Our History: A trip back to the Dead in Vancouver

The Afterthought brings back into focus the psychedelic ’60s in all of their purple-haze glory, as seen through the eyes of legendary West Coast music promoter and entrepreneur Jerry Kruz. Using the historical posters as a timeline, Kruz’s recollections are a celebration of the resiliency of Woodstock-era arts and culture and foundational musical acts. This is an excerpt from The Afterthought.

 

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July 29-31, 1966: Trips Festival: Garden Auditorium

Grateful Dead, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane

So off I go to check out the new competition on the block, with my sweetheart Julie and the United Empire Loyalists. I am not sure what to expect. We arrive at this very large hall and of course I walk in like I own the place. What I see first is lights everywhere: strobe lights, disco balls, all of it pulsating to the music. I must admit I was impressed. At least I think I was. It would be many years before I would discover what a big financial disaster this event was. The bands, the organizers, the financial person, no one was happy. And again, it is important to note that I did not learn about this until after I was out of the business.

I scout out the venue and then go backstage and talk to the bands they have booked from San Francisco. First I meet Jefferson Airplane. Grace Slick and Marty Balin are having some kind of dispute and I am not impressed. I tell myself that they won’t make it. Next, Big Brother & The Holding Company. I see Janis Joplin sitting by herself. She seems very lonely. I introduce myself and she extends an invitation to come visit her in San Francisco. Why not; I thought it would be fun. Next up, the Grateful Dead. I see Jerry Garcia and introduce myself. I am very impressed and think to myself that this band has something happening. Out of nowhere comes an idea (to this day I don’t know where it came from): I ask Jerry if he wants to perform at my dance hall the following week. He says he would love to and we agree on a fee of $500 plus accommodations and I think probably expenses. We shake hands and my first deal with an American band is done. This $500 fee would become the benchmark for all our out-of-town bands. Julie and I stayed and enjoyed ourselves, but I knew I had to come up with accommodations for the band before the Trips Festival was over.

Next day, what to do? Where do you put up the Grateful Dead for a week, and what should it cost? I talk it over with my dad. He and I don’t get along all that well but he is a commercial printer and lots of his customers are hotel owners. He tells me of a customer with a motel on Kingsway, one of the main routes into Vancouver. I go over there and meet the owner and explain to him what I need. He shows me a very large room with a lot of beds in it. How many beds I was not sure but it looks good to me and reminds me of the dormitory at St. Vladimir’s, the minor seminary I attended before I became a rock promoter. How quickly one’s life can change. I make the deal and I now have accommodations for the band.

I meet the Dead after the festival and take them to their digs for the next week. I pack as many of them into my car as will fit and have the rest of them follow us to the motel. I have a chance to talk with Jerry, as he is sitting in the front seat of my hot car. I find him to be a great guy and he tells me they have been staying at a crash pad since they arrived, so whatever I have will be better. I park the car, get the room keys and show the band the large single room in the basement (I would rather think of it as ground level). The band all let it show that they are not impressed. Then, what I perceived as a very large man comes up to me and introduces himself as Owsley. He tells me he is the band’s manager and that the accommodations are not good enough and the fee I am paying the band is not acceptable. I tell him too bad, I made my deal with Jerry Garcia and as far as I was concerned it was Jerry’s band. Only later would I learn that Owsley Stanley was a somewhat infamous LSD manufacturer and dealer who would also become a pioneer concert audio guy. Who knew?

 

Aug. 5, 1966

Grateful Dead

I have hired the Grateful Dead to perform at the Afterthought and now I need a poster. Bruce Dowad of the United Empire Loyalists had done my previous poster, and I believe he also did this one. Unfortunately, this one couldn’t be found. After over forty years we tracked Bruce down in Hollywood, California, where he now lives with his family, and met for lunch. After he left the band, Bruce had gone on to art school and developed an international career in commercials and film. He agreed he had done the poster just before this one and also the following one, so we concluded he must have done the one for the Grateful Dead as well. The poster seen here is a recreation of the original to the best of our and Bruce’s knowledge. It was printed two-up on 8x11 stock, a smaller size that I thought would be easier to distribute and cheaper to print, even though I was printing at my father’s shop and it wasn’t costing me anything.

 

Aug. 1-5, 1966: Heywood Bandstand on Beach Avenue going into Stanley Park

So, what do you do when you’ve told Jerry Garcia you will show him and his band a good time while they are waiting to perform in your dance hall? The show is Aug. 5 and today is Aug. 1. (Many years later I found out that Jerry’s birthday was Aug. 1.) First thing: introduce them to the band that will open for them, namely the United Empire Loyalists, whom I happen to manage. The musicians meet one another and seem to hit it off. Jerry Garcia and Tom Kolstee appear to connect right from the start. I noticed as the week went on that Garcia took on a mentoring role with Tom, and it was really cool to observe how things unfolded.

After a couple of days of sightseeing and hijinks with the local band, the Dead want to rehearse. UEL drummer Richard Cruickshank says no problem, use my house; my parents are out of town. This would be the time to point out that the ages of the Loyalists ranged from 16 to all of 17. I had just turned 18, but most of the members of the local bands were still under 18, so it was not legal for them to attend the dance hall either. The legal drinking age was 21, and the age to be classified as an adult was 18. So off we all go to Richard’s house for some rehearsal. Somehow the word got out in town that the Grateful Dead were practising at Richard’s house. Surprise, surprise, the practice turns into an out-of-control party. Next thing we know, the neighbours have called the police and things get really out of hand.

I forget to mention that Richard’s parents’ house was in a very wealthy part of the city with a great view of Stanley Park, the ocean and downtown Vancouver. [A more in-depth account of this evening can be found in Darren Gawle’s United Empire Loyalists interviews cited in the afterword to this book.] Richard had wonderful parents, but I don’t believe they ever forgave any of us for that crazy night.

Well here it is Wednesday, Aug. 3, and I am giving the Dead a tour of the city. The buzz just seems to be getting bigger and bigger. Jerry, of course, is riding with me in my Mustang with the top down. How cool is that? We are driving along Beach Avenue when Garcia sees a gazebo bandstand across the street from the beach on the way to the entrance to Stanley Park. Jerry says stop the car, he wants to check out the gazebo with the rest of the band. He then tells me — does not ask me — just says he wants to do a free concert at the gazebo. I ask what he means and he asks me if I want the dance this weekend to be a success. Sure, of course. Well, then, everybody has to know about it, he says, and what better way to tell them than a free show?

Next thing I am doing is finding out how to get the keys to the gazebo and permission to do a free show. The keys were easy, the lifeguard at the beach across the street agrees to open up the electrical, and the next thing I know the band is in the gazebo setting up. To this day I am not sure how it all came together. I do know that I did not get permission from the city and it did not take long for the police to shut the whole thing down. Julie and her parents were trying to drive through the area that day but could not because of the traffic jam this event caused.

Footnote: it would not be until forty-plus years later while doing research for this book that I found information online about the “Lost Dead Concert.” I found out that, short as it was, this was the first free Dead concert ever.

So, here we are on Thursday, one day before the concert, and I have been told by Jeff Ridley of the United Empire Loyalists that another attempt was made to do a concert at Kits Beach which may or may not have occurred. I have no memory of this. The only recollection around this is taking pictures of the Dead posing on the old train that was at Kits Beach. Truth be told, I have very little memory of that week. It would appear I was in an altered state of consciousness for most of the time. What a surprise.

The posters you see here are a recent creation for the free concert. They are intended to be commemorative and were designed by Gary Anderson of Turntable Records, located in Fan Tan Alley in downtown Victoria. Gary has been selling Afterthought posters, vintage records and posters from all over the world for the past 25 years. It is a great shop to visit!

From The Afterthought: West Coast Rock Posters and Recollections from the ’60s ©Jerry Kruz, 2014, Rocky Mountain Books

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