Jun 6, 2013

February 15, 1968: San Quentin Prison


Five hundred hippies danced and sang on a grassy knoll outside San Quentin Prison Thursday in a show of sympathy for the men behind the walls.
The songfest involving long-haired, bearded young men and sack-wearing girls was to coincide with a threatened strike of prison inmates which never materialized.

The Grateful Dead played for the flower children on the sunny hillside overlooking San Francisco Bay.
They hung flowers on the iron prison gate and let a few balloons bearing peace symbols float over it into the enclosure. A sign saying "rehabilitate the penal system now" was posted outside the gate.
The tribal gathering was touched off by an appeal in an "underground" prison sheet calling for a strike by San Quentin's 3,900 inmates against alleged mistreatment.
But Associate Warden James W. Park said the day was uneventful inside the walls. Prisoners were bustled off to their jobs an hour early as precaution against possible intimidation by those agitating for the strike.
Absenteeism from work in the shops was normal, the warden's office said. Some agitators, including those who published "The Outlaw," had been disciplined. The call for a strike in the underground sheet had been picked up by the "Berkeley Barb," a hippie newspaper last week.

The Greatful Dead rock group set up their electronic gear on a flatbed truck and the music blared out for about three hours. The convicts may have picked up a few strains of it before their late afternoon meal. The hippies trickled away as darkness came.
The real highlight of the day in San Quentin was the graduation exercise for 373 inmates who completed various phases of education, from grammar school to college education courses.

(from the Hayward Daily Review, February 16 1968)

Thanks to Lost Live Dead.

* * *

A similar piece from the LA Times...


SAN RAFAEL - An underground newspaper at San Quentin Prison called on 2,700 convicts to strike Thursday.
But less than 50 did - despite the moral support of 250 Bay Area hippies who staged a flower-power rally outside the prison gates.
The Outlaw, a will-o'-the-wisp newspaper published sporadically since last June by prisoners at San Quentin, called for a "unity day" strike to enforce demands for earlier releases and better living conditions and food.
The Berkeley Barb, an anti-establishment newspaper which is the San Francisco-area equivalent of the Los Angeles Free Press, heard about the strike plan and publicized a rally to back prisoners' demands.
Prison walls rarely divided one world from another more dramatically than they did Thursday at the huge prison near here.
Outside, bearded men, long-haired women, and laughing, squealing children meandered with dedicated aimlessness along the road that ends at San Quentin's silver-painted gate.
They garlanded the gate with yellow wildflowers, briefly blocked traffic, taunted unsmiling guards with friendly jibes, then wandered onto a spit of land which juts into San Francisco Bay and listened to musicians from a group called The Grateful Dead play a folk-rock concert.
Inside, it was another tough day in a tough place. Uniformed, neatly barbered convicts followed the countless clocks that told them exactly when to be exactly where. And, said, prison officials, it was a day of work as usual:
Tough, blunt-spoken warden L.S. Nelson, 58, told a reporter:
"The great bulk of the population went about their work as if they'd never heard of The Outlaw."
Perhaps one reason was that they had heard what had happened to the Outlaw staff. . . .
[The rest of the article details the various punishments for the prisoners who called for a strike - being shipped to Folsom or put in solitary.

(by Dial Torgerson, from the Los Angeles Times, 16 February 1968)

See also http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2009/12/grateful-dead-san-quentin-performances.html  


  1. After the Midnight Hour encore at the Carousel on 2/14/68, there was a stage announcement:
    "Hey remember, we're all prisoners till everybody is free. So tomorrow come out to San Quentin - they need our support. One o'clock, or one-thirty, or two o'clock. Anytime around then. Country Joe and the Fish came here from New York tonight, and so when they left it was about four o'clock their time (in the morning) and they got up at eight. They wanted to stay around, jam some more, but - they're gonna rest up and come out to San Quentin tomorrow - as well as the Dead, and some of the Airplane, and some of the other bands."

    Deadlists has a memory from David Minton:
    "I vividly recall going to a prisoners benefit on a point overlooking San Quentin. Garcia, Casady, one of the guys from the Charlatans, maybe Barry Melton from CJ&Fish were playing on flatbed trucks. I think there was a strike on in the prison."

    The article mentions only the Grateful Dead, but it's likely the reporter didn't inquire too closely about the membership of whoever was playing on the truck.

    The Outlaw was the underground prison newspaper, which called for an inmate strike on Feb 15 as a "Convict Unity Holiday," making several demands to improve prison conditions. This was picked up by the Berkeley Barb, which gave it heavy coverage.
    Eric Cummins' book The Rise And Fall of California's Radical Prison Movement goes into a lot of detail about this period - in its account, the Dead, the Phoenix, and several members from Country Joe & the Fish came.
    One person remembered, "The Grateful Dead...brought a flatbed truck and brought their own equipment, their amps and generating equipment. They pulled their flatbed truck out there on the little peninsula, and they got up on that. It was publicized on one of the rock stations as well as in the Berkeley Barb... There weren't many [prisoners] who could see, but they could all hear and they knew they had the support."
    Cummins writes: "On February 15, 20% of the inmate population struck. The Barb had drawn a large crowd to the prison gates... The group of about 400 to 500 strike supporters scribbled chalk paintings before the prison gate, played drums and tambourines, and launched colored balloons up over the prison walls. The following day, 75% of the prison shut down. The nonviolent strike lasted a week, accompanied by daily noontime demonstrations at the east gate..."
    The Berkeley Barb continued its steady prison coverage, and after inmate demands were not met, "on August 2 the inmates struck again... Outside, two rock bands and a mariachi group entertained demonstrators who had arrived by carpool caravan from a noon rally at UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza."

  2. There's a photo of Garcia & Weir playing at this event - Weir is playing a borrowed bass (not Phil's), indicating that Phil didn't make it to this show; which confirms what eyewitness Alain Dister wrote in his book.

    1. I added the picture. Dister wrote in his memoir that Phil was absent and Weir played bass. Phoenix bassist Jef Jaisun also says that this event was more of a jam session with various players including Garcia & Jack Casady. Nick Gravenites also played guitar at one point.

  3. http://www.gratefuldeadfamilyalbum.com/#!page-64-horse/cl2m yet another photo

    1. Thanks for the photo. That would have been interesting to hear - I wonder what they played with Gravenites....some blues, I presume. (He was in Electric Flag at the time.)

      A little trivia: Gravenites had been a co-composer on the Butterfield Blues Band tune "East-West," which I think had been a big influence on the Dead back in '66. He would also help produce Quicksilver's first album in '68, and also worked with Joplin and Big Brother. The odd thing is, this appearance is his only connection with the Dead that I can think of. (Maybe since they were a more insular group.)
      However, he would have a pretty strong Garcia connection. In 1970, he was producing Brewer & Shipley when Garcia recorded some pedal-steel for them; and Garcia also played a benefit show with him in 1990. Most importantly, he was the guy who introduced Garcia to Merl Saunders. Saunders was doing studio sessions with Bloomfield's band in 1970: "Doing that, I met Nick Gravenites, who was doing a lot of sessions. He would hook me up with this guitar player...Jerry." Apparently, Saunders met Garcia & John Kahn while working on sessions that Gravenites produced, and they invited Saunders to the Matrix.

  4. The Berkeley Barb ran an article on the upcoming prison strike plans on the front page of the 2/9/68 issue ("SAN Q ROCKS") -

    The walls of San Quentin will begin to rock shortly after dawn next Thursday.
    Pressure will begin to mount from then on both inside and outside the grim penitentiary.
    Inside the cons will return en masse to their cells and refuse to obey the routine work orders.
    Outside free men will mass to let the cons know the free people support them. ...
    The Grateful Dead and the Quicksilver Messenger Service have said they will do their thing outside the walls, presumably at full amplification.
    On Thursday, February 15, San Quentin inmates will hold a 'unity holiday for convicts.' While the convicts are taking a short vacation from prison work, a massive festival of free men will be taking place just outside the fence..."

    The 2/23/69 Berkeley Barb continued the story of the San Quentin strike:

    ... The present series of strikes began last Thursday at San Quentin as about 700 free men gathered outside during the course of the day to support convict demands for fair, humane treatment...
    [Most of the inmates went to work that day, as the warden moved the work schedule to earlier in the day.] As a result, the inmates were back in their cells early, in the late afternoon, when the gathering outside was at its peak.
    Cons in two of the cell blocks could then see the hundreds gathered outside or hear the free sounds of The Grateful Dead and The Phoenix. Never before had so many been on hand to support the beginning of a convicts' move for basic prison reform...
    The next day, shouting swept through the prison, spreading word of the strike... [The strike soon spread until most prisoners stopped working, and the warden ordered a general lock-up.]
    Visible and audible support on the outside will reappear this Sunday when rock bands, including The Phoenix which vibed the prison walls last Thursday, arrive back outside the gates in mid-afternoon to play for the inmates.
    Plans are afoot to hold a weekly rock concert at the gates until the cons get the human treatment they seek."
    As an aside, on Feb 14, "the Asst. Warden was asked if he enjoyed the Grateful Dead or the Quicksilver Messenger Service... After some hesitating, the Asst. Warden replied, 'Not particularly.'"
    (Berkeley Barb 2/23/68, p.7)

  5. I added an article from the LA Times, which is pretty similar to the Hayward piece - no new details on the concert.