Saturday, June 6, 2020

Palo Alto Psychedelic Rock Shows 1967 (Palo Alto II)



An ad for a Frost Amphitheatre concert with Dick Gregory and Jefferson Airplane, for Saturday afternoon, May 7, 1967, from the May 5 Stanford Daily

Palo Alto, California, is only a town of about 60,000, about 35 miles South of San Francisco, and yet it looms large in the world, far out of proportion to its modest size. Palo Alto residents, like the residents of most small towns, think the world revolves around itself. The principal difference between Palo Alto and other towns is its tendency to invent or encourage institutions that redound to the importance of Palo Alto--Stanford University, Hewlett-Packard, The Stanford Shopping Center, Acid Tests, The Grateful Dead, Mapquest and Google, for example, just to name a few. All of these institutions re-write history in Palo-centric ways that reaffirms the town's importance. Residents of neighboring communities find Palo Altans self absorbed and self-important, which we probably are, but our next innovation will just reconfigure the past in a way that justifies our own narrative. And so it was with psychedelic rock and roll in the 1960s.

Palo Alto, by its own accounting, played a big part in 60s psychedelic rock and roll. The history of the Fillmore and The Avalon always begins with Ken Kesey at Stanford, and the parties and acid tests that followed. Of course, Kesey's cottage was really next door in Menlo Park, but that sort of detail never interfered with a Palo Alto story. At the same time, Jerry Garcia and other bohemians were hanging out in downtown Palo Alto, even if they often lived in Menlo Park themselves. Certainly, Jerry Garcia started playing live in Stanford and Palo Alto, and he took acid for the first time in Palo Alto, and by the end of 1965 Garcia was the lead guitarist in an electric blues band. The Warlocks--who debuted themselves in Menlo Park--became the Grateful Dead, and the house band of The Merry Pranksters, and Palo Alto's place in the rock revolution was secure.

Yet Palo Alto, as ground zero for the consciousness expansion of rock music, has a rather scattered history of rock and roll events. While some of this had to do with economics, some of it had to do with the very peculiar circumstances of Palo Alto and Stanford, which both favored and discouraged any kind of rock and roll underground. But this peculiarity is perfectly Palo Alto--a story that applies to no other town, which is just how Palo Alto likes it. The story began with my previous post and the two most seminal events in Palo Alto rock history: August 31, 1965, the night the Beatles stayed at the Cabana Hotel in Palo Alto, and December 18, 1965, the Palo Alto Acid Test. I told the whole psychedelic rock history of 1966 Palo Alto, too, which is pretty interesting, but still pales in the shadow of 1965. This post will continue the story, reviewing the psychedelic rock history of Palo Alto in 1967. 

The initial ad in the Friday, April 21, 1967 edition of the Stanford Daily for The Poppycock, at 135 University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto
Palo Alto Liquor Laws
Downtown Palo Alto’s musical history owes something else to Stanford University—by law, there were no bars in downtown Palo Alto. Even in the early 1960s, hard liquor was not available within a mile of campus, and there were no downtown bars on University Avenue. Still, Palo Alto had conceded to the conventional California practice that restaurants could get a restricted “Beer and Wine License” that allowed them to sell those beverages as long as food was served. Current and former California residents will recall that even the dingiest rock club served some sort of greasy fries to justify their beer license. In the early 60s, for example, the Palo Alto coffee house St. Michael’s Alley had started to serve beer, and pizza parlors like The Tangent began to serve beer as well. 

Given that Palo Alto today is a panoply of exceptional restaurants serving a wide variety of drinks and food, it seems odd that progressive 1960s Palo Alto was opposed to drinking downtown. However, there was a logic for the residents. For one thing, Palo Alto homeowners were happy to drive to nearby “Whisky Gulch” (in East Palo Alto) or Mountain View for liquor, in return for a quiet and safe downtown. In any case, Palo Alto had never had bars, so no one who grew up or moved there recalled anything different. 

In any case, while the opening  of Stanford Shopping Center in the 1950s had had a negative effect on downtown businesses, at least the empty buildings were not replaced with a row of bars. Ironically, however, otherwise nondescript places like St. Michael’s Alley and The Tangent were literally the only places downtown where locals could get a beer. At the same time, the fact that these venues were legally “restaurants” allowed teenagers to participate in the music as well. As a result, when 18-year old Jerry Garcia moved to Palo Alto in 1960, he was immediately able to go to the few places where young beatniks hung out to play and listen to folk music. In most towns, the bars and coffee houses were distinctly different, but in Palo Alto they were effectively the same place.


April 10, 1967 Experimental Building, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA: New Delhi River Band/Magic Theater/Medway Forest Indians
Psychedelic rock had exploded into San Francisco in 1966, and the shock waves were felt throughout the Bay Area. College towns were an obvious nexus for original rock music, and Stanford University had been no exception. Throughout 1966, there had been numerous great concerts on the Stanford campus, featuring many of the bands that were playing the Fillmore. However, after a show at Tressider Memorial Union on October 14, 1966 by the Grateful Dead, there were no more sanctioned rock concerts on the campus. What happened? Whatever it was, I'll bet it was a hella good time.

In 1967, there were still rock events at Stanford, just rather less overt. An old flyer exists for an event at "The Experimental Building" at Stanford. A number of eyewitnesses recall this show, although none too clearly. This was on a Monday night.  The Experiment was a sort of collective that would soon lead to the Mid-Penisnula Free University. No one precisely recalls where the building was, but an article in the Stanford Daily (May 21 '67) says it was in the basement of the "Western Civ building." There may have been a similar event in Fall 1966, at the same location.

Palo Alto's 2nd psyhedelic band was the New Delhi River Band. They were based out of a house on Channing Avenue, near Waverley Street. Palo Alto's 1st psychedelic band had gotten their start when key members were living in a house a few blocks away, and decided to change their name from The Warlocks. The New Delhi River Band included guitarist David Nelson, who had been in various bluegreass ensembles with Jerry Garcia, but had since "gone electric." Despite being a Palo Alto band, however, the NDRB still had no paying gigs in Palo Alto.

The Magic Theater light show was based in the Waverley Street house that Garcia had recently vacated. One member of the Magic Theater recalls a performance at what is now the Bechtel International Center, at 584 Capistrano Way, near the Tresidder Union. Maybe that building was the Experiment building? The "Medway Forest Indians" were a sort of commune that lived on Medway Road in Woodside, above Skyline Drive. Whether or how they appeared or performed isn't clear.



The grand opening of The Poppycock was the weekend of April 14-15, 1967, as advertised in the Stanford Daily

April 14-15, 1967  The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: San Francisco Mime Troupe/The Flowers
Jerry Garcia had begun his professional career in Palo Alto in 1963, at The Top Of The Tangent, a little room above a pizza parlor. The Tangent was at 117 University Avenue. Palo Alto's first downtown rock club opened in early 1967, a few doors up at 135 University. With perfect only-in-Palo-Alto synergy, the club was at the corner of University and High.

The Poppycock was located in the ground floor of a 3-story building in downtown Palo Alto. It was on the Western end of town, near the train station and Stanford University. It was across the street from a movie theater (The Paris) that showed foreign films and served espresso, and it was almost next door to the Tangent, which was still critical to the local folk music scene. The grand opening seems to have been April 14, 1967. The ownership of The Poppycock is unclear, but in 1968 and ’69 (and possibly in ’67) it was managed by someone named Roy Kelsey. John Darcy booked the shows and ran the light show, at least from 1968 onwards.

On this weekend, the SF Mime Troupe did two shows on Friday and Saturday (8:00 and 10:30), with The Flowers playing afterwards for dancing. The San Francisco Mime Troupe were an underground institution by this time. The presented "political theater" of a certain type, rowdy and engaging for hip audiences.


It is so Palo Alto that Jerry Garcia got his professional start at the corner of University and High
April 20, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers
The first band to play the  Poppycock was The Flowers. They had played on opening weekend after the Mime Troupe, an on Thursday, April 20, they were the only act. The Flowers were Palo Alto's third psychedelic band. I think they played sort of spacey jazz. I did google to find out who was in the band, but the only direct reference was in a Roman-a-Clef novel, so the names may have been changed to obscure the guilty. The names I did find were:
Paul Robertson-tenor sax
Don Alberts-Farfisa organ
Gordon Stevens-electric bass, mandolin
I have no idea if this was actually representative of the regular membership, or just a lineup for one time period. In any case, Paul Robertson had been Ken Kesey's laywer, and when the Merry Pranksters decamped for Mexico in late 1966 (since Kesey had gotten busted), Robertson got the Pranksters' musical equipment. Gordon Stevens was the son of the proprietor of Stevens Music in San Jose (he would turn up in Moby Grape a few years later). Stevens Music, at 1202 Lincoln Avenue in the Willow Glen district, sold instruments to all the South Bay, and Don Buchla could be found in the back room constructing strange synthesizers. So the members of The Flowers had the psychedelic credentials, even if there's no actual trace of their music today.

April 21-22, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: San Francisco Mime Troupe/The Flowers
On this weekend, the SF Mime Troupe repeated the opening weekend booking, and did two shows on Friday and Saturday (8:00 and 10:30), with The Flowers again playing afterwards for dancing.

For the rest of the week, there was jazz on Sunday afternoon as well as Tuesday night, and acoustic folk and blues music on Saturday afternoon. Monday night was auditions, and Wednesday was films. The restaurant opened at 11:00am, and was a take-out joint, like an English fish-and-chips shop (or at least how Californians imagined such a place to be).

The clearest picture of the beginnings of the Poppycock from a book by writer Ed McClanahan, an associate of Ken Kesey’s. McClanahan was hired in to publish an underground newspaper, The Free You, associated with MidPeninsula Free University (of which more later). In his autobiography Famous People I Have Known, he writes about the Poppycock in 1968
In the latter 1960s, on a corner of downtown Palo Alto scarcely a brickbat’s throw from the Stanford campus, there stood an aged, derelict, three-story brick office building, the first floor of which was occupied by a fish ‘n’ chips ‘n’ rock-and-roll establishment called The Poppycock (2003: University of Kentucky Press p.53).
McLanahan writes of renting office space on the second floor, just above the bandstand, for twenty five dollars a month from the “sweaty hatband gents” who took over an office building originally leased to lawyers and doctors and leased it instead to a younger and less savory bunch. Those familiar with the today’s genteel and pricey Palo Alto, a “hotbed of social rest” (to quote local writer Rob Morse), would hardly recognize McLanahan’s description of the corner in 1968. 
Beneath my window, meanwhile, the beat went on day and night. The sidewalks swarmed with rock and roll riffraff, adolescent acidheads and swiftly aging speedsters, motorcycle madmen and wilted flower children, slightly unhinged outpatients from the nearby VA hospital, spare changers and affluent musicians and plainclothesmen and nouveau riche dealers, all the myriad varieties of California white trash…The Poppycock corner was where It was indisputably At in Palo Alto (pp. 53-54).
April 27-29, 1967: The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers
As near as I can surmise from the most peripheral of evidence and foggy memories, The Poppycock had music from the beginning, but it only started booking out of town bands until later, possibly not until early in 1968. This assumption could easily be upended by new information, but it appears to make the most sense based on advertisements in the Stanford Daily, Berkeley Barb and elsewhere.  The fact that The Poppycock served food meant that it could serve beer, and the fact that it was Palo Alto meant that there were no other bars in town. What few restaurants there were that served beer did not want longhairs hanging out, for the most part, so it follows to reason that The Poppycock survived financially by being a beer joint for local hippies, while minors were still welcome. English readers will be staggered to know that in 1967 California, “Fish and Chips” counted as exotic cuisine, thus making it a suitable culinary choice for a venue striving to be cool (there was actually a chain called H. Salt, with a store on University Avenue, that tried and failed to make Fish "n' Chips an American staple).

The April 21, 1967 Cubberley High School Catamount promoted the Buffalo Springfield concert in the gym on a Thursday night
April 27, 1967  Pavilion, Cubberley High School, Palo Alto, CA:  Buffalo Springfield/Sopwith Camel "Spring Concert"
Cubberley High School, at 4000 Middlefield Road, was Palo Alto’s mid-town high school, in the old Mayfield area. 50 years earlier, Mayfield was a different town entirely that served as Palo Alto’s red light district, thus accounting for the perpetual inferiority complex of Midtown Palo Alto. The three high schools (Paly, Cubberley and Gunn) held a joint event for this concert, thus allowing for much more substantial acts than would typically play in any one school. The flyer for the show was drawn by Cubberley student Bill Perry.

Cubberley High School had only opened in 1956, joining Palo Alto High School, which dated back to 1898, yet the city still had to open a third high school (Gunn) in 1964 to accommodate the explosive growth of the Baby Boom teenagers. In the Spring of 1967, all three schools booked a concert for their collective student bodies. With such financial clout, they were able to get an actual Fillmore headline band as well as a group with a hit single to their names. Since the concert was on Thursday night, groups like Buffalo Springfield and Sopwith Camel would not typically have gigs, so a paying concert was found money. 

Buffalo Springfield were riding high on the hit single "For What Its Worth" as well as their debut album. In concerts, the twin lead guitars of Neil Young and Stephen Stills along with bassist Bruce Palmer matched the musical excellence of any of the Fillmore bands. Sopwith Camel had been an original San Francisco band, although they had been signed by the Lovin Spoonful's producer, long before their contemporaries, and had an album on Kama Sutra and a modest hit single in "Hello Hello." The surprising part of this show was not that it was held, by why so few High Schools in 1967, at least in the Bay Area, didn't take advantage of the abundant musical talent available.  The fact was that while California parents (at least) had grudgingly accepted The Beatles as fine young lads, they were still suspicious of long haired hippies singing about drugs and rebellion. Cubberley High School, however, was a rather different place. 

Cubberley High School
Originally, railroad magnate Leland Stanford had wanted to found a University in the town of Mayfield, but only if the notoriously rowdy community would agree to close all of its saloons. Not surprisingly, Mayfield refused, so Stanford and a partner (Timothy Hopkins) bought up all the land just North of Mayfield and invented the town of Palo Alto. Palo Alto was founded in 1887 as a University town that did not allow drinking, and so it was a town that was erudite yet stiff. Mayfield continued on its merry way, but come Prohibition the saloons closed anyway, and after 1925 Mayfield was grudgingly annexed to Palo Alto.

Palo Alto High School had been founded in 1898, and in 1925 it had moved to its current site across from the Stanford Football Stadium (on Embarcadero Road and El Camino Real). Mayfield's own High School had closed so that the Schools could merge (amusingly, Mayfield School became the Palo Alto Continuation School, a faint trace of the rowdy Mayfield legacy). Palo Alto had two downtowns, its own on University Avenue (site of The Tangent and The Poppycock) and another on California Avenue, in the former Mayfield (the future site of The Keystone Palo Alto). 

After World War 2, Palo Alto expanded enormously, as did many California suburbs. Cubberley High School was opened in 1956 in the Southern part of Palo Alto (at 4000 Middlefield). South and North (old) Palo Alto were always in competition with each other, and while the history of Mayfield was largely forgotten, the tentacles of the old rivalry was re-enacted in the differences between the two sides of town and the High Schools. By the late 1960s, Cubberley, in South Palo Alto, had the reputation as an edgy, interesting High School, which even the ever-smug Paly students would concede (Gunn, which had only opened in 1964, and located in Southwest Palo Alto, did not have much of a profile at this time).

By the mid-1960s, Palo Alto itself, while dull, was populated by well-educated progressive parents who were opposed to the Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation and racial discrimination. As a result, while most Palo Alto parents had little interest in drugs, free love or rock music, they didn't find them to be scary concepts. Thus, when their own kids were interested in underground rock bands that played the Fillmore, Palo Alto parents were not as threatened as those in other communities, even if the parents themselves were still just middle-class suburbanites. By whatever means it was conceived that there should be a rock concert for all three Palo Alto High Schools, parents would have been cheerily indifferent instead of threatened by long haired rock bands singing about rebellion (as in "Stop/Children, what's that sound/Everybody looks what's going down"). Cubberley would have been the obvious location, as Paly and Gunn were too Northerly and Southerly, respectively, and Cubberley's edgy Mayfield tradition, however sublimated, made it a receptive host.

The posters for the Buffalo Springfield/Sopwith Camel, designed by Bill Perry, have circulated over the years. The attendance for the show seems to have been limited to High School students, although it may not have been limited only to Palo Alto students (I know a contemporary Woodside High School student who went). In any case, it would have been a somewhat different environment than the Fillmore, with a much earlier starting and ending time than a City show. At the same time, the bands would have been accessible to a lot of teenagers who lacked the wherewithal (or permission) to get to San Francisco.

May 4-6,1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA The Flowers

The Palo Alto High School classes of 1967-68 held their Junior Prom at the Elks Club on El Camino Real. The band was Quicksilver Messenger Service. The $4.50 price was hefty for the time.

May 6, 1967 Elks Lodge, Palo Alto, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service "Shangri-La"
The Paly High classes of 67-68 held their Junior Prom at the Elks Lodge. The Elks Lodge was at 4249 El Camino Real, near Arastradero Road. Any junior prom had a budget to hire a band, and someone on a Committee for the Paly Junior Prom got the idea of hiring Quicksilver Messenger Service. Now, it must have been something. I mean, who went to Prom?--a bunch of jocks and their dates. So nicely attired young men, bound for the Ivy Leauge, and their elegantly dressed girlfriends, listening to John Cippolina shivering his Gibson in that way that foretold the world that was to come.

Years later, when they heard KSAN on their car radio--maybe as they drove their kids to pre-school--did they hear "Mona" from Happy Trails and think "have I heard this?" At this time, Quicksilver Messenger Service was a popular Fillmore band, still twelve months away from their first album release.

A photo from the May 9, 1967 Stanford Daily of Jefferson Airplane on Saturday (May 7). The caption says "They stink." Note the modest backline.

May 7, 1967  Frost Amphitheatre, Stanford U., Palo Alto, CA:  Dick Gregory/Jefferson Airplane
It seems that Stanford University had blocked any rock concerts on campus after Fall 66 (what indeed did happen at the last one, the Grateful Dead concert on Tresdier Deck on October 14 '66?). But the restriction was lifted, lightly, for a concert in May. The acts were popular comedian/activist Dick Gregory (sort of the Richard Pryor of his time), supported by Jefferson Airplane. The ads in the Daily (above up top) say "Con Home," which I take to be a reference to an Alumni-oriented "Homecoming" event.

As an amusing footnote, Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick was a Palo Alto native. She had grown up on Greenwood Street, and briefly went to Palo Alto High School, before she was moved off to Castilleja School, just a few blocks away. Castilleja was a girls-only feeder for Stanford, parallel  to Menlo School (Castilleja is still going strong by the way). In the end, Grace (class of '59, I think) went to Finch rather than Stanford. As a result of going to Finch, Grace's contact with the likes of Paul Kantner and Jerry Garcia was delayed by a few years, but it was inevitable anyway.

Frost Amphitheater is a beautiful open air venue, dug out of an artificially constructed hill. 6,900 people can fit inside the grassy, terraced bowl. The Amphitheater was named for Laurence Frost, Stanford class of ’35, who died of polio at age 23. The Amphitheater was first opened in June, 1937, and for many decades was the site of Stanford’s commencement. The amphitheater, near the corner of Galvez and Campus (the entrance is near Laurel Street), rapidly became a treasured venue for music and theater performances.

Stanford University has always been careful about using Frost for too many events. In the 1960s, they limited concerts to weekend, afternoon events. The Dick Gregory/Airplane  show is the first rock show (that I know of) of the few 60s concerts there. In the 60s, Frost’s size actually made it too large for most concert attractions, and the University had no financial imperative to attract any big shows.

The Poppycock ad in The Daily for May 12 still has The Flowers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, more folk and less jazz. Note that it says when there is admission (Thurs-Sat), beer prices are not raised, a clear indicator of their target audience

May 11-13, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers
May 13 (afternoon), May 16, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Folk and Blues
On some Saturday afternoons and many Tuesday nights, "Folk and Blues" was advertised at The Poppycock. These were a showcase for the best performers a series of open mic songwriter's workshops at The Tangent, just two doors down. They were run by a local engineer named Chris Lunn. The best of these players performed around Bay Area clubs under the name Folk And Blues Workshop. Lunn ultimately moved to Tacoma, WA, where he continued his program, which ultimately lead to a long running organization called Victory Music (still going strong up in the Tacoma area).


Foothill Junior College Gym, in the early 60s. The Foothill campus in Los Altos Hills, just above Palo Alto, opened on September 5, 1961

May 13, 1967 Campus Center, Foothill College, Los Altos, CA: New Delhi River Band/Mudd/Philadelphia Jazz Quintet
The dual effect of the GI Bill, which financed college education for veterans, and the Baby Boom in turn caused an explosion in public higher eduction. California, in particular, had a program of building junior colleges in every county. The schools were open to all resident High School graduates and anyone over 18. Thus all Californians had a chance to take the first two years of college virtually for free, with the chance to transfer to the low-cost, high-qulaity University of California or California State College systems. Santa Clara County's first junior college was Foothill College, in the Los Altos Hills just above Palo Alto.

The Foothill College campus, at 12345 El Monte Road, opened on September 5, 1961. Foothill had offered classes at a temporary site since 1958, but in Fall '61 the new campus was complete. College was available to all Santa Clara County residents. Although the campus has an understandably early 60s look, it is on a beautiful site on a hillside, overlooking the northern edge of Santa Clara Valley. Now, such a location would be an upscale hotel, or a gated community, but these were different times.

Being a Junior College, Foothill didn't really have the continuity of the student body of bigger schools like UC Berkeley or San Jose State. Still, there were a lot of teenagers on campus, and a lot of pretty good gigs were put on there. Some of them were pretty obscure at the time, like when the original Chocolate Watch Band formed in a rec room in Fall '65. When the New Delhi River Band played the campus on a Saturday night, they probably had some kind of following, as they were a Palo Alto band, but they were still just locals. Mudd and the Philadelphia Jazz Quintet are unknown to me. I assume the concert was in the gym, but I don't know that for a fact yet.


From the MPFU Summer '68 catalog. Meeting at the beach to sandcast candles may seem only casually abnormal now, but prior to MPFU there weren't classes like this

May 14, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA MPFU Be-In (local bands)
Have you ever wondered where the cliche started of replacing "Intro To English Lit" with "Underwater Basket Weaving?" It started in Palo Alto, because Palo Alto likes to start things. The Mid-Peninsula Free University (MPFU), or "Free You," was a loose affiliation of young Stanford professors and learned drop-outs who wanted things to be different. This was somehow connected to "The Experiment" (see April 10 '67 above). MPFU published a catalog of unique classes given in people's homes or community centers, offering instruction in all sorts of things. The Free You story is too long and too Palo Alto to go into here, but Palo Alto always documents itself, so you can read all about it.

In order to raise money for itself, the Free You decide to have a "Be-In," rather than a benefit concert. They held a free concert with local bands--I have never been able to find out who they were, although I suspect the Flowers were there--at El Camino Park in Palo Alto. El Camino Park was a grassy athletic field across from both The Stanford Shopping Center and ‘El Palo Alto’ (the tall tree that gave the city its name). The Park (at 100 El Camino Real) was at the intersection of Palo Alto Avenue, Alma Street and El Camino Real at the Palo Alto/Menlo Park border, and within easy walking distance of downtown. It is Palo Alto’s oldest park, first open in 1914.

After the initial “Human Be-In” in Golden Gate Park (on Jan 14 '67), The Diggers, the Grateful Dead and other like-minded souls were holding Be-Ins in the Bay Area and around the continent. There were Be-Ins (or similar events) in Los Angeles (Griffith Park), New York (Tompkins Square) and Vancouver (Stanley Park), for example, and around the Bay Area in Berkeley (Provo Park), San Jose (10th and Alma) and finally Palo Alto. The Palo Alto event capped a brief era that had begun only a half-mile away at Perry Lane. While Palo Alto’s leading hippies were migrating North to San Francisco or West to the Santa Cruz Mountains, the scene’s beginnings were still present. Palo Alto, while unhip, was a tolerant town and seemed perfectly willing to allow revelry to take place in a city park on a weekend afternoon. It went so well, Free You decided to have another one six weeks later.

May 19-21, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers
May 26-28, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: The Flowers

Wilson Pickett played Frost Amphitheatre on Sunday, May 29, 1967

May 29, 1967 Frost Amphitheatre, Stanford U., Palo Alto, CA: Wilson Pickett
Wilson Pickett played an afternoon show at Frost Amphitheatre. If I have the chronology correct, Buddy Miles was probably Pickett's drummer. Now, let's be real here: Stanford University was the kind of place where a lot of the young women students probably actually owned a Ford Mustang. When the Wicked Pickett sang "Mustang Sally/You better slow your Mustang down" it wasn't even a metaphor. Frost probably melted down. I don't even know of an eyewitness account.

Stanford has a complicated history with African-American acts on campus, but I can't help but think that Wilson Pickett ripping it up in 1967 has some part in it. Jazz, intellectualized and self-important, always went down well with the University, but there was a lot of anxiety over the kinds of acts where everyone wanted to dance.

The Cubberley High School Catamount (June 9, 1967 announces that Quicksilver Messenger Service will play at the Graduation Dance
June 16, 1967 Auditorium, Cubberley High School, Palo Alto, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Freedom Highway
Quicksilver Messenger Service played Cubberley’s Graduation Dance It is a largely forgotten fact that even the most popular Fillmore bands were still living hand-to-mouth in 1967, and often played High School dances when the opportunities arose.

Cubberley, befitting its Mayfield tradition, always had a reputation in Palo Alto as a somewhat edgier school, so allowing a major Fillmore band to corrupt its graduating Seniors would be in line with Cubberley’s ethos. Keep in mind that this was the weekend of the Monterey Pop Festival (at the Monterey Fairgrounds, just 60 miles South), and Quicksilver would play Monterey Pop just two nights later.

At least one copy of the program for the dance has survived, and scans circulate around. Freedom Highway were a Marin band that shared a booking agency with Quicksilver.
 
June 16, 1967 Gym, Gunn High School, Palo Alto, CA: Sons Of Champlin
Gunn High School, at 780 Arastradero Road, was Palo Alto’s newest high school, opened in 1964 and at the southern end of town, nearly at the Los Altos border. The Sons Of Champlin apparently played the Graduation Dance. I am assuming the date was the same as Cubberley's.

June 23, 1967 Gym, Gunn High School, Palo Alto, CA: Country Joe and the Fish
There were apparently a series of concerts planned for Gunn in the summer of '67, but I'm not sure if any others actually occurred. Gunn was in a part of Palo Alto that was far from downtown, so the idea was that the local high schoolers needed something to do. The implicit warning was--correctly--that otherwise they would get in cars and head to San Francisco, and who knows what trouble they would get into then?


A well-circulated poster for a proposed event at Los Altos' Adobe Creek Lodge

June 24-25, 1967 Adobe Creek Lodge, Los Altos, CA Sopwith ‘Camel’/The Wildflower
“To The Woods” A Sopwith Camel Production
I'm  certain that this intriguing weekend of concerts at the Adobe Creek Lodge was canceled. The poster has become slightly prominent, so it circulates, but the event didn't happen. Still, the venue itself has an interesting backstory, and is a tantalizing hint at what could have been.

The Adobe Creek Lodge, at 26220 Moody Road, was originally built as a summer estate for San Francisco industrialist Milton Haas in 1934. The Lodge was located above what is now Foothill College (El Monte Road turns into Moody Road), and even today is quite a rugged, inaccessible area. It included not only a substantial mansion but cottages for the 27 servants in residence. In the 1940s and 50s, the Lodge became a commercial resort, with a restaurant and summer camp. It was a place to “see and be seen” in the wealthy South Bay hills. Big Band stalwarts like Harry James and Jimmy Dorsey performed under the stars on the grounds, and major corporations sponsored huge corporate picnics for thousands of employees.

By the 1960s, the Lodge had become The Los Altos Hills Country Club, and at its peak in the late 60s the club had 1,000 memberships. Many South Bay “society” events featured local rock bands, often alternating with a big band for the older members, so rock groups were not unknown in Peninsula Society. Nonetheless, the June, 1967 event, which advertises “To The Woods: Dancing Amongst The Trees, Grass and Colored Lights and Moons” appears to be a fully commercial event. I suspect this was a plan by Sopwith Camel manager Yori Toropov (an infamous character) that didn't come to fruition.

The city of Los Altos Hills ended up taking over the property in the late 1970s, and eventually the mansion and many of the grounds were incorporated into a private residence. 

At a Wednesday afternoon fashion show at Palo Alto's ritziest hotel, the New Delhi River Band provided the music
June 28, 1967 Cabana Hyatt House, Palo Alto, CA:  New Delhi River Band Cabana ’67 Presents “Who Is Miss Boutique”
This peculiar event was a “hip” fashion show on Wednesday afternoon from 2-5pm, at Palo Alto’s finest hotel. The New Delhi River Band provided the music.

It was surprising when hotelier Jay Sarno opened the opulent Cabana Hotel in 1962 as a sumptuous luxury hotel in Palo Alto, 4 miles South of Downtown, near the Los Altos border. The wife of one of the investors said "Who's going to stay at a hotel like that in Palo Alto--and without gambling?"This initial prognosis turned out to be correct, but for a few years the hotel was a glittering swan in the Palo Alto Duck Pond. The Cabana Hotel's lasting fame in Palo Alto history came when the Beatles stayed overnight on August 31, 1965, prior to playing the Cow Palace. Room 810 is still designated the "Beatles Room" in the current hotel (amazingly, all four band members shared two rooms).

In 1966, Sarno used the design of the Cabana Hotel as the basis for his new Las Vegas Casino, called Caesar's Palace. The garish, theme-oriented Caesar's was a pioneer establishment in modern Las Vegas for a luxurious gambling resort. Many of those elements could be seen at the Cabana Hotel, such as huge chandeliers, giant fountains and an upscale lounge with the name "Nero's Nook." By 1967, however, the Cabana had become the Cabana Hyatt House. The theme of elegance was maintained, but Sarno had already moved to Vegas, where such opulence belonged. Nonetheless, the Cabana Hyatt House was the Peninsula's "best" hotel, a regular site for debutante balls and Society fundraisers.

In California, at least, the confluence of the Fillmore and Swinging London had made Carnaby Street fashions stylish, at least for younger women. I assume that the boutiques (dress shops) advertised for the fashion show were smaller places on the Peninsula, but the names and the Wednesday afternoon "Tea" seem directed at the older daughters and younger wives of the Fashionable set in the South Bay. (I'm particularly curious about the Suzy Creamcheese Boutique).

On the Sunday before the 'Who Is Miss Boutique' show, the Grateful Dead headlined a Be-In at El Camino Park (see below) The Be-in was well attended and went off without any problems, a sign of Palo Alto's benign tolerance. Yet just four days earlier, the NDRB would have found themselves at Palo Alto's most fashionable hotel, playing loud electric blues for pretty young women in miniskirts, all eating tea and sandwiches.

I have to wonder which event was stranger for Nelson and his bandmates: native sons of the South Bay--most of the Grateful Dead--headlining a comparatively large outdoor concert as local heroes? Or finding the New Delhi River Band cool enough to lend some hip credence to a Society fashion show for young women who might not typically give a scruffy hippie blues band the time of day?

June 30-July 1, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Stained Glass Windows
For whatever reason, The Flowers were not advertised at the Poppycock for this weekend. As summer school had started, the Stanford Daily was only published two days a week, so we don't have regular ads for the Poppycock. Stained Glass Windows had been a San Jose quartet called The Trolls. They got signed to RCA, who gave them the "hip" name of Stained Glass Windows. After a few singles for RCA, they ultimately they signed to Capitol and released a 1968 album as Stained Glass on Capitol Records (Crazy Horse Roads). The main songwriter for Stained Glass was Jim McPherson, who would work with John Cippolina (in Copperhead), Mickey Hart (in High Noon) and others in later years.
The July 4, 1967 Stanford Daily reported on the Sunday (July 2) Be-In and Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival held at Palo Alto's El Camino Park, featuring the Grateful Dead

July 2, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA: Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival and Be-In
Grateful Dead/ /Anonymous Artists of America/New Delhi River Band/Solid State/Good Word

The Stanford Daily, July 4, 1967
The Stanford Daily was the campus paper for Stanford University. Per its name, it appeared 5 days a week during the school year, and once a week the rest of the time. Stanford being Stanford, and all, they have digitized their archives and seem to have continually improved their search function. As a result, a professionally trained researcher was able to find a news article about the Grateful Dead's appearance in Palo Alto, repeated here in its entirety.

Free Sounds, Free Snacks, Free Sun Highlight Be-In Sunday 
The Free University and The Experiment staged their Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival and Be-In at Palo Alto Park from 1 to 6 p.m. The action started promptly at 1:00 with four bands, the Anonymous Artists, the New Delhi River Band, the Solid State, and the Good Word supplying entertainment for the crowd. Gradually listeners grew from a few hundred to a few thousand. Beads, flowers, headbands, bells, painted faces, and multi-colored clothing were in abundance on Be-In participants. Smiles and happy laughter came from all directions during the easy-going afternoon. Free oranges and punch were provided by the Free University and The Experiment, while wandering participants also gladly surrendered their refreshments to those around them. One incident which marred the pleasant atmosphere of the Festival occurred when a policeman found a young man with an American flag draped casually over his shoulder. He was beckoned aside by the policeman who took the flag away and inspected it for possible stains or tears. However, the flag-bearer ran away at the first opportunity, leaving the officer with the flag.  
The highlight of the afternoon came at 4:30 when the Grateful Dead stepped on stage. As the group launched into "Dancing in the Street," the crowd of 4,000 moved closer to the stage. After coaxing from the "Dead," some of the crowd started dancing in a large circle, holding hands and swirling around. Snake dance lines wound through the crowd while tamborines, marracas, kazoos, and bells kept the beat of the music. The "Dead" kept up the performance for about a half hour, and then promised to come back for more. After they left the stage, the audience settled down and listened to some blues and more psychedelic music from the other bands. At the Be-In the Free University provided tables for class enrollment and sold copies of various underground publications.
If you click on the link, you will see some contemporary photos. One of the photos has an intriguing caption:
The typical Be-In crowd was on hand Sunday at El Camino Park. The crowd includes those who are seriously involved in the aims of FUPA and The Experiment and the clean-cut teenagers who wish they had the guts and don't.
Since the network news had covered the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park back in January, the music industry caught the wave, and it all led to the Monterey Pop Festival on the weekend of June 16-18, 1967. All of the San Francisco bands, with only the barest of record sales, if that, were high profile guests with hip acts from London, Los Angeles and New York. Attendance at the Monterey Fairgrounds was somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000, far more than anyone had anticipated. After Monterey Pop ended, the Dead's crew cheerily absconded with the rented Fender amps. According to Rock Scully and a few others, they used the amps to put on free concerts for a short while. The Palo Alto Be-In was clearly one of these events. After a while, Scully contacted Fender and told them in which warehouse their borrowed amps were located, and invited them to pick them up. Scully thoughtfully added, "if you're going to San Francisco, be sure to where flowers in your hair."

Although details about the Palo Alto Be-In have been hard to come by, quite unexpectedly several rolls of film turned up. Happily, they are in the safe hands of the Grateful Dead Archive at UC Santa Cruz, and can be viewed in detail by anyone so inclined. If only every Dead show had 145 photographs.

From the photos, we can see pictures of the Grateful Dead performing, along with another group, The Anonymous Artists Of America. According to an eyewitness from an earlier post of mine on this subject the AAA (as they were known) came on after the Dead. Given the newspaper article, it makes sense that the Dead played from about 4-30-5:00pm, and then the AAA came on to end the event. The Anonymous Artists of America lived in a commune in the Santa Cruz Mountains, near the notorious Kesey spread, and the Pranksters had willed them the famous “Thunder Machine.” The AAA were a loose aggregation, and one of the members was Jerry Garcia’s ex-wife, Sara Ruppenthal. The New Delhi River Band were Palo Alto's second psychedelic blues band, and Solid State was the new name for The Flowers. So along with the AAA, every Palo Alto-area psychedelic band was present at the Be-In.

A careful look at the complete photo set shows that the first two bands were neither New Delhi River Band nor The Flowers. So there must have been more groups, and those two might have come on at the end, after The Dead and AAA. It's plain that the Daily writer didn't really know, and was taking someone else's word for everything but the Dead performance he witnessed.

My father, not interested in rock music per se, but having the foresight to recognize cultural touchstones when they occurred in his town, took his whole family—I was nine years old. I mainly recall Bill Kreutzmann’s psychedelically painted drum set, and my younger sister getting her face painted by nice hippie girls. My older sister recalls the Dead playing “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” (which is how that song made it into Deadbase). It's possible, even likely, that the Dead just played "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and "Dancing In The Streets."

In 18 months, the Grateful Dead had gone from playing a tiny pizza joint in South Palo Alto (The Big Beat, on December 18, 1965) for a legal but subterranean "Acid Test," to headlining the biggest park at the edge of downtown, for thousands of people. This was the arc that the Grateful Dead would repeat in dozens of cities and states throughout the country, starting out in a tiny place, and returning triumphantly to the biggest stage some time later. But Palo Alto did it first, because, well, that's what we do.



135 University Avenue (at High Street), in downtown Palo Alto, the former site of The Poppycock, as it appeared in 2013
Summer 1967
The Poppycock was definitely open in the Summer of '67, but I don't have much in the way of sources. The Stanford Daily only published once a week during Stanford's summer session, and the Poppycock only advertised intermittently. The implication is that they were open every night, with their usual mixture of auditions, folk music, films and house bands. The ads seem to present any exceptions to this pattern. I suspect that The Flowers, now Solid State, were still the house band, but I can't prove that with any certainty.

Here are the listings that I could find:
July 5, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Charles River Valley Boys (w/David Grisman) Cambridge, MA, was one of the foundational cities for the "Folk Scare," and was a key flashpoint for Humbead's Map Of The World. The Charles River Valley Boys did bluegrass versions of Beatles songs (which worked incredibly well, by the way). David Grisman, a former East Coaster, lived in Oakland in 1967, so when the Charles River Valley Boys made their last tour, he sat in for the West Coast leg.

July 6, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Doc Watson (two shows-Thursday)
Arthel "Doc" Watson was a folk and bluegrass legend, and remains a huge influence on American music today. The fact that he was playing double shows at The Poppycock on a Thursday night indicates he was touring around Northern California. We know that Doc played the closing of Berkeley's Jabberwock on Saturday, July 8. In Berkeley, Doc was joined by fiddler Hank Bradley and banjoist Rick Shubb, so maybe they played Palo Alto, too.

July 14, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA:  Mind’s Eye (jazz)
I do not know who was in Mind's Eye. Jazz was only presented intermittently at the Poppycock. Palo Altans can brag about a lot (it's how we are raised), but Palo Alto is not a jazz town (with apologies to the great trumpeter Tom Harrell, our only real contribution). I do know, however, that a jazz trio featuring future Santana drummer Mike Shrieve, organist Paris Bertolucci and saxophonist Kenny Baker did play there with regularity. If anyone know more about this (hi Mike Shrieve), please advise.

July 15, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA:  Shlomo Carlebach
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (sometimes spelled differently) was some sort of folk-singing rabbi, and a real character. I don't know much about him, and he's kind of outside the scope of my research. An email I got once suggested someone was working on a book about him--should be interesting.

July 28-29, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Solid State (formerly The Flowers)
Solid State was the new name for The Flowers. Had their been personnel changes in the band? Were they still playing every weekend? (If anyone knows, please Comment). The indication is that Solid State were still the house band, but the information is slight. It may be that Flowers/Solid State only ever played in Palo Alto, a very surprising history for a professional rock band.

August 10, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA:  Patrick Sky
This early reference to the Poppycock appeared in Ralph Gleason’s Ad Lib column in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 7, 1967.  Sky was a well-known East Coast folksinger. The fact that Gleason noted this performance suggests that if other performers of note were playing the Poppycock, Gleason would have mentioned them. To some extent, this is an indicator that only local acts--likely Solid State--typically played the Poppycock in 1967.

The Poppycock advertised in the Stanford Daily's first issue for the Fall '67 quarter (Sep 22 '67). Rock bands played weekends, and solo blues acts played the weekdays.

September 25-27, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: John Koerner (two shows each night)
Although the Poppycock did not regularly advertise in the Stanford Daily, a display ad in the first issue of the Fall Quarter of 1967 showed that Stanford students will still seen as a key part of the audience. The ad highlights the upcoming two weeks, and gives a revealing picture of the club's general booking policy. In general, there were rock bands on weekends and folk/blues acts during the weekday. Mostly, there were probably just local performers on weekdays, but the club provided a gig for touring acts working around the Bay Area.

John Koerner, also known as Spider John Koerner, was a white blues singer from Rochester, NY who had attended the University of Minneapolis in the late 1950s. He ended up dropping out of college and forming the bluesy trio Koerner, Ray and Glover, who were popular on the early 60s folk circuit. Based in Minneapolis, Koerner became an influence on young U. of Minn freshman Robert Zimmerman, who dropped out to be a musician shortly afterwards. By 1967, Koerner was a solo act, but he had a following. Koerner played Monday through Wednesday at the Poppycock, with two shows each night at 9:00 and 11:00, for an admission of $1.25.

September 28-30. 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Taj Mahal and The Blue Flame Blues Band
For the weekend, Taj Mahal and his blues band headlined Thursday through Saturday, with only show having a 50-cent admission.

Taj Mahal (b Henry Saint Clair Fredericks 1942) had been raised in a musical family in Springfield, MA. He played in various musical ensembles in high school and in college (at U.Mass). By 1964 he had moved to the West Coast, and he formed a pioneering R&B combo called The Rising Sons, with Ry Cooder on lead guitar (a cd of their recordings was finally released in 1992). In late 1967, Taj had signed and recorded his debut album with Columbia, although it would not be released until later in 1968. It's possible that his early Blue Flames band had either Ry Cooder or Jesse Ed Davis, or possibly both, since they both played on his debut album. In Spetember '67, Taj, Ry and Jesse Ed would have been completely unknown in Northern California.

October 1, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA: Steve Miller Band/New Delhi River Band/Solid State


October 5, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Jesse Fuller  (two shows)
Jesse Fuller (1896-1976) had spent most of his working life at the Southern Pacific Railroad. In the 1950s, he became a full-time musician. Fuller released his first album in 1954. He wrote his own songs, and he was a one-man band, playing guitar and various self-constructed percussion instruments. His best known songs were "San Francisco Bay Blues," widely covered in the 1960s, and "Beat It On Down The Line," recorded by the Grateful Dead on their 1967 debut album. He regularly played around the Bay Area. For this Thursday Poppycock show, there were two shows with a $1.25 admission.

October 4, 6-7 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Solid State
Solid State were back at The Poppycock on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. They played a single 9:00pm show each night with a 50-cent admission. There's every reason to think that on most weekends where I can't find evidence of another rock band playing The Poppycock, Solid State held down the fort.

October 15, 1967 Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford U. Palo Alto, CA: Buddy Guy [afternoon show]
Stanford had largely disdained electric music since the Grateful Dead had played Tressider Union in October 1966, but for some reason Buddy Guy's blues band played Dinkelspiel Auditorium, a 710-seat theater that was usually used for classical music recitals. Presumably Mr Guy was passed through the powers-that-be on the grounds that he was an Artist, which is certainly true.

An ad in the Stanford  for weekday shows by Lightnin' Hopkins

October 18-19, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Lightning Hopkins (two shows both nights)
It appears that when the Poppycock had a touring act, usually a solo folk/blues performer, they would take out an ad in the Stanford Daily.

November 7-8, 1967: The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Doc Watson (two shows-both nights)
Doc Watson returned to the Poppycock for a Tuesday and Wednesday night gig, a sign that the Poppycock was generally open all week long.

November 10, 1967 Cabana Hotel, Palo Alto, CA: Howl/West Coast Natural Gas
The November 10, 1967 entertainment listings of The San Mateo Times include the odd note

The sights, sounds and styles of the San Francisco psychedelic scene will be seen and heard at the Cabana Hotel, in Palo Alto. A one-night-only performance, produced by Sarah Urquhart and Jerry Booker, tonight’s “Tune-In” will be for adults only. Two wild groups, Howl and West Coast Natural Gas Company, will perform throughout the evening.
The Cabana Hotel was the South Bay’s nicest hotel and they had entertainment every weekend. The fact that the hotel was experimenting with a Fillmore-style show, however cautiously, indicated that psychedelia was slowly making its way down Highway 101 from San Francisco. 
West Coast Natural Gas had originally been a Seattle band, but had moved to San Francisco. After a series of confusing personnel changes, they ended up being managed by Moby Grape impresario Mathew Katz. Howl remain unknown to me. The Cabana did not repeat the pyschedelic experiment, but it's interesting that they even tried.

A flyer for the "Rite Of Winter," promoting the North Face Ski Shop in San Francisco (at 308 Columbus) and the Old Barn at Stanford. The Steve Miller Band (with Boz Scaggs) and Jesse Fuller played on Tuesday (Nov 14) in SF and Wednesday (Nov 15 ) at Stanford

November 15, 1967: North Face Ski Shop, The Old Barn, Stanford U.,Palo Alto, CA: Steve Miller Blues Band/Jesse Fuller
The Stanford campus is quite vast, and the University owned all the land around it. The Old Barn was an unused barn near the Shopping Center (apparently a winery in the early 20th century), which was renovated into a sort of modest indoor mall. The North Face Ski Shop had been a tiny, hip store on Broadway in San Francisco, next to The Condor (which featured Carol Doda). The owners of The North Face were Doug and Susie Tompkins, who would go on to found the clothing line Esprit. The Tompkins were hip San Franciscans—the previous year (Oct 26 '66)) the Grateful Dead had played at a fashion show at their shop, while Joan Baez and her sister Mimi Farina modeled new ski-wear.

The North Face Ski Shop was opening a shop in Stanford Shopping center, just across from The Old Barn mall, and Steve Miller Band and Jesse Fuller were playing to celebrate the opening. There is a flyer for this event (which is titled “Rite of Winter”), but the use of The Barn was a one-off event. Miller and Fuller had played at the San Francisco North Face Ski Shop (at 308 Columbus Avenue) the day before. 

San Francisco's Flamin' Groovies were advertised for a weekend at the Poppycock in the Stanford Daily

December 1-2, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto Flamin’ Groovies
The Flamin' Groovies were a San Francisco band (formerly The Chosen Few) who chose the road less taken, namely sounding like The Who or The Kinks rather than jamming out the blues. At this time, they were hustling around for any gig they could find. The fact that they played a weekend in Palo Alto in December suggests, however vaguely, that the Poppycock was expanding out of the notion of having a "house band" who played each weekend.

December 15, 1967 Cafetorium, Cubberley High School: Fritz Rabyne Memorial Dance
The December 8 Catamount reports that Cubberley's Christmas Formal was named after the band, the Fritz Raybne Memorial Band. Not very imaginative, but prescient, since the Menlo-Atherton High School-based band featured lead singer Stephanie (Stevie) Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. The Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band was just a local high school band--Menlo-Atherton was the public High School in the next town--but since Buckingham and Nicks were in the band, it's historically memorable.

Cubberley students from this era could have seen Neil Young and Stephen Stills, Quicksilver and Buckingham/Nicks at their own high school in the space of six months.  Very Palo Alto.

December 18-19, 1967 The Poppycock, Palo Alto, CA: Lightning Hopkins
Lightning Hopkins returned for a couple of nights at the Poppycock, again on weeknights (Tuesday and Wednesday).

Palo Alto Psychedelic Rock: 1967 Summary
Palo Alto had absorbed the initial blast of psychedelic rock in 1965, with the Beatles paving the way for the Acid Test. 1966 had been full of exciting live performances, mostly at Stanford University. Stanford had taken a back seat in 1967, so the live music had moved into Palo Alto's sleepy downtown. The Poppycock was the only real music venue, but it was just beginning. Three relatively large free concerts in Palo Alto's biggest downtown park were the year's highlights. 1968 was still to come.

Palo Alto Appendices
Appendix 1: Stanford University and The Founding of Palo Alto
Stanford University was founded in 1887, opening in 1891, on the former horse farm of Southern Pacific Railroad magnate Leland Stanford. Although Stanford University has a stellar and well-deserved reputation today, that was not always so true. While founded by a wealthy railroad magnate with a huge piece of land, the financial health of the University was hindered by the death of Leland Stanford in 1893. Although Stanford’s wife continued to support the institution, it did not have the enormous resources with which it had been founded. Up until the 1950s, Stanford had a reputation for paying its faculty so poorly that only rich people could afford to teach there (this may account for the opulence of Professorville, the Palo Alto neighborhood where Stanford faculty used to live and now could never afford). 

In need of income after World War 2, and with its charter not allowing it to sell any of its 8000 acres, Stanford University developed a Shopping Center on the edge of town. Stanford Shopping Center opened in 1955 and was an immediate success, as well as one of the first real estate developments of its kind. By the late 1950s, the success of Stanford Shopping Center had turned downtown Palo Alto’s main street, University Avenue, into a sleepy ghost town. Although the financial picture for the South Bay town was very rosy, University Avenue was turning into a sleepy backwater.

Appendix 2: Palo Alto Folk Venues In The Early 1960s
New housing developments in South Palo Alto contributed to the decline of the more Northerly “old” downtown around University Avenue. The confluence of departing businesses and a tired housing stock made the area ripe for drifting college bohemians looking for cheap housing. Stanford students mostly lived on campus and were mostly wealthy, so they had relatively little traffic with Palo Alto. Still, Palo Alto was a well-educated, tolerant town, and aspiring Beatniks who hadn’t yet moved to North Beach or Berkeley found downtown Palo Alto an easy place to live cheaply. There were a number of coffee houses that featured folk music, most famously St. Michael's Alley, (on 436 University) and The Top Of The Tangent at 117 University. 

St. Michael's Alley had opened in 1959, and rapidly became a Bohemian hangout for college students and local Beatniks.  Joan Baez, a Palo Alto High School student who had since moved to Cambridge, MA, where she became well-known, seems to have played a few dates or at least hung out there before she became famous, although she had already moved to Cambridge by the time it had opened. It isn't clear to me if locals just stood up and played a few songs, or if there were actual booked performers. Future Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter was a dishwasher at the club at some point, and the owner even says that the fledgling Grateful Dead (then the Warlocks) auditioned there (he turned them away).

St. Michael’s Alley eventually offered beer as well as coffee, but a more disreputable sort of person started to hang around the venue—later they would be called “hippies”—and after a marijuana bust in 1964 the venue never quite recovered, and it closed in 1966. Owner Vernon Gates returned in 1973 to open another incarnation of St. Michael’s Alley (on nearby Emerson Street) but that place was a restaurant rather than a folk club (even though it had performers on occasion).

The Top Of The Tangent, up the street, at 117 University Avenue, was a considerably smaller venue that mostly featured local performers. The Tangent was a pizza parlor, and above it was a little room—hence “The Top Of The Tangent”—that featured local folk performers, most or all who appear to have been unpaid. However, since Palo Alto was in the midst of a cultural and musical convergence, many of the local regulars went on to great renown. Jerry Garcia was a regular performer with his wife Sara and with various bluegrass ensembles; Bob Weir made his first public performance there; Ron “Pigpen” McKernan was also a regular, and other well-known Bay Area musicians like Peter Albin (Big Brother) and David Nelson (New Riders) were also familiar. Janis Joplin was booked there, and when she didn't show up once, her guitarist, Jorma "Jerry" Kaukonen conceded that he could play a little blues, and did.

At this time in the early 1960s, LSD experiments were going on at Stanford (Robert Hunter actually got paid to take LSD), and Ken Kesey was less than a mile away at his house on Perry Lane , holding parties that got crazier and crazier, later to be made famous in Ken Kesey’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. As a result of Ken Kesey and Wolfe’s book, the Palo Alto of the early 60s has had a surprising amount of attention and research paid to it, for such a small town, and The Top Of The Tangent figures heavily into the story. Since it was Jerry Garcia’s principal hangout, the fact that his future wife Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Adams first encountered him there has taken on an almost mystical significance. The Grateful Dead’s immediate predecessor, Mother McRee’s Uptown Jug Band Champions, played The Top Of The Tangent regularly (if almost nowhere else) and an enthusiastic fan presciently recorded a 1964 performance and post-gig interview which was subsequently released by Grateful Dead Records 34 years later. 

Although The Tangent has passed into mythology, in many ways it was typical of the sort of venue found in college towns or big cities throughout America in the early 60s: a small local coffee house where musicians and other bohemians without much money or prospects hung out, played and dreamed. Much of this folk scene abruptly disappeared in a cloud of funny smelling smoke a few years later, when Kesey and The Grateful Dead added a psychedelic layer onto the musical edifice constructed by the Beatles, Byrds and Rolling Stones. Some very peculiar local circumstances in Palo Alto, however, caused the Tangent and the downtown Palo Alto scene, such as it was, to persist for several more years.




5 comments:

  1. April 27, 1967: The Standells also on the bill

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  2. June 15, 1967... actually it was June 16, 1967

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    1. Thanks for the correction, Bruno. Do you have a link on the Standells? What a great detail

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  3. September 28-30, 1967: You says "By 1964 he had moved to the West Coast, and he formed a pioneering R&B combo called The Rising Sons"

    Actually it was 1965

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  4. Twenty nine years later Cubberley alumni and neighbors saw Cake, AFI and Medeski Martin and Woods on consecutive nights at the Cubberley Theatre, which is 24 years ago already. Akira Tana says he played drums in the band that opened for The Dead at El Camino Park. Danny Scher booked Journey into the Tri School formal in 1979 and also booked Thelonious Monk into Paly Theatre in 1969.

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