At fifty years and counting, classic rock from San Francisco's Fillmore era remains central to our appreciation of rock music and late 20th century culture. All the Fillmores are rightly celebrated as cornerstones of the evolution of the modern rock concert. Prior to the Fillmore, rock concerts were just entertainment for teenagers, little more than personal appearances by popular artists. After the Fillmore, live rock music was rock, community and culture.
As digital files have increased the scope of our information, rock fans worldwide are far more knowledgeable about the other stops on the Fillmore circuit, like the Boston Tea Party and the Grande Ballroom in Detroit. I have made a great effort myself to uncover some of the history of 60s live rock scenes in places like Portland, Salt Lake City, Miami, Philadelphia and more. Yet the history of one thriving 60s rock scene has lain dormant since then, and it's time to rectify that.
Lake Tahoe, CA, 200 miles North of San Francisco and 60 miles South of Reno, has been the city's resort area since Southern Pacific Railroad made it a destination in 1899. In the 1960s, floods of Sacramento and Bay Area teenagers spent weekends, weeks or entire Summers in Lake Tahoe. It's no surprise there was a live music scene. What's hardly known is that there were some psychedelic outposts there, too. I have written a little about the Grateful Dead's appearances in the Lake Tahoe era, but in fact numerous famous bands passed through. Many of the San Francisco bands played there, too, as did famous 60s acts including not only Buffalo Springfield and no less than the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
This post begins a two-part series on the Lake Tahoe live rock scene in the 60s, when from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the North and South Shore were stops on the circuit before and after San Francisco. This post will focus on the roots of the Lake Tahoe scene and the year 1967. Anyone with recollections, corrections, insights or unexpected flashbacks is encouraged to add them in the Comments.
|The American Legion Hall in South Lake Tahoe, at 2748 Tahoe Boulevard, ca 1965|
Lake Tahoe 60s Venues
There were six venues in the Lake Tahoe area that booked rock concerts in the late 60s, mostly lost to rock history save for Tahoe-area nostalgia and me. Over the course of these two posts, I will deal with each of these venues in some detail, but a brief overview will set the stage.
American Legion Hall, 2748 Lake Tahoe Boulevard (US-50), South Lake Tahoe, CA
Guitarist Jim Burgett had been putting on dances at the American Legion Hall in South Lake Tahoe since 1958. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Burgett's band would play 7 nights a week. For teenagers vacationing in Tahoe, every day was Saturday, so the dances were packed. The Legion Hall had a capacity of about 1000. Burgett also occasionally booked other touring acts, and in 1967 and '68, these were usually Fillmore rock acts, since that's what teenagers wanted to see. I will look at the backstory of the American Legion Hall dances in this post.
Kings Beach Bowl, 8318 North Lake Blvd (CA-28), Kings Beach, CA
The North Lake Tahoe area was less developed than the area around the town of South Lake Tahoe, and the "North Shore" crowd saw themselves as separate (in a teenage way) from the other side of the lake. Dave Jay and Allan Goodall had been managing an underused bowling alley near Kings Beach. In Summer 1967, they converted it into a sort of teen nightclub, mostly featuring The Creators, a Sacramento band that included Jay's teenage sons. For three years, however, Kings Beach Bowl also booked Fillmore rock bands for some visits, including some true legends. I will look at the foundation of Kings Beach Bowl and the Summer 1967 shows in this post, along with the Winter 1968 "Trip Or Ski" shows with the Grateful Dead. The 1968 and '69 Kings Beach Bowl shows will be discussed in the next post.
The Sanctuary, Lake Tahoe Boulevard (US-50), South Lake Tahoe, CA
By 1968, with the success of the Legion Hall and Kings Beach Bowl, another entrepreneur opened The Sanctuary, also on Lake Tahoe Blvd (US-50), not far from the Legion Hall. It was larger than the Legion Hall, with a capacity of about 1600. It, too, had a house band, Queen Lily Soap, which included the son of the club owner. Weekends were headlined by regular Fillmore bands, and The Sanctuary was soon doing better than either of the other two rock venues. I will look at the Sanctuary in the next post.
The Crystal Ship, Roundhill Village, US-50, Zephyr Cove, NV
In 1968 Palo Alto pianist Cory Lerios started a "teen club" called The Crystal Ship, in the Roundhill Village shopping center near Zephyr Cove. It, too, was on US-50, but on the Nevada side, just north of the town of South Lake Tahoe. The Crystal Ship was only open in the Summer of 1968. Lerios would go on to form the hit group Pablo Cruise. I will discuss the Crystal Ship in the second post.
TNT Alpine, Alpine Meadows, CA
East Bay Promoter Bill Quarry and his TNT group ("Teens N Twenties") put on four shows at the Alpine Meadows ski resort in January 1969. Alpine Meadows is West of Lake Tahoe (nearer to San Francisco), and just south of US80 and near Olympic Valley, where the 1960 Winter Olympics were held (then known as Squaw Valley). I will look at TNT Alpine in the second post.
The Fun House, Lake Tahoe Boulevard (US-50), South Lake Tahoe, CA
In Winter 1969, snow caved in the roof of the American Legion Hall. Burgett's Legion Hall shows were having trouble competing with the name acts at The Sanctuary in any case, but the owner of The Sanctuary chose to sell his business. Burgett took over the club in 1969 and renamed it The Fun House. Burgett promoted shows at The Fun House through 1971. I will look at The Fun House in the next post.
Teenagers, Lake Tahoe, 1960s
Lake Tahoe had always been San Francisco and Northern California's playground, and there is a long American history of entertainment in resort areas. The Catskills in New York or the 'Silver Circuit' in Nevada (Las Vegas, Reno, North Tahoe) have lengthy post-WW2 traditions. One peculiar feature of Lake Tahoe, however, was that there was gambling on the Nevada side of the lake, but not in California. Thus the casinos focused on the high-end trade in Nevada. The California side was more of the family side. After Lake Tahoe boomed following the 1960 Winter Olympics, the California side of the lake was left for "the kids," because the adults wanted to go to Nevada and gamble. As a result, for a resort area, the California side of Lake Tahoe in the 1960s had a peculiar focus on rock and roll, and it has been largely undocumented.
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 Olympic Valley (then called Squaw Valley), Lake Tahoe boomed again, particularly for Winter sports. Since the Lake was on the California/Nevada border, parents would go over to the Nevada side and gamble, leaving their teenage kids to fend for themselves. If there was an older sibling with a family station wagon, then the whole Lake Tahoe area was available for fun.
The only substantial town on the Lake at the time was South Lake Tahoe. The city had only incorporated in 1965, an assembly of a half-dozen little communities. The 1970 population was only 12,000, but that is misleading. In the Summer (and even the Winter), houses all around the Lake were packed with families and kids, so the potential weekend population was quite high. All the other communities referred to here, such as Kings Beach or Zephyr Cove, were not actually towns (technically they are "Census Designated Places"). Those who generally stayed in the North Lake Tahoe area referred to it as "North Shore," but I gather that the Southern Lake Tahoe visitors did not refer to it as "South Shore." For clarity, however, I am going to generically refer to the South Shore, however, even though I am aware that it wasn't really a local usage.
The rock scene in 60s Lake Tahoe can be directly traced to one man, guitarist Jim Burgett (b. 1942) from tiny Ceres, CA. Ceres is a small Central Valley town a few miles South of Modesto on US-99. Burgett had a little band, and he he had been putting on dances locally. His father had opened a plumbing supply store in the Lake Tahoe area, and Burgett realized that local teenagers had nothing to do on family vacations. Starting in Summer 1958, Burgett--still a teenager himself-- rented the American Legion Hall on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and his band provided the entertainment. In some personal emails some years ago, Burgett was kind enough to explain the background:
I first took my band to The Legion Hall in South Lake Tahoe in June 1958. I rented that hall for the next 10 years having dances from June thru September for the first few years and then adding other dates during the year after I moved to South Lake Tahoe a few years later.Burgett went on to explain how late 50’s Tahoe had no entertainment to speak of:
my Father owned a plumbing shop in Tahoe City [between Kings Beach and South Lake Tahoe] and although I didn't live there, when I would visit as a teenager there was NOTHING TO DO so when I started my band I had to create jobs and there were none. I went to Tahoe looking for a place that I could rent and play my band. I was already doing this near Modesto and Walnut Creek, CA. I was very happy to just play there myself and I did so for the first ten years.
By the mid-60s, Burgett was putting on dances at the Legion Hall seven nights a week, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with his band playing every night. If that wasn't enough, his band also played a day shift at Harrah's Tahoe six days a week. The official capacity of the Legion Hall was 1000, but since patrons would come and go, some nights he would sell as many as 1500 tickets. In the Summer, every night was a weekend for visiting teenagers. Burgett's band played rock and R&b hits, pretty well, apparently. The American Legion Hall was on Lake Tahoe Boulevard, also known as US50, and was the main road on the Tahoe South Shore. No matter where a family might be staying around the Lake, it would have been easy to get to Tahoe Boulevard and find the Legion Hall.
Throughout the early 60s, in suburbs throughout the US, particularly on the West Coast, there were local "teen dances" on the weekends at National Guard Armories, Veterans Halls and High School Gyms. These were like high school dances, except without being tied to high school, and appealed to the 13-18 year old set. Since "grown-ups" didn't play rock music, the bands playing these dances were often local, and the same age as the people attending. Initially (about 1961 or '62) Surf Music was featured along with "Northwest" music ("Louie Louie" or "Tall Call One", from Oregon and Seattle respectively). When the Beatles hit, British Invasion music (including their American competitors, Tacoma's Paul Revere and The Raiders) became popular, and by the mid-60s the template had broadened to include the tougher British bands like the Stones, Animals and Yardbirds, along with Motown and Stax songs. Burgett's Lake Tahoe dances were a localized version of this trend.
In 1966, however, the Fillmore and the Avalon changed the equation somewhat. Fillmore shows were events, not just dances, with lights and really loud music. The music was original, even if it wasn't always good, so fans felt like they were seeing something special that adults didn't understand. There was weed, too, and parents didn't even realize it, so that made the Fillmore especially cool. Thus Burgett's Legion Hall dances, while the only game in town, weren't necessarily the height of cool anymore to sophisticated Bay Area teens.
Kings Beach Bowl
In the Summer of '67, an alternative arose for Burgett's American Legion Hall dances. It wouldn't be quite right to call them a competitor, since the Kings Beach Bowl was on the opposite side of Lake Tahoe, 40 miles away, and in any case there were plenty of teenagers to go around. Nonetheless, just as the Fillmore rose up to provide a hip alternative to somewhat homogenized teen attractions, Kings Beach Bowl presented itself as cooler than the Legion Hall. Also, almost all the teenagers coming to Lake Tahoe were fully aware of the Fillmore and Avalon, and thus fully tuned in to the appeal of the Bowl. Furthermore, many of the Tahoe teenagers may not have been allowed to go to big, bad San Francisco, but their parents were perfectly fine sending them off unaccompanied to Kings Beach Bowl.
Owned by Dave Jay and Allan Goodall, the Kings Beach Bowl—now the North Tahoe Event Center—was initially constructed as a furniture store but was converted into a bowling alley at some point in the 1950s.
By the time Jay and Goodall operated the building, its use as a bowling alley had diminished. But Jay’s teenage sons, Warren and Gary, were in a Sacramento-based band called The Creators (and were also friends with Goodall’s son), so the owners converted the building into a dancehall and let the young rock group play concerts on the weekends.
In the summer of 1967, The Creators hired a group of Sacramento State college students to perform a light show set to music at the newly christened Kings Beach Bowl. The students, who had a band they called the Simultaneous Avalanche, joined The Creators as the two mainstays at the Kings Beach Bowl [note: Simultaneous Avalanche was actually a Light Show]
Happy to be earning any proceeds at the location, the two owners hired a professional booking agent to fill out the roster of bands, but were careful to lean on the advice of the younger generation, who at the time were plugged into the burgeoning music scene that surrounded the Fillmore West [sic].
It was this growing popularity that led The Creators to urge the agents at Kings Beach Bowl to successfully book acts such as Hendrix, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Buffalo Springfield, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Country Joe and the Fish, and Iron Butterfly, among others.
According to members of the Sacramento band The Working Class, who visited the Kings Beach Bowl in 1967, and played there in 1968, the venue was open most weekends whether they had a major headliner or not. The building was often open during the day, too, functioning as a kind of coffee shop/hangout for local teens. Jay and Goodall housed the musicians in a place they owned on the corner of Bear and Rainbow streets in Kings Beach. Performers could effectively have a Lake Tahoe vacation between gigs. New psychedelic venues in 1967 often had problems with the cops, but since Allen Goodall was the Placer County sheriff, that was not a factor.
|The Simultaneous Avalanche Light Show, ca 1967. It is possible that this photo was taken at Kings Beach Bowl in North Lake Tahoe. |
I am lucky enough to have some eyewitness accounts of Kings Beach Bowl. My best source is an old friend I will call "Bill Smith." Bill, in private emails many years ago, gave me a detailed perspective on who was going to the Kings Beach Bowl shows. "Bill" had grown up in Fairfield, on the edge of the Bay Area, and his family had a little vacation house on Carnelian Bay in North Tahoe. Thus Bill, his brother, sister, cousins and other teenagers spent much of every summer in North Tahoe.
My two sisters and my childhood best friend and another 3 close friends all went to the shows together for about 3 or 4 years, almost every Saturday night. We even went to a few at South Shore . My family's summer home at Carnelian Bay was about 6 miles [south of Kings Beach]; it slept 16 to 20 and was usually filled with teenagers all summer long.
The north (and west) side of the lake was always more cool, socially in, and less crowded than the "south end” (according to the denizens of the north end, of course). The casinos at the north end were dirty and small but a lot of fun for the summer residents who enjoyed slumming there. The big, glitzy casinos on the south shore were fun for a show or dinner now and then, but mainly the south end was where the unwashed went for a weekend of gambling, a cheap room, and all they could eat.
In 1967, Bill was 14. He and his crew would hang out and cruise the lake during the week, playing mini-golf or using various family boats.
On the weekends we would all pile into the jeep and head into Kings Beach to go to the dance. Sometimes we’d go both Friday and Saturday night, since it was only, like two bucks, or some ridiculous amount. For the first year, I didn’t know what pot was (I later rectified that ignorance with a vengeance), but I think the older kids were trying to hide something from me and my younger sister. No doubt it was that $10 (per ounce!) weed they were trying to light or roll with zigzag papers under someone’s coat.
Everyone would hang out in the parking lot until it was time to go in. You’d go through the glass doors onto a dirty carpeted area with the dance floor on the right on the other side of the wall one normally finds in a bowling alley. Further down along the back wall was the snack bar. Right smack in the center of the cement dance floor was some kind of platform where they ran the sound system and presumably the light show, as well. When the music started, I remember it was LOUD, but very, very good. Because I was so socially awkward, in the later years I would sometimes go up near the speakers on the stage and start groovin’. I’m surprised I still have my hearing. When it was over, we’d break out of the sweaty heat and out into the cool lake air, our ears still ringing. We’d pile back into the Willys and head for home, some card playing, and late night snacks.Matt H, an old friend of Bill's, recalled the Kings Beach Bowl scene
It always amazed me that the concerts at Kings Beach had such big names but the crowds were so small in comparison to what goes on today. In my mind it seemed like there were only 250 to 300 people at the concerts, almost like high school dances but with a big name acts. Maybe the bands thought playing Tahoe was like going on vacation with the chance to make a little extra money on the side. I also remember how hokey the accompanying light shows were compared to today. It seemed like they would just turn on different colored Christmas-tree-like spotlights and that was about it. I remember a lot of dim red overlighting with everyone looking like a black silhouette against the band up front.
Matt also recalled how one learned in a new world:
The roach story goes like this. I bought an ice cream cone at the bowling alley and was enjoying it immensely when someone screamed that there was a roach on the floor. I promptly threw my cone into the trash as I was not going to eat something from a place that had roaches crawling around. I was bewildered by every ones hysterical outburst as they retrieved the offending half-smoked joint from the floor. Billy was quick to bring me up to speed but I can remember being so mad because I did not have any more money to get another cone.Summer 1967 Performance List, Kings Beach Bowl, 8318 North Lake Blvd, Kings Beach, CA
The Kings Beach Bowl was apparently open most days. On Friday and Saturday nights there were dances, featuring either The Creators or a visiting headliner. On some weekdays, there were concerts with visiting headliners. Although Kings Beach Bowl wasn't a big booking, a band between weekend shows in California (for example, in San Francisco and then LA) would happily take a midweek gig. Given that housing was provided by the promoters, making little money and having lodging covered was better than making no money at all.
June 16, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, Kings Beach, CA: New Breed/The Creators (Friday)
Rock shows at Kings Beach Bowl commenced on Friday, June 16, the same weekend as the Monterey Pop Festival. The initial flyer tells us "All New Motif," "Good Supervision" and "Snack Bar." Appealing to all the local teens, while reassuring parents that things wouldn't get out of hand. At the bottom it says "Starting Next Week--Open Wed, Fri. and Sat. nights with Live Music." The address is simply "Hwy 28, Kings Beach," which was sufficient. It also tells you how tiny the town was.
Bands from out of town had the potential to attract patrons from all around the Lake, so it makes sense that there were some flyers. Show just featuring The Creators were probably simply advertised on the
marquee, since in tiny North Lake Tahoe, any potential attendees would
likely drive by during the week. The New Breed were a popular Beatles-style group from Sacramento. They had scored a regional hit in Fall '66 with "Want Ad Reader." Later in 1967 the quartet would change their name to Glad. Bassist Tim Schmidt left to join Poco (and later the Eagles), and the rest of the band became Redwing. In Fall '67, however, the New Breed was a big draw in the Sacramento area, so they would have been popular in Lake Tahoe as well.
The most tantalizing detail of the Kings Beach shows was an appearance by no less than the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix' tour schedule is not exceptionally well documented, to my knowledge, and the Kings Beach date appears on no list that I have ever seen. Nonetheless, I am confident that it happened. The performance was checked off in the retrospective article quoted above (from Tahoe Quarterly in 2017), and Bill Smith has a firm recollection of the show. He recalled.
I KNOW I remember dancing to Jimi Hendrix playing "Purple Haze" (soon after it first came out, if I recall correctly)...but my memories are so vivid of the Hendrix concert I know it had to be true (I wasn't taking drugs at the time, I don't think, which if true would place it prior to the fall of 1968).
"Purple Haze" was released in the US on the Are You Experienced album, released in the US in early May 1967. The US release of the single was June 19, 1967. Hendrix had played the Monterey Pop Festival on June 18, 1967, followed by six nights at the Fillmore with Jefferson Airplane (June 20-25). The Experience had also played a free concert in Golden Gate Park on the afternoon of Sunday, June 25. Hendrix next known appearance was Saturday, July 1 at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara.
Thus, with a week off in California, it makes perfect sense that the Jimi Hendrix Experience would have booked a paying gig at Kings Beach Bowl, even for modest money. Live bands in this era were like sharks, who had to keep moving to live. The Experience would have had expenses whether they played North Tahoe or not, so the gig made perfect sense.
I have assumed Friday June 30 as the date, but it could have been Wednesday (June 28) or Thursday (June 29) as well. Update 2023 10 Aug: Commenter and Scholar LightIntoAshes reports that Hendrix was recording in LA on June 28-30, so I am proposing June 27 as a date. It could also have been early July, or even mid-June.
July 21, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, Kings Beach, CA: Country Joe and The Fish/The Creators (Friday)
July 19, 20 and 22, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, Kings Beach, CA: The Creators (Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday)
The most well-known artifact from the Kings Beach Bowl is this colored poster. It seems to be for the weekend of July 21 and 22, so the Creators are listed as the headliners on three of the four weekend days, and Country Joe and The Fish are the Friday night headliners. Upcoming headliners are mentioned, and it appears to be assumed that the Creators will perform regularly. I assume this poster was for distribution around Lake Tahoe, and possibly in the Sacramento area as well.
|Berkeley's Country Joe & The Fish released their debut album Electric Music For The Mind and Body on Vanguard Records in May 1967. The live shots on the cover were from The Barn in Scotts Valley, CA. |
Berkeley's Country Joe and The Fish were one of the first Fillmore bands to get an album into stores. Electric Music For The Mind And Body had been released by Vanguard Records in May, 1967. When Joe McDonald sang "Hey, partner won't you pass that reefer around" it was many people's introduction of the shape of things to come. By Summer '67, the classic Country Joe and The Fish was battle-tested and a great live band.
|Quicksilver Messenger Service's debut album (May 1968, Capitol Records)|
July 28-29, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, Kings Beach, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service (Friday-Saturday)
Quicksilver Messenger Service had a high profile at this time from headlining so many Fillmore and Avalon concerts, but they had not yet released a record. The band had signed to Capitol Records during this period, but their self-titled debut album would not come out until May of 1968. The original Quicksilver is remembered by record buyers as a classic quartet, with guitarists John Cipollina and Gary Duncan, bassist David Freiberg and drummer Greg Elmore. Prior to signing with Capitol, however, Quicksilver Messenger Service had been a quintet that included Jim Murray. Murray, an old pal of Cipollina's, played guitar and harmonica and was a pretty good singer.
Tapes of the Quicksilver quintet (albeit not from Kings Beach) have a distinct sound from the classic quartet. Early Quicksilver had more harmonies, with three voices, and more of a folk-rock sound. The guitar solos were shorter, and Murray played a fair amount of harmonica. This weekend was probably the last weekend of the quintet, so the lucky patrons of Kings Beach Bowl saw an earlier version of the classic Fillmore band.
I presume The Creators opened the show.
August 4-5, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, Kings Beach, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company/The Creators (Friday-Saturday)
Big Brother and The Holding Company were another well-established band at the Fillmore and Avalon. Their debut album would not be released on Mainstream Records until later in August, so to most of the teenagers in Lake Tahoe the band would have been more of an underground legend that they hadn't actually heard. Big Brother had formed in early 1966, and Janis Joplin had joined the band in June of that year. They had impressed the crowd and received extensive press attention at the Monterey Pop Festival (June 16-18, 1967), so Big Brother had a high profile for a band without an album.
According to a Comment on the post, some Kings Beach bands stayed at the Totem Pole Lodge, owned by a relative of the Goodalls. Big Brother and The Holding Company were asked not to return.
Unless other evidence turns up (and I hope it does), I presume The Creators headlined the weekend of August 11-12.
|Atlantic Records released the Buffalo Springfield's "Bluebird"/"Mr Soul" in June 1967. This is the picture sleeve of the Swedish 45 (clockwise from top: Stills, Young, Palmer, Martin, Furay)|
August 18-19, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, Kings Beach, CA: Buffalo Springfield (Friday-Saturday)
In the modern era, we tend to reflect upon albums by our favorite groups. At this time, Buffalo Springfield had only released their debut album, put out by Atlantic in December 1966. But that wasn't why they were hugely popular. Their initial, iconic hit single, Stephen Stills' "For What It's Worth," with its anthemic chorus and the ghostly bong of Neil Young's guitar, had hit the charts in January 1967. It hadn't even been on the album, but Atlantic released a new version of the album with the song included. "For What It's Worth," like all hit singles of the era, was played incessantly on AM radio, so everyone knew the song.
Buffalo Springfield's second album, Buffalo Springfield Again, would not even be released until September of 1967. It didn't matter, however. In June 1967 Atlantic released the band's new single, the irresistible "Bluebird." Even then, Stills' memorable A-side may well have been eclipsed by the equally immortal B-side, Neil Young's "Mr. Soul." By the end of Summer, both those songs would have been etched on the brains of every rock'n'rollin' California teenager. Buffalo Springfield would have been the bomb.
Unlike many popular hit bands of the time, Buffalo Springfield could play really well live. Hollywood studios aside, the Springfield was just fine at the Avalon or the Fillmore, jamming away. Young and Stills led a great guitar attack, Richie Furay was probably an even better singer than both of them, and the rhythm section of drummer Dewey Martin and particularly bassist Bruce Palmer was very solid. So in live performance, the Springfield had great songs and played great, and they were going to shine. One of Bill Smith's friends (Annie M) had particularly fond memories (private email):
I went to see the Buffalo Springfield concert... At that time, "For What It's Worth" had to be my favorite song. Neil Young wore that fringed cowboy jacket... God he was cool. He just oozed cool.
August 25-26, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, Kings Beach, CA: Grateful Dead/The Creators (Friday-Saturday)
The true mark of an historic psychedelic venue was appearances by the Grateful Dead, and Kings Beach Bowl had plenty. The Dead, uniquely, played on Saturday night (August 19) at the Legion Hall in South Shore (see below), a show etched in Tahoe legend. The very next weekend, the band returned to put on two shows at Kings Beach Bowl. In between, Bill Kreutzmann met Mickey Hart at the Fillmore (seeing Count Basie), Jerry Garcia saw Cream there, and Robert Hunter took up his old friend Jerry Garcia's offer to become house songwriter for the Grateful Dead. Some week.
Note that while typical Kings Beach weekend dances had a $2.00 or $2.50 admission, the venue charged $3.00 in advance and $3.50 at the door for the Dead. We laugh hysterically at these prices now (even with inflation, $3.50 in 1967 would only be about $31.63 today), but remember that $3.00 vs $2.00 was still a 50% increase, so the Dead were clearly a big draw. The Grateful Dead had released just one not-very-successful album, but they were already underground legends (I have written about the Grateful Dead's weekend in Lake Tahoe at some length).
September 2-3, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, Kings Beach, CA: Moby Grape/The Creators (Saturday-Sunday)
Labor Day was Monday, September 4, so the three-day weekend was the end of the Summer season and the huge waves of teenagers. Friday night was headlined by The Creators, supported by some local bands. There were various 60s bands called "Tom Thumb," but I think Tom Thumb and The Hitchhikers were from Fremont. I don't know anything about The Inmates.
As for the rest of the weekend, Moby Grape was as hot a band as ever came out of the Fillmore, and the hype was actually justified. Nonetheless, the hype was Moby Grape's undoing. Nothing was hotter than a San Francisco band in early 1967, and Moby Grape seemed to have a higher upside than any of the other bands. The group had been "constructed" by impresario Matthew Katz, who was the former manager of Jefferson Airplane. The five members of the Grape were all fine musicians, experienced and good looking. Unlike the erratic junior Beatniks and converted folkies who made up most Fillmore bands, the Grape had talent and appeal to spare. They got together and wrote and rehearsed over a dozen great songs, and they played them really well around town. Columbia didn't hesitate and snapped them up in early '67.
Columbia assigned staff producer David Rubinson to Moby Grape, and he rapidly produced their debut. All five members wrote songs, all of them were excellent singers and they played well, so the band absolutely cooked on stage. San Francisco was hot, too, with Jefferson Airplane hits, buzz about Janis Joplin and Country Joe and The Fish, and more. But Columbia went too far. They thought they had the American Rolling Stones in hand--maybe they did--but in the 60s, too much hype from "The Man" was what got the country into the Vietnam War. Cool bands were supposed to bubble up from the underground.
Columbia released five singles at once from the debut album, which meant the entire album was released on 45s as soon as it came out. Now, mind you, there were at least five potential hits on the album, but there was nothing "underground" about it. For the record release party, Columbia booked the Avalon Ballroom, and Janis Joplin sang onstage with the Grape. In a typical Moby Grape moment, Columbia provided 700 bottles of Moby Grape wine, but no corkscrews. What should have been a triumph made hippies suspicious. The Grape did their part in the debacle--early the next morning, three members of the band were arrested in Marin for contributing to the delinquency of an underage girl (which, to be fair, they probably were).
By Labor Day '67, the jury was mixed on Moby Grape. On one hand, there was too much hype to trust, and none of the singles caught on to AM radio. There was only one FM rock station anywhere, anyway (KSFX in San Francisco), so most fans hadn't heard the band. Yet in Summer '67, for all their future travails, and there were many, the original quintet of Moby Grape was healthy and optimistic, and they could kill it on stage. The few hundred patrons who showed up on Saturday and Sunday night would have seen a great show, never to pass that way again.
After Labor Day, Lake Tahoe mostly cleared out. Some families still visited, of course, but there wasn't enough critical mass for Kings Beach Bowl to put on concerts. There was a little activity at the Legion Hall in South Shore, but things stayed quiet until ski season. There was one big event at Kings Beach in February of 1968, the Grateful Dead's now famous "Trip Or Ski" weekend, but that was a unique outlier I will address below.
American Legion Hall, 2748 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA: Summer 1967
By the Summer of 1967, Jim Burgett had been putting on dances at the Lake Tahoe American Legion Hall since 1958. As noted, His band played there seven nights a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Whatever teenagers may have thought of the dances (most online commentators remember them quite fondly) they were pretty much the only teenage entertainment at the lake until Kings Beach Bowl. Occasionally, Burgett would bring in different acts as guest stars, but its hard to know how often he did that, since few posters have survived.
Psychedelic rock did not penetrate Lake Tahoe consciousness until Kings Beach Bowl and the "Summer Of Love." Still, there had been the briefest hints. Up through 1967, Burgett had control of the American Legion Hall, but his band played around the country outside of the Summer. So he sub-leased the hall, usually for weekend events. For the generally smaller Fall and Winter months, there was typically a dj playing records, a low-key way to provide fun for restless teenagers. Burgett told me in an email that he knew who he had leased the hall, too, but not what events they had planned, as he was off touring around. So some concerts took place at the Legion Hall the rest of the year.
A long-ago and now inaccessible thread on Lake Tahoe in the 60s had a convincing recollection from someone who remembered seeing the Grateful Dead at the Legion Hall in Fall 1966. The commenter said there were only a few dozen people at the concert, and it was so laid-back that Pigpen was wearing his guns on stage. In Fall 1966, who would be leasing the Legion Hall to put on the very-underground Grateful Dead? The paucity of possible suspects points directly at The Red Dog Saloon crowd in Virginia City, NV. Allowing guns on stage would fit right in, and Red Dog patron Mark Unobsky seems very likely as someone behind such an odd event (google him yourself). Unobsky isn't with us anymore, but unless an eyewitness turns up we will have to leave it at that.
|A poster for a concert at the American Legion Hall in Truckee, with two bands from the Santa Cruz area, on April 21 and 22, 1967. It's unclear if this show actually occurred.|
Over the years, a psychedelic poster has circulated promoting a weekend of concerts at the American Legion Hall in Truckee. Truckee is just 12 miles Northwest of Kings Beach. The show was booked for the weekend of April 21 and 22, 1967, and was promoted by "Sierra Banana." The two bands, Peter And His Group and Spirit, were mostly associated with the Santa Cruz/South Bay Area (Spirit was not the LA band with Randy California). Nothing is known of these shows save for the poster. Since the poster was included in Paul Grushkin's notable 1987 book, The Art Of Rock (poster 3.28), it has received prominence far beyond the event itself.
Truckee, near Donner Lake, is an important stop on Highway 80 (for both trains and cars), but it had a small population of around 10,000, so its not surprising it didn't take off as a concert venue. The poster was an indicator, however, that there was at least a possibility of rock-inclined teenagers. Since the poster is only known from the book, however, it should be noted that there is no guarantee that the event actually took place, only that the poster was created.
In the Summer of 1967, Jim Burgett had been in his tenth year of producing concerts at the South Lake Tahoe Legion Hall, but there were some unexpected developments. In the first place, the opening of Kings Beach Bowl as a concert venue in June meant that Burgett was no longer the only promoter in town. More importantly, however, in a peculiar series of events, Burgett lost the right to produce concerts at the Legion Hall. By mid-July, another promoter had wrested the venue from him, and was producing nightly shows with no less than Sly And The Family Stone.
The details of how this happened are vague. Burgett, in fact, mentioned it to me in an email (decades afterwards), but he didn't not spell out the whole story. Sly had recently been performing in Las Vegas, but had been "run out of town" (per Joel Selvin's fine oral history of Sly) for carrying on with the club owner's girlfriend. Burgett implied that he had a sort of handshake deal for the Legion Hall that another promoter superseded. Within a few weeks, however, Burgett had formalized his arrangement, and Sly was back in the Bay Area in any case.
August 11-12, 1967 American Legion Hall, South Lake Tahoe, CA: Electric Prunes/Jim Burgett (Friday-Saturday)
The confluence of these events, however, indicates why Burgett may have brought in a few Fillmore-type bands later in the Summer. The Electric Prunes were a San Fernando Valley band that had scored a hit single with "I Had Too Much To Dream" in November 1966 (it would reach #11 on Billboard). Reprise had released the group's debut album in April 1967. We laugh now at the silly name, but in fact they were a pretty good live band (check out the Live In Stockholm 1967 cd released in 1997). August 19, 1967 American Legion Hall, South Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead (Saturday)
Most famously, Burgett booked the Grateful Dead for a Saturday night, and the Dead filled up the evening with a lengthy show. Burgett told me that his own band took the night off for this show. The Dead's appearance at the Legion Hall is fondly remembered on Tahoe message boards. The Dead would go on to play the next weekend at Kings Beach Bowl.
A poster has occasionally circulated online with a different date (July 30), but nothing supports the Dead playing on that date, and I have seen no convincing provenance on the poster. [update 2023 10 Aug: LIA notes that an earlier thread did have some intel about this date. John Barlow, in his memoir, recalls driving the Dead's truck back from Tahoe while the band flew on to Toronto, so perhaps this date did occur. Maybe the August 19 date was a phantom? There is so little corresponding evidence about Lake Tahoe shows that it is hard to be sure).
After Labor Day, Burgett's band stopped playing the Legion Hall. He would book it occasionally to outsiders, apparently mostly djs who would have Saturday night "record hops" for whatever teenagers might be in town. Once snow had fallen, Lake Tahoe would rev up again as a vacation area, but visitors tended to stay closer to ski resorts. In any case, for practical, weather-related reasons, visiting teenagers weren't as free to roam around in the family station wagon, and thus there wasn't any concerts to service them.
Reno was a busy entertainment town, but not for rock music. There was one rock club called The Open Door, which was a "teens only" club open only on Saturday night, and Quicksilver Messenger Service had played there in May 1967. Quicksilver also played December 2 at the Sahara Hotel in Stateline, NV (now the Hard Rock, on US-50), but that was an outlier. Fillmore bands didn't play Reno or even Vegas, because their audiences didn't really drink or gamble.
February 22-24, 1968 Kings Beach Bowl, Kings Beach, CA: Grateful Dead/Morning Glory (Thursday-Sunday) "Trip Or Ski"
Kings Beach Bowl did make one serious effort to book a Winter weekend show, and it appears to have been a financial failure. The Bowl booked the Grateful Dead for a three day weekend surrounding George Washington's Birthday, then a California State Holiday. Although February 22 was a Thursday, many families would come to Lake Tahoe for an extended winter weekend. If any weekend was going to be packed with teenagers, this was the one, so booking the Dead seemed like a winning proposition. Working Class/Sanpaku road manager Hewitt Jackson attended one of these shows, and recalls less than two hundred people there. He also recalls that Pigpen's organ didn't work, as it was too cold. The police apparently shut down the first night's show.
Of course, these otherwise obscure shows were nonetheless immortalized in Grateful Dead lore because of a Bob Fried poster encouraging everyone to "Trip Or Ski." The original poster did not circulate widely, but since it, too, was in Paul Grushkin's Art Of Rock (poster 3.29) the poster is relatively widely known. And of course, the Dead recorded the Tahoe shows as part of Anthem Of The Sun. While the first night's tape was flawed, the Friday and Saturday shows (February 23-24) were released in 2001. Thus a thinly-attended Grateful Dead show has been immortalized by a poster and a tape. Many venues, not just Kings Beach Bowl, have very few remaining traces save for posters and tapes by the Grateful Dead, just part of the band's unique 60s legacy.
Morning Glory was a Sacramento band that had released the not-bad album Two Suns Worth on Fontana Records in 1968.Status Report: Rock Music in Lake Tahoe, Spring 1968
Jim Burgett's increasingly successful dances at the American Legion Hall were evolving. The rock market was booming, and hip San Francisco and Sacramento teens wanted to see name bands, not just dance to a cover group. The Kings Beach Bowl in North Lake Tahoe was starting to fill that need, and Burgett in turn had booked a few name bands himself. FM rock radio was expanding ears in the Bay Area, and there were more rock bands than ever on tour.
The Summer of '68 was going to rock in Lake Tahoe. The Legion Hall and Kings Beach Bowl had big summers, and there were two new venues on the horizon. We will look at Lake Tahoe's 1968 Summer in the next post in the series.