The Black and White Symphony ball is certainly being revived with a blast. The Grateful Dead, one of the world's top rock groups, will play at the March 15 dance that will be a benefit for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
The Symphony Orchestra will play for those who like to waltz at the Sheraton-Palace; Ernie Heckscher's band will play on Nob Hill; his son, Earl Heckscher, and his orchestra in another hotel, while the Country Weather, an East Bay rock group, will alternate with the Grateful Dead.
The last time the Dead played for a society party was the debut dance Sept. 2, 1966, of Ayn and Lynn Mattei at the Hillsborough showplace, La Dolphine, which their grandparents, the Albert C. Matteis, were renting at the time.
It remains to be seen how much dancing there will be to the Grateful Dead. Like other rock groups of late, they present electronic concerts and audiences generally sit on the floor and listen instead of dancing. (Takes old- timers back to the '30s and '40s when people didn't dance, just crowded around the bandstand and listened to those sentimental songs.)
Bob Weir, the son of the Fred Weirs, is the group's rhythm guitarist, and you can expect this Atherton family to concentrate on the Grateful Dead's locale during the lively evening that starts at 9 and continues until 2 a.m.
The ball marks the first time a noted rock group has performed for the Symphony Association, although the Opera Guild had the Jefferson Airplane play at its 1966 Fol de Rol. Reception was mixed -- but the ladies of the Guild feel now that perhaps they were just a little ahead of the times.
(by Frances Moffatt, from the "Who's Who" column, San Francisco Chronicle, 16 January 1969)
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Except for the rock band that may be nicknamed the Ungrateful Dead, Saturday night's revival of the Black and White Symphony Ball was a big, beautiful party enjoyed by more than 2,000 dance-happy people who rode shuttle buses to and from four of the City's major hotels.
Party-goers were short-changed at the Hilton, touted in advance as the place where the action would be. ... The Dead, under contract to play two one- hour sets, played only one.
Rock Scully, manager of the Dead, blamed the problem on the fact that the group had great difficulty in setting up the sound equipment and that there was no liason between them and either the symphony or the ball committee.
As to reports that members of the Jefferson Airplane were planning to join them for the last set, Scully said this was true, but that "there weren't any tickets left" for them, so the guards wouldn't let them in.
However, the guards at the Hilton's Imperial Ballroom did admit a fantastic-looking crowd during the evening -- all of whom were holding the $17.50 tickets.
Some who identified themselves as "members of the family of the Grateful Dead," were children dressed as angels, others were adults in various guises - - clowns, nuns, monks, toy soldiers, convicts, you-name-it.
This sight, plus an enormous light show operated by at least a dozen young people would have blown the minds of party-goers the last time the Black and White was given in 1965.
But most San Franciscans are used to Rock Culture, and the costume look was carried out by plenty of socialites who wore every conceivable combination of black and white -- from Mrs. Kenneth Monteagle's floor-length white skirt with black bodice to Anita (Mrs. Paul) Fay's black and white harlequin pantsuit.
(by Frances Moffatt, from the "Who's Who" column, San Francisco Chronicle, 17 March 1969)
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ON THE TRAIL OF THE B&W (excerpt)
It didn't take any effort at all for a group of young people - most of them students at UC's Berkeley campus - to bridge the generation gap and just have a ball at Saturday night's Black and White Ball.
They got their evening off to a gala start by attending a party at the Hilton in the suite held by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Weir for the evening.
The Weirs' pretty daughter Wendy acted as hostess for her friends. Her brother Bob, the lead guitarist for the Greatful Dead, which held sway at the Hilton, had some of his more colorful friends around before he had to excuse himself and join the band.
The girls, many of them Alpha Omicron Pi sorority sisters at Cal, were all appropriately dressed in black and white. [ . . . ]
When 9 o'clock rolled around, heralding the start of the ball, the crowd at the party got restless and ready to have at it. They piled on one of the shuttle buses and headed towards the Mark Hopkins.
"Let's flame," was their battle cry for fun. [ . . . ]
The straight, pump handle beat of Ernie Heckscher in the Peacock Court didn't cramp the group's hip style and they all took to the dance floor for a couple of turns.
But soon it was back to the bus and on to the St. Francis. Someone passed around a flask of bourbon.
Still keeping up with the younger generation, we arrived at last in the Imperial Ballroom in time for the Dead's last set.
No one was tired and at 2 a.m. when the ballroom lights went up, the Weir group was the last there.
That wasn't the end of the evening by any means. It was back up to the Weirs' suite, then on to Berkeley for an early morning breakfast.
Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda couldn't have set a better pace.
(by Virginia Westover, from the San Francisco Chronicle, 17 March 1969)
Thanks to Dave Davis.
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ONE THING AFTER ANOTHER (excerpt)
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.
(by Herb Caen, from the San Francisco Chronicle, 18 March 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.)
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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)