The Lake Tahoe area has always been a sort of remote suburb of the San Francisco. It is no surprise, then, that in the late 1960s the Lake Tahoe area was a prime outpost for all the bands playing the Fillmore, but this slice of rock history has been largely forgotten. There were no less than three major venues in Lake Tahoe in the late 60s, yet even I was surprised to discover this another remote outpost of the San Francisco ballroom scene, with a press kit photo of the late '68 Santana Blues Band promoting the band's weekend appearance near a ski resort. It appears that TNT-Alpine Meadows (as it was called in the Chronicle) was only open for about a month, but it provides an easy way to introduce some of the mysteries of the Lake Tahoe scene in the late 60s.
Lake Tahoe, straddling California and Nevada, is one of the West’s largest, deepest, clearest and most beautiful lakes. The lake sits six thousand feet above sea level, and the Truckee River feeds the lake, flowing into and then out of the lake. Truckee, California, about 12 miles North of Lake Tahoe and 30 miles West of Reno, was an original train stop on the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1899 the Duane L. Bliss Family built the Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company. The Southern Pacific Railway actively encouraged tourist attractions along its rail lines, and Lake Tahoe became a popular resort for the San Francisco Bay Area.
Many families in both the Bay Area and the Sacramento/Central Valley area would buy or rent second homes in Lake Tahoe, and they would spend much of the Summer and many Winter weekends at Tahoe. Part of Lake Tahoe's specialness was that it was a great resort for both Summer and Winter. After 1960, when the Winter Olympics were held at nearby Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe boomed again, particularly for Winter sports. Since the Lake was on the California/Nevada border, parents could go over to the Nevada side and gamble, leaving their teenage kids to fend for themselves.
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(The site of the American Legion Hall, Post 795, in South Lake Tahoe, CA, at 2848 South Lake Tahoe Blvd [US 50])
Lake Tahoe Music in The 1960s
The first person to catch on to the vast quantity of teenagers in Lake Tahoe was a guitarist named Jim Burgett. He started putting on dances at the South Lake Tahoe American Legion Hall (at 2848 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA) in 1958. The story is complicated, but by the mid-60s Burgett was holding dances at the Legion Hall seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For any teenagers spending a week, a month or a Summer in Lake Tahoe, every night was Friday night, and with the parents often away in Nevada anyway, the Legion Hall dances were the only show in town. Burgett's own band played most nights, but on occasion he hired out of town acts as well. When the Fillmore bands became popular, he would often hire them to give his own band a night off (they also played six days a week at Harrah's Tahoe, believe it or not). The Jim Burgett saga is amazing, and well worthy of a book, which fortunately he is planning to write.
North Lake Tahoe, about 20 miles away, was less crowded and hence had less activity. However, the North Lake Tahoe set considered themselves cooler than the South, and a venue opened in North Lake Tahoe as well. Kings Beach Bowl, a converted bowling alley on North Lake Avenue, was opened in the Summer of 1967, but it was only open on weekends. The sons of the owners had a band, and their dads created a place for them to play. Although the teenagers were not the bookers, they advised the booking agents on what was cool in Sacramento (where they were from) and San Francisco, so some very cool Fillmore bands played Kings Beach Bowl in 1967 and 1968, including Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield.
By 1968 there were so many teenagers in Tahoe that a third venue opened, The Sanctuary. The Sanctuary took over an old supermarket in South Lake Tahoe, and being just a mile North off Lake Tahoe Boulevard it was a direct competitor to the American Legion Hall. It too was open many nights of the week, starting in June of 1968, with an eight week residency by Santana. In 1968, at least, The Sanctuary was focused a little more on hip San Francisco bands while the smaller but more established Legion Hall depended on Jim Burgett's well known band. The smaller, more distant Kings Beach Bowl retained its hipness factor, but it was too small to compete directly with the two South Shore venues.
Lake Tahoe had primarily been a Summer resort, but after the 1960 Winter Olympics were held in Squaw Valley, on the Western edge of the Lake, Winter tourism boomed as well. Many of the same families who came to Lake Tahoe for Summers would also go the area to ski, skate and enjoy the Winter. This was exotic fun for Californians, since "Winter" in the Bay Area generally means sunny, 60-degree days with occasional rain. With the increasing number of Winter visitors, it's not a surprise that some Tahoe venues experimented with rock shows to capture some of the teenagers who would have been visiting from the Bay Area on any given weekend.
The best known of the attempts at Winter Lake Tahoe rock shows was what I believe to be the first attempt at a "psychedelic" Winter event. Kings Beach Bowl had a three night event from Thursday to Saturday, February 22-24, 1968. The poster (above) was entitled "Trip Or Ski." The date was well-chosen: Thursday, February 22, was Washington's Birthday, then a National holiday, and all schools would have been off. Many families would have gone to Lake Tahoe on Wednesday night, skipping out on work or school for Friday the 23rd. Thus the weekend was perfectly timed for a foray into exporting the San Francisco ballroom scene to wintery Lake Tahoe.
The Grateful Dead had already played Lake Tahoe the previous Summer. They had played a memorable show at the American Legion Hall on August 19, 1967, and then played the next Friday and Saturday night at Kings Beach Bowl (August 25-26). In the intervening week, Jerry Garcia and Mountain Girl, bored of their low-rent motel, went camping. There is even a plausible sounding eyewitness account of a thinly attended American Legion Hall show in Fall 1966. Nonetheless, it hardly mattered: almost all the people in North Lake Tahoe in February '68 would have been from the Bay Area or Sacramento, and the younger people would have known the Grateful Dead well.
The February '68 Kings Beach Bowl shows were part of the Dead's Anthem Of The Sun project, so the shows were recorded. Ultimately, the Friday and Saturday shows (Feb 23-24) were released as Vol 22 of the band's Dick's Picks archival series in 2001 (there were problems with the tape of the first night). Although I have been in touch with someone who attended the shows (a Marin teenager who was mainly interested in seeing the opening act, The Morning Glory), I'm not sure how well attended the events were.
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(Alpine Meadows, just South of Squaw Valley and West of Lake Tahoe)
Clearly the Bay Area rock community was aware that much of their audience decamped to Lake Tahoe on Winter weekends. TNT, whatever it stood for (if anything), seems to be an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of San Francisco bands by extending themselves to Squaw Valley. The location of the venue is described in the (above) photo as "one mile south of Squaw Valley in the Powder Bowl." Squaw Valley and Powder Bowl were both ski areas about 10 miles West of Lake Tahoe. In between them was Alpine Meadows. In contemporary press releases, the venue is described as "TNT-Alpine Meadows." The area was probably unincorporated at the time. I do not know what building was used for the venue. I suspect it was a left over building from the 1960 Olympics, repurposed as a rock venue.
So far, I have only been able to find four booked weekends for the TNT Alpine Meadows venue, all in the month of January. The bookings were
- January 10-11, 1969: Santana Blues Band (Friday and Saturday)
- January 18-19, 1969: Cold Blood (Saturday and Sunday)
- January 24-26, 1969: Country Weather (Friday thru Sunday)
- January 31-February 1, 1969: Frumious Bandersnatch (Friday and Saturday)
Santana in early 1969 was not quite the band they would become by the time of their first album and Woodstock, but they were still a great band. The lineup for this show was probably Carlos Santana, Gregg Rolie (organ, vocals), Dave Brown (bass), Mike Carabello (congas) and Doc Livingston (drums). It's possible that conguero Marcus Malone is in the photo above, as it's hard for me to tell for sure. In any case, it probably made for a great night for the young skiers who attended the show.
I don't know what happened to the TNT-Alpine Meadows, or anything else about it. I know that Kings Beach Bowl had some low-key shows later in the Winter of 1969, so the idea didn't totally die out. The most unexpected event of the Winter of 1969 was that the owner of The Sanctuary asked Jim Burgett to take over his operation. This was fortunate for Burgett, since at some later point in the Winter heavy snowfall collapsed the roof at the Legion Hall, but he had already agreed to take over The Sanctuary. Burgett changed the name of the venue to The Fun House, and it remained the premier Tahoe venue for several more years. Millard Agency clients from the Bill Graham organization, like Elvin Bishop, Cold Blood and others were regular performers at The Fun House, which became the major Lake Tahoe destination for rock bands and fans. The subsequent history and fate of TNT-Alpine Meadows remains unknown at this time.