by psychlops as the Dream Bowl is precisely correct. I knew the guy who owned the building in those years and did work for him there.

    http://goo.gl/maps/rYZ2

    It was not in American Canyon. Instead, it is near the Junction of the Napa Highway and Jameson Canyon Road.

    Although close to Vallejo, it was definitely in Napa County, like halfway between Napa and Vallejo.

    It was not a Quonset hut. It was a warehouse like building with an arched roof ... probably built originally as a warehouse. The "wings" you see on the building today were added in later years.

    In the earlier '60s, it was exclusively a Country Western venue. There were weekly shows, typically hosted by Black Jack Wayne.

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  9. My Mom was the promoter for the June 15th 1967 Country Joe and the Fish concert at the Napa Fairgrounds, as well as several others. I was there that night and witnessed "The Incident" Actually it was only Bruce that got punched. I spoke with him on the phone a few years ago and he related his momories of that night. I Knew both of the "THUGS" responsible.And yes they were "Notorious"

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  10. The Dream Bowel was at the intersection of Hwy. 29 and North Kelly road. In the Days of the country music the "Black Jack Wayne" show was Broadcast on local KVON 1440 radio. I remember Michael Landon making a persoael appearance there in the early 60s. My parents would listen to Black Jack Wayne every Sat night I believe.

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    1. I went to Micheal Landon show with my parents.

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  11. Its my impression that in the mid-1960s places like Napa and Sonoma were primarily agricultural rather than commuter satellites of the central Bay Area. So it would make sense that country music was popular.

    Certainly Fremont and parts of San Jose (in the South Bay) had a similarly agricultural flavor, accounting among other things for the preference of Country music and general suspicions of long haired hippie types.

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  12. When My Mom was Promoting shows at the Napa Fairgrounds, she seemed to draw bigger crowds when she brought in R&B Soul acts such as Rodger Collins. Rodger was a phenomenal entertainer along the lines of James Brown and those kind of singers. His Back up Band was usually a band Called "The Dirty Dozen" Some of you may remember a song of his that made the top 40 and possibly the top 10 called "She's Lookin Good" Another good Draw was a band called Marvin Holmes and the Uptights. Both Rodger and Marvin were From Oakland CA. Tower of Power was another good Drawing Band.

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  13. The Sons actually played the Dream Bowl twice in 1969 Feb and April
    I have seen a lot of posts where people suggest that though there is an
    existing rock poster (done By Wes Wilson) the April gig(s) did not happen . They really did happen I was in the band "Rose" that had "middle billing" for the 2 shows opener was "Amber Whine" yes it was quonset hut design (not surprising considering the strong presence of the US Military in the Vallejo area back when it was originally built ..room held
    600/700 people easily smaller crowd on the second date and these were Daylight gigs .. I also watched the artwork for the poster in progress as Wes Wilson was our close neighbor and Sons bass player Al Strong also lived there(Lagunitas) at that time and other members lived in
    "the Valley" as well Forrest Knolls/Woodacre etc Rose was founded by Myself and guitarist songwriter Michael Wilson who departed the band just prior to this show and was replaced by my brother Tony Cordoza on lead vocals and Hammond b3 player from Tulsa Ok Jack Wolf..also of note the bass player of "Rose" was one Larry Cragg who went on to become the lifelong world famous guitar/amp tech for Neil Young& a great multi-instrumentalist in his own right anyone who saw the movie"Heart of Gold" knows who Larry is..

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  14. great, glad to see some posters of Dancing food and entertainment. I was in that band before i joined the hot licks. great to hear about the new orleans housew and the jabberwalk. there,s just not enough about this time in history. love u, naomi eisenberg, naomi vice

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  15. Naomi, thanks for chiming in. Didn't your band Dancing Food and Entertainment rehearse at The New Orleans House in Berkeley, and weren't you booked by Bill Graham's Millard Agency, just like Santana, Sanpaku and the others?

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  17. In the 1960's Black Jack Wayne had a Country and Western Show on KTVU Channel 2 out of Oakland. My Dad, "Chubby" Crank was the Trumpet Player in his band and also helped on a lot of arrangements. In the 1950's Dad was also the Trumpet Player for Lefty Frizzel's Band and for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Black Jack Wayne did a lot of Shows at the Dream Bowl and they were broadcasted live on KTVU Channel 2 on Saturday night. I was around 11 or 12 or so and on some Saturdays, Dad would take me with him and I'd hang out and listen to the Music, drink a lot of Shirley Temples and dance with some of the teenagers that came with their parents too. It was a big place with the Band Stage on one end and the Bar on the other end with a HUGE Dancefloor in the middle. There were some tables and chairs against the wall and along the side on the Bar end. But, the Ladies would mostly stand near the stage and they'd clap and scream for Black Jack Wayne and his Band. It was really cool to see Dad surrounded by a bunch of pretty girls (fans) at the end of the night. I have fond memories of Saturday nights at the Dream Bowl.

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  18. I love the comments on this blog! It really brings out the folks whow were there and have great stories to tell :)

    I just found a page with huge scans of a bunch of Dream Bowl posters for sale, most by Tilghman Press. There's Black Jack Wayne, Johnny Cash, Buck Ownes, etc. and a much better scan of the GD poster than is shown here (though the poster's beat to hell) Yours for $2500!

    http://goldenfrogpress.com/dream_bowl_posters.htm

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  19. My Mom, to the best of my Knowledge was the first person to bring SF/Oakland bands to Napa, beginning in 1965 or 66 maybe even as early as 1964. The first ones were at a local teen club she opened, . She also showcased many local bands. In 1967 She began Concerts/Dances at the Napa Fairgrounds, The Notorious 1967 Country Joe and the Fish Show was one of hers. But in late 68 or there abouts other people with deeper pockets began doing Rock shows at the Dream bowl which edged my mom out of the business.

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    1. That is so cool! Does she have any old calendars, datebooks, that sort of thing?

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    2. Sadly my sister seems to have "Misplaced" moms trunk of memorabilia (posters, flyers, Photos etc etc.) I have a copy of the 1967 Country joe and the fish flyer. Try this link https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1490780877850&set=a.1577644369383.83350.1483852551&type=3&theater

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  20. I had heard that there was a block put on bands playing at the fairground in Napa because of the earlier issues with Country Joe and the Fish & then, when the Hell's Angels came in with Big Brother & the Holding Co., it really traumatized our town… I did get to see Blue Cheer & they did play in the building now known as the Chardonnay. If I can find out what year that was, I'll try to remember to add that here!

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