Feb 20, 2017

December 17, 1966: Ladera School, Ladera, CA


A little short of a miracle, the "Grateful Dead" have signed to play at the Ladera Christmas dance. What has brought this about, is that the kids themselves have been saving the profits that they have made from past dances so that now they can afford to pay for this important (and expensive) group.
They will be well worth hearing. To quote from Ralph Gleason's article (Dec. 8 Chronicle) "The Grateful Dead is a contemporary rock band, a good deal of whose music is blues based. They have evolved a magnificent playing style that features some of the most exciting instrumental rock music anywhere.
Included in their group is Ron "Pig Pen" McKernan who plays organ and harmonica and sings. Many young white performers in folk and rock music seem to be little but imitations of negro singers. Pig Pen, on the other hand, does not do this and he is tremendously effective. He sings like himself; the music and the style is blues, but he is not imitation."
That sounds good. And the sounds next Saturday night (December 17th at 8:00 o'clock) will be an exciting experience for everyone who can hear them. This will be a real Christmas present for those who attend.

(from the Ladera Crier newsletter, December 1966)



It was quite a party they had at Ladera School one evening of the Christmas holiday.
A gas?
A blast? What's the "in" word for it?
It really turned the kids on. Anyway, it was noisy and it was fun.
The teen-agers of Ladera decided to splurge the money earned on previous dances to hire themselves a band and throw a real bash.
They did.
The "Grateful Dead" came from San Francisco in full tonsorial and electronic splendor to play, with the Rhythm Method Blues Band donating their services to fill in any chinks of silence that might threaten the evening. A troupe headed by George Kelly put on a show of colored light, swirling dyes, movies, and slides, also donating services.
Joe Bonner, Ann Wilsnack, Barbie Rusmore, and Mark Wilson headed the dance committee and turned in a spectacular decorations job. The large window in the multi-purpose room was completely covered with batik designs which turned it into a kind of mod stained glass window, lighted from outside. The wall opposite had a full mural.
The Ladera Community Association sponsored the dance, as they do other teen dances several times a year in the community. Mrs. Richard Hayes had initiated the dance series and continues to assist with ticket sales and other chores. Mrs. Jack Wallis is the current dance committee chairman. Mrs. Dan Dana helped with printing of invitations, limited to Ladera teen-agers and their guests. Jeff Wilson aided and abetted the decorations committee.
[A list of a dozen adult chaperones follows.]

Picture captions:
Dancers trip the light fantastic -- and the fantastic ranged from rock and roll spine torture to Greek folk dances -- before a window decorated with batik panels and lighted from outside to give a stain-glass effect. Shown are Connie Hefte and Bruce Hird. That swirl of blonde hair behind Connie is Bruce's partner, Barbie Rusmore. All the pictures are by Ken Gardiner of Ladera, who found he could concentrate on his camera better after he stuffed his ears with cotton.
Gerry Wilsnack of Ladera was one of the many adults who helped the teens make their dream party come true. Took good care of the money, too.
Anne Creelman, a guest from Los Altos, gets into the swing of things.
George Kelly of San Francisco swirls dyes over a light to project colored patterns on a sheet-draped wall.
"Pigpen," he calls himself, one of the "Grateful Dead" who provided the decibels.

(from the Country Almanac, 3 January 1967)

Thanks to Susan Suesser, who uncovered these articles:

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure how the teens of Ladera heard of the Dead - the band didn't have an album out yet, weren't on radio, and were only known for their recent San Francisco shows; their roots in neighboring Palo Alto & Menlo Park were probably little-known. Yet the local newsletter calls them an important group whose appearance is "little short of a miracle." Perhaps some older siblings had seen the band; but the Dead were already starting to get an enthusiastic press, particularly from Ralph Gleason who praised them in the Chronicle every chance he could.
    Ralph Gleason's quoted comments were in a Chronicle article covering upcoming blues shows:

    Suesser writes, "The Ladera School at that time was a public school in the Los Lomitas School District and was K-5. The teens were all part of the Teen Dance club and held these dances on a regular basis. This was the big splurge and they dwindled after that." (Another dance wasn't held for months, perhaps since no local bands could follow the Dead!)

    A couple of the dance committee organizers mentioned in the article were interviewed recently - Barbara Rusmore remembered working on the window decorations with the neighborhood art group. (The window was covered with dyed designs for a psychedelic look.)
    Ann Wilsnack recalled, "The Ladera Community had put on a lot of dances for the teenagers and had actually made money on them. Someone found out that the Grateful Dead would do a dance for $2,000. We had money in the coffers and decided to spring for it."

    Tickets were $1.00, and teens were allowed to invite one friend (like the pictured guest from Los Altos). One guy who came thought Pigpen sounded awful (despite Gleason's praise), so he left early.
    The Dead brought a San Francisco light show with them. I don't know who the Rhythm Method Blues Band were, but it's quite a sly name for a band playing a chaperoned school dance!
    Police were present for security, and the music was loud (note that the photographer "stuffed his ears with cotton"), but the adults apparently weren't too disturbed by Pigpen or the volume - the newspaper summarizes, "It was noisy and it was fun."

    It's interesting to see how different the perception of the band was then - the "Grateful Dead" are named only in quotes, and are considered quite safe for a teen dance (it's only rock music for kids, after all). Pigpen's clearly the star, no one else named, although the band's "tonsorial splendor" is noted, and it's said they "turned the kids on" (no drug meaning intended). Whoever wrote the Almanac article seems rather elderly and amused by the whole youthful affair - the dancing is called "spine torture," the music is only notable for being loud, and any pauses are "chinks of silence that might threaten the evening."