Feb 12, 2013

December 10, 1965: Fillmore Auditorium, SF


The benefit for the San Francisco Mime Troupe Friday night at the Fillmore Auditorium (it was billed as "Appeal II, For Continued Artistic Freedom in the Arts") was a roaring success. Over 3500 people paid $1.50 apiece to be there.
But it was a great deal more than a benefit. It was substantiation of the suspicion that the need to dance on the part of a great number of residents of this area is so great it simply must be permitted.
The Friday night affair was basically a rock 'n roll dance such as the ones the Family Dog put on at the Longshore Hall.
If this city was run for the citizens, such affairs would be commonplace and conducted, say, once a month at the Civic Auditorium where there used to be numerous dances during the swing era.

At 9:30 there was a double line a block long outside the Fillmore Auditorium. At 1 a.m. it was still there, the individuals were new but the packed house still existed.
Inside a most remarkable assemblage of humanity was leaping, jumping, dancing, frigging, fragging and frugging on the dance floor to the music of the half dozen rock bands – the Mystery Trend, the Great Society, the Jefferson Airplane, the VIP's, the Gentlemen's Band, the Warlocks and others. The costumes were freeform Goodwill-cum-Sherwood Forest. Slim young ladies with their faces painted a la Harper's Bazaar in cats-and-dogs lines, granny dresses topped with huge feathers, white levis with decals of mystic design; bell-bottoms split up the side! The combinations were seemingly limitless.
At each end of the huge hall was a three foot high sign saying LOVE. Over the bar was another saying "No Booze," while the volunteer bartenders served soft drinks. Alongside the regular bar was a series of tables selling apples! The only dance (outside of Halloween) I've ever been at where they sold apples, Craaaazy! In a corner past the apple table was a baby in a carriage, sound asleep with a bottle and a teddy bear clutched in his (her?) arms.
This crowd was so far out that when Milton Hunt, the distinguished North Beach boulevardier, entered wearing a serape and a black sombrero and escorting a girl dressed in a Vikki Duggan skirt (cut six inches below the hipline and supported by a thin net top and that's all!) no one turned a hair. It was that kind of a night.
Although it was a benefit for the Mime troupe in its fight against "the law's delay, the insolence of office" to which their handout refers in Shakespearean terms, there were thousands there who never heard of the Mime Troupe or at least never had been to one of their shows, as Ronnie Davis pointed out.
They were there for a multitude of reasons, and the reasons bear examination. Some were there because the Mime Troupe represents, along with Jerry Ets Hotkin, a battle for creativity in the arts. Others, and more I suspect, were there because the Mime Troupe's park use hassle dramatizes another aspect of the struggle of US against THEM.
Still others were there as part of the rock revolution. They don't need booze (as the swing era dancers did). All they need is the sound of the guitars. They get high on decibels alone. And they are hurting to dance.

San Francisco has been hell on dances for years. The police obviously regard mass proximity of the sexes to the sound of music as a hazard equal to a time bomb. But I suspect this attitude will have to be tempered. The actual demand for dances is going to increase. The whole rock revolution points to dancing, the music ineluctably moves one to move.
Another thing about the Friday night revel. There were no guards inside. There was an absence of uniforms and there was no trouble. It was the kind of crowd where over a dozen people stopped dancing, got down on their hands and knees to help a girl find a contact lens that had popped out during a particularly dramatic movement. They scrambled on the dance floor for a few minutes and found it. She cleaned it in her mouth, popped it back in and the dancing continued.
Don't knock the rock, as the British used to say.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the "On the Town" column, SF Chronicle, December 13, 1965)




  1. This is one of the few references to the Warlocks in print.
    The other was in the November '65 issue of the folk magazine Sing Out!, in Israel Young's 'Frets and Frails' column: "David Grisman found the Warlocks to be the best rock-and-roll group he heard in California. He especially liked a song written by their lead guitarist, Jerry Garcia, titled 'Bending Your Mind.'"
    (Garcia had met Grisman in a Pennsylvania parking lot during his 1964 cross-country bluegrass expedition. Grisman was visiting his bluegrass friends in California in mid-'65, and saw the Warlocks play.)

    Another reference to the Warlocks is on the poster for the next Mime Troupe benefit at the Fillmore on 1/14/66, where Bill Graham famously listed the Grateful Dead as "formerly the Warlocks" - partly because he didn't like their new name, but also because more people would recognize them as "the Warlocks." (The band chose the name "Grateful Dead" in November '65, but here in December, they're still known as the Warlocks, so the old name must have been hard to shake for a while.)
    An alternate poster for 1/14/66 is simply a reproduction of this article - Bill Graham cannily realizing that Gleason's enthusiasm for the December benefit would be good advertising for the next one.

    The Warlocks were not listed on the poster for the 12/10/65 concert - they were simply included in the "many other friends" - so I would imagine their set was short, though the show was to go from 9 a.m. til dawn. (By 1/14/66 they'd moved up in the billing.)

    Gleason alludes to the Mime Troupe's "park use hassle" - in November, the group's director had been found guilty of "performing in the parks without a permit." Graham, their business manager, put on three concert benefits for them to pay for their legal defense (in Nov, Dec, and Jan), and realized his true talents were as a concert promoter.

    Gleason also mentions the rarity of rock dances in San Francisco at that time - the Mime Troupe benefits were prominently billed as "DANCE-CONCERTS." There were no "dance halls" such as the Fillmore & Avalon would become - each dance concert still needed its own permit.
    Another thing to notice is at that time, Gleason was much more interested in the crowds than in the bands. The scene was all still new...

    1. I was at this event (which included the Vipers, not the VIPs). When the Dead/Warlocks were introduced they were introduced with their new name, as though it were the first time they used it.

    2. It may well have been the first show where they used their new name, since they'd just discovered it. It didn't catch on right away, though - Gleason calls them the Warlocks here, and the next month Bill Graham insisted on billing them as "Formerly the Warlocks."

  2. A Berkeley Barb article on the Mime Troupe's history included this note:
    "At the first Mime Troupe benefit another group, including Troupe member Phil Lesh, decided on its name just in time for Ronnie [Davis] to announce The Grateful Dead."
    (Robert Hurwitt, "Mime Troupe Always Set To Shuffle," Berkeley Barb 7/28/67)

    So it looks like this was the first show where their new name was announced.