Thursday, March 31, 2011

Composting with the help of chickens

by Rachel Hurd Anger

We've finally built a compost bin, and while it's not totally complete just yet, we're using it. Finally, there's a place for filthy chicken bedding, yard waste and kitchen scraps other than directly in the garden.

Every afternoon, I take out the day's kitchen scraps, food the kids didn't finish or threw on the floor: apple peels, oatmeal, tea bags, coffee grounds, you name it. Anything and everything, except meat and dairy.

The whole flock goes bonkers for compost time. All day long, and especially at treat time, they dig and dive and vie for the best goods, apple peels especially, and who knows what else lurking underneath.

Not a day has passed that I've had to turn the compost myself, in the bin or in the garden. They're doing all the work, happily, eagerly, almost rabidly.

Chickens are more than egg machines. We've been cultured to believe that thousands of birds in cages stacked to the rafters in warehouses is normal, and that conveyor belts carrying eggs from oviduct to processing in a facility that lets in not a ray of sunshine is somehow humane. Chickens are animals with physical needs, desires to forage, and they are unstoppable workers. I'd go so far as to argue that chickens have more purpose than any other animal kept as a pet, although I do have a chicken bias.

If you haven't already read it, the book City Chicks by Patricia Foreman is an outstanding resource for taking your flock beyond breakfast and putting it to work on the yard and garden. Foreman is making an encore appearance in Louisville, Ky., soon for a backyard chicken class, providing chickeneers and wannabes face-time instruction on how to get started, keep it going, and make the girls earn their keep around an urban or suburban lot. If you're in or near the Louisville area, contact Fresh Start Growers Supply for more information about Foreman's backyard chicken class.

As we're just getting started with composting and using our chickens, I'd love to know how your flock is working for you. Our girls spend a big part of their day in the compost bin, so there must be magic happening. Have you had to aid the process? Do you find your chickens eating too many of your food scraps? Does it impede the decomposition of other materials? What do you love and hate about using chickens in the yard?

I'm looking forward to your thoughts, readers!

Contact the writer at rachel@hurdanger.com, or visit her website.

Photos: Rachel Hurd Anger

Abundance at the heart of the hen


There are eggs falling out of my chickens.

Doesn't that sound stupid? In all of my planning, reading, thinking and crooning about chickens for two solid years, not once did I deliberately calculate how many eggs we could expect in a week. My absolutely ignorant guestimate was a dozen, at best. The reality is now just over two dozen a week.

Pessimistically, I'd considered perhaps a chick would die in transport. (Each survived.)

Obtusely, I'd assumed the Polish, an unreliable layer, might not lay at all. (She's laying on the regular.)

What's coming out of our chickens is astounding, and we only have five. I say only because five teeny baby chicks seemed conservative in all my planning. It's also the maximum number allowed on my lot by law. Here's the thing about me: I'm of the all-or-nothing kind. If I get chickens, I get chickens. Now, I get eggs. Except … Nobody can eat 50 eggs.

In just five weeks and two days, our hens have laid 87 eggs, and that's counting the first slow week of one or zero eggs per day. It's also counting a handful that cracked and were unusable, and two failed eggs laid by one chicken in one day that were soft and ripped open. The photo illustrates the current fridge stash of 25 eggs.

Egg Abundance Plan A - Scramble and freeze in pre-measured amounts (3 Tbsp = one egg for baking) in my handy dandy mini-brownie silicone baking pan. Frozen egg can come in handy when laying slows during this summer's first molt, or next winter when daylight is scarce and baking needs are plenty.

Plan B - Hang a shingle and sell? Fortunately, Hubs has some work friends who want eggs.

Plan C - I guess we could eat more eggs (and live on frittatas), or even offer some to the neighbors to show our appreciation for them not kicking up a fuss over our unconventional suburban pets. Except, I'm not really the neighborly type, and the law allows our chickens whether they approve or not.

I can assure any beginner that in the first and most abundant year, five hens lay more eggs than a family of 4 can use. Yet, if we are suddenly stricken jobless and destitute, we will not starve. So, that's somethin'. As egg laying decreases over the next few years, my hope is our matured hens will provide exactly what we need. So, here's where I bargain that my whole hog chickeneering was just a matter of planning for our future.

Contact the writer at rachel@hurdanger.com, or visit her website.

Photo: Rachel Hurd Anger

Betfred planning permission update

Sue has done the legwork on this so I won't steal her thunder...suffice to say you can read the latest news over on Crosswhatfields blog.

Make sure you are sitting down.

Product Review: BirdCam 2.0 by Wingscapes


Here's a quick question for all of you chicken keepers. Do you know what your chickens were doing around midnight? I do and I have the pictures to prove it. No, I'm not spending my evenings in the coop trying to catch my birds in action. I'm leaving that job to the BirdCam 2.0, my new favorite piece of chicken keeping equipment. If you have ever wondered what your chickens are up to while you are away, it may become your favorite piece of chicken keeping equipment.

Before the first day-old baby chicks arrived here at 1840 Farm, I had read that having chickens was akin to having aquarium fish. Chicken keepers spoke of how much fun it was to watch them as they went about their poultry behaviors. No matter what I had read, I couldn't have possibly imagined how much personality chickens have and how much they love to show it off. To spend time in our chicken coop is to have a front row seat at the latest installment of 1840 Farm Poultry Masterpiece Theatre.

I can now count myself among the chicken keepers who love to see what the birds are up to. Walking into the house from the car, I find myself stopping by the coop to look in at them. I live in New England, and stopping to see or do anything in the cold and snow that our winter brings is a real compliment to its entertainment value. The chickens never disappoint. Even if they are just relaxing in the coop, they are happy to snap to attention and begin the latest act in their ongoing performance.

The antics of our seven hens led me to start researching the possibility of adding a webcam to our little coop. The subject of a webcam was flitting around our farm this winter. As in, "Wouldn't it be fun to be able to see what our chickens are doing when we're not there?" I had to admit that I was interested to see what the girls were up to when they were left to their own devices. So, I did what any poultry farmer would do. I went to the Internet. I found several people who had retrofitted webcam systems for their coops. The systems I found were very complex and very expensive. I'm pretty handy when it comes to technology, but this was more of a project than I was looking for.

Then, by a sheer stroke of luck, I happened upon the BirdCam 2.0. It was not a webcam, but I could see that it would do exactly what I wanted it to. Wingscapes calls their product "High-Performance for Serious Birders." I thought for a moment and decided that I was definitely a serious birder in the chicken sense of the word. If I was willing to trudge out to the coop all winter with warm bowls of freshly cooked oatmeal, I felt like I qualified as being serious about our birds.

I contacted Wingscapes regarding evaluating one of their BirdCams for use in a chicken coop with the goal of sharing my findings with the readers at Community Chickens. I knew that I was not the only reader of Mother Earth News or Grit Magazine who considers herself serious about her birds. I was also fairly certain that I am not the only subscriber to the Community Chickens newsletter who would love to see exactly what her flock was up to when she wasn't in its coop. Wingscapes agreed to send the BirdCam 2.0 for an evaluation. Now all that was left for me to do was wait for the package to arrive.

Ironically, the BirdCam arrived at 1840 Farm on the same day that we discovered our first egg in the coop. Chicken speaking, it was a banner day. It was almost too much excitement to handle. After our egg celebration had concluded, I set about investigating my newest piece of chicken equipment.

First, a little background information about the BirdCam 2.0, manufactured by Wingscapes. The company produces two versions, the BirdCam 2.0 and the Audubon BirdCam. The Audubon BirdCam takes motion-activated photographs and videos with sound of wild birds in their natural habitats. The BirdCam 2.0 records photographs or videos with sound and includes a flash for use in low light conditions along with a time lapse setting. This review concerns the BirdCam 2.0.

The BirdCam 2.0 has the capability to take 8.0 megapixel-resolution images using a multi-glass lens and fixed aperture of f/2.8. The camera uses a shutter speed of between 1/8 and 1/400. Its 52 degree lens can be compared to the 46mm focal length found with a traditional film camera. The product literature lists the focus range at 18 inches to infinity.

The BirdCam also uses a passive infrared sensor to detect bird movement and determine when to capture photos or videos of birds in action. It detects bird movement at a maximum distance of 8 feet. If no movement is detected, no photo or video will be captured. This feature worked flawlessly in our coop. I collected more than 1,000 files during my evaluation and did not encounter any that were triggered mistakenly. All of the files I viewed included our birds in action.

Upon opening the BirdCam’s package, I discovered several useful accessories. First, I found a users guide that covered the setup and operation of the camera. I also found the product registration card and learned that Wingscapes offers a complimentary memory card to be used with the BirdCam in exchange for receiving the completed registration information. Two stretch cords for affixing the camera to a permanent mounting location were also included. A retractable tape measure for fine-tuning the camera’s focus ring settings proved to be quite useful during the setup. A USB cable can be used to transfer files stored in the internal memory directly to your computer. Wingscapes also includes a TV-out cable which can be used to view your photos and videos directly on your television.

The straightforward users guide offers clear, step-by-step instructions for setting up the camera, choosing a mounting location, and making adjustments to settings to produce the highest-quality photos and video. I carefully followed the steps within the guide. I'll admit I don't usually do this (sometimes to my own detriment), but in the interest of writing this review, I did. By doing so, I was able to set up and mount my camera without any difficulty.

The first step in the setup was installing the batteries. The BirdCam requires four D-cell batteries. According to the users guide, new batteries last an average of four weeks if the camera remains on continuously. I used the camera in my coop for four weeks and did not need to change the batteries. The camera's power can be switched off without removing the camera from its mount. Whenever I removed the memory card to download photos or videos, I simply turned off the camera to preserve the battery. While the power is on, an electronic display on the front of the camera displays the remaining battery percentage. The BirdCam can also be powered by an optional external 12 Volt power supply.

The BirdCam 2.0 has a built-in memory of 32 MB, and it can also use an SD memory card with a capacity of up to 4 GB for storing its files. According to the guide, the number of files stored on an optional SD memory card can't exceed 9,999. My 512 MB memory card held upwards of 200 files taken at high resolution without ever reaching full capacity. Photos are stored as JPEGs, videos as AVIs.

Installing the BirdCam was a little tricky, but this was because of the restrictions of my chicken coop and not a limitation of the camera. Everywhere I looked, there seemed to be an obstruction between a sturdy mounting location for the camera and the main part of the coop. I used the provided stretch cords to secure the camera and found they worked adequately. I temporarily moved a hanging waterer to provide the camera with an unobstructed view of the entire floor of the coop.

The BirdCam 2.0 has a class II laser aiming guide to help determine the proper positioning of the camera. I used this function when trying to select the best spot to install the camera in our coop. I was impressed by how accurate the laser was at predicting the middle of the range of focus for the camera. When I moved the camera, I turned on the laser and found that I was able to change its placement ... thus ensuring that I would capture photos and videos of my chickens in the coop. Each time, I found that the BirdCam was taking well-centered photos before I even exited the coop.

The BirdCam 2.0 is also equipped with a light-sensitive photocell to measure the amount of available light before taking photos or video. If the photocell detects a low light environment and the flash setting has been set to automatic, then the flash will be used to illuminate the frame. I had difficulty setting up the camera for the confines of my coop when it came to the flash feature. The best placement for the camera was in the corner of the coop facing in toward the nest boxes. This meant that the camera was in the darkest spot in the coop. The photocell was determining that the flash needed to be used, but the resulting flash was overpowering the images of the chickens, which were in a well-lit portion of the coop.

At night, a red heat lamp and exterior barn light provided a bit of illumination inside the coop, but the flash was still triggering. During the weekend, I turned the nighttime heat lamp off because of warmer temperatures and found that the flash was still over-illuminating the images. For use in our coop, the flash needed to be turned off. After making that change, the lighting of the photos during both the daytime and nighttime hours was exactly what I was hoping for. The overexposure issue I experienced may have been due to the size of my coop, which has interior dimensions of 6 feet by 8 feet. When the weather is warmer, I hope to position the camera in a different location and report on my findings.

The BirdCam is designed to withstand outdoor conditions. Wingscapes terms it "weatherproof" and safe to be used in any environment. I asked Wingscapes if prolonged exposure to humidity could damage the BirdCam. The Customer Service member I spoke with explained that the BirdCam is designed to withstand outdoor weather conditions such as rain, snow or direct sun. However, it isn't designed to be waterproof, so it shouldn't be submersed in water.

My camera remained in my coop for an entire month. The coop temperature ranged from 22 degrees Fahrenheit to 74 degrees Fahrenheit, and several days experienced mild to high humidity. At the end of the four weeks, the camera seemed to be in its original condition, and still functioned perfectly. It seemed unaffected by the coop conditions.

During the four-week evaluation, a significant amount of coop dust had accumulated on the exterior of the camera. I intentionally chose not to clean the camera during the evaluation. I wondered if the coop dust would adversely affect the quality of the photos and videos. Surprisingly, it didn't. Upon opening the two weatherproof latches, I found the interior to be dust-free. The latches had done exactly what they were designed for: to protect the interior of the BirdCam from damaging effects of the coop environment.



After four weeks with the BirdCam 2.0 in my coop, I can recommend it to everybody who has ever wondered what their chickens do when they're away from the coop. It provided a wonderful view of our hens going about the business of their day. I was impressed with the quality of the construction of the camera and the quality of the photos and videos it recorded.

I have found that chickens can be tricky subjects to photograph. Between the challenges and restrictions of being inside a coop and their quick, unpredictable movements, I sometimes struggle to take a good photograph of our flock. The BirdCam 2.0 seemed to be unfazed by these challenges.

Oddly enough, our flock was as interested in the camera as we were in the photos and videos taken of them. Each time the BirdCam was on, they made their way over to the camera and looked inquisitively into its lens. They seemed captivated by the sound of the camera operating and the burst of light coming from the flash when it was triggered.

I have no doubt that we will continue to enjoy using the BirdCam 2.0 here at 1840 Farm. We have enjoyed our glimpse into our hens’ world, but it has left us asking ourselves a question: Who exactly is doing the watching? Am I watching my chickens or are they watching me watch them? After one month, the answer is still unclear. I’m glad that I’ll have the BirdCam 2.0 in my coop to help me figure out the answer.

Greenwich Council plans for Charlton Lido

I know this is Over The Border, but readers may remember I'm a keen swimmer so I'm happy to bring this item to your attention.

The Charlton Champion has a story about Greenwich Council's plans for the Charlton Lido, which has been in the doldrums for several years now.

Hopefully it will offer a fantastic new year-round facility for swimmers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Volunteers wanted...

A design team from the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths, University of
London is seeking local volunteers to participate in a three to four month study. It does sound rather quirky and I'm not sure I fully understand the motivation behind it, but it could prove an interesting experiment!

Kirsten says: "We have been working on a variety of digital devices to expose the home's microclimate – imagine a miniature weather station. Now we would like to lend these devices to you in return for telling us about your experiences of living with them. If you are interested and live in SE4, SE8, SE14, SE23 please respond by April 9th 2011."

Contact: Kirsten Boehner
kirsten@legiblelandscapes.org
Tel: 07779 168 516
http://www.legiblelandscapes.org/
http://www.gold.ac.uk/interaction/

Reader's Question: Is chicken manure safe to use as a fertilizer?

Q: A friend told me that chicken droppings can transfer harmful bacteria. He said not to use it for fertilizer. Is he right? – Chris

A: Great question, Chris! All animal manures have the potential risk of containing bacteria, but the key to using it as a fertilizer is knowing how to use it safely and correctly. Manure from meat-eating animals (such as dogs or cats) should not be used as a fertilizer because of the risk of transmitting parasites or diseases, but even chicken manure can contain pathogens (such as E. coli and salmonella).

Image used by permission - Good Life Press
The Chicken Lover's Cartoon Book by Arnold Wiles

Chicken manure, however, is a sought after fertilizer for organic gardeners. It's rich in nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), and when combined with straw or similar coop bedding it not only adds nutrients to the soil, but also organic matter. Because of its high nitrogen content, though, it needs to age or compost before it can be used as fertilizer. It's important to not add fresh or "hot" manure directly to the garden in the spring, otherwise you'll end up killing or actually burning your plants. Also, some studies have shown that it takes six months to a year before you can ensure that any pathogens are not present in the composted manure. According to this study, conducted by the University of Minnesota, even bin composting (in which the manure is maintained at a temperature between 130 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit for three days) is not a guarantee that all the bacteria has been destroyed.

The safest practice is to either allow the manure to age for the recommended time or incorporate it into the fall garden soil. Better yet, allow the chickens to free range in the garden at the end of the summer harvest. They'll clean up the leftover plants and weeds, scratch up the soil and leave their powerful "fertilizer" as an added bonus. Then six months later, your spring garden will be ready to go!

Visit my website at ...the garden-roof coop.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Eight Egg Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Strawberry Sauce

by Jennifer Sartell

One of the best ways I can think of to use up extra eggs is to make ice cream. And in honor of the ice cream sundae's anniversary, here is a great way to celebrate, (but really when it comes to ice cream do we need an excuse?)

The ice cream sundae is 119 years old, invented on Sunday, April 3rd, 1892 in Ithaca, New York by Chester C. Platt. It was first served as a Sunday treat after services to the Reverend John M. Scott. The Reverend enjoyed the refreshing, delicious dessert so much, that he aptly named it "The Sunday" (now spelled "sundae") after the sabbath day. (History and Legends of the Ice Cream Sundae)

While the first sundae was actually flavored with a cherry syrup, this strawberry version would surely have the Reverend Scott coming back for more. The ice cream is not only delicious, but fun to make, and we kick it up a notch by drizzling homemade strawberry syrup over top. The syrup can be canned when the berries are at their peak, and enjoyed year round.

This delicious vanilla ice cream is inspired by an original recipe in The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein. I TOTALLY recommend this book if you're going to start making homemade ice cream. We've yet to try a flavor that we don't LOVE!

We've taken this already extra rich and creamy dessert one step further by using real vanilla beans and an extra yolk (for added custard appeal)! Once you try this ice cream you'll never go back to store-bought, I promise!

We make our ice cream in a Cuisinart Ice Cream Machine. When we're done making ice cream, we wash the frozen container and store it in the freezer so it's always ready, even for 2 a.m. cravings.


Ingredients:
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 8 farm-fresh egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
We start by cutting a vanilla bean in half length-wise. I get my vanilla beans in bulk from Starwest Botanicals. The up-front cost might be hard to swallow, but it's a great bargain in the end, considering 3 vanilla beans at the grocery store cost around $12.00. Run the blade of a knife perpendicular to the bean across the inside to scoop out all those tiny delicious seeds!

Add the bean pod and the seeds to a pan and pour in the half-and-half. Heat until small bubbles appear around the edge. I let it sit and steep a bit to absorb all the vanilla goodness. Eventually, fish out the vanilla pod.

In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar and farm-fresh egg yolks.

Start adding the half-and-half mixture little by little to the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk thoroughly after each addition until it's all well incorporated. I've been known to add the cream at this point and be done, but if you want to make sure the eggs are cooked thoroughly you can return the custard to the pan, and heat slowly before adding the cream.

Be sure to strain.

We put this in the freezer to cool. Don't freeze it, just leave it in until it has a chance to chill, about 30 minutes.

I then pour it into our ice cream maker and let it freeze. It comes out deliciously creamy, decadent and wonderful. For sundae scoopability it will need to set up in the freezer for about an hour.

Now for the syrup. Last June we went strawberry picking and gathered sweet fresh berries at the peak of ripeness. By canning this sauce you can enjoy your summer harvest all year.

The original recipe is adapted from Canadian Living. ("Strawberry Sundae Topping," created by the Canadian Living Test Kitchen)

Ingredients:

8 cups crushed strawberries
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp grated orange rind
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup orange juice

Start with 8 cups of fresh strawberries, washed and stemmed.


In a large bowl, mash the strawberries. Feel free to leave larger chunks, I think it makes the sauce delicious. I use a pastry cutter to make fast work.

Rind the orange.

In a pot simmer strawberries, orange rind and water for 10 minutes.

Add sugar, corn syrup and orange juice. Continue to simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Ladle into sterilized jars and process 10 minutes. When cool, ladle over your homemade ice cream. Add whip cream and a cherry for nostalgia, dreaminess and that quaint 1950's soda shop, diner feel!

To see other ice cream recipes including Oreo Cookie and Cake Batter visit my website at Iron Oak Farm.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The London Particular, New Cross

This bijoux little cafe on New Cross Road has been open for some time now, but aside from trying out some of their cakes as a takeout, I haven't had the opportunity to check out their menu properly. If you are heading towards New Cross from Deptford, it's just beyond New Cross Station on the same side of the road.

Up till recently it was daytime hours only, but the cafe has now started opening on Sunday evenings from 6.30-10pm - booking recommended!


Myself and the geezer popped in for a brunch over the weekend and sampled the vegetarian bruschetta and a bacon buttie, washed down with some excellent coffee. Both meals were superior nosh - the vegetarian bruschetta consisted of a thick slice of tasty bread (rye I think) topped with strips of roasted peppers, a few whole mushrooms beautifully browned and caramelised, some crumbled feta cheese and a generous scattering of rocket. Very filling and very tasty. The bacon was served in doorstep-size sourdough bread, well-deserving of the 'buttie' moniker in my opinion.



As well as the tables out front, and a large communal country-kitchen-sized table in the back of the cafe, there are a number of small perching counters along the wall which are still big enough to eat at. Specials are chalked on a blackboard above the dividing wall; one each side so you can see them from the back of the cafe too. As well as breakfasty things they offer a daily 'warm sandwich' special, a soup of the day and a main course which I think was beef and prune tagine, at around about the £8 mark.


I hesitate to describe the decor as 'shabby chic' because although that's probably what it is, the phrase suggests a certain level of pretentiousness which is entirely absent from the London Particular. I love the fact that there are water jugs on every table and the staff bring you a glass without needing to ask; and that the sugar bowls are made of old treacle tins and the sugar spoons are wooden.

The service is not rapid, with staff having to deal with takeouts and prepare for the lunchtime menu while also getting orders out, but considering the quality of the food and the fact that it is all made up fresh, it stacks up to an acceptable speed.


The London Particular
399 New Cross Road
SE14 6LA
020 8692 6149

Mon-Fri: 8-5
Sat: 10-5
Sun: 10am-10pm

Bowl Food Cafe in New Cross Serving healthy, fresh, tasty food...in Bowls...big bowls, small bowls, deep bowls, shallow bowls Delicious Higgins Coffee, with our own unique 'Particular' blend Home-baked cakes, fresh brioche & cookies

Twitter: @theparticular
http://www.thelondonparticular.co.uk

Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Bassist: 1969-70

Who played bass for the the New Riders Of The Purple Sage from their inception in August 1969 until Dave Torbert joined the band in April 1970? There are a usually a variety of answers to this question, all quite contradictory, with very little supporting evidence of any type. Although to some extent I am recapping information that has been discussed intermittently here and elsewhere, I think this is a worthwhile exercise. There is some conventional wisdom about the early history of the New Riders, mostly promulgated by the band members, and much of it demonstrably wrong. Besides addressing the surprisingly curious question of who initially played bass for the New Riders, I am using this post to demonstrate how much we supposedly "know" about the early New Riders is contradictory and vague.

This post will retell the story of the early New Riders from the point of view of who may have played bass. In order not to get sidetracked, I will include links to posts that put them in context, and I am appending a list of early New Riders shows below, for those who have not memorized their early schedule. This is somewhat of an artificial exercise, but it will point up how little is actually known about the New Riders from 1969. At many points I will interpolate questions that remain to be answered and may never be. Anyone with answers or interesting speculation is encouraged to Comment.

John Dawson At The Underground, Menlo Park
John Dawson had been a folk singer for most of the sixties, and in early 1969, he started writing songs. On or about April 13, 1969, Jerry Garcia purchased a pedal steel guitar at a music store in Boulder, CO. Later in April, Dawson visited Garcia in Larkspur, and played him his new songs so that Garcia could noodle along on his new steel guitar. Garcia was taken with the songs, and when he found out that Dawson was playing Wednesday nights at a Hofbrau in Menlo Park called The Underground, he decided to sit in. David Nelson joined them on electric guitar, and the little trio played intermittently for several Wednesdays.

I know someone who attended one of the shows, and they were just a trio, without a bass player. Why was Dawson visiting Garcia? Did Garcia invite him, or did he offer to drop in? They had been friendly several years earlier in Palo Alto, but had they been in touch since? How quickly did Nelson get involved? Was that the immediate plan, or did it happen later?

Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck
In June of 1969, Garcia, Dawson and others play a few shows under various names. There was one at Peninsula School in Menlo Park, probably for Heather Katz (Garcia's) tuition, and another at California Hall. There seems to be some whiff from McNally that these were a tryout of the New Riders "concept," and old Palo Alto friend Peter Grant may have played banjo along with them. A setlist exists for the California Hall show. Per someone who took careful notes, the band appears to have been Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Tom Constanten, and there were contributions by Nelson, Dawson and Grant (on pedal steel). The setlist has a lot of Bakersfield-type material, but no Dawson-written songs. Was the California Hall show similar or different to the Peninsula show?

Jerry Garcia, Marmaduke and Friends
The first public "New Riders" appearance was opening for the Grateful Dead at Longshoreman's Hall on July 16, 1969. The show (per Blair Jackson) was apparently a shambles. The first publicized show by the band was at the Bear's Lair Coffeehouse at UC Berkeley, on August 1, 1969, where the band was billed as Jerry Garcia, Marmaduke and Friends with Mickey Hart. Who played bass?

There are two contradictory stories about the New Riders first bass player, both of them retailed by different band members over the years. The most common story is that Garcia decided to back Dawson as an excuse to play pedal steel and brought in Nelson, and Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh were brought in so that the New Riders could open for the Dead, so the band could get paid to be its own opening act with just two extra bodies. A great story, but not really true.

In 1969, the New Riders only opened for the Dead between 5 and 10 times, only 3 or 4 of which were booked shows where they had a chance of getting paid, and only 1 or 2 of those out of town. I have discussed at length elsewhere the Dead's strange foray to the Aqua Theater in Seattle on August 20, 1969, which included a rain out and a guest appearance at a biker bar, where the Riders may or may not have appeared. The Dead also played a rock festival in Oregon right afterward (August 23), and the Riders are rumored to have appeared. This journey was the New Riders only out of town trip, so while the band may have thought it was a good idea,  they only went out of town once with the New Riders in 1969.

However, the New Riders played numerous shows in Bay Area nightclubs from August through November 1969. Jerry Garcia's name was always listed in the ads or press releases, and Mickey Hart's sometimes, but never Phil Lesh's. It does make me wonder why club owners wouldn't promote Phil's name, if he were going to play. The New Riders played very small places in 1969, and the Dead themselves were not really that big (though infamous), so given that, it is not surprising that I have never found a detailed account or review that identified Phil Lesh as a member of the band, nor has any reliable eyewitness asserted it. I'm not ruling it out--just pointing out that the various quotes from band members years later were eliding the real history of the New Riders, so some vagueness about the history of the bassist would be par for the course.

Bob Matthews
Alternative versions of the early history of the New Riders have Grateful Dead engineer Bob Matthews as the bassist. In a 2009 interview with Blair Jackson, Nelson recalled
I remember going up to Jerry’s house in Larkspur with John and we had [Grateful Dead sound engineer] Bob Matthews fill in on bass and we practiced John’s tunes, and then we thought, “Hey, let’s get a gig! We can get Mickey to play drums!” So we played two or three nights there at the Bear’s Lair student union [on the UC Berkeley campus]
Nelson clearly places Matthews as the rehearsal bassist, but does that mean Matthews played the early shows as well?  Granted, 40 years have passed, but just like old family stories, a standard story is treated as gospel without question, when in actuality the known facts do not support it. For example, the proto-New Riders played two shows on the same night, rather than two or three nights, and Nelson doesn't even mention the Longshoreman's show two weeks prior.

It's easy to leap to the conclusion that Bob Matthews was the initial bassist for the New Riders, and Phil Lesh replaced him. Since various band members recall Lesh in the group, he must have played with them at some point, but that begs another set of questions: did Phil replace Matthews outright, or did they alternate shows depending on unknown factors? Did Phil play a lot of New Riders shows, or just a few?
SF Chronicle, August 6, 1969

The Tapes (Aug 7 '69 Matrix and Sep 18 '69 Cotati)
We are fortunate to have tapes of two excellent early New Riders shows, one from The Matrix on August 7, 1969 (the group's fourth show) and another from the Inn Of The Beginning in Cotati on September 18, 1969. Both of these shows are excellent, and quite different, as Garcia's vocals are uniquely prominent in Cotati. Why only two tapes? Who made them? Keep in mind that we have no idea what the New Riders played, much less sounded like, between Cotati and the balance of the year, as there are neither tapes nor reviews. Did Garcia sing a bunch of Buck Owens songs, or play banjo? If I asserted that he did--I have no idea--how would anyone disprove it?

My theory is that Owsley recorded the tapes, but he only recorded shows that he was present at. Owsley's concept, as far as I understood it, was that his tapes were "sonic journals" of how any band he mixed sounded in the house, but he only taped when he mixed himself. Of course, we have no idea who mixed the sound for the New Riders on most nights, if anyone, nor if they had any crew to speak of in 1969. By mid-1970, the Dead and Riders crews had been merged somewhat, but back in 1969 who had been assigned to drive the van to obscure clubs in Berkeley or Sonoma?

I do know that when the New Riders played Mandrake's in Berkeley, a waitress recognized Owsley. Owsley lived in Oakland, and despite his reclusiveness he was well known around Berkeley folk clubs. Thus the Mandrake's waitress recognized him, but had no idea who the Riders were beyond Garcia. I think Owsley saw the New Riders at Mandrake's because it was near his house, leading me to hope that there might be another New Riders tape yet to surface, but I don't think he was a regular attendee at Riders shows. The waitress recalled that "When Owsley was sound man for the Jerry band at the club, he was traveling under the assumed name Durand as the FBI had an all points bulletin out for him and apparently wanted to talk with him about something." I remain hopeful that the Mandrake's shows are in Owsley's secret stash, but with the FBI on his tail I doubt Owsley wanted his appearances effectively advertised in the paper.

SF Chronicle, September 17, 1969
In any case, sharper ears than mine might listen to the tapes and determine whether or not Phil Lesh or the presumably more rudimentary Bob Matthews played bass. However, it's important to recall that we only have two tapes, which says nothing about numerous shows over a period of months. It's also important to consider that if my theory is correct and Owsley dropped by do the sound occasionally, it seems likely that those would be the nights that Phil would have made sure to be there. Some crew members might know who played, but we don't know who the crew was, and in any case some of the most likely candidates (Ramrod and Rex Jackson) are no longer with us.

Robert Hunter
Other variations of the history of the New Riders have Robert Hunter as an early bassist, replacing or being replaced by Matthews. Hunter himself has sorted out the timeline clearly, but this is often ignored in order to tell a more folksy tale of the New Riders' genesis. In fact, whether Matthews or Lesh or both had been the bass player in 1969, neither were seemingly available for duty in 1970. Lesh, apparently, wasn't really interested, and Matthews must have had too many obligations producing Workingman's Dead, as well as other technical obligations. Nonetheless, Nelson, Dawson and Garcia were keeping the New Riders concept alive, even if the band played no shows (save one booking on January 19, 1970, possibly canceled).

Hunter seems to have been drafted in early 1970 to replace Matthews as the New Riders "rehearsal bassist." In recalling the composition of "Friend Of The Devil" in 2006, Hunter also recalled his peculiar status as stand-in bassist.
I was living in Madrone canyon with the Garcias. The NRPS had asked me if I wanted to play bass with them and it seemed like a good idea at the time. So I worked up that song on bass, added a few verses plus a chorus and went over to where David Nelson and John Dawson were living in Kentfield and taught them the tune...
We ran back upstairs to Nelson's room and recorded the tune. I took the tape home and left it on the kitchen table. Next morning I heard earlybird Garcia (who hadn't been at the rehearsal - had a gig, you know) wanging away something familiar sounding on the peddle steel. Danged if it wasn't "Friend of the Devil." With a dandy bridge on the "sweet Anne Marie" verse. He was not in the least apologetic about it. He'd played the tape, liked it, and faster than you can say dog my cats it was in the Grateful Dead repertoire.
Although I learned all the tunes, I never did play a gig with the NRPS, who were doing strictly club dates at the time. For one reason or another I never quite fathomed, though I have my suspicions, I got shut out. Either that or I misread the signs and wasn't inclined to push. Nothing was ever said. In any event, a fellow named Dave Torbert showed up about that time. Just as well. One dedicated songwriter in the band was enough.
Hunter seems to have played a useful role for the group, but when Dave Torbert was invited to join the band any ideas Hunter may have had about being in the Riders were over. By 1970, Hunter had not been an active performing musician for several years, and would have been a very basic bass player, whereas Torbert was not only a solid, soulful bassist but an experienced performer as well. After getting his start in The Good News, Torbert had spent 18 months playing with Nelson in the New Delhi River Band. If Nelson had wanted Torbert all along, as Hunter seems to imply, why had Nelson even suggested to Hunter that he could become bassist? Whether Hunter was aware of it or not, the NRPS was playing few or no gigs at the time, and I have to presume that Lesh still covered the duties, although that too remains mysterious (note that Hunter says "I never did play a gig with the NRPS, who were doing strictly club dates at the time").

Dave Torbert
David Torbert joined the New Riders in April, 1970, in time for the Riders public debut as the Grateful Dead's opening act. The first Dead/NRPS tour commenced on May 1, 1970, so the New Riders played a flurry of gigs in April to get their sound and equipment together, and not least, to acclimate Torbert. Torbert was a fine bassist and singer, and cool and handsome to boot, so his arrival presaged the elevation of the New Riders from "Jerry Garcia nightclub experiment" to a real band. Yet the stories surrounding Torbert's arrival were shrouded in a vagueness that was never resolved.

After the New Delhi River Band broke up in early 1968, Torbert and Matt Kelly had gone on to play in a number of bands such as Shango and Horses, the latter even releasing an album. When Horses ground to a halt in early 1969,  Torbert went to Hawaii to surf and Kelly went to England. In England, Kelly hooked up with a band called Gospel Oak, and he called Torbert to join him in London. On his way to England in early 1970, Torbert stopped at his parent's house in Redwood City, CA when Nelson "coincidentally" called him and asked him if he wanted to join a band with Jerry Garcia.

Coincidence? Really? Dave Torbert is in California for one day, and that's the day that Nelson called his parents? Torbert, to his credit, called Kelly and asked him if he could take Nelson's offer, and Kelly (also to his credit) encouraged his friend to catch the wave while it was breaking. Nonetheless, Torbert took the offer and joined the New Riders, leaving Hunter to wait several years for his performing reappearance.

Some Reflections On The History Of The New Riders Bassists
For rock historians, and indeed for all historians, often nothing is more useful than some lingering bitterness that airs hitherto unknown grievances. An unhappy bass player, an aggrieved ex-wife or a slighted road manager with a score to settle are often the best source for finding out what may lay beneath various decisions beyond the usual "creative differences." The Grateful Dead stuck together for 30 years, and the remaining members and crew stick together even to this day. While sharp eyes can discern various disputes and disagreements, solidarity takes presence over the airing of grievances. Even those who have long since left the fold only speak well of the past, particularly of anything to do with Jerry Garcia, lending a new interpretation to the old phrase "don't speak ill of The Dead."

Put another way, most people in the Grateful Dead's extended family are still friends, or still share mutual friends, so just like any family, stories are recalibrated in order to save every relative's feelings. Bob Matthews and later Robert Hunter were drafted as bassists to help with rehearsals, but the talents of both were elsewhere and I think that their bass playing was found wanting. For Nelson and Garcia, an unrehearsed Phil Lesh had to be superior to a full-time engineer who moonlighted, but no one wanted to say that in an interview, so the story has been glossed over.

By the same token, the story about Nelson coincidentally calling Dave Torbert's parents on the only day that he was in town sounds like a story designed to assuage his close friend Robert Hunter's feelings. It apparently worked, as Hunter and Nelson are still friends, but by 2006 even Hunter seems to have realized that Nelson was planning to hire Torbert, but needed Hunter for rehearsal and as a last resort. Not very flattering, but no friend wants to tell Rolling Stone magazine their real motives.

My own view is that once the New Riders project took on a real life, Nelson planned to bring Torbert on board. Dawson knew Torbert well from Palo Alto, so he would have been supportive. Garcia must have known as well, but Garcia was legendary for avoiding uncomfortableness of any kind, so it's no surprise that he never hinted to Matthews or Hunter what the plan was. I also think that Phil Lesh played most of the 1969 New Riders shows, but Matthews filled in occasionally, amidst his recording duties. It was in the interests of the whole band to have Lesh on call, yet with a substitute available as needed. As Matthews role as an engineer became more important, particularly after Owsley got busted in New Orleans, he must have realized that he was dispensable and focused on the studio.

In February of 1970, with Matthews focused on Workingman's Dead and Lesh uninterested in continuing the experiment, Nelson must have recruited Hunter as a stopgap, knowing that his real plan was to engage Torbert. Hunter had played a little bass with Nelson and Garcia in his bluegrass days, but he wasn't really a bassist. During the early 1970 period that Hunter rehearsed with the New Riders, they only booked one show that they may not have played, so Torbert aside, Hunter couldn't have impressed the rest of the band at the time. When Torbert became available, the band was set. All that remained was for Garcia, Nelson and Dawson to continually repeat a series of vague stories that spared the feelings of their friends, leaving the truth so vague that is has become nearly impossible to recover.

All of this is all but impossible to sort out. For all the rightful importance assigned to the New Riders of The Purple Sage in the arc of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, their early days are surprisingly bereft of actual information. Among those that were there at the time and are still around, and there aren't that many, have 40+ years in between to cloud their recollections. The charm of the early New Riders was that they could play a show at a tiny place in Berkeley or the Marina District for a few hundred beer drinkers, and those people could hardly be expected to recall who the bass player was by the time of the next century.

Appendix: New Riders Performances, 1969
May 7, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park John Dawson
May 14, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park John Dawson
May 21, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park John Dawson
June 4, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park John Dawson
June ?, 1969 Peninsula School, Menlo Park [billing unknown]
June 11, 1969 California Hall, San Francisco Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Duke
June 24, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park John Dawson
July 16, 1969 Longshoreman's Hall, San Francisco Grateful Dead/Cleveland Wrecking Company/Ice
August 1, 1969 Bear's Lair, UC Berkeley Jerry Garcia, Marmaduke and Friends
August 6-9, 1969 The Matrix, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage
August ?, 1969 Lions Share, San Anselmo, New Riders Of The Purple Sage
August 13, 1969  Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco New Lost City Ramblers/New Riders of The Purple Sage "Hoe Down"
August 19, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway New Riders Of The Purple Sage
August 20, 1969 El Roach Tavern, Ballard, WA Grateful Dead/others (possibly NRPS)
August 21, 1969 Aqua Theatre, Seattle, WA Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Sanpaku
August 23, 1969 Bullfrog 2 Festival, Pelletier Farm, St Helens, OR Grateful Dead/others (possibly NRPS)
August 28, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway Grateful Dead/Mickey And The Hartbeats/NRPS
August 29-30, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway Grateful Dead/Commander Cody/New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Rubber Duck Company
September 18, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati New Riders Of The Purple Sage
October 9, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati, CA New Riders Of The Purple Sage
October 14-16, 1969 Mandrake's, Berkeley New Riders of The Purple Sage
October 17, 1969 Loma Prieta Room, Student Union, San Jose State College, San Jose New Riders Of The Purple Sage/The Fourth Way
October 22, 1969 Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Lazarus
November 3-4, 1969 The Matrix, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage
November 6, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati New Riders Of The Purple Sage
November 13, 1969 The Poppycock, Palo Alto New Riders Of The Purple Sage
November 18, 1969 Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage/David LaFlamme "Square Dance"
November 19, 1969 Fillmore West, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Big Brother and The Holding Company/Barry McGuire & The Doctor Naut Family
November 20, 1969 The Poppycock, Palo Alto New Riders Of The Purple Sage

November 22-23, 1969 Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Anonymous Artists Of America/Devil's Kitchen
November 27, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Lamb/Cleveland Wrecking Company/Deacon and The Suprelles/Rafael Garrett Circus
November 28, 1969 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati New Riders Of The Purple Sage
January 19, 1970 Pauley Ballroom, UC Berkeley, CA: New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band Benefit For Center For Educational Change

Friday, March 25, 2011

February 28, 1969 Fillmore West: Grateful Dead/Pentangle/Sir Douglas Quintet/Shades Of Joy (Martin Fierro)

The Grateful Dead's four night stand at The Fillmore West from Thursday February 27 through Sunday March 2, 1969 stands as one of the premier events in Grateful Dead history. For once, The Dead played at their creative best when state-of-the-art recording equipment was hooked up and rolling, and we have been savoring the results ever since. The weekend stand was the heart of the seminal 1969 Live/Dead album, and the entire run was released this century as Fillmore West 1969. The Dead capitalized on the home court advantage and played some shows for the ages.

Fantastic as the Dead's performance was, however, the weekend had even more resonances. One of the opening acts, the English group Pentangle, had a profound effect on Jerry Garcia, which he commented on at various times. In a past blog post, I discussed how in the midst of playing some of the finest music of his career, Garcia found the time to listen to Pentangle's unique configuration and adopt it for his own approach to live acoustic music. Pentangle, their musical talents notwithstanding, had discovered the value of two amplified acoustic instruments supported by a tasteful rhythm section, and Garcia consciously adopted it as the approach to the acoustic Grateful Dead, as well as other ensembles, like the Garcia/Grisman band.

As if stunning live electric music and a transformational acoustic opening band weren't enough, a close look at Ralph Gleason's Chronicle review the Monday afterward reveals yet another amazing fact about the weekend. On one night, The Shades Of Joy, an additional opening act, featured future Legion Of Mary member Martin Fierro on saxophone and vocals, years before he would play with Garcia and Merl Saunders. Garcia very likely didn't even see the set, but it's yet another sign of what a portentous weekend it was that the local act opening the show included a player who would be a big part of Garcia's sound a few years later.

The Shades Of Joy
The Shades Of Joy were a familiar name on bills at rock clubs in the Bay Area from 1969-71, but I don't know much about them otherwise. They did release a self-titled album on Fontana Records in 1969. The band members on the album were
  • Millie Foster-vocals
  • Martin Fierro-saxophones, flute, vocals
  • Jackie King-guitar
  • Jymm Young-keyboards
  • Edward Adams-bass
  • Jose Rodriguez-drums
Fiero was from El Paso, TX, and in early 1969 he would have been relatively newly arrived in San Francisco. Around this time he had been working with the Texas musicians in the group Mother Earth, but I do not know if he was a regular member of that band. Fierro (1942-2008) apparently met Garcia while jamming with conga players in Golden Gate Park (per Blair Jackson's liner notes to the Legion Of Mary cd), but no date was given.

The only other name familiar to me in The Shades Of Joy was Jymm Young, who played keyboards with various Bay Area groups in the early 70s, including Boz Scaggs and Santana. Young was also known as Joachim Young, and his most heard contribution is the B3 organ work on the Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like An Eagle." I don't know where Young came from or how he ended up in San Francisco in 1969 in the Shades Of Joy.

Fillmore West 1969 Configuration
Although the Fillmore West typically advertised three acts in 1969, they often had four acts on Friday and Saturday nights. While the three acts "on the poster" would do three rotating sets (with the headliner playing, essentially, 3rd and 6th), on weekend nights an additional act would play a single opening set. This served to extend the show, encouraging people to come early and buy more popcorn and soda.  Many of the openers were discovered at the Tuesday night Fillmore West "auditions." The mostly forgotten practice of adding a fourth act accounts for the numerous bands who describe opening shows at the Fillmore West whose names never appeared on a poster.

Given that Gleason's review was published on a Monday (March 3), I think he was reviewing the Friday, February 28 show, because there was an additional act. An eyewitness to the March 1 show reported that Frumious Bandersnatch had replaced the Sir Douglas Quintet, so I think the review was more likely of the Friday show than the Thursday one (Feb 27). update: A Commenter makes a good case for Gleason having seen the first set of Thursday, February 27 rather than Friday.

Ralph Gleason, Chronicle March 3, 1969
Gleason's review of every act for the evening is quite enthusiastic. About the Shades Of Joy, he says
Shades Of Joy is a local group (a spin-off of several other local units) which features wild free form modern jazz saxophone playing by Martin Fierro, a roaring R&B rhythm section and two voices, Martin and Millie Foster, who is much better in this role than as a pure jazz singer. It's an exciting and interesting group. 
Sir Douglas is really delightful. He got everybody dancing for for once (just as Pentangle had all the musicians listening) doing his standards "Mendocino" and "She's About A Mover" and merging his regular group with some members of Shades Of Joy.
It is rather a wild experience to see a group featuring a saxophone soloist who looks like the leader of a Third World Student picket line accompanied by a drummer who looks like he just got in from the cattle drive. Is there still hope?
It's interesting to see that Gleason noticed that all the musicians were paying attention to Pentangle. Elsewhere in the review, Gleason says "when [the acoustic guitars] are heard over the loudspeakers, there is no distortion, just a huge guitar sound," articulating what I believe to be the sound that captured Garcia's attention. For the Shades Of Joy, who probably came on at 7:00pm or so, it is Fierro that captured Gleason's attention. Fierro and others appear to have joined Doug Sahm on stage, prefiguring how he would join Sahm's band within a few years, and indeed share the stage with the Grateful Dead on some September 1973 shows when Sahm opened for the Dead.

Those who saw the Friday night show were probably so overwhelmed by the Dead (not to mention Pentangle) that they probably forgot Shades Of Joy earlier in the evening. Some of those people must have seen a Garcia/Saunders show a few years later, when Fierro was a member of the band--I wonder if they remembered then, or if there memories were permanently deleted?

Some Doug Sahm Apocrypha
Doug Sahm was a brilliant musician and a character-and-a-half, but he could be exasperating. Our eyewitness to the Saturday March 1 show reported that Doug Sahm was announced as being "sick" and his place on the bill was taken by Lafayette's finest, the Frumious Bandersnatch. Perhaps. Elsewhere, however, Doug Sahm has claimed that he was once fired by Bill Graham for bringing a 13-piece band onstage without asking. Sahm was a great teller of tales, so there's no telling how much of that story was true, and since Sahm (who died in 1999) is no longer with us, it's hard to know for sure what he may have been referring to.

Nonetheless, I can't help but connect the dots here. It appears that Sahm opened at least one night, and probably two, but was not present on the Saturday night. We also know from Gleason's review that several members of the Shades Of Joy were onstage with him. Perhaps inviting the extra musicians on stage disrupted some protocol, and Graham pushed Sahm off the bill? Its entirely possible. Given the number of amazing things that happened at the Fillmore West this weekend, perhaps this obscure bit of Sahm storytelling was part of the saga as well.

Appendix: Gleason On The Dead
By request, here are Ralph Gleason's comments on the Dead's performance:

Deptford Lounge gets its kit on

Cladding has started to appear around the north west corner of the new Tidemill School/Deptford Lounge building on Giffin Street. Yes it's gold, as was shown in the original renderings, but apart from that it's not quite the type of cladding I had envisaged.


I seem to remember commenting at the time that it was difficult to imagine what type and quality of cladding was proposed from the pictures, although presumably this sort of thing was specified in great technical detail in the contract documents.


It seems to be perforated metal cladding of some type; I'll be interested to see how that's going to combine with the frame and rather rough finish behind it, but presumably these designers know what they are doing! On the other hand its partial transparency could offer a fascinating veiled glimpse of the structural form of the building....oops, anyone would think I'm applying for a job on the Architect's Journal!

What do the rest of you think? *lights blue touch paper and stands back*

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Grateful Dead Tour Itinerary January 1968

Poster for the January 17, 1968 GD/QMS show at The Carousel
I have been constructing tour itineraries for the Grateful Dead for brief periods of their history. There is so much information circulating on websites and blogs (including my own) that go beyond published lists on Deadlists and Dead.net that these posts make useful forums for discussing what is known and missing during each period. So far I have reviewed

Rather than go in strictly chronological order, I am focusing on periods where recent research has been done by myself or others. Over time I hope to have the entire 1965-70 period. My principal focus here is on identifying which dates have Grateful Dead shows, which dates might have Grateful Dead shows, and which dates are in dispute or may be of interest. Where relevant, I am focusing on live appearances by other members--mostly Jerry Garcia, as a practical matter--in order to get an accurate timeline.

What follows is a list of known Grateful Dead performance dates for January, 1968. I am focused on which performances occurred when, rather than the performances themselves. For known performances, I have assumed that they are easy to assess on Deadlists, The Archive and elsewhere, and have made little comment. As a point of comparison, I am comparing my list to Deadlists, but I realize that different databases may include or exclude different dates (I am not considering recording dates, interviews or Television and radio broadcast dates in this context).

My working assumption is that the Grateful Dead, while already a legendary rock band by 1968, were living hand to mouth and scrambling to find paying gigs. Most paying performances were on Friday and Saturday nights, so I am particularly interested  in Friday and Saturday nights where no Grateful Dead performances were scheduled or known.

Grateful Dead Tour Itinerary January 1968
The Grateful Dead had ended 1967 with a show at the Psychedelic Supermarket in Boston on December 30, 1967. They had flown home to San Francisco, expecting to jam with Quicksilver on New Year's. The story goes that after returning from a long flight, band members ate some special brownies, and--due no doubt to chocolately goodness--fell asleep. There are no known Grateful Dead performances for the first two weekends of January 1968, and there are a number of possible explanations for that: the Carousel Ballroom and the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper strike.

The principal source for concrete information about the Grateful Dead, the Fillmore and the whole psychedelic ballroom scene has been the San Francisco Chronicle, specifically the columns of Ralph Gleason. Gleason was one of the Chronicle's leading columnists, writing about music on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Gleason was one of the first writers to take "popular" music seriously as Art--Gleason had interviewed Hank Williams in Oakland in the 1950s, and he was a big fan of anything new and good: Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Elvis Presley or the Jefferson Airplane. Gleason was a big supporter of Bill Graham and the Fillmore, and indeed he was instrumental in getting Graham a Dance Permit, without which the Fillmore would not have survived.

Since the influential Gleason wrote extensively about the Fillmore bands, the Chronicle regularly filled out the Entertainment section with promotional photos and press releases of bands playing the local ballrooms and elsewhere. In the Chronicle Entertainment listings, little rock clubs like The Matrix got equal footing with art galleries and hotel ballrooms, an invaluable boon to researchers like me. The other major papers in the Bay Area had no Gleason, and were not so invested in covering the San Francisco scene in any detail.

All of the most thorough writers about the Dead and the San Francisco scene--Blair Jackson, Dennis McNally and Charles Perry, most prominently--leaned heavily on a thorough study of the San Francisco Chronicle microfilm archives. In particular, Gleason's insightful and detailed coverage has been essential in tying dates to various bits of folklore. A story retailed by Bill Graham or Jerry Garcia that might be hard to pin down to a specific time could be compared to Gleason's regular notes and observations, and it would be possible to triangulate when certain things were most likely to have occurred. Without the Chronicle, much of San Francisco's rock history would just be a smoky legend.

On January 6, 1968, the writers and staff of the San Francisco Chronicle went on strike. They remained on strike until about February 15. A brief "scab" version of the Chronicle was put out, but regular columnists like Gleason and Herb Caen went out with their fellows. As a result, there was no record of the doings of the San Francisco rock world for about a six-week period. The Berkeley Barb covered Berkeley and periodically mentioned goings on in the City, but the paucity of information for January 1968 stems from the Chronicle strike. Besides covering all the local events, Gleason usually remarked in passing when the major San Francisco bands were on tour, but no such information was forthcoming during the strike. This has left a critical gap in our knowledge of the Dead's activity during the months of January and February 1968.

The Carousel Ballroom, 1545 Market Street, San Francisco, CA
Throughout late 1967, the Grateful Dead and the other San Francisco bands had felt that the profitable ballroom operations of Bill Graham and Chet Helms were profiting on the back of the local bands. The groups began to look for a venue of their own, an early attempt to take control of their own destiny. Searching for a venue to rent for a Halloween concert in 1967, Dan Healy came across the former El Patio Ballroom at Market and Van Ness. The Dead and Quicksilver put on a concert there, and in conjunction with the other major Bay Area bands (Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company and Country Joe And The Fish) made plans to run their own ballroom. 

The Carousel was owned by Bill Fuller, an Englishman who owned a string of ballrooms in America and England. In the 1960s, they mostly catered to an Irish clientele. The Carousel featured a dance band (jazz orchestra) most weekends, but various special acts played concerts, particularly Irish performers. At some point in early 1968, the San Francisco bands made an agreement with Fuller to lease the hall. Without Gleason and the Chronicle, its hard to determine the exact chronology of events. In March, Gleason reported that the bands had taken over the hall and would put on regular performances. Since there was no Chronicle during the previous several weeks, it's hard to be certain whether the first two shows at the Carousel were "contract" shows where the bands rented the hall or whether the collective of groups had taken hold of the operations. I know there was at least one show at the Carousel that was a contracted show (Buck Owens played the Carousel on March 9, 1968), but I cannot tell if that was the only one.

January 17, 1968: Carousel Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service
Ron Rakow has commented that the bands were absolutely clueless about promotion when they first took over the Carousel. The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver were planning a big tour of the Pacific Northwest, so they kicked it off with a Wednesday night show at the Carousel. No San Francisco bands played the Carousel for another month, thus diluting the value of the inaugural performance. Of course, I have no idea if anyone else played the Carousel in the intervening time, either. A fine tape of this show endures, but we know nothing else about the performances. On the tape, Jerry does say (approximately) "it's nice to be back in San Francisco after a long while playing in other places."

What were the Dead doing from January 1-16? Did they not perform at all on the weekends of January 5-6 and 12-13? Keep in mind that without Gleason we have no good source. Since the band was planning on competing with Chet Helms and Bill Graham, it's no surprise that they didn't play the Avalon or the Fillmore (those bookings are known from posters). I wouldn't rule out a performance out of town, however, in a place like Sacramento, San Jose or Stockton. I'm sure the Dead were rehearsing during this time, but that wouldn't have taken up all 15 days. The Dead had no money at the time, and could not have turned down a paying gig. In my mind, January 12-13, 1968 is a likely candidate for an as-yet unfound show.

handbill for the January 20, 1968 GD/QMS show in Eureka, CA
January 20, 1968: Eureka Municipal Auditorium, Eureka, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service
The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service began their Pacific Northwest tour with a Saturday night concert in the coastal city of Eureka, CA, 272 miles North of San Francisco, and the County Seat of Humboldt County. The Eureka Municipal Auditorium, located on 1120 F Street and completed in 1936, was a delightful little hall with a capacity of 2,300. Because the Dead were working on what would become Anthem Of The Sun, tapes of the concert endure.

Although far Northern California is a hippie paradise now, it was probably not such a place then, and I don't think the town of Eureka was too happy with the concert, as the Dead never played there again. At the time, the area's economy was driven by logging and fishing at the time, rather than growing certain crops (ahem). There was a thriving 60s rock scene in the Northern California/Southern Oregon scene, with some pretty good groups (such as The Neighborhood Childr'n, from Ashland, and The Living Children, from Fort Bragg), but the far Northern circuit stayed pretty isolated from the Portland and San Francisco scenes.

In 1998, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart wanted to play a Benefit concert at the Eureka Municipal Auditorium, but the permit was denied. The Eureka police chief had been a patrolman working security at the 1968 concert. He explained
Look back in the archives of the Eureka paper and you'll see there was a big bust at the Grateful Dead dance. I was an officer at the time...We had people all over the outside and so many inside the fire marshal was getting the hiccups," the chief recalled. "We had people selling and using marijuana that night. I caught one guy selling LSD tabs. After that we wouldn't allow the Grateful Dead to come back to Eureka."
The ironies of the Grateful Dead being banned from Eureka after 1968 are too immense to list here, so I will leave you to contemplate them for yourself.

January 22-23, 1968; Eagles Auditorium, Seattle, WA--spurious
Some fine tapes have circulated for many years, ostensibly from Eagles Auditorium with the dates January 22 and 23. Without recapping research already done excellently, there is no sign of concerts at Eagles Auditorium in Seattle on these days, and every sign of shows on the weekend (January 26 and 27). The 22nd and 23rd were a Monday and a Tuesday, nights when it was very unlikely to have a concert.

However, the dates beg an important question: what were the Grateful Dead doing from Saturday January 20, when they played Eureka, until Friday January 26, when they played Seattle? Where did they go? [update: this is a fine hypothesis I have here, but it turns out to be completely without merit. Thanks to some Commenters, we know that the Dead flew to Eureka, and in fact there was commercial air service from SFO to McKinleyville, near Arcata. This means that the band flew to the Eureka show and returned, and then flew to Seattle, so they never spent any time at large in the Northwest between Jan 21 and Jan 25]: Some things to consider:
  • Driving the equipment back to San Francisco (272 miles) and then North again to Seattle (800 miles) makes little sense
  • There was no meaningful commercial air service out of Eureka at the time, and
  • The band was dead broke, so they hardly could have afforded to put up 10 or so people in hotels, and closer to 20 if you include the Quicksilver boys
The band must have gone to Oregon or Seattle, where someone put them up. But where? Ken Kesey's family farm in Pleasant Hill, OR seems like a likely choice, but Kesey's probation may have made him hesitant to turn the place into an impromptu party. However, whether the band hung out in Eugene, Portland or Seattle, they were there with all their equipment (and Quicksilver). They must have rehearsed, if not played some sort of party or something...why haven't we heard anything about this? Even if they just laid low for a week, shouldn't someone in Oregon or Seattle have a story about it? [there are no stories because the Dead were back home in San Francisco]

handbill for the GD/QMS show on Jan 26-27, 1968 in Seattle, WA
January 26-27, 1968: Eagles Auditorium, Seattle, WA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service
The Quick and The Dead played Eagles Auditorium on the weekend. Eagles was Seattle's own version of the Fillmore, and all the touring bands played there. Built in 1924 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles as “Aerie #1.”  The order was popular in the early 20th century.  The building is now known as Kreielsheimer Place and mostly hosts Theater performances of the Seattle ACT.

I have always assumed that the tapes from January 22-23 have always properly belonged to January 26-27, unless you want to take the hypothesis that the Dead were camped out at Eagles and played for themselves on Monday and Tuesday. The Tour Of The Great Pacific Northwest was, to my knowledge, the first and last time that the Dead followed the conventional promotional practice of printing a blank posters and handbills and filling in the date and venue for each stop.

January 29, 1968: College Center Ballroom, Portland State College, Portland, OR Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/PH Phactor Jug Band
Portland was a major hippie outpost, and had a thriving concert scene, even if it mostly featured out of town bands working their way up and down the coast. The main venue was Portland's Crystal Ballroom, where the Dead would play a legendary weekend on February 2-3, but prior to that they played some weekday college shows. I concede that the confirmed Portland shows on a Monday (29) and a Tuesday (30) put the "mystery" tapes of Jan 22-23 in a different light. Perhaps the band played college dates in Seattle on January 22-23, and the tapes were mislabeled as Eagles? It's an interesting hypothesis, but no research supports that.

The College Center Ballroom, at 1825 SW Broadway, was built in 1957. It has been remodeled various times, but it is still in use, currently called the Smith Memorial Student Union (SMSU) Ballroom. The capacity must have been under 1,000. PH Phactor Jug Band were a hippie jug band.

Handbill for the January 30, 1968 U of O. Dead/QMS show
January 30, 1968: EMU Ballroom, University Of Oregon, Eugene, OR: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/PH Phactor Jug Band
The tour continued on at the University of Oregon the next night. The bands played the Erb Memorial Union Ballroom, at 1222 E. 13th St in Eugene. Depending on the configuration, the official capacity was either 765 or 965, although more may have been packed in there. The show was presented by SDS, but that means less than it may seem. Any campus event would have required a sponsor, and Students For A Democratic Society was probably the best-organized group on campus. I doubt there were any political implications to the event, beyond the usual hippie solidarity. The casual handbill suggests that this event was organized at the last minute.

The next Dead/Quicksilver show was Friday, February 2, at Portland's Crystal Ballroom. What did the Dead do? Where did 15-20 hippies and a truckload of equipment go for three days? This is not so casual a question as it might seem. Cops liked to bust hippies, and Portland cops were no exception, and the notorious Grateful Dead were a tempting target. Portland in the Winter isn't New Jersey, but it isn't Malibu either. Somebody had to be willing to put the bands up, and most hippies were poor and could not absorb such a crew. Once again, many of the signs point to Kesey's farm, but that is only a hypothesis on my part.

The Tour Of The Great Pacific Northwest is fondly thought of by Deadheads, since it formed the basis of side 2 of Anthem Of The Sun, and so many great tapes survive. Those tapes form the clearest picture of the power of the early Dead on a nightly basis, showing how they must have gone from town to town and truly acted as a signpost to new space, as Garcia aptly put it some years later. Yet numerous questions remain, mainly about their itinerary. The Dead had as many nights off as booked shows on this tour, and their activities remain a mystery. I find it odd that given the amount of time and the expirations of various statutes of limitations no one has surfaced with a tale of some weeklong parties with in Oregon or Seattle with the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver, in their prime and ready for adventure.