Brad for the scan of the July 24, 1968 poster)
(for an updated version of the 1968 list, see here)
Chicago is one of the world's great cities, by any accounting, and it has a musical heritage to match. While today it is mostly renowned for introducing electric blues to the outside world, Chicago has made memorable contributions to jazz, soul, folk and rock music as well. Chicago had always been a critically important outpost for any touring act, regardless of the style of music. While the weather in Chicago can be daunting, there has always been excellent public transportation and fearless cab drivers, so a patron can always get home at 4am when the bars close.
In the 1960s, Chicago was an essential stop for any rock band looking to make it big. Chicago fans love a good time, but they have high standards too, as the blues band playing down the street in Chicago was better than most blues bands headlining in London or San Francisco. The pace of the city and the barriers of the weather make Chicago fans enthusiastic about good performers and ferociously dismissive of pretenders. Any discussion about music with a Chicago rock fan will immediately lead to stories of over the top concerts that seem to happen every month (a friend of mine once described seeing fans tear apart the Chicago Opera House during a 1970 Iggy and The Stooges concert by saying "If I was born the night I saw Iggy, I'd be old enough to drink now"). Nevertheless, the history of sixties rock in Chicago remains unnecessarily scattered, so I will begin to rectify that now.
Despite, or perhaps because, of its financial importance, Chicago did not have a single venue that was Nationally recognized like The Fillmores. The city of Chicago had numerous old buildings that could easily be converted to rock concert duty, even if all of the buildings had a variety of flaws. As a result, the late 1960s and early 1970s saw numerous venues rise and fall, such as The Cheetah, which became The Aragon Ballroom (at 1106 N. Lawrence) and the Chicago Coliseum, which became The Syndrome (on Wabash Avenue). Other venues were also regularly used for rock shows, like The Auditorium Theater and the International Amphitheatre. However, Chicago's principal stop on the 60s rock circuit was The Kinetic Playground, at 4812 N. Clark Street.
4812 N. Clark Street was originally known as The Rainbo Gardens, and it was a sort of dance hall and entertainment center. It was used for various functions over the years, but in 1968 Brooklyn-born promoter Aaron Russo (then 24 years old) took over the ballroom. The building itself was somewhat larger, and included a skating rink, but Russo opened a rock nightclub in the former Rainbo Gardens Ballroom on April 3, 1968, and named it the Electric Theater. Russo had worked in his family's garment business and put on rock shows as a High School student, so despite his young age he was well prepared for the cutthroat rock business.
The Electric Theater opened in April of 1968, and by June, 4812 N. Clark Street in Chicago was an essential stop on the "Fillmore Circuit." Bands that played such venues as the Fillmores, the Boston Tea Party and The Electric Factory always played on N. Clark Street as well. Talent agent Frank Barsalona, all but single-handedly responsible for breaking English bands in America, made The Electric Theater a critical stop for his bands, and many of the most legendary concerts in Chicago were early appearances by groups like Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and Ten Years After.
What follows is my working list of known performances at 4812 N. Clark Street, as both the Electric Theater and later the Kinetic Playground. It appears that it was only open on weekends, but there may have been additional shows that I am not aware of. This list has been constructed from surviving handbills and from the chronologies of the various bands. The existing handbills for the venue are primarily just lists of upcoming shows, with little in the way of collectible or interesting artwork, so Chicago handbills did not stay on people's dormitory walls the way posters did from San Francisco or Detroit, making research somewhat harder.
I believe the venue was open every weekend, even in the Winter, from April 3, 1968 until November 7, 1969, so there are many more shows to be discovered. Anyone who has additions, corrections and memories (real or imagined) regarding shows is encouraged to Comment or Email me.
April 3-5, 1968 Electric Theater The Paupers
The Electric Theater opened on April 5 1968 with Toronto's Paupers as the headline act
April 23, 1968 Electric Theater Harumi
April 26-28, 1968 Electric Theater Little Boy Blues/The Rush
May 3-4, 1968 Electric Theater Siegal Schwall Blues Band
May 10-11, 1968 Electric Theater Finchley Boys
May 17-19, 1968 Electric Theater Canned Heat
May 22-26, 1968 Electric Theater Steppenwolf
May 31-June 1, 1968 Electric Theater Muddy Waters/Holy Om
June 7-9, 1968 Electric Theater Love/Chicago Slim Blues Band
June 10, 1968 Electric Theater Loading Zone
This was a Monday night show, probably a relatively rare occurrence. The Loading Zone were a San Francisco band getting a big push from RCA behind their debut album. The record company probably rented the hall for the night and distributed some (or all) tickets through radio stations.
June 12-15, 1968 Electric Theater Rotary Connection
Rotary Connection was a popular "psychedelic soul" band from Chicago. They recorded for a Chess subsidiary, and featured singer Minnie Ripperton.
June 26-27, 1968 Electric Theater Hello People
June 28-30, 1968 Electric Theater Blue Cheer/Hello People
The Hello People were a peculiar mixture of mime, vocal harmonies and rock. I believe they headlined themselves on Wednesday and Thursday (26 and 27). Blue Cheer, at the time, touted itself as the loudest band in the world, with a tower of Marshall Stax turned up to the max. Who do you think Chicago liked better?
July 3-4, 1968 Electric Theater Country Joe and The Fish/Hawk
Besides being Berkeley's leading rock export, Country Joe and The Fish were acutely aware that the 1968 Democratic Convention would be held in Chicago from August 25-29.
July 5-7, 1968 Electric Theater Rotary Connection/Growin Concern
Rotary Connection seems to have been the only Chicago-based headliner in 1968, but of course since we do not have a list yet of every show, I don't know if that was entirely true.
July 24, 1968 Electric Theater Jefferson Airplane/Iron Butterfly (two shows)
Note the nice poster above. I don't know how many shows had custom posters.
July 25-28, 1968 Electric Theater Iron Butterfly
August 1, 1968 Electric Theater The Who
August 14-15, 1968 Electric Theater Mothers Of Invention/Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity
August 23, 1968 Electric Theater Country Joe and The Fish
August 30, 1968 Electric Theater Litter/Nova
August 31, 1968 Electric Theater Nova/Chicago Transit Authority
September 1, 1968 Electric Theater Litter/Nova
The groups replaced Pink Floyd, who canceled.
September 2, 1968 Electric Theater Eric Burdon and The Animals
Soon after the opening of The Electric Theater, a well-known New York "hippie discoteque" called The Electric Circus had sued the Electric Theater for copying its trademark (or something like that). For whatever reasons, Aaron Russo changed the name of his club to The Kinetic Playground. Some flyers still included some representation of the name Electric Theater (like "The Electric Theater Presents At The Kinetic Playground"). It appears that the sound company associated with the club retained the name Electric Theater, and many Chicagoans seemed to have used the names Electric Theater and Kinetic Playground interchangeably.
September 13-14, 1968 Kinetic Playground Pride/Illinois Speed Press
Pride was the new name for the Lemon Pipers
September 20-21, 1968 Kinetic Playground Kensington Market
October 4-6, 1968 Kinetic Playground John Mayall/Pacific Gas & Electric
I do not know the exact date of the name change of the venue. The gap in known performances on this list is only because I have not found any flyers for August or September of 1968.
October 11, 1968 Kinetic Playground Jeff Beck Group/Pacific Gas & Electric/Fever Tree
October 12, 1968 Kinetic Playground Steppenwolf
October 18, 1968 Kinetic Playground Steppenwolf
October 21-22, 1968 Kinetic Playground Moody Blues/Rotary Connection
October 25-26, 1968 Kinetic Playground Quicksilver Messenger Service/SRC
November 1-2, 1968 Kinetic Playground Moby Grape/Eire Apparent/Rotary Connection (1 only)
November 8, 1969 Kinetic Playground Spencer Davis
November 9, 1968 Kinetic Playground Canned Heat
November 15-16, 1968 Kinetic Playground Moody Blues/Charles Lloyd
November 22-23, 1968 Kinetic Playground Blue Cheer/Creedence Clearwater Revival
November 27-28, 1968 Kinetic Playground Grateful Dead/Procol Harum/Terry Reid
November 29-30, 1968 Kinetic Playgroud Tim Buckley/Terry Reid/Canned Heat
December 6-7, 1968 Kinetic Playground Buddy Miles Express/Deep Purple
I assume that Deep Purple was not the headliner of this show. This was the original version of Deep Purple, best known for the song "Hush," and featuring Rod Evans on vocals.
December 13-14, 1968 Kinetic Playground Iron Butterfly/Group Image
December 20-21 Kinetic Playground New York Rock and Roll Ensemble/Amboy Dukes/Charlie Musselwhite
December 22, 1968 Kinetic Playground Rotary Connection
December 31, 1968 Kinetic Playground The Byrds/Muddy Waters/Fleetwood Mac
January 3-4, 1969 Kinetic Playground Muddy Waters/Fleetwood Mac/The Byrds
On Friday (3), Muddy Waters left the stage after just one number, as he was not well.
Kaleidoscope were originally booked for Friday, but ended up canceling.
January 10-11, 1969 Kinetic Playground Albert King/Linn County
January 17-18, 1969 Kinetic Playground Buddy Rich/Genesis
This would not have been the English band. Most likely it was the Los Angeles band called Genesis, but there could have been a regional band by that name. An alternate (and reliable) source has Taj Mahal.
January 24-25, 1969 Kinetic Playground Spirit/Velvet Undergound
Another poster has Buddy Rich and His Orchestra/Buddy Miles Express/Rotary Connection on this weekend.
January 31-February1, 1969 Kinetic Playground Grateful Dead/The Grass Roots
February 7-8, 1969 Kinetic Playground Vanilla Fudge/Led Zeppelin/Jethro Tull
Led Zeppelin was on their first American tour, and their first album had just been released. As if that wasn't enough, Jethro Tull was opening the show. Chicago has loved Jethro Tull since this day.
February 14-15, 1969 Kinetic Playground Tim Hardin/Spirit/The Move
The Move were an English band, but they canceled their American tour because bassist Trevor Burton quit.
February 19-20, 1969 Kinetic Playground Flying Burrito Brothers
According to John Einarson's fine book about Chris Hillman and the Burritos, these shows came after a long train trip, and Gram Parsons was much the worse for wear. Despite the power of their songs, the band's performances were less than stellar. February 19 and 20 were a Wednesday and Thursday, so I don't know if there were other acts on the bill.
February 21, 1969 Kinetic Playground Jeff Beck/Savoy Brown/Mother Earth
February 22, 1969 Kinetic Playground Blood, Sweat & Tears/Savoy Brown/Aorta
Jeff Beck canceled his American tour and didn't play. I don't know who replaced him. An earlier poster has Mother Earth opening on the 22nd, but they seem to have been replaced by the Chicago group Aorta.
February 28, 1969 Kinetic Playground Paul Butterfield/B.B. King/Albert King
March 1, 1969 Kinetic Playground Paul Butterfield/Albert King/Lumpy Gravy
An earlier poster had the Bob Seger System as one of the opening acts. Seger was from Detroit, and had played Chicago many times. I assume he played Kinetic Playground on occasion, as I think most Detroit bands probably did, but I have yet to be able to demonstrate that.
March 7-8, 1969 Kinetic Playground John Mayall/Richie Havens/The Flock
The Flock were an interesting band, a sort of only-in-Chicago concoction of progressive rock and soul. The group featured electric violinist Jerry Goodman leading a horn section. During this period, Columbia had signed four bands from Chicago, and chose to put out all their albums at the same time (May 1969)to make it seem like there was a "happening scene" in Chicago. In fact, there was a lot of great rock music coming out of Chicago, but stunts like this made fans suspicious (the other groups were Aorta, Illinois Speed Press and Chicago Transit Authority).
The Flock’s horn section joined Mayall for his last set on Saturday night. Mayall was very enthusiastic about the group, and wrote the liner notes for their debut album.
March 14-15, 1969 Kinetic Playground Jeff Beck Group/Sweetwater/Van Morrison
March 21-22, 1969 Kinetic Playground Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity/Magical Mystery Tour film
March 22, 1969 Kinetic Playground Sam and Dave Revue
Although the Kinetic Playground was a rock club, rock fans in Chicago were all generally big fans of Soul and Blues music as well, part of what made Chicago music so exciting. I don't know if the Sam and Dave show happened, or it was an afternoon show with Jools and Brian in the evening, or what.
March 28-29, 1969 Kinetic Playground TBA/Pacific Gas & Electric
The flyer does not list a headliner yet. Pacific Gas & Electric were a Los Angeles blues-rock band.
April 11-12, 1969 Kinetic Playground Ten Years After/Buddy Guy and Junior Wells
April 18-19, 1969 Kinetic Playground Everly Brothers/Cannonball Adderley/Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation
April 20, 1969 Kinetic Playground The Flock
April 25-26, 1969 Kinetic Playground Grateful Dead/Velvet Underground/SRC
This memorable pairing of two sixties opposites was covered in depth in Richie Unterburger's fine Velvet Underground chronology (White Light White Heat). The first night, the Velvet Underground played an extended set, and as a result the Grateful Dead were limited (by their standards) to one set. The next night, of course, the Dead came on before the Velvets and played an extended set, thus limiting the Velvets. Whether this was a result of some imaginary "feud" or just poor scheduling (I suspect the latter), it makes for a great sixties story.
As if the New York/SF pairing of the Velvets and the Dead wasn't enough, SRC was a famous powerhouse Detroit band, if lesser known, so three great bands from three great scenes were represented. It must have been some evening.
May 2-3, 1969 Kinetic Playground Albert King/Aum
May 14, 1969 Grant Park, Chicago Jefferson Airplane
Over 50,000 people attended a free Jefferson Airplane show in one of Chicago's biggest parks. It was a legendary show in Chicago rock history, but unlike bucolic San Francisco, there were numerous cops and much craziness.
Apparently the Airplane were playing at least one Chicago concert around this time, but I don't know if it was at Kinetic Playground or elsewhere.
May 16-17, 1969 Kinetic Playground Buffy St. Marie/The Nice/Colwell-Winfield
May 23-24, 1969 Kinetic Playground Led Zeppelin/Pacific Gas and Electric/Illinois Speed Press
May 25, 1969 Kinetic Playground Illinois Speed Press
The Illinois Speed Press had actually moved to Los Angeles by this time, as had Chicago Transit Authority, but they were still being pitched (fairly enough) by CBS as a Chicago band. They featured guitarists Paul Cotton and Kal David, later in Poco and the Fabulous Rhinestones, respectively.
May 29-30, 1969 Kinetic Playground The Who/Buddy Rich and His Orchestra/Joe Cocker and The Grease Band
May 31, 1969 Kinetic Playground The Who/Joe Cocker and The Grease Band/Soup
The Thursday show (29) reduced a double show into a single performance.
June 6-8, 1969 Kinetic Playground Vanilla Fudge/Muddy Waters/Rotary Connection
Vanilla Fudge was not scheduled to play on Sunday night (8).
June 13-14, 1969 Kinetic Playground Eric Burdon/The Zombies/It’s A Beautiful Day
June 15, 1969 Kinetic Playground The Zombies/It’s A Beautiful Day
Eric Burdon had broken up his "New Animals, " but he had undertaken a brief tour to support his Best Of album. I believe he was backed by Blues Image.
The Zombies had broken up in 1968, but thanks to Columbia staff producer Al Kooper, their last album (Odyssey and Oracle) had become a big hit behind the single "Time Of The Season." However, the lineup of The Zombies that toured did not feature any original members of the group, and was somewhat bogus.
June 20-22, 1969 Kinetic Playground (headliner not yet listed)/Crazy World of Arthur Brown/Youngbloods
Arthur Brown was not scheduled to play on Sunday (22).
June 27-28, 1969 Kinetic Playground Canned Heat/Black Pearl/Soup
July 3-4-5, 1969 Kinetic Playground Grateful Dead/Buddy Miles Express/Sir Douglas Quintet
The Dead seemed to have played the Kinetic Playground more than any out of town band, but that was true of a lot of 60s venues.
[update] A Commenter observes that the Grateful Dead actually played in Colorado on July 3. My presumption is that the other two acts played without them. Since the Colorado show was outdoors, it's not totally impossible that the plan was for the Dead to fly to Chicago and play a late night set, and it's not even totally impossible that it happened, but it's more likely the Dead's gig started on Saturday July 4.
July 11-12, 1969 Kinetic Playground Spirit/Pentangle/Alice Cooper
July 18-19, 1969 Kinetic Playground Led Zeppelin/Savoy Brown/The Litter
[update] Correspondent Michael M writes in to point out that The Litter canceled, and were replaced by Jethro Tull. Tull's presence is confirmed by the ever-reliable Ministry Of Truth site. Keep in mind that not only were Tull and Zep soon-to-be rock legends, but Savoy Brown was a great band too, featuring 3/4 of the future Foghat.
July 25-26, 1959 Kinetic Playground Richie Havens/Jethro Tull/Spooky Tooth
August 1-2, 1969 Kinetic Playground Jeff Beck/Terry Reid/Blues Image
Jeff Beck canceled—the last Jeff Beck Group show was July 26 in Detroit. I do not know who replaced them on the bill. Another flyer has Fleetwood Mac in place of Blues Image.
August 8-9, 1969 Kinetic Playground Al Kooper Revue/Mountain
Al Kooper canceled, due to illness. This would have been one of Mountain's first gigs. They would play Woodstock just a week later.
August 15-16, 1969 Kinetic Playground Paul Butterfield/Johnny Winter/The Flock
Both Paul Butterfield and Johnny Winter were playing at Woodstock the same weekend.
August 22-23, 1969 Kinetic Playground Country Joe and The Fish
September 5-6, 1969 Kinetic Playground Ten Years After/Bo Diddley
October 4-5, 1969 Kinetic Playground Farioso The Lion
October 10-11, 1969 Kinetic Playground Pacific Gas & Electric/Lee Michaels/Lonnie Mack/Bonzo Dog Band
I don't know if the Bonzo Dog Band actually played in Chicago, as they did not play all their American dates.
October 17-18, 1969 Kinetic Playground B.B. King/Albert King/Santana
October 19, 1969 Kinetic Playground Led Zeppelin/Santana/Lighthouse (two shows)
October 24-25, 1969 Kinetic Playground Spirit/Joe Cocker/Blodwyn Pig
October 31, 1969 Kinetic Playground The Who/The Kinks/Liverpool Scene
The Kinks had not toured America since 1965, because Ray Davies had apparently punched a Musicians Union honcho backstage in Los Angeles. Thus they missed the height of "British Invasion" tours and the first waves of American touring at places like the Fillmore. Things were settled by Fall 1969, however, and they finally began their belated assault on America.
The Kinks found themselves in Chicago opening for The Who, who had formed much later than them. Pete Towshend announced from the stage “in the old days, we used to dream about opening for The Kinks. So its come to this. This show’s for them.”
November 1, 1969 Kinetic Playground Poco/Liverpool Scene
Poco replaced The Kinks.
November 7, 1969 Kinetic Playground Iron Butterfly/Poco/King Crimson
A fire after the show caused the November 8 show to be canceled, and closed the Kinetic Playground.
Aaron Russo continued as a successful rock promoter in Chicago and Detroit (at the East Towne Theater) throughout the 1970s. He also successfully managed the career of Bette Midler. He produced her breakthrough movie The Rose. In the 1980s he went on to produce many other successful movies like Trading Places and Wise Guys.
The Kinetic Playground did not reopen. The building had various uses until it was torn down in 2003. After it was torn down, bones were discovered under the foundation. Chicagoans were sure that they were human bones, and that the original Rainbo Gardens were built over a mob burial ground. True or not (probably not), it made a great Chicago coda to the Electric Theater and the Kinetic Playground.
This has only been a start on the history of the Kinetic Playground and Chicago rock in the 1960s. Anyone with additional information, corrections or insights is actively encouraged to Comment or email me. As I get more information, I will update the post.