Feb 19, 2012

April 6, 1969: Avalon Ballroom


The Avalon Ballroom is dark this weekend, the management is going through a series of reorganizations, but it will be open next week with a program that will be announced tomorrow probably.
Meanwhile, I would like to report on last week's show there because it is a perfect illustration of the importance of content, rather than style, place, labels or whatever.
The Grateful Dead, the Flying Burrito Brothers (a spin-off from the Byrds), and Aum were the bands. The hall was packed all weekend and on Saturday and Sunday (as I know from personal observation and from reports from trusted agents) the hall fairly leaped with dancers.
I got there Sunday night just as the Dead were playing the last two numbers in their first set. The place was packed with the regulars, people I haven't seen gathered together in such force since the great days of the Carousel. Musicians, fans, light show artists. All were there. And the set ended with Jerry Garcia singing "Baby Blue," which I haven't heard the Dead do in a long, long time. It should have been an indication of the delights to come, since Garcia was obviously in excellent voice and the band was in that mellow place they seem to live in most of the time these days.
The Burritos played a nice set. They are good hippie country & western and have good voices and good soloists, but they are not really exciting except occasionally. Then Aum came on and broke it up with a wild, swinging set that sounded a great deal better to me than they had sounded at Winterland two weeks before.
There is no getting away from it: this is an exciting group with the same kind of turn-on going for it that Santana had when they first appeared. They sing well, have a great swinging feeling and the guitar soloist is first rate. The more original material they get, the better they are going to be.
Then the Dead came on. It took them awhile to get it together for some reason but then Garcia sang "Death Has No Mercy" and one had to decide that Jerry Garcia is one of the most improved singers in the city. It was a great performance.
They followed it with "Little Light" [sic] and that was almost too much to bear. I don't know how long it went on. The audience was screaming and dancing and leaping around. Garcia played a long kind of duet with Phil Lesh which was simply amazing and Pig Pen sang his heart out. Then the band went through one of those series of tension-and-release structures leading up to searing climaxes and then relaxing to long, cooking kind of rhythmic sections which reminded me of the Dizzy Gillespie big band, when the whole group would get all kinds of indescribable goodies going on like a huge bubbling stew. Garcia lays those butter tones over the driving bass lines Lesh plays (which are not really bass lines at all in the ordinary sense, but a kind of bass counter line to Garcia's lead) while the two drummers and the rest whack out a rhythmically complicated but totally integrated pulse that just keeps driving like some great electrical machine.
When it was over, the audience didn't want to stop. They cheered and whistled and clapped and then began stomping their feet on the floor. It was memorable, to be frank -- One of the best things I have heard in some time. When the Dead play like that, the audience dances. And when the hall has groups like that, the people come. There's a lesson there for everyone. Easter Sunday really was special this year.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the San Francisco Chronicle, April 10 1969)



  1. This show was also broadcast live by KPFA-FM Berkeley, though our tape seems to be missing much of the first set.

    Gleason, worn out by Lovelight, apparently left before the Viola Lee encore!

    Flying Burritos sets from this run have been officially released as Live at the Avalon.
    Here's an example of Aum, with singer/guitarist Wayne Ceballos:

  2. A notice in the 4/4/69 Berkeley Barb:

    The Avalon Ballroom just keeps hangin' on. Last week's Rock-A-Rama benefit supplied the Sound Proof crew with enough bread to stay alive for at least another week.
    Bob Simmons has promised to "turn the Grateful Dead loose" this weekend to "do anything they want."
    Show up. For $3.50 your old lady might get to ball Pig Pen."

    A couple other short pieces on the short-lived Soundproof Productions - first from the San Francisco Express Times, 1/21/69:
    "The Family Dog [has] lost the Avalon... Meanwhile a former Denver Dog employee and a former owner of the Vulcan Gas Company in Austin will start a series of dances at the Avalon next weekend. [1/24-26/69] Called Soundproof Productions, an allusion to one of the renovation conditions of their using the hall, this outfit also has no permit of its own and is relying on a partnership with the hall owner.
    In addition to doing a certain amount of painting, cleaning, plastering and soundproofing, Soundproof is trying to avoid the Dog's tradition of "bad community relations" with the natives of that one particular block of Sutter Street. Ticket lines will be controlled to head off charges of blocking sidewalks, the street will be swept after dances, and in particular the rent-a-cops will be answerable to Mr. Hooley, the landlord, rather than to the dance promoters. It's pretty touchy down there, so if you go to the Avalon to hear the Grateful Dead next weekend and you dig the dance, don't piss on anything. Anything."
    ("Family Dog and Fleas Hop to It," SFET 1/21/69, p.2)

    Then from the 1/24/69 Berkeley Barb:
    "The Avalon Ballroom reopens this Friday night. Under a new, but still non-established management, the ballroom is going through some changes for self-protection.
    Bob Simmons, formerly with the Family Dog, and now part of Sound Proof Productions, told BARB that $1000 worth of soundproofing is being added to make the Avalon sound tight.
    Simmons also hopes to make the ballroom more self-sustaining. Besides the regular weekend shows, there will be films, brought in by the Straight Theatre people, Monday and Tuesday nights.
    Wednesday nights will be devoted to jam sessions. Also, Sound Proof and KPFA are getting together to do a live broadcast thing from the Avalon on Sunday nights.
    This weekend's bill includes The Grateful Dead, The Sons of Champlin, and Initial Shock."
    ("Come on and Bop," the Barb 1/24/69, p.11)

    Lastly from the 4/11/69 Berkeley Barb:
    "The Avalon will be closed this weekend, April 11th thru 13th. But keep the faith; thanks to their recent benefit, Soundproof Productions hopes to have the place swinging by the following weekend.
    'The benefit was a ball,' Brian Knoll of Soundproof and the manager of Initial Shock told BARB afterwards. 'Everybody had a groovy time.'
    'We cleared about $1,800; enough to pay out a few of our bills.'
    The Soundproof bunch is working on negotiating a new rent contract with their landlord to lower their operating costs. 'If we can start breaking even,' Knoll added, 'the sky's the limit here at the Avalon.'"
    ("Avalon Non-Event This Week," Barb 4/11/69, p.19)

    As it turned out, the Avalon did not reopen, this Dead show was the last one held there, and that was the end for Soundproof.
    These articles shed some light on a couple issues, though - one, the Sunday night Avalon FM broadcasts on KMPX seem to have been a regular event, though I don't know how many shows were actually broadcast. Also, the issues with the neighbors and the landlord may explain why the promoters cut off the Dead mid-song on both Jan 24 and April 6, rather than run overtime.