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.

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.