Aug 15, 2018

1968: The Carousel Ballroom, San Francisco

The Grateful Dead and a group of other rock bands, including the Jefferson Airplane, have taken a lease on the old Carousel Ballroom on Market Street (formerly the El Patio) and beginning Friday night will run dances there regularly.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights the Airplane and the Dead will play there for dancing.
Next weekend, Chuck Berry and the Buffalo Springfield will appear.
The Carousel is owned by Bill Fuller, the Irish ballroom operator who has similar properties in Chicago, New York, Boston, London, Manchester, and throughout Ireland.
As part of the current arrangement, it is hoped to organize a European tour later this year with some of the San Francisco groups based on Fuller's ballrooms. 
(excerpt from Ralph Gleason column, San Francisco Chronicle, 13 March 1968)

Ron Rakow, who helped put on the Great Northwest Tour of the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service, has leased the Carousel Ballroom near downtown San Francisco for a series of weekend dances that have so far featured the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Chuck Berry, and Country Joe & The Fish. The Carousel holds substantially more people than the Fillmore or Avalon...and a lot more of them dance. The owners of the Carousel also run a chain of dance halls in England and on the Continent, and have reached an agreement with Rakow about using them for a tour of American rock bands.
(excerpt from "S.F. Ballroom Circuit Grows," Rolling Stone, 27 April 1968)

The Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, both unhappy with the sound and environments of the Avalon and Fillmore Auditoriums, have purchased twenty percent of San Francisco's largest room, the Carousel. The groups will not only play there, but advise on bookings.
(from John Carpenter's "Roach Clips" column, Los Angeles Free Press, 5 April 1968)

* * *

A review of the Carousel re-opening shows:
"The cream of San Francisco rock - the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead - got together here for the first time in many months. Following a three-month Pacific Northwest tour, the Dead and the Airplane had returned as partners to open their own ballroom, the Carousel, in competition with Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditorium and Chet Helms' Avalon Ballroom.
The Dead had not played for either Graham or Helms in nearly a year, because they opposed the way most dance-concerts are conducted.
Both bands did two sets, each lasting more than an hour. Though the Airplane has by far the biggest national reputation, the Dead proved to be the stronger musicians..."
(from Geoffrey Link, "Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead," Down Beat, 27 June 1968)

Ralph Gleason's observations:
Promoters traditionally have labored to avoid putting on a last-minute, hurry-up event wherein they had only a few days in which to inform the public. History says you have to have a really hot attraction to get away with this.
Another cardinal rule is not to confuse your audience with contradictory or ambiguous statements.
Both these rules were violated last month by the new series of dances at the Carousel Ballroom. The announcement of the first weekend dance was not made until Wednesday, and there was considerable confusion about prices and attractions for the Sunday night show.
Nevertheless, the hall was packed on Friday and Saturday (last night's advance was good, too) and it is a tribute to the strength of the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead that this is so.
The new series also had another asset. The Carousel is by far the best hall in San Francisco for rock groups in almost every imaginable way. [ . . . ]
The Carousel now has the bandstand facing the cafeteria section. There is good sound everywhere, ample space to sit and listen, and room to dance. Ben Van Meter's North American Ibis Alchemical Co. light show was interesting and effective, and the two bands played magnificently. There is no question but what these two groups inspire one another and to hear their lead guitarists - Jerry Garcia and Jorma Kaukonen - play on the same evening is pure pleasure. [ . . . ]
Next weekend Chuck Berry appears there along with the Grateful Dead. . . .
(from Ralph Gleason, "A Great Weekend at the Carousel," San Francisco Chronicle, 18 March 1968)

Pete Welding's review of a May '68 Carousel show:
In operation only about a year [sic], the Carousel is one of the newer of the large psychedelic total-environment dancehalls the San Francisco scene has spawned. It also is one of the handsomer, boasting a number of comforts that the large, better-known rock halls do not possess: a decent, well-appointed restaurant adjoins the hall and offers moderately priced meals, a large snack bar dispenses the more usual fare, and there is a seating area where one may take a respite from the hectic dance floor activities. Too, there is the usual top-notch light show that one has almost come to take for granted, this one by the North American Ibis Alchemical Co. And the hall books top groups, as this recent billing of three popular bands demonstrated... (p.28)

Philip Elwood's review of 6/7/68:
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... 
(from the San Francisco Examiner, 8 June 1968) 

* * *

On the Free City Convention: 

FREE   (excerpt)
outrageous acts are being perpetrated in the city from the steps of city hall to tiny verona place a scruffy anarchic band of urban outlaws is engaged in subverting the lawful government of san francisco they call themselves the people of the free city already they and their fellow travellers have gained effective control of the san francisco post office from the steps of city hall which they partially control free food is distributed to the urban populace so as to get the masses used to taking something for nothing the danger of redistributive looting grows more imminent as fervour for public sharing spreads thru the city the steps are also put to effective use by the outlaws as they exhibit joy and ecstasy in public poetry music and dancing to the ever present drumming which provides rhythm for their activities exhortations are made to the assembled populace to leave work and go home and embrace their women in an affectionate manner and eat and enjoy over the past several weeks their numbers have swelled and now include some of the leading citizens of the community [ . . . ] mr free went on to state that ... public giving will break out spontaneously throughout the city and that by the summer solstice the entire city will be liberated free goods food people everything he then announced that further details for the liberation will be announced at the free city conference at the carousel ball room on may 1 admission is free ...
(by Robert Novick, from the San Francisco Express Times, 25 April 1968) 

The Berkeley Barb more soberly reported:
 "The Free City group has been on the steps of City Hall every weekday for two weeks freeing the steps. Now they're promoting the May Day convention to free the city... Singing the 'Free City Blues,' a handsome young man sat on the City Hall steps giving a politic invitation to the Free City Convention at 7 p.m. May Day, at the Carousel Ballroom..."
(excerpt from "Those Free City Blues," the Berkeley Barb, 26 April 1968)  


Even the hellfire preachers loosened up a little, accepting colored chalk from hippies and decorating the sidewalk with their Christer slogans.
One of their wives slyly took an orange.
A gaunt young male preacher climbed onto the Carousel Ballroom stage, switched on the sound, and exhorted the May Day crowd at the Free City Convention.
But there the evangelicals stopped swinging, for he could not bear to share his pulpit with a fellow clergyman: a naked Boo Hoo of the Neo-American Church, chanting "Hare Shiva, Hare Rama."
Everyone else grooved: hippies, blacks, Hell's Angels, servicemen. The anonymous organizers had apparently learned from the mistakes of past Be-Ins, whereat vast crowds were centralized around distant platforms of notables, participating passively via loudspeaker. This time it was decentralized for the first three hours, lots of little scenes and happenings.
Like underground television, home-taped programs on closed-circuit TV. A freeman elaborately demonstrates how to roll a joint, which uniformed soldiers smoke. Somebody lays in bed and raps about the "ship" he lives in. People jive, mumble, whatever.
Like the grand council circle of comfortable chairs grouped around a village fire of candles and such, headquarters for conga drums, teenyhip girl on a big acid trip, small white dog attacking the entire legbone from a pig, sparklers, wine, candles burning on a boar's foot complete with fur: the whole pagan bit.
Like the topless chick with painted torso, and at least two nude males. Like the cat who blew me for the TV cameras, and an admiring crowd, but the camera crew couldn't get organized fast enough to catch the scene.
Like smoking pot in a hookah with a gasmask attachment, your mouth and nose immersed in cannabis just like the hospital ether trip. Like integrating the women's john, with a girlfriend for protection: "Hold my hand, I'm a stranger in paradise." Like the wrestling ring.
Later the Sons of Champlin played and everybody danced for hours. During the dance, BARB  was too drunk to notice or do much, except for necking with a fine chick from a rural commune.

(from the Berkeley Barb, 3 May 1968)

* * *


Rock fans loyal to the KMPX strike are choosing up sides this week as the Carousel Ballroom continues to advertise on the struck station.
The Carousel broke the strike early last week because, according to Ron Rackow, Carousel general manager, the ballroom is going broke.
"I've lost fifty thousand dollars in the last nine weeks because of my sympathy for the strikers," Rackow told BARB Friday night. "Last week (two weeks ago) I spent $1200 on five AM stations; I've got more people out there tonight than I had in three nights last week."
Indeed the hall was considerably full; however, visits to the competing Avalon and Fillmore ballrooms turned up thoroughly packed houses, more so than at the Carousel. Neither of the other two have broken the strike.
Striker Bob McClay, just returned from a week in New York, was understandably perturbed. "If it wasn't for KMPX there wouldn't BE a Carousel!" McClay was referring to the live-remote broadcast the station did of the Dead and the Fish several months ago which provided the initial push for the ballroom's success.
Rackow told BARB that both the Dead and the Airplane, who are partners in the ballroom, were informed of the move to advertise beforehand, and that while they disagreed in principle they consented on the grounds that Rackow was in charge.
"That's not true," McClay countered. "I was in New York at the Chelsea Hotel with the Dead, Tuesday night when Rackow went on the air and Jerry Garcia told me he had heard nothing about it. It wasn't until AFTER the contracts were signed and it was too late to do anything about it that the Dead was told."
Rackow still contends that his "sympathies lie with the strikers; I'm sorry to [go] back on the air but it's the only thing that works. I'm running this ballroom as a business."
"So are the Straight Theater and the Avalon," McClay bit back, "and they're not in any better financial shape than the Carousel. They've just got more principle."
An aftermath of the Carousel ads, according to McClay, was the intimidation of Avalon manager Whitey Davis by the station management. "Whitey was told that he'd better go back on the air now because in a couple weeks the station 'would be hard to deal with.' Whitey's reaction was 'Do you want to tell that to my lawyer or should I?'" 

(by Jef Jassen, from the Berkeley Barb, 10 May 1968) 

* * *


The Carousel Ballroom is a beautiful place to hang out. There's good local bands like the Dead and the Airplane, plus they've presented people like Thelonius Monk, Johnny Cash, and Dr. John the Night Tripper. But it's more than a dance concert. The place is big enough so you aren't forced to listen. You can wander off into the side rooms and talk or eat and drink. And since you have all those choices, it's easier to listen, easier to be relaxed. It's like a big party in a big house.
Food? I had a plate of chicken cooked in tomatoey sauce, saffron rice, asparagus cooked in wine, and home-made bread for 95 cents. My old lady had a piece of Ambrosia Cake with real orange slices in the layers. Ahhhhhh, instant Falstaff bliss! Take your whole harem for a meal today.
The dance floor has a ceiling made of velvet silver glittery drapes arranged like huge upside down mushrooms. There's carpets and chairs on the side, and a big bar area with more carpets and a restaurant with damask walls.
It was groovy like a Victorian opera house bordello even before people started turning it into a rock palace with their decorations. Now paintings are growing on the walls. Mouse painted a stoned Donald Duck on a pillar. Spider did a wall. Ovid is painting a three-wall mural. You can't go wrong with names like that. And Bob Thomas is painting a Magical Black Light Forest.
The Carousel, new as it is, radiates an important force in the community. There's a great sense of participation there. We're all part of it. There's jam sessions on Tuesday night for a dollar. A band forms up and plays for about an hour, then another band forms. Last week, Jerry Garcia and Elvin Bishop jammed together. And last Sunday, the Carousel moved their whole show, which included the Dead, Charley Musselwhite, and Petris out to Golden Gate Park for the afternoon as a holiday celebration.
Last Friday Ron Rakow, the manager, got together with Bill Graham for a three-hour talk over breakfast about ways in which the ballrooms could cooperate so that each could do their scene and it would all work and make a more total thing.
A lot of people like to put down Bill Graham. It's a favorite indoor sport. Because he's successful, or ornery, or commercial, or too straight...lots of reasons, lots of put-downs. The great thing about put-downs is that while you are describing what THAT person did wrong, you don't have to DO anything right yourself, you can just play Instant Expert.
We can't afford that luxury now. We have to do something affirmative, whatever we can: rap, sew, eat, dance, sing, or set up another dance hall. Argument can be very good when it's face to face. When we do our thing somehow in relation to each other, a tremendous energy force flashes between us, our various scenes and methods reflect on and strengthen each other. Insofar as we do that, we are a community.
So when the Carousel people and Graham try to work out ways to cooperate, just the fact of their trying helps us. This kind of sharing and of breaking down barriers is characteristic of the things the Carousel has been involved with, such as the beautiful Free City Convention, the Hells Angels Dance, the jam sessions...even the strike-breaking that Ron Rakow got into when he advertised on KMPX. I didn't like that, but in fact it DID help blow open a situation that had by then turned into pretty much a game.
The whole feeling of the Carousel is that it's a gathering, a place for all of us to happen, rather than a concert. Go there and hang out, meet your friends, it's our palace.

(by Sandy Darlington, from the San Francisco Express-Times, 6 June 1968)

* * *

Ralph Gleason on the ballrooms:
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.
Several factors are at work. The Fillmore and Winterland presentations are star-system shows, a more rational and a non-teenie bopper version of the Cow Palace concert syndrome. 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.
Since the Avalon and, in a sense, the Carousel, are basically not competing with the Fillmore (generally) in the star system game, 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. Also, when The Loading Zone and The Foundation (both excellent dance bands) played at The Fillmore, people danced. Possibly they could not do otherwise.
Recently, dancing at The Fillmore seems to be only on the side gallery and almost never on the main floor, which is exclusively for spectators. People bring chairs up to the stage which makes a row about ten feet in depth before the floor squatters begin. They cannot see over the chair sitters so sometimes they are forced to stand. . . .
This all repeats a pattern of the Swing Era in which the original jitterbugs became the Sinatra Swooners and then the concert audience crowding around the bandstand. Dancehalls like The Palladium and Roseland eventually made it mandatory to keep moving. You could not stop and cluster around the stage, you had to keep dancing. The audience who wished merely to listen and to watch was relegated to tables and sofas and seats along the walls or in raised areas surrounding the dance floor.
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.
Meanwhile, something which should be said and repeated over and over in the face of official and police concern with these halls (especially, at the moment, the Carousel) is that a salient characteristic of the San Francisco dancehalls over the past two years, a period in which hundreds of thousands have passed through their doors, has been the absence of fights. They have not had fights. Police supervision is more necessary at football games than at the dancehalls.
(from "Changing Role of Ballrooms," San Francisco Examiner, 30 June 1968) 

Ralph Gleason on June 4, 1968:
At midnight Tuesday night it was a beautiful scene at the Carousel Ballroom. People came in off the street with late election news and inside there was a long jam session going on with all kinds of guitar players and saxophones and rhythm men and on the floor there was more dancing than I've seen anywhere in months.
Throughout the ballroom an outstanding feature was the peacefulness and the joy as a wondrous assortment of people relaxed. There were Hells Angels and hippies, many black people and many long-haired youth. It seemed for a moment like the hope of the future.
And then I went outside, got into the car and punched the radio button only to hear a voice saying "...when Senator Kennedy was shot tonight." And the terrible real world came crashing in on me again.
(excerpt from "Strung Between Dreams and Reality," San Francisco Chronicle, 7 June 1968)

* * *

The Jefferson Airplane will not play at the Carousel Ballroom this weekend.
The reason is that Superior Court Judge Charles S. Peery signed a restraining order against Headstone Productions Inc., which conducts rock dances at the Market Street and Van Ness ballroom.
City Center Ballroom of California, which operates the dance hall, had charged that Headstone owes $11,600 in back rent, that customers damage furnishing and fixtures, and that liability and assault and battery insurance has been canceled.
The complaint also alleges that Headstone had a "lewd and lascivious word" on the marquee, a word "so lewdly repugnant" that it would only be introduced into evidence if necessary.
 (from the San Francisco Examiner, 8 June 1968) 

San Francisco (UPI) - The Carousel Ballroom, one of the city's three regular rock music halls, opened as usual this weekend after its lessees filed a $5,000 bond with superior court.
Judge Charles S. Peery withdrew a temporary restraining order forbidding planned weekend concerts by the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.
The judge granted the restraining order at the request of City Center Ballroom of California, owners of the Carousel. The firm charged [that] Headstone Productions, Inc., which leases the hall for rock dances, failed to pay $11,600 in back rent and that visitors were damaging the ballroom.
(from the Independent Press-Telegram, 9 June 1968)

* * *


The Carousel Ballroom family is fighting for its life amid a morass of legal hassles and big business finagling.
Tuesday, deputy police chief Al Nelder suspended all dances at the Carousel until June 25, except for a benefit for the Black Man's Free Store to be held on the 19th.
A restraining order banning any more performances at the dance-hall was dropped. Headstone Productions Inc., [part of sentence missing] came to late Wednesday by the managers of the dance-hall, City Center Ballrooms of California. 
Performances will be held this weekend - "concerts" - but no dancing will be allowed.
The agreement was reached after Ron Rakow consented to step down as the president of Headstone Productions Inc. Both Headstone and City Center will stage this weekend's entertainment.
City Center Ballrooms, a group of businessmen, originally tried to evict the Carousel crew claiming back rent was due. The matter is pending in civil court but could take weeks to resolve.
To speed up the process, the businessmen asked for a hearing before deputy chief Nelder to rescind the dancing permit of the Headstone crew.
But conflicting testimony at the hearing from two lawyers involved still left everyone in doubt as to just who was sponsoring the dances. Brian Rohan, a lawyer who was issued a permit for the dancehall, claimed that he never produced a dance at the Carousel. Headstone Productions were never issued a permit.
Nelder's action came on the advice of Captain Phillip Kiley of the Mission District who claimed that immoral and illegal activities were taking place at the Carousel.
He alleged minors were allowed into the dancehall, marijuana was smoked, fire regulations were violated by overcrowding, and that there had been reports of nudity.
"After the so-called Digger Convention, I also saw a sign on the marquee which read CUNTVENTION," Kiley added from his seat next to the businessmen.
To substantiate his charges he said that two people had been arrested last Friday for possession of grass.
"The situation is obviously getting out of hand," Nelder said in response. "We're only interested in seeing that no one is injured."
"I'm telling you here and now that you're not to sponsor any dances for 15 days," he told the two lawyers.
Everyone seemed to have forgotten Headstone Productions, who weren't even allowed a rebuttal to the charges.
"This is a typical land grab," Rakow told BARB afterwards, "now that we're doing things, everyone wants a cut."
The trouble began last Thursday, June 6, when the Carousel crew arrived at the ballroom to find the doors chained shut by the managers.
They finally managed to sneak in by the roof, BARB was told. Rakow then threw a table through one of the doors, and had the chains removed as city police stood by watching.
By last Friday, Riester, Rakow, and Jon McIntyre, managers of Headstone, declared the dancehall "Free Turf" and were preparing to bring the entire Carousel family to defend the building from the businessmen and city police. But no attack came.
The family includes 60 Carousel employees, Diggers, the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, members of the Black Panthers, and members of the Hell's Angels, McIntyre told BARB.
By larger count, they number more than 500 in all.
"This is liberated territory, a place where people can get together," Headstone manager Johnathon Riester told BARB last week. "We'll fly as straight as we can but we won't leave."

(by TAR, from the Berkeley Barb, 14 June 1968)

* * *

Scully's message to the press, 6/24/68: 
Rock Skully, the long-haired group's long-haired business manager, also disclosed that The Dead hope to take over the Carousel Ballroom on the Fourth of July.
The Dead hope to unite with other "heavy bands" such as The Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Steve Miller's Blues Band to form an "aesthetic, artistic operation...something different," Scully added.
(from the San Francisco Chronicle, 25 June 1968) 

* * *


Headstone Productions, whose operation of the Carousel Ballroom at Market Street and South Van Ness Avenue resulted in police complaints ranging from the smoking of pot to nude dancing, will toss in its rock and roll sponge today.
One of two other rock and roll production groups will take over within two weeks.
Headstone has rented the ballroom from City Center Ballroom of California, Inc., whose president is William Fuller. Yesterday, James Reilly, counsel for Fuller, informed Deputy Police Chief Al Nelder that Headstone, behind in its rent to the tune of $13,000, had surrendered its dance permit, held in Fuller's name, and signed an agreement to vacate the premises today.
Nelder then re-issued a dance permit to City Center Ballroom. Reilly told Nelder that two rock and roll promoters, Billy Graham and Rubin Glickman, now are negotiating to make appearances in the Carousel.

(from the San Francisco Examiner, 26 June 1968)

* * * 

The Carousel Ballroom family is apparently in the process of "moving out."
After almost a month of fighting the law, big business, and "nasty politicians," the crew is finally getting the shaft.
One spokesman for the family told BARB, "negotiations continue on four or five different levels." Another source, however, said many of the family have already left.
Speculation on who will take over the Carousel centers around The Grateful Dead, called the "spiritual leaders" of the present Carousel, and Bill Graham, the person appearing to be the more likely prospect.
Graham has been engaged in negotiations with the owner of the ballroom, a member of Graham's staff told BARB. "The possibility definitely exists," he said, that Graham will take over the dancehall.
Graham, who was out of town at BARB press time and not available for comment, presently runs the Fillmore Ballroom, and is involved in plans with Mayor Alioto to bring a pops festival to San Francisco this Fall.
The Carousel crew has been putting out hard rock sounds at Market and Van Ness for the past 4 months. It ran into trouble about a month ago when businessmen claimed that back rent was due on the dancehall.
After a number of court battles, the businessmen brought in the fuzz to close the place down. It will remain dark this weekend but should be open the following week, BARB was told.
"We're not interested in running the place anymore," one of the family's spokesmen stated. "Our trip wasn't economic and this has just gotten too heavy."
"But none of us are dead," another spokesman added, "no one has heard the end of us. The whole idea was to turn people on, and our trip was turning people on to the real sounds - people who don't have enough bread to pay for an acid trip or to get into a dancehall."
"We're not finished yet," he continued, "the music scene will still go on even though someone wants to turn it into a money scene."

Bill Graham now holds the lease to the Carousel Ballroom. In the coming week, he will split the bands between the Fillmore and the Carousel, BARB learned at presstime.

(from the Berkeley Barb, 28 June 1968)

* * *


The Fillmore Auditorium, the birthplace of all that is San Francisco sound, will close its doors this weekend in favor of the larger Carousel Ballroom.
The Carousel, to be renamed Fillmore West, officially became the property of promoter Bill Graham late last week when Headstone, the cooperative in charge of the hall since early spring, failed to make good on financial obligations to the hall's owner.
"We've been needing a bigger place for quite a while," Paul Baratta, Graham's chief assistant, told BARB Tuesday. "So when the opportunity to get the Carousel came along, we took it."
As for the Fillmore, which fostered the San Francisco scene more than two and a half years ago with the Mime Troupe, Jefferson Airplane, Great Society, and many more, Graham intends to turn the use of the hall over to neighborhood organizations of the black community.
"Our plans are to use it for shows that would benefit the community which the hall is in," Baratta said. Graham will retain ownership of the building.
There is some speculation, however, that Graham may be getting out at the right time. In recent weeks attendance at the hall has fallen off because of uptight blacks harassing white patrons. Graham himself has been physically assaulted by young blacks who evidently felt that he had drained money from the neighborhood without putting anything back in.
According to Baratta, plans for the new Fillmore West will take on more of a community feeling. "Besides the regular shows we hope to have workshops and seminars for musicians, poster people, light shows, and everyone else involved in the community."
Fillmore West will be dedicated in grand style this weekend with the appearance of the Butterfield Blues Band, Ten Years After, and Fleetwood Mac.

(by Jef Jassen, from the Berkeley Barb, 5 July 1968)

* * *


The Fillmore Auditorium, of supergroup, lightshow and dance poster fame, ended its two-and-a-half year career as a fulltime rock hall on July 5. Bill Graham, the Fillmore's manager, is moving his scene to the old Carousel Ballroom, which recently became a well-known rock dancehall in its own right under the goodhearted but insufficiently professional ownership of Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and some cronies. The Carousel will henceforth be known as the Fillmore West, to complement Graham's recently opened New York operation, the Fillmore East.
There were several reasons for Graham's move. The old 1500-capacity Fillmore was always overcrowded, for one. Graham usually booked big acts on prime nights not at the Fillmore, but at nearby Winterland, which has a capacity of 4200, though its dance floor is small. For another, the Fillmore is located in the Fillmore District, a Black ghetto, and the sporadic instances of harassment of patrons had become more frequent since the assassination of Martin Luther King, according to Graham. And finally, the Carousel is a more desirable hall, larger and more attractive and more accessible by public transportation.
The Carousel had been operated for several months by Headstone Productions, a corporation initially financed by a series of dances given by the Dead and the Airplane starting on St. Valentine's Day this year. The operation of the Carousel was marked by careless mismanagement in many details, although it was generally agreed that the feeling of the dances was good. On several occasions Headstone booked unwisely, paying high fees for low draws, and it was saddled with what Ralph Gleason has called "the stupidest lease in show business." The Free City Convention, a freakout with nude dancing, public grass-smoking and a "dirty" word ("cunt") on the marquee, started bringing an undesirable amount of police attention to the hall, and when Headstone fell several thousand dollars behind in its rent, landlord Bill Fuller opened his ears to Bill Graham.
Graham had started organizing dances as manager of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. The first Mime Troupe Benefit held at the Fillmore, on December 10, 1965, headlined Jefferson Airplane, the Great Society and John Handy. Graham's Fillmore dances began on a regular basis in March 1966, at first alternating weekends with the Family Dog. In the early days Graham had to overcome the reputation rock concerts had for violence, and the Fillmore happened to be one of the halls in town that would rent to him. Today, after innumerable hassles with civic authorities, he can point to two and a half years of dances without a major disruption.
Graham's lease on the Fillmore runs to March, 1973. He plans to put the hall at the disposal of the Fillmore community, at no profit to him, for Black-run political events and musical and theatrical productions. He has already contacted Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers, the Peace and Freedom Party and the Black Student Union. Graham emphasizes that the incidents of harassment of the dance patrons have never involved militant Blacks.
As for the new Fillmore West, Graham plans to remodel the stage and perhaps replace the satin ceiling. The Tuesday night musicians' jam session instituted under Headstone will be revived and one night a week will probably be set aside for "jamming" and rapping among local lightshow technicians. Graham also has hopes of establishing a "young political platform" and building the solidarity of the underground community. "Haight Street is a tragedy," he has said, "and it should be saved."

(from Rolling Stone, 10 August 1968)

* * *


Fillmore West (nee Carousel, El Patio, et al), is settling down as a typically comfortable and efficient Bill Graham enterprise.
Last night's crowd of about a thousand would have filled the old Fillmore floor, but in the new Market and Van Ness complex it had room to roam, dance, sit and sprawl. Or drink and eat (the vegetable soup is great).
Graham has noticeably cleaned, polished, and rearranged the place. The sound system is good, not yet magnificent, and the Holy See light show is cramped by a low ceiling and a multitude of archways skirting the ballroom floor.
They probably will come up with an ingenious new-style horizontal light show.

 (by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 10 July 1968)

* * *


If you're an intelligence freak, the "Fillmore West at the Carousel Ballroom" should appeal to you, because it was obvious on opening night that the place is being intelligently managed.
It's neater. The bandstand has been moved from the south wall to the east, so more people can see at once, and that eliminates the dark cavern where people could get busted for naughties. However there are still remote corners and couches to make your own trip without joining the applause manufacturers.
I'm almost afraid to mention the beautiful windows and little balconies that keep you from feeling like you're in a giant non-selfservice elevator - intelligence is sure to board them up for some sanitary reason. As of Friday, they were still there.
The saddest change was in the food. Maybe the scoff was good, I don't know, I was too disheartened to try when there were no beautiful sloppy cobblers, cakes and pies in view. They were replaced by boxes of something plastic. Let us hope they will find somebody stupid and/or turned on to run the kitchen.
God, here I am in San Francisco two months and already I'm nostalgic. I'll never forget the perfect night, a Friday, when Tim Buckley was at the Carousel, a night that proved you could get there without drugs.  [6/14/68]
I knew from the time Fleetwood Mac billed with Jefferson Airplane, or was it Big Brother [6/20-23/68], that Mac would provide a more genuine turn-on for the crowd than the big name, and that's what happened. I don't want to go any farther into music criticism because I seem to shock people with my heresies.
Maybe it's my head, but big names keep giving me this we-don't-need-you-anymore vibration. To the raised eyebrows, I say that at the end of the Butterfield set, the audience was kind of tired; at the end of the Fleetwood set following, they screamed for and got an encore. 
Three dollars isn't much compared to what is being charged for movies, but it multiplies rapidly if you're a sound freak. Couldn't somebody convince Bill Graham that it would be intelligent to sell season tickets?
Even the bridges have commuter tickets for tolls. As it is, I'm afraid many of us will mostly be on the outside listening in.

(by Tadeusz, from the Berkeley Barb, 12 July 1968)

* * *


Ron Polte manages the Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Congress of Wonders, and the Ace of Cups. This is the end of an interview with him which began in last week's issue.


A bunch of hippies, a bunch of good people, got together and refused to run a business. And I'm sorry, but you gotta live in that world if you're going to run a business. Like Bill Graham has. He's a business man. He's not fooling himself. He knows that the only way a dance hall is going to be successful is to have a margin of profit.
Even if you take that margin of profit, and even if that margin of profit is 50%, and you throw it off the roof of your dance hall, you've got to make it first. If you leave that line for profit at 10%, or 5%, or like no % sometimes, it's not enough room to breathe.
It's like what Ron Rakow did to those people, he chained them to a machine that couldn't make money. It wasn't free. And the energy of all those good people in that building wasn't going anywhere, it was being trapped. Because he chained them to a financial problem, which was $9,000 a month rent, plus 20%. They couldn't have made it in 25 million years, man.
And then when he was going down, and he was $66,000 in the hole and they were in danger of losing it, they ran to the community and said, "Let's get the community together, together we can save it." It was a bummer to lay on the community.
In front, had Ron Rakow been honest with himself about business, he would have said, "$9,000 a month is too fucking high. And if we can't get this dance hall for $5,000, let's not take it." But instead, he took it. So it just went down the tubes.
And Graham went over and negotiated a much smaller lease, and he's running it. In fact, the straight person who owns the dance hall says to himself, "Look at those crazy long hairs who'll give me 9,000 a month for this dance hall. They can't make it, but who gives a fuck? They're long hairs, they're stupid anyway. They ain't gonna be around for long, because it's only a fad, so I'll take their 9,000 a month now, and when they go, I'll rent it to somebody who's a businessman." Which is what he did.
And we had good credentials: Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver...they make pretty good money, they can afford 9,000 a month. It's crazy, man, it was unreal.
And the only reason that Bill Graham got that dance hall was because they gave it to him. He would not have taken that dance hall. Ask Ralph Gleason, Ron Rakow, Bill Thompson, Rock Scully... They said, "If we can't score it by Wednesday, if we can't make any deal with the owner to come up with the eight grand or a new ballroom manager, and a new organization, then you're free to go do whatever you want on Thursday." And that's what he did.
[ . . . ]

(by Sandy Darlington, from the San Francisco Express Times, 31 July 1968) 

* * *


The death of the hippie was celebrated in pageantry and press agentry at the end of last summer, and like most such charades had little to do with reality.
No noticeable diminishing of the hippie population took place. Instead, the long hairs increased, as empirical observation indicated, and the proliferation of bands and other activities continued.
What has changed, however, is the ability of the youth movement itself to mount any substantial events involving large groups of people, and continued, energetic planning. The Summer Solstice was a disaster. There have been other examples and the most significant, I suspect, was the smothering in confusion, mismanagement, and ego-tripping of the Carousel Ballroom operation.
The Carousel was taken over early this spring by a group which included Brian Rohan, lawyer for many of the rock bands, Ron Rackow, a business drop-out and camp follower of the Grateful Dead, and with the support of several investors. The Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane both played there for minimum scale fees in order to get a fund established with which to run the ballroom. A staff of hard-working and intelligent people was assembled, but the whole thing disintegrated in a legal tangle and ended in disaster, stranding Fleetwood Mac, the British band, and Buddy Guy, the Chicago blues man and his group, without work.
At the final meeting, the management - Scully, Rackow, et al - told the "community" that Bill Graham was the only person who could run a ballroom and therefore it had to be turned over to him. The initial dream for the Carousel to be a community center for the new culture, in which seminars, workshops, rehearsal halls, offices, and art exhibits would be nurtured, was a fine dream.
When it came to the practicality of running the place, innumerable deficiencies manifested themselves. It didn't help any that the place was continually being buzzed by the cops. If the bands went one minute past two a.m., there was a rumble, even though other ballrooms locally now function with some flexibility on this score, occasionally running an hour overtime.
But the basic problem was not the police nor the owners of the building. It was the fact that somebody has to organize and run a venture like that, and the hippie ethic of permissiveness, unless it lucks into the right combination of people (as it did at the Pops Festival, for instance) will self-destruct eventually.
There is a way in which the Carousel caper was the perfect example of how the hippies can be led by someone who sounds like he knows what he's doing - the man on horseback, the fascist power figure. It was disappointing to see, too, the ways in which ego trips, economic interest, and a desire to avoid unpleasant reality, kept a really honest view of the situation from ever being given to the "community."
The Digger ethic of "take it, it's yours, it's free" which ignores money, has at its base a death-wish. The way in which the Carousel was run, and in which other events and ventures are operating now, seems in the same category.
It may only be a phase and it may be a reflection of the national malaise which affects everything from politics on up. But the practical view can only see the whole sequence of events as the real death of the hippie. And this time without any pageantry or press conferences; just a whimper.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the San Francisco Examiner, 7 July 1968)

* * * 

AIN'T IT A CRYIN' SHAME?  (excerpt on the 11/27/68 Fillmore West Thanksgiving party

On Thanksgiving Eve at the Carousel (now the Fillmore) Ballroom, the survivors of a social movement gathered to enjoy the largesse of a man who, through them, had made it. Yet what was to be a child of joy was for me a misshapen dwarf, a grotesque homunculus aping true sentiments, the product of a marriage of belated and too late generosity and a lack of real compassion and memory.
In short, it was a success party, a testament to the fortitude of Bill Graham and some of those who three long years ago got swept up in the commercial implications of Ken Kesey's acid vision. On the surface, nothing went wrong, but something bad, very bad, the worse for being ignored, kept trying to intrude.
[ . . . ]
The night began in earnest with the bands, Santana and It's A Beautiful Day. For the most part nothing was built. The audience and performers never came together to create a force larger than their individualities and their separatedness. Except for the conga drum solos of Santana, which, like most drum solos, sounded good to most people and warranted a response simply for happening, the performances were listless. The crowd stood like unfeeling mutes, still, swaying slowly, passive, dead. Nothing happened. Or, stoned, the crowd was content to receive, standing like antennae, conceiving no vision of an ecstasy in which they might have had to participate to create. All the electricity in the hall was from PG&E.
Everyone there expected a good time, they might even now say that it was a good time, but it was not. By no stretch of the imagination. The success party was not without some feeling, but it was without joy. It was as if the words love, dope, peace, and hassle combined to eradicate the experience of joy. And as for catharsis, or even getting your rocks off, that was not to be had. You could only get high and tired. Not a hell, of course, but no better than purgatory.
If joy was hard to find, it was perhaps that the Carousel harbored images of all those who did not attend, all those who did not make it through the scene to become musicians, djs, store owners, film makers, or promoters, those who did not have a chance to reconcile their way of life with the great god Success.
Despite the presence of those who had prospered, those who had arrived, the Carousel had felt the lives of those with blown minds, hepatitis, syphilis, those cold on the sidewalk, those who went home, cut their hair, went back to school or in the service, those who were busted, and those who had died. And perhaps the hall itself, its soul enveloped in the folds of the mushroom curtains hanging from the ceiling, had visions of the Hell's Angels' Birthday Party last spring, and levied a curse over all success achieved in the presence of so much death.  [5/15/68]
That night, despite the power and beauty of Janis Joplin, the event was marked by the pointless violence and sheer brutality of those who were also in the fold. That night, you may recall, the Angels rode in police cars telling the huge crowd that there was no more room. That night the Angels, hundreds of them, Angels of all sizes, ages, and appearance, left their line of choppers gleaming in the street, defiant to the gaze of the night IBM employees across the street, entered the hall to assert failure as a way of life, and had, in the piss on the floor and the stompings in the dining area, made their credo, their apologia, and their mea culpa.
Like the hosts of all parties, the Angels eventually parted, roaring away into the night. The sound of the engines finally died, but the Carousel, I think, retained the evening in its floors, walls, and windows. For the Angels spoke not simply for themselves but for all the death and fragmentation of a movement which had borne at least its share of darkness. Those with memories could remember, if success was the theme of Thanksgiving Eve's celebration, the course of at least one life which fared badly.
All this, needless to say, was not the fault of Bill Graham. But it was in the air, on the streets, and in the music. Even the band sounded like the old Airplane. It had the San Francisco sound. But that style spoke for other days, days when everyone was younger, fresher, a little more original. It has been three years.

(by beelzebub, from the San Francisco Express Times, 18 December 1968)

See also:


  1. This post collects all the contemporary reports on the Carousel I could find - some posted here before, and some new finds (mostly from the Berkeley Barb). It seemed useful to gather them all in one place, to cover the story of the short-lived Carousel experiment from beginning to end as it was reported at the time.

  2. I added some short pieces from the San Francisco Examiner, filling in a few more Carousel details.
    Most interesting is Ralph Gleason's July post-mortem analyzing what went wrong. It sounds like he knows more than he tells (more than was printed, anyway) about how the Carousel was run. At any rate, he accuses the managers of "confusion, mismanagement, and ego-tripping," and mentions a "final meeting" where they announced Graham would take over. He hints that they were misled by "someone who sounds like he knows what he's doing," and says they were dishonest about their situation with the public. (Recall Scully's absurd announcement, two days before vacating the Carousel, that the Dead were still going to "take over" the Carousel!)

  3. Thank you for this great collection LIA. From December 14, 1967 to August 20, 1968, the Grateful Dead only played the Carousel within the San Francisco city limits with the exception of one benefit at the Avalon and one benefit at Winterland. August 20-23 was at the newly named Fillmore West.

    1. Yes, 1968 was their stretch of trying not to play for Bill Graham or Chet Helms, and running their own affairs... Didn't last long, in fact it was a disaster for them. "Burn down the Fillmore, gas the Avalon!"