Monday, May 31, 2010
307 Church Street, Santa Cruz, CA Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, May 28, 1966: Jefferson Airplane/Mystery Trend/Flowers Of Evil
Santa Cruz, California, foggy and beautiful on the Northern edge of Monterey Bay, isolated from the Bay Area by mountains yet easily accessible by car to San Jose and San Francisco, is renowned as a haven for free thinking, software and surfers. Santa Cruz most prominent institution is a famous branch of the University of California. UCSC's motto is Fiat Slug, a mock-Latin reference to the school mascot, the Banana Slug. Recently, UC Santa Cruz had the unique honor of becoming the repository of the Grateful Dead Archives, including all the contracts and letters sent to and from the Dead office over the decades.
Santa Cruz had been more or less a logging town in the 19th century, but had evolved into a resort town by the earliest twentieth century. Once Highway 1 to San Francisco and Highway 17 to San Jose were completed (by 1941), the town became more accessible, although growth was slow. The little city remained sleepy and seasonal until UC Santa Cruz opened in the Fall of 1965. The Santa Cruz Mountains were full of underused holiday resorts and abandoned logging towns, and all sorts of characters had taken refuge there, Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs of the Pranksters among them. It would seem that with a new University, all the bands in San Francisco and acid in the hills, Santa Cruz would be ripe to explode with a happening psychedelic rock scene.
Downtown Santa Cruz seemed to have all the ingredients for a happening little 60s scene: geography that created some isolation, while near enough to cities to provide bands; a captive audience of young people at the University and cheap, transitional housing for various scenemakers. All that would have been needed would have been an appropriate venue, and Santa Cruz had that too. The Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium at 307 Church Street (at Center) was a charming Art Deco building completed in 1940, capacity 2,000. It would seem likely that the Civic would have been a petri dish for San Francisco and San Jose bands looking for extra shows, with students providing a ready audience and freaks in the hills providing light shows and general madness. Yet this May 28, 1966 show headlined by the Jefferson Airplane was one of only two rock shows at the Santa Cruz Civic that I know of during the 1960s. What happened?
In May, 1966, the Jefferson Airplane would have been fairly unknown, even to college students, and AM radio reception was pretty sketchy in Santa Cruz. Perhaps some students knew "Its No Secret," but in general the Airplane would have been mainly a rumor that they had heard about. There is a chance that the Airplane played an on-campus event called "Spring Thing" (alluded to in a San Jose paper at the time), but I have not yet been able to pin that down. The Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium is not that near to the Campus, but since the Campus was up on a hill, anyone from Campus who was interested had few other entertainment options. However, one tip-off to the thinking behind the Santa Cruz Civic show was the presence of The Mystery Trend.
The Mystery Trend--named because its members didn't quite understand Bob Dylan's lyrics to "Like A Rolling Stone"--were one of the first bands on the San Francisco underground scene, even though they were quite obscure even then. Many of the band members were artists as well as musicians, and they played some unique events. Their presence on the bill meant that someone in San Francisco had organized this show, as the Mystery Trend were only known in the cooler circles of the San Francisco underground. The Flowers Of Evil were a local band.
The Spring '66 Jefferson Airplane was not the powerhouse they would become, but they were still a hell of a band. Grace Slick was still in the Great Society, but Signe Andersen combined with Paul Kantner and Marty Balin to give a Weavers-like front line a rock and roll backing anchored by Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady. Soon-to-depart drummer Skip Spence wasn't as rock solid as Spencer Dryden (whose first show was probably June 6, 1966), but he held down the chair well enough. Folk rock was still a new thing in California, and while The Byrds were the premier exponent, Jefferson Airplane would have been pretty impressive to young people who hadn't seen them.
My only source for what happened next was some comments on Message Boards and an email from a then-teenager who went to the show, but it appears that the Airplane were way too successful. I have no idea how many tickets were sold, or if the show even made money, but the City Fathers of Santa Cruz were very bothered by the effect the Airplane had on the local youth (cue Paul Kantner smiling). Up until the University, the city of Santa Cruz had been quiet, business-like and Republican. Obviously the city saw financial advantages to the University, but they had not expected the Continental Divide of the 1960s.
Since the city controlled the Civic Auditorium, the city insured that no more rock concerts took place at the Civic Auditorium, thus ruining what should have been a great scene. Paradoxically, however, Santa Cruz's effective ban on rock concerts at the Civic brought to life an entirely different venue, in Scotts Valley, deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains: The Barn.
The Barn in Scotts Valley is a fascinating story in its own right, and some years ago we published my preliminary research on it. I have considerably more information today, but the thumbnail sketch is that Neal Cassady's prison psychiatrist (Dr. Leon Tabory) took over a Dairy-Barn-turned-Art-Gallery to provide a space for younger people to express themselves. The former Frapwell's Dairy Barn (built 1914) was just 7 miles North of Downtown Santa Cruz on Highway 17, towards San Jose. Scotts Valley itself was a sleepy rural community, not even incorporated as a town.
The earliest confirmed show I know of at The Barn was May 22, 1966, but there were probably some earlier shows. However, by the Summer of 1966, The Barn was just about the only hangout for longhairs outside of San Francisco, Berkeley and a few college coffeehouses. Hippies, bikers, Pranksters and other doubtful characters gathered almost every weekend to hear happening Underground bands. Scotts Valley was nestled in the Mountains, and despite efforts of the County Sheriff, unincorporated Scotts Valley lacked the power to shut it down.
If Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium had been available as a rock venue, it would have easily trumped The Barn. Yet the city of Santa Cruz, exercising its atrophied conservative muscles, perhaps for the last time, blocked rock concerts at the Civic and paved the way for The Barn. The Barn etched vivid (if not always precise) memories on most or all of the people lucky enough to attend or work there, but its unique isolation was only viable because Santa Cruz blocked the Civic.
The community of Scotts Valley managed to close The Barn for a few months in 1967 (it was closed from April to June), but in fact the struggle against the venue was one of the principal motivators to incorporate the town. Once the town of Scotts Valley was incorporated, it was easy to shut down The Barn for good. Owner Leon Tabory was struggling financially anyway, and the building became home to the Baymonte Christian School. Some decades later, the Barn was torn down to build a parking lot for the Baymonte Christian School (the address of the school is 5000B Granite Creek Road, Scotts Valley, CA 95066).
March 25, 1967 Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium: The Sacred Cow Presents Quicksilver Messenger Service/The Sparrow/Blue Cheer
Somewhat mysteriously, there was another psychedelic rock show at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, on March 25, 1967. Presented by The Sacred Cow (a name I have seen occasionally on posters), it featured not only Fillmore headliners Quicksilver Messenger Service, but two hip underground San Francisco bands. The presence of The Sparrow and Blue Cheer, both quite unknown outside of The Matrix at this time, clearly indicates a San Francisco promotion. This one-off show does not quite fit the narrative I have proposed above, and yet it seems to be the only exception.
A comment I read on a message thread, impossible to verify, suggested that the promoters claimed that the show was sponsored by the Catholic Archdiocese, and the concert was some sort of Church-sponsored Easter teenage dance. The subterfuge did not go down well, and any chance for a change of heart by the city of Santa Cruz with respect to rock concerts at the Civic Auditorium for the balance of the 1960s was lost.
In the early 1970s, Santa Cruz began allowing rock concerts at The Civic. Bill Graham Presents began using the modest venue for extra nights and out-of-town warmups, and there were many tremendous shows there for most of the 70s and 80s.
This post has been pieced together laboriously over the years from the most fragmentary bits of information. I have proposed a plausible hypothesis for the absence of rock shows in downtown Santa Cruz in the late 1960s, but I recognize that at best I only know part of the story. Any former Santa Cruz residents who recall other Civic dynamics at the time, or Cowell and Stevenson College students who remember the early days (or Crown, Merrill or College Five students who heard tales) are encouraged to Comment or email me.