This post is the third and last part of a series listing the rock performances at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon in 1967 and 1968. Also see
Portland, Oregon was a regular stop on the touring circuit for all kinds of entertainment, but in the late 1960s it was not a major or important market. As a result of Portland’s then modest status and a tolerant attitude befitting its status as port city on the West Coast, it became a sort of satellite of the San Francisco scene.
The Crystal Ballroom, 1332 West Burnside at N.W. 14th Avenue, Portland, OR, 97209
The Crystal Ballroom at 1332 West Burnside (at NW 14th) was built in 1914 as the Cotillion Dancehall. It was constructed with a mechanical “Floating Dance Floor” (on ball bearings), a concept that was thought to be unique on the West Coast at the time. The building was used for dances, parties and musical performances throughout its history. The complete history of the Crystal, and in effect the entertainment history of downtown Portland, can be found in Tim Hills' book The Many Lives Of The Crystal Ballroom (1997: McMenamins Pubs & Breweries). This book is the principal source of almost all the information currently available on the web about the Crystal, and I have relied on it heavily here for background and facts about both the Crystal and the Portland scene in general.
In the early 1960s, the Crystal became an important stop on the Rhythm and Blues circuit, and many famous R&B acts like James Brown and Ike & Tina Turner had memorable performances at the hall. These shows were booked by one Charles Sullivan, who booked many R&B acts up and down the West Coast. Sullivan controlled the lease on San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium (Bill Graham took over the lease when Sullivan retired in 1966), and booked shows not only at the Fillmore and the Crystal but at a string of venues in the Northwest (including the University of Oregon at Eugene, the Salem Armory, the Evergreen Ballroom in Lacey [WA], the Crescent Ballroom in Tacoma and the Encore Ballroom in Seattle). Hills has excellent and detailed recollections of the various soul and R&B shows at the Crystal in the early 60s.
Hills also documents the city of Portland’s uneasiness with the popular shows in the local African American community. When the city put a freeway through the middle of downtown (now Interstate 405), many businesses near the Crystal were demolished. Although the Crystal itself was spared, many of the patrons of the Ballroom had lived in nearby residence hotels that disappeared. With Sullivan on the verge of retirement and the Crystals’ neighborhood crippled, management gave up their lease on the Crystal at the end of 1965, and the building was dormant for all of 1966.
As the “underground” rock market became bigger in the wake of the Fillmore, Whitey Davis, manager of the Caffe Espresso (previously The Folksinger), needed a bigger venue to accommodate larger crowds for bigger bands. Davis had worked at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, so he was both well connected and had some idea of how to proceed. He formed a partnership with friend and Los Angeles club manager Michael Magaurn, and on January 1, 1967 they took over the lease on the then-vacant Crystal Ballroom.
Starting on Friday, January 20, 1967, Davis and Magaurn took over the Crystal Ballroom for weekend dances. Most of the initial acts were local, but by the end of 1967 the Crystal became a regular stop on the West Coast for bands touring the “ballroom circuit” that had developed from San Francisco’s Fillmore and Avalon. There may have been dances on other nights of the week as well, but our information so far has come from surviving posters and handbills, and weeknight shows seem to have been limited to when major acts were passing through Portland.
According to Hills, while the Ballroom was immediately popular with the local counterculture, Davis and Magaurn had trouble making ends meet. As a result, bands were apparently not paid well (compared to other venues), and some of them appear to have had a sour taste about the Crystal.In early 1967, however, the hippie counterculture scene was still exciting and early shows were well attended. This post is the third of a three part history of performances at the Crystal Ballroom in its brief flowering as a psychedelic rock ballroom, from January 1967 through June 1968.
I have taken the best available information from posters, books and reminiscences (cited above and throughout). This performance list only covers the period from when Whitey Davis took over the booking in 1967 to when the city of Portland forced the closure of the ballroom in July 1968. As our research is mostly from posters, there are substantial gaps in the chronology. We do not know if the Crystal skipped a lot of weekends, or (more likely) whether we simply have not uncovered the dates.
As this remains a work in progress, anyone with corrections, insights, new informations or recovered memories (real or imagined), please Email me or post them in the Comment section. I have made some comments on some of the bands, but for more detailed information, see the fantastic Pacific Northwest Bands site (which includes an alphabetical list of Crystal performers, but not by date). For a sharper picture of the Portland scene, and particularly the move from based acoustic folk music to electric rock music, see Valerie Brown's exceptional article in the Summer 2007 Oregon Historical Quarterly (From Folk To Acid Rock In Portland Coffeehouses, 1967-70).
This post covers Crystal Ballroom rock performances from January to June 1968 (for January to June 1967, see here; for July to December 1967, see here; for additional Oregon rock history see here and here).
February 2-3, 1968 Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/PH Phactor Jug Band
There were likely other rock shows at the Crystal Ballroom in January 1968, but this show was the first known Crystal event in 1968, by far its most successful event, and the only one memorialized by a recording that was actually released.
In January and February 1968, the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service had a particularly legendary tour of the Pacific Northwest, dubbed “The Quick and The Dead” on posters. Tim Hills writes about the show at some length. The Grateful Dead had played Portland twice before--a January 1966 Acid Test at Portland's tiny Beaver Hall, and on Wednesday, July 18, 1967 at the Masonic Temple in downtown Portland. However, the Dead/QMS bill had already played Eureka, CA, hopscotched over Oregon for a weekend in Seattle, and then played two College shows in Oregon, at Portland State (Jan 29) and at the University of Oregon at Eugene (Jan 30). Thus the word was out when the bands hit the Crystal Ballroom for the weekend of February 2-3.
According to Toody Conner, who was one of the volunteers who helped run the Crystal (per Hills), there were lines around the block, and there was so much money in gate receipts that they had to borrow an equipment case to stuff it into, which she sat on during most of the show. The Crystal had had financial struggles throughout its entire existence as a psychedelic venue, but for this weekend, with the audience primed and the Dead firing on all cylinders--not to mention the formidable Quicksilver Messenger Service--everything happened the way it was supposed to, if only for a weekend.
In February 1968, the Crystal Ballroom tried to make amends for its distant location from California by aligning itself with Chet Helms and the Family Dog. At this juncture, Whitey Davis had returned to California to become some sort of manager at the Avalon Ballroom, where he had worked in 1966. The Avalon had been very successful in 1967, but now it was getting squeezed by the increasing size of the rock market on one side and the Bill Graham empire on the other. Helms had the shrewd idea that if he could offer bands a series of West Coast dates, he could compete directly with Graham. This was a very sharp idea, but it was about a year too late.
According to a long circulating story, the Crystal and the Avalon were part of a Family Dog "empire" that included Vancouver and Anchorage, Alaska. While the Dog clearly had some connections in Vancouver, the Anchorage connection seems to have simply been a tall tale (and financially absurd in any case). Helms had opened a Family Dog outpost in Denver in 1967, but it was done in by constant harassment from the Denver police. If Helms had been able to link Denver, Portland and San Francisco, he might have had some clout, but after the financial draining of the Denver debacle, the undercapitalized Portland effort seems to have been a good idea executed too late.
Nonetheless, the "Crystal Dog" began with the rising San Francisco band Blue Cheer. Blue Cheer’s legendarily heavy debut album, Vincebus Eruptum, with its proto metal single ‘Summertime Blues”, had just been released. Blue Cheer was famous for touring with an enormous sound system (with a huge bank of Marshall Stax amplifiers), and was generally the loudest band around.
This was the second Portland Family Dog show. By this time, The Weeds had moved to Los Angeles, where their manager had changed their name to The Lollipop Shoppe, but they would have been better known in Portland as The Weeds.
"P.H. Martin's Magic Medicine Show" was the name of Gary Ewing's light show. By this time, Ewing had probably become a partner in the operation of The Crystal.
This was the third Portland Family Dog show. Quicksilver were Family Dog regulars. Although they had not yet released their debut album, they would have been known to locals, having just come through town with the Grateful Dead.
The Nazzare Blues Band, while a local Portland band, were named after the same Lord Buckley monologue ("The Nazz") that the Yardbirds named a song after. Whether the Portland band named themselves after the Yardbirds song (as Todd Rundgren's Philadelphia band The Nazz did) or directly after the joke isn't clear.
This was the fourth and apparently final Portland Family Dog show. At this point, the arrangement seems to end, although the whole story is murky. My assumption is that the financial benefits of a partnership between Chet Helms and The Crystal were not able to be realized. Helms’s bargaining power had been greatly reduced by the Denver debacle, and he may not have had sufficient cash to make the arrangement worthwhile in Portland. Like many of Helms’s ideas, the concept was sound but the execution was spotty.
The Charlatans, of course, had played the very first Family Dog dance in San Francisco on October 16, 1965. By 1968, other groups had passed them by, but they were still an interesting band.
March 29, 1968 Fringe Benefit/Nazz Are Blues Band/Quorem
March 30, 1968 Fringe Benefit/Nazz Are Blues Band/ Rainy City Spring
It appears that the Crystal returned to booking local and regional bands.
April 26, 1968 Tweedy Brothers/The Moss
April 27, 1968 Fringe Benefit/The Moss
There were apparently regular rock shows at the Crystal Ballroom, probably every weekend, but save for the few listed above, we have no evidence of what they might have been. A brief spurt of national touring acts in May and June suggests that there was still some informal cooperation between the Family Dog in San Francisco and the Crystal.
The poster for the May 4 show in Eugene advertised it as a Family Dog show, paired with the similar bill playing the at the Crystal. Neither show was part of the “official” Family Dog series (in February and March), so its unknown what the relationship was of this show (and the shows on 17-18 May) to the Crystal’s arrangement with the Family Dog. Nonetheless, Whitey Davis was probably still managing the Avalon, so its plausible that an informal arrangement was intact. It was also not unheard of for former associates of The Dog to use The Family Dog logo with at least tacit approval from Chet Helms, for reasons that remain obscure (as happened in February, 1968 in Denver).
Kaleidoscope were a legendary Southern California band who invented “world music” about 20 years before the world was ready for it. The group featured David Lindley, Chester Crill, Solomon Feldthouse and Stuart Brotman (as well as drummer Paul Lagos) on numerous exotic instruments, all played with talent and flair.
The poster for this show also indicates that it was a Family Dog show, and equally little is known about the use of the logo and any formal connection to Chet Helms or The Dog.
The Family Tree had just released their debut album Miss Butters (on RCA), and they continued to be popular on the live circuit. However, their ambitious album failed to make a dent on the charts, and the group soon broke up. Bob Segarini then formed a group in Los Angeles called Roxy, the next step in a long and fascinating career.
May 24-25, 1968 Junior Wells Blues Band
May 31, June 1, 1968 Junior Wells Blues Band
Chicago blues bands like Junior Wells were now a regular part of the psychedelic ballroom scene. So many local and national bands covered blues songs that a lot of standard Chicago material was quite well known around the country, even to kids who had never heard the original.
The Youngbloods, originally from New York City and Cambridge, MA, had moved to Marin County in September, 1967. The quartet (singer/bassist Jesse Colin Young, lead guitarist/singer Jerry Corbitt, multi-instrumentalist Lowell “Banana” Levinger and drummer Joe Bauer) had played regularly throughout the Pacific Northwest as well as the rest of the country. The group’s second album (Earth Music, on RCA) had been released in November 1967.
I assume that the Youngbloods are pictured in the poster, which is odd since they were a quartet, not a trio. Guitarist Jerry Corbitt would leave soon after this, so perhaps this was somehow anticipating the event.
June 21-22, 1968 Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy was a prominent blues guitarist in Chicago, not well known except to other guitarists. He was starting to make a name for himself on the ballroom circuit.
The city of Portland closed the Crystal Ballroom on or about July of 1968. Tim Hills reprints a headline in The Oregonian (Portland's main daily newspaper) from July 12, 1968 that says "City Closes Dance Hall: Crystal Ballroom Fails Inspection." Unhappy with the congregation of hippies downtown, the city had found a slew of code violations in June, and the operators of the Crystal--whoever they were by Summer 1968 is a bit vague--were unable to respond effectively. According to Hills, a Newsweek article (from May 20, 1968) that said that San Francisco hippies were all going to Portland for the Summer did not help matters.
The exact date of the last show isn't certain, and the venue may have put on shows as late as Saturday, July 6, 1968, but I don't know who might have played. Its known (from Billboard magazine) that Iron Butterfly had to cancel a July date at the Crystal (either 12-13 or 26-27), and according to Hills Big Brother and the Holding Company had to cancel as well, but the end of the psychedelic area came quickly for the Crystal Ballroom.
Although it closed as a rock venue in July, 1968, The Crystal remained dormant, a beautiful dream left sleeping downtown. Happily, the building was purchased and restored by local entrepreneurs, and the Crystal Ballroom reopened in 1997. Its “Floating Ballroom” was restored as well, and The Crystal Ballroom is once again a popular local attraction and a glamorous tour stop for a wide variety of music.
Apparently the city of Portland is concerned with the liquor license and activities of the venue, again, but as this struggle has been going on since 1873 the Crystal Ballroom is likely to weather this storm as well.