Sep 7, 2018

June 7, 1968: Carousel Ballroom


Sure recipe for a mob scene - the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead in a downtown ballroom on a Friday night in June.
The Carousel last night was jam packed, but crowd quantity did not guarantee musical quality, and neither group was at its best form.
These affairs aren't dances, they are concerts. The San Francisco sound is no longer the catalyst for dancing. The fans either don't want to dance or they can't because of sardine-can conditions. So what's happening on stage, through the loud speakers, is the whole scene.
And as a concert hall the Carousel is woefully inadequate. The light show doesn't illuminate enough of the stage; the sound system, last night, was distorting badly; and if 3000 people are going to sit, there might as well be chairs.
Far more bodies would be closer, and more comfortable; maybe the created floor space would then invite dancing. I miss it.

The Jefferson Airplane always comes on strong, and they did last night. But after "It's No Secret" the set I heard became muddled. Grace Slick is singing louder and guttier than in the past but seems to have lost some of her melodic beauty. Her duets with Marty Balin have a sameness and often are hurried and ineffective.
The Airplane's ensemble strength was inconsistent; even the heavy bassist Jack Casady was often lost in the acoustic imbalance. Lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, always steady, worked in some nice solos and wah-wah effects with his usual taste.
But the group's long experiments-in-sound, electronic dissonance, drum breaks, etc., failed to come off.
The Dead should be Grateful for guitarist Jerry Garcia. Without him, last night, their set would have been a shambles, a joke. Garcia's astonishing performance consistently places him ever further ahead of his colleagues.

(by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 8 June 1968) (might include some recordings from the Carousel, June '68)


  1. Fleetwood Mac was also supposed to play these shows (they were on the poster & listed in the papers), but they canceled at the last minute, unable to travel to the US. They would play at the Carousel with Big Brother a couple weeks later.

    Elwood got grumpier each time he reviewed the Dead. From being a fan back in '66, he'd started griping about their dull, too-long sets in '67, and now he calls them "a joke," a band that would be nothing without Garcia. His praise for Garcia was always consistent (back in October '67 he'd said, "other than Jerry Garcia's wonderful guitar variations there wasn't anything very interesting in the Dead"), and here he says Garcia is "ever further ahead" of the rest of the band.
    Maybe the Dead's set was a shambles that night. But it's also telling that Elwood deplores the lack of dancing in the Carousel. In '66 he'd praised the Dead as being "especially good for dancing," and it seems the less people danced, the lower his opinion dropped. He's upset about the "jam-packed...sardine-can conditions" in the Carousel, and fans who "don't want to dance" and just sit. He's sad that concerts nowadays are "no longer the catalyst for dancing...I miss it."
    This was a social shift which had nothing to do with the quality of the music, but it definitely affected his mood.
    Elwood also complains about the Airplane's "muddled" set, but when he mentions their unsatisfactory "long experiments in sound [and] electronic dissonance," I get the feeling their music was changing from what he wanted it to be.
    This is also the only contemporary review I've seen stating that the Carousel was a "woefully inadequate" concert hall - other reviewers loved the place. (And the Carousel's soundman, Owsley, probably wouldn't like to hear that "the sound system was distorting badly!")

    See also the comment here:

    1. I was there that night 6/7/68. There was no mention of the fact that the Airplane opened and the Dead Followed. That was not planned. Jerry Garcia's daughter was born that night. This caused him to very late. I was standing in behind the audience. I remember very clearly watching Bill Graham running around frantically working on the sound problems. He was muttering about how all the speakers were not operating well AT ALL! So maybe that explains why this was not the best concert.

    2. An interesting memory! I have no doubt Garcia may have been late, however he didn't have any daughters born between 1963 & 1970.
      Also, I would be shocked if Bill Graham was running a show at the Carousel, since he was not a manager there and had shows going at his other theaters on that date.

  2. Part of a Ralph Gleason article is also pertinent here:

    "Fewer and fewer people seem inclined to dance. This became obvious last year and is increasing. It is now at a point where, at The Fillmore or Winterland, a very small percentage of the audience, sometimes no one at all, dances. There is more dancing at the Avalon and the Carousel...
    [At] the Fillmore and Winterland...people come to see the scene. People come to see the bands, the singers, and the audience. They stand in front of the bandstand and they sit on the floor. They do not dance. When the crowd is large, all the dance floor is covered with human bodies, prone, seated, etc.
    [At the Avalon and Carousel] the attendance, most times, is proportionately smaller. Hence there is more actual room in which to dance. The vibes in both the Avalon and the Carousel are different, too. There is more of a sense of audience participation than at either the Fillmore or Winterland, both of which seem to make the audience into spectators rather than participants.
    There's a feed-back here. The bands are getting more complex. Given the changing audience, they are affected by the change as well. It is noteworthy that when the Airplane and the Dead last played the Carousel, the house was jammed but people stood, rooted by the physical proximity of others, and danced from the ankles up...
    The San Francisco affairs are now labelled 'dance-concerts.' They are really concerts. They are still much better than the night club atmosphere, freer, more informal, and with much better vibrations (and not only from the absence of booze). But they are a long way from being dances, except occasionally."
    (from "Changing Role of Ballrooms," the SF Examiner 6/30/68)

  3. The Carousel was getting into trouble with The Man right at this time. I post my notes below.

    "The Dead, who were scheduled to open for the Airplane, were late, because Jerry's daughter was being born, so the Airplane went on first!" NB this doesn't square up, since daughters were born in 1966, 1970 and 1974. A report from the next day says that the ballroom was shut on this Friday by a Superior Court injunction, but obviously this injunction was stayed. The Sunday show is listed in the Datebookas if there's nothing amiss, and Gleason was in attendance. I have an entry for this in my big non-JG spreadsheets, as follows: "Superior Court Judge Charles S. Peery grants a restraining order to building owner City Center Ballroom of California against the lessees, Headstone Productions, closing the ballroom. The owner had alleged that Headstone owed $11,000 in back rent, was allowing dance concert attendees to damage furnishings and fixtures, that it lacked proper insurance, and had "caused a lewd and lascivious word," so "lewdly repugnant" that the lawyers would only reproduce it in documents upon need, to be displayed on the marquee over Market Street. An update published June 11 says that Headstone posted a $5,000 guarantee and that the order was stayed, but it does not say when." Elwood 19680608 gives ex post.

    ! ad: San Francisco Express Times, June 6, 1968, p. 12;
    ! listing: "Hey," San Francisco Express Times, June 6, 1968, p. 14;
    ! ref: URL;
    ! ref: "Court Shuts Carousel Ballroom," San Francisco Chronicle, June 8, 1968, p. 3;
    ! ref: "Carousel Ball," San Francisco Chronicle, June 11, 1968, p. 3;
    ! expost: Elwood 19680608.

    1. Dennis McNally describes the event:
      "On May 1, the Diggers threw the Free City Convention... When the Diggers put their philosophy into action at the Carousel, all hell broke loose. At one point someone started a fire in a giant seashell, and Rakow demonstrated his objection to the idea by pissing on it... Led by Jefferson Poland, the founder of the Sexual Freedom League, the evening dissolved into a large-scale sexual encounter... That night someone snuck up and changed the marquee to read FREE CUNT, with predictable reactions from the city, local citizens, and police." (LST p.263)

      A Berkeley Barb article on the event is included here: