Jun 9, 2013

March 15, 1969: Hilton Hotel, San Francisco

At the Hilton end of the Black & White Ball, the Grateful Dead, the pioneer S.F. rock group, was making a terrible racket. Jerry Garcia, blackbearded as Smokey the Bear, screeching his guitar up to 130 decibels, louder than a jet engine, the two drummers flailing away and the "Angels of the Dead" - the five little daughters of the group - swaying in the background, wearing white robes, looking like swinging seraphim. Will they be stone deaf, the Grateful Deaf, by the time they're 15? "No, because we never never stand in front of Jerry's speaker."
After the gig, Jerry Garcia was depressed. "We sounded terrible," he lamented, rubbing his thick black beard. "Couldn't get the feel of the room. It was like playing in a cocktail lounge. We wanted to do a good job tonight - this is our home town, after all - but we've played better out on the road after five nights of no sleep. Too bad. But say, did you see all those people out on the floor dancing? Having fun? That part was good. I wish the kids at the Fillmore, who never dance, could have seen that."
With him was Mountain Girl, the ex-playmate of Ken Kesey. Fresh-faced, shining-eyed, apple-cheeked - the most beautiful girl at the Black & White Ball.
As Garcia walked away, a society matron followed him with her eyes and said, "Oh, it talks, does it?" Yeah, it talks. "What in the world do you find to SAY to people like that?" she asked. I couldn't find anything to say to her, so I left.

(excerpt from "One Thing After Another" by Herb Caen, from the San Francisco Chronicle, March 18 1969)

(This picture also includes a rare poster for the Black & White Symphony Ball, which calls the Dead "one of the world's top rock groups" and says they will be "alternating with Country Weather," another SF rock group whose involvement has been forgotten.)

* * *

We were hired to play at the 1969 Black and White Ball, an annual benefit extravaganza for the San Francisco Symphony. The original idea was to dress up in those black and white striped prisoner outfits made famous in the old time movies, but that proved impracticable. The ones we settled on weren't too shabby, though - Jerry was a pirate, Mickey was Zorro, and I had an 18th-century bell-ringer costume complete with three-cornered hat. All this in black and white. It would have been a smashing success, if only the PA system could have been ready a few hours sooner. Like, by curtain time.
In the preparatory meetings with the Symphony people, Phil and I suggested the possibility of a musical collaboration between the band and the orchestra... They all but laughed in our faces.

(excerpt from Tom Constanten's book Between Rock and Hard Places, 1992)



  1. Some articles just can't be improved on. Though short, Caen's review is great.

    McNally has a lengthy account of this show in his book, p.304.
    Weir's mother was chairman of the SF Symphony entertainment committee, and she got the Dead to play at the symphony's benefit ball. With the rock portion of the event located in the Hilton Hotel's Grand Ballroom, admission $17.50, and attendees attired in black & white, this show would not have attracted the Dead's usual audience! (Though Garcia contrasts the dancing ballroom audience with "the kids at the Fillmore, who never dance.")
    McNally: "The band and equipment arrived on time, but Bear announced that he needed a missing item back in Novato, and vanished. While the musicians prepared themselves in a room upstairs, Bear actually went to sleep in an equipment case under the stage. When the lateness of the hour dawned on the band, they rousted him from his refuge, scourged him into setting up the stage, and at long last began to play... The Dead played for an hour, and McIntire told them to stay put while he pinned down the night's schedule. It took him quite a while to find the right person, too long in fact, and when the mayor arrived...there was no band left."
    They drifted off before the final ceremony, leading one society columnist to call them the "Ungrateful Dead."

    McNally goes into great detail about the evening's costumes. Apparently the "Angels of the Dead" were Ron Rakow's wife and "the Jensen girls from Marin," who despite their youth, had the wisdom to "never never stand in front of Jerry's speaker."

    Our tape starts with lengthy sound adjustments & complaints to Bear. Given the high-society ballroom setting, naturally they start with their first-ever rendition of Hard to Handle, which is uncoordinated to say the least.
    It's understandable why Garcia lamented about the performance afterwards!

    It was also Phil's birthday.

  2. So many thanks for the info an insight on this date .