A BIG ROCK PARTY FOR THE CAMERAS
"Do you have a set schedule for what's going to happen?" the technician asked Bob Zagone of KQED. "We don't have a set schedule for anything," Zagone said, "we have a loose schedule."
They were in the KQED mobile video tape recording truck outside the Family Dog. Several other trucks and a generator, roaring away like a power drill, were set up in the parking lot. Zagone and the KQED crew were getting ready to videotape a Jefferson Airplane party at the Family Dog for National Educational Television.
"There's a young band called 'Kimberly' going to start playing in a few minutes," Zagone said. "Then it will be Santana. After that I don't know what's going to happen."
* * *
The cables were strung all along the sidewalk and into the hall and the huge TV cameras on dollies were rolling back and forth in front of the stage through the wild assembly of San Francisco hip society.
On stage the musicians were plugging in their guitars and tuning. In a little while Kimberly, a neat, melodic band, began. Light men experimented with different combinations. Rock critics wandered through the hall. "It has the right feeling tonight," Mike Goodwin of Rolling Stone said. And poet Lew Welch pointed out that it was one of the few times in recent memory that you could actually get close to a band and not be jammed by the press of the crowd.
After Kimberly, Santana took over and the rhythms of the drums and the bass melded with the guitar and the conga drum and rose to an incredible tension. It ended with Santana almost leaning over backwards hitting the guitar strings and bassist David Brown, his eyes squeezed shut, flailing away at the guitar. The crowd screamed. Out in the truck Bob Zagone complained, "We're not getting that audience noise," and Bob Matthews, who was doing the sound, whipped out a mike and set it up facing the audience.
* * *
"We'll go dark as they start their set and bring the lights up gradually," Zagone said, and the Grateful Dead began. In the truck the multiple images on the little screens made a fascinating montage. Jerry Garcia's face, silhouetted but still clear, approached the mike on the screen and he began to sing. The little screens which showed the pictures the various cameras were registering flicked from one to another. "Gimme a two shot," Zagone said, "let's see both of those guitars."
Out in the crowd, which was dancing or sitting on the floor and around the sides of the stage, John Carpenter of the L.A. Free Press said, "When is it going to be aired?" and hoped a definite date could be set. The man from N.E.T. said probably in April. "It's a good night," Carpenter said. "I had forgotten what San Francisco was really like. I've seen people here I haven't seen in years."
On stage the band was into those rhythmic phrases that make the Dead such groovy dance music, and several girls were dancing behind the band and on one side. Still photographers leaped up from the audience and shot pictures like the paparazzi in 'Z'.
* * *
Then the Airplane came on and Grace smiled and Marty sang "Do you want to know a secret, just between you and me?" and the lights flickered off the sweat on his forehead as he sang and Spencer dove into the drums with a fierce concentration and Jorma sang "Good Shepherd" and the crowd screamed and the cameras rolled back forth.
It was a great evening. San Francisco within a week had two TV specials shot here. Both on rock. There will be more, and if they end up on the screen as good as they are in person, the rest of the country will see something unique.
(by Ralph Gleason, from the On The Town Column, SF Chronicle, Feb 6 1970)
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A SAN FRANCISCO FAMILY AFFAIR
It was a beautiful bash, courtesy of National Educational Television, with Jefferson Airplane and the Family Dog as co-hosts. And you'll be able to watch it in your homes next Fall.
For the first time ever, television will present rock and roll as an artistic endeavor. Members of the Jefferson Airplane will control what goes into the TV show and what doesn't. The aesthetic decisions are to be made by them and co-producers Ralph J. Gleason and Bob Zagone, director of KQED, San Francisco's non-commercial educational TV station.
The program is to be centered mainly on the Airplane, but for good measure they invited the Grateful Dead, Santana, and Kimberly. Quicksilver Messenger Service will also be included, but they missed this gig and will be filmed later. Sort of a San Francisco family affair.
And there's no better place in all of the City for such an affair than the Family Dog on the Great Highway, where the vibes are always good. The KQED cameras recorded the whole party in color for either two one-hour specials or one 90-minute special to be aired next fall. The NET laid out $80,000 for the project, which was the brainchild of KQED and the National Center for Experiments in Television.
Dog manager Jim Hay said he couldn't tell how many people were there, but it was packed and so was the parking lot outside. Most were pretty surprised at the turnout, because it was one of those things that nobody was supposed to know about. Although it was theoretically an invitation-only affair, everybody that showed up was assumed to have been invited by somebody.
Zagone said the whole thing was being put on 16-track tape, and that when it is aired, there hopefully will be simultaneous hook-ups with stereo FM radio stations around the country for better sound. This was only the first step, he said, and added that he's not sure which direction the film will finally take. "We don't know and we're trying to get away from the preconceived notions about filming for television, and so I can't say yet what it will be like," he declared. But it's sure to be the first of its kind. Future filming is planned to include recording sessions with both the Airplane and Quicksilver.
Zagone was outside the Dog most of the night in an equipment truck, monitoring and directing. "All I heard from people though was that they said it was beautiful," he beamed. Which was putting it mildly.
The joint started rocking at 9 PM, and didn't end until around 5 AM, after everybody had gotten together for a long jam. Before then, each band had played its own set, then stepped down to dig the audience and the next group.
Refreshments included Chinese pastries and pork drums, ice cream, and some Koolaid that seemed to be of Trips Festival vintage. "Hey, was that Koolaid 'electric'?" somebody asked. He was answered with kind of a funny smile. The ever-observant Grace Slick also noted a little extra whacko in the drunk, and made some crack about the "ooze" in the big garbage can.
(from Rolling Stone, March 7 1970)
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AIRPLANE HAD A GREAT PARTY AND EVERYONE WILL BE INVITED
The Jefferson Airplane has been given artistic control of its own television special - a first for the Airplane and a dream for most rock performers.
One of the finest rock bands ever, the Airplane was allowed to present its music in the manner it desired. To do so, the Airplane threw a party for its friends at San Francisco's Family Dog ballroom. The rest of the country will be able to relive the party this spring, when it is aired over the nearly 200 stations belonging to the National Educational Television (NET) network.
It was a far cry from the typical commercial television venture, with the accompanying poor lighting and sound quality that drives away many of the more discriminating rock groups. Gone were the middle-aged directors and cameramen with little interest in rock. Replacing them were a camera crew ranging in age from the early to mid-twenties, and a 31-year-old producer-director.
"Taping the Airplane's party means we had to create a new visual experience," said Bob Zagone, the youthful director and coproducer with Ralph J. Gleason. "That night of the party is gone forever, with its smells, sounds, and sheer mass of people. It can't be recreated, so we created a television experience in its place.
"The Airplane was crucial to the proper production of this special. Therefore its own light show man supervised the TV lighting, and its sound man coordinated the audio with us. The finished program will be approved by the Airplane before it is released to NET, even though NET footed the bill ($80,000)."
Bill Thompson, manager of the Airplane, is succinct in stating the goals for this venture:
"We were simply aiming for the best quality sound and lighting ever shown on national television."
Listeners in major cities such as Chicago and Washington, D.C., may hear the sound broadcast simultaneously by the local educational television station and an FM radio station, creating a stereo effect.
The sound quality which comes through a TV set should be better than usual, according to Zagone, even though most sets have poor speakers. Usually a program is recorded on a one or two-channel audio recorder. The Airplane's party, however, is recorded on a massive 16-channel Ampex audio recorder.
"A variety of visual effects are being added to the tape," said Zagone.
Light shows behind the stage and at the far end of the ballroom provided a bubbling, flashing orgy of lush hues ranging from scarlet to lime and fuchsia. The overall lighting is dimmer than customary for television, at the insistence of the Airplane. "A more comfortable and realistic atmosphere," Thompson explains.
The rest of the two-hour special centered about a recording studio session, and conversations with various members of the group. But for the party, the Airpane invited Santana and the Grateful Dead, two fine San Francisco groups, to play with them, and both cheerfully agreed. Both groups will have artistic control over their performances, Thompson said.
Whether or not the TV special lives up to its potentiality is a matter for viewers to decide when the program is aired. But the vibrations were right the evening of the taping, and Airplane guitarist Paul Kantner considered the event a fine party and said the Airplane enjoyed playing for it.
Before the taping took place, however, the television producers were subjected to a variety of hassles from police, landlords, the musicians' union, fire marshals, and tax collectors. Although it presented a new and frustrating experience for Zagone and his crew, the harassment is commonplace for the hirsute proprietors of the Family Dog.
But once the taping started, about 500 self-proclaimed "freaks" danced, swayed, jumped about and sat transfixed in the smallest of San Francisco's emporiums of rock. The ballroom is at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and the sound of crashing waves is evident outside. But once indoors, the hundreds of long-hairs heard nothing but the roar of rock and roll music.
Free food was cooked and served by friends of the Airplane, typifying the hip community's sharing ethic. Plastic garbage pails were filled with red and green soft drinks, and vats of meat-filled pastries and rice with vegetables were wheeled into the Dog for the hungry horde.
While food simmered in the kitchen, Santana was cooking in the ballroom. Its heavily Latin-influenced beat filled the intimate setting with staccato pounding rhythms. Leader Carlos Santana, resplendent in a purple and white football jersey and a modified natural, punctuated the hammering congas with fine guitar runs.
Then the Grateful Dead joined the party. Still uptight from a weekend in New Orleans that saw several of its members busted for alleged possession of narcotics, the Dead started off slowly. But it swung into its usual mellow rock beat with a version of "St. Stephen" that wove into the old Rolling Stones hit, "Don't Fade Away," and back again to "St. Stephen."
With the audience firmly behind them, the Dead's musicians moved into "Dance in the Midnight Hour" without pause. Pigpen, confidently funky with his goatee, pigtail and cowboy hat, shouted and growled the lyrics before a bobbing mass of fans.
No party is complete without its host, so when the Jefferson Airplane finally took the stage, the audience gladly paid its respects.
After the Airplane's two sets and a short break, performers from each group crowded the stage for an hour-long jam session. The last several minutes were climaxed by a thundering, soaring blast of percussion and electric guitars. By the time Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia brought the jam to a triumphant halt, members of the audience were straining on tiptoes toward the shattering wall of sound. When the jam ended, most of the crowd was emotionally and physically exhausted.
While the Airplane is living a musician's dream with control over its own nationally televised party, the group is continuing into other areas beyond the production of singles and albums.
Manager Thompson is negotiating for the Airplane to appear in either a taped or filmed version of Shakespeare's "Richard III," with the Airplane providing music and some acting. If details are worked out, actor Rip Torn would serve as director and Geraldine Page would be his costar.
(by Robert W. Neubert, from the Yonkers Herald Statesman, April 3 1970)
(This is the portion of the Dead's show that's long been in circulation. Their full show was released as part of the Download Series; and the Night at the Family Dog was of course released on video. Note that it ended up as a one-hour show; the Airplane's studio session and the Quicksilver segments, taped separately, were used in the Go Ride The Music special.)
(An informative post based on the Gleason article.)