Jul 3, 2020

March 21-22, 1969: Rose Palace, Pasadena, CA


It looks like the Los Angeles area finally has a permanent home for rock concerts, akin to the good vibes of San Francisco's Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms.
The name of the place is the Rose Palace.
After only two weeks in operation, it's assimilated the best features of Los Angeles' historic (and no more) hallowed halls of rock: Shrine Hall, Cheetah, and Kaleidoscope, and taken some care to avoid making the mistakes that sent the aforementioned establishments into ruin.
For instance, the capacity is equal to the Shrine (about 8,000), yet there are no posts, pillars or balconies obstructing the view of the stage. The floor, though concrete, is covered with a one-inch layer of artificial grass (very apropos). And gone are the days of hot, sticky-sweltering concert hall. This place gets actually cold as the night rolls on. In other words, the place is set up for audience enjoyment.
But these features are only subordinate to the big issue: talent. Booking good shows, ultimately, is what makes or breaks a rock ballroom. Happily, the Rose Palace (run by Scenic Sounds) makes it quite well. Take last weekend for example.
The show started off with the local debut of Jethro Tull, an English quintet whose music predominantly falls into the jazz-rock genre. Riding the crest of the second wave of English pop groups, Jethro Tull (named after the inventor of the plow in England) is unique enough in its approach [and dedication] to make a dent in the American market. The group is led by the [elf-like] antics of flutist Ian Anderson, whose on-stage stance is highly derivative of a giant flamingo bird [at] rest...only Anderson doesn't rest, he's constantly moving, conveying the [same] kind of visual excitement that the Who's Peter Townscend specializes in.
The group's material runs [from] Roland Kirk "Serenade to a Cuckoo" to their own rocking "Dharma for One," to a nonsense song called "[Don't] Wanna Be a Fatman," the [latter] finding Anderson playing oud [and his] drummer beating tablas. Anderson keeps up a constant dialogue with the audience and is repaid with a [great] deal of rapport.
At one point, he emptied a [pot] of cigarettes into the audience...the crowd threw them back. Later, Anderson made a public apology for the length of his hair: "I'm sorry about it being so long and all, but it does hide me pimples."
The Grateful Dead were probably responsible for attracting most of the sellout crowd. And they were up to the task of entertaining them, particularly Saturday night. The first thing you notice about the Dead, even while they're tuning up, is the smell of cannabis in the air. It might have been there before, but somehow it's more apparent with the Dead's sets.
Musically the Dead also fall into the rock-jazz category, but for different reasons than Jethro Tull. The Dead specialize in long, long musical improvisations...the hallmark of jazz.
Led by the fluid guitar of Jerry Garcia, they buildup constantly-moving crescendos of sound that are interspersed with brief (and usually inaudible) vocal bridges. The seven-man group, which includes two drummers and a conga bopper, kept most of the audience on their feet.
The Butterfield Blues Band closed the show in style. Paul Butterfield's vocals are moving deeper and deeper into the better category, as exemplified by his rendition of the Blood, Sweat and Tears song, "More and More" (although Butterfield's version could be subtitled, "More and More, Baby"). The current personnel are a tight unit, featuring a potent horn section and an excellent new young guitarist.

Picture caption:
"Free-form musical improvisation was order of day last weekend in pop music concert at Pasadena's Rose Palace. Providing music were The Grateful Dead (left), who specialize in tunes lasting at least an hour apiece; and new English group called Jethro Tull (right), who are led by clowning antics of flutist Ian Anderson. Daily Sundial photos by Pete Senoff."

(by Pete Senoff, from the Valley State Daily Sundial, 28 March 1969)

Thanks to Ron Fritts.  


* * *

The LA Times also had a few words on the March 21 show.... 


(Most of the article is about putting together a radio program on the history of rock music.)

. . . The structure of the program forced me to define the major contributors and contributions to rock music, and the list turned out to be quite finite, despite the enormity of 20 years of heritage. There are many more Fabians and Impalas than there are Little Richards or Drifters, and a lot of what is significant today is not going to sound good in 10 years. Will the Supremes be remembered then as hazily as the Chantels are now? I suspect so. How will Jimi Hendrix's music compare with Clarence Frogman Henry's?
It is harder to do reviews now, hard to go to the Pasadena Rose Palace, as I did Friday night, and find anything relevant to say about the Grateful Dead and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band (I missed Jethro Tull - the shows start earlier than they did at the Shrine).
The Dead were not as good as they have been. Lead guitarist Jerry Garcia lacked both enthusiasm and polish. Butterfield, though, turned in an exciting set, highlighted by his wailing vocals and the band's driving horn arrangements. But Butterfield is only a hard-working technician. His harmonica playing does not compare with that of Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, or Sonny Terry; his singing is beneath any of those three or a score of other bluesmen, and his band is less exciting than Bobby Blue Bland's, Ike and Tina Turner's, or Ray Charles'.
Butterfield is restating tradition rather than adding to it, and restating it not quite as well as the originals. My perspective is unfair since this is Butterfield's time, but it is harder to do reviews now. Little Richard has reminded me of too much.

(by Pete Johnson, from the Los Angeles Times, 24 March 1969)


  1. Music researcher Ron Fritts found this show review in the campus newspaper of the San Fernando Valley State College (now CSUN).
    The reviewer praises the new Rose Palace, complete with its grass-covered floor. (Posters advised attendees to "bring a pillow.") But in only a year the venue would soon follow the other mentioned Los Angeles rock halls to extinction - in May 1970 rock concerts would be banned there due to neighbors' complaints. The Dead would play there again in May '69.
    The reviewer covers all the acts equally, paying even more attention to the openers Jethro Tull & the Dead than to the headliner, the Butterfield Blues Band. He suggests that the Dead probably drew most of the crowd, and it's funny to find them regarded as a 'drug band,' the audience apparently lighting up as the Dead came out. But he seems to like their music okay, emphasizing the "long, long" jazz-like improvisations with "constantly-moving crescendos of sound." Although vocals are claimed to be rare and inaudible, the Dead "kept most of the audience on their feet." (Pigpen is referred to as a "conga bopper," though he did much of the singing.)
    The caption snarkily says the Dead "specialize in tunes lasting at least an hour apiece" - but their entire set was only an hour!

    A page crease obscured some words in the Jethro Tull paragraphs. Generally I don't include newspaper photos which tend to be small, dark & blurry, but this was an unusually good newspaper shot.

  2. Prospective attendees of the 1/17/69 show were also advised to bring their own pillow. Was that some kind of early 1969 head code? http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2016/11/dropping-in-robertson-gym-gd1969-01-17.html

    1. Could be! The review does mention the "very apropos" layer of grass on the floor, and the clouds of cannabis that appeared along with the Dead.

      On the other hand, the 3/21/69 Sundial had this interesting note: "Two Valley State drop-ins...who are responsible for originating the giant pillow, are now attempting to perfect 'the swing' for this weekend's Rose Palace concerts. The pillow idea has now been incorporated into Scenic Sounds' radio spots."
      A giant pillow?? 1969 shows must have been relaxed events...

      A quick newspaper search didn't turn up other requests to bring pillows to concerts that year. However a Meadow Vista church had a Youth Songfest with a Pillow and Sock party ("bring a pillow or cushion and wear socks"), and in May '69, a Sacramento high school "is sponsoring a pillow fight at 7:30 p.m. in the girls' gym. Everyone is encouraged to bring a feather pillow and relieve his frustrations."

      Now I'm imagining pillow fights at Dead concerts! Don't laugh, it could have happened. In April '69 the Purdue campus newspaper reported that there was "a marshmallow fight" at the Dead concert there. And at the Detroit show in December '68, the Hog Farm arranged games such as paper-plate tossing and balloon-bouncing for the audience. One girl wrote, "it was so beautiful I couldn't believe it...I never had so much good clean uninhibited fun in my life."

      Did you think people went to Dead shows for the music?

    2. ....but, on a more mundane level, pillows were for sitting on the floor.

      In May '70, there was a Pop Pillow Concert in the Montclair high school gym, in which "students attending may bring a pillow from home to sit on."
      In Feb '68, one visual arts gallery in Hanford requested that people "bring a pillow, be prepared for a light show among other things."
      In Jan '68, La Monte Young appeared at the Pasadena Art Museum along with a light show. "Those who wish may bring a pillow for sitting on the floor during his program."
      In April '67, there was a Folk Club Hootenanny in a Chula Vista cafeteria: "The audience should bring a pillow for everyone will be sitting on the floor!"
      In March '67, there was a small Pillow Theater in Los Angeles "where playgoers are asked to bring a pillow and sit on the floor."
      In May '66, members of a potluck banquet in Gustine "are asked to bring a pillow for sitting."
      In Dec '65, there was a Christmas party in the Santa Maria high school cafeteria: "the committee suggests that all who attend dress informally and bring a pillow or blanket to sit on as there will be no chairs in the cafeteria."

      And so on. People going to outdoors events were often given the same advice too. "Bring a pillow" was probably just code for "no chairs."
      All the same, it conjures up a very cozy environment, in which concertgoers are expected to be lounging quietly on the floor rather than dancing with abandon.

    3. ...then again, pillows could have other uses too.

      An April '67 LA Times article on the Avalon Ballroom quoted Bob Cohen:
      "Everybody's high when they come in, some have trouble getting up the stairs. We've had a few acid freak-outs. See, there's these pillows and rugs in front of the bandstand where the kids can lie down if they don't want to dance. Well, when the dance is over at 2 a.m., some of the kids won't leave. We have to go around and wake 'em up. A few are so turned on we have to bring them down with tranquilizers."

  3. I added a short bit on the March 21 show from the LA Times. Pete Johnson had reviewed previous Dead shows in '67-68, with mixed feelings but usually with praise for Garcia. This time, though, he felt the Dead weren't as good as they'd been at the Shrine, and Garcia "lacked both enthusiasm and polish." Either that or Johnson was just in a crabby mood, complaining that it's hard to keep doing reviews and anyway today's rock bands can't compare to the bluesmen and rock & rollers of the past.

    1. By the way, a brief show announcement in the 3/21/69 Sundial noted, "This weekend at the Rose Palace finds Paul Butterfield, the local debut of Jethro Tull, and the beautiful jams of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead."
      Someone at the paper was clearly already a fan!

      And if anyone has access to the Pasadena Star News archives, that paper also had an article on recent Rose Palace shows in their 3/22/69 issue.

    2. I forgot to mention some of the audience memories of these shows...
      One 3/21 attendee on dead.net "idolized Garcia... Seeing him live did not disappoint... They started off with a rowdy Good Morning Little School and slipped into space jam and then were out. Short set, or so it seemed."
      In another person's somewhat jumbled memory, "Ian Anderson and Tull impressed, Ian whirling around stage and striking his one-legged pose... Butterfield was great, blowing his harp... Dead were the definite climax...just kicked ass, culminating with Pig's fireworks show!"
      And from the Archive: "The crowd liked the opening act, Jethro Tull, and the Dead, a lot more than Butterfield." Another attendee remembers Owsley mixing in stereo, switching guitars from one side to another in "the concrete cavern."
      One person remembers Feedback and We Bid You Goodnight (possibly from the 21st). It was also his first show; he went in stoned and was impressed: "I had no idea stuff like this went on. Walking into that place that night, peaking on Purple OZ, seeing this strange looking dude with long frizzy hair hopping around on stage on one leg, playing a long silver flute, and with that light show going on, and the music, and all these good looking topless girls dancing, and wow, the acid, and Betty Boop and Flash Gordon and the strobes...if you weren't there, no way to describe that night. I swear I buzzed for a week after that."
      No one else took any note of the light show, though.

    3. was at this show, and remember Pig Pen's "fireworks show".. it was at the climax point of "turn on your Love Light, and was more of an exploding exclamation point, coming from the backstage behind the organ... saw many Dead shows before and after, but this is the only time I remember "fireworks".. and it was great!
      Tull was fantastic as well, with Ian Anderson flying around and suddnly striking his one-legged pose as he played his flute furiously...
      Butterfield was Butterfield; solid Chicago blues, but nothing mind-blowing... JK