I am going to probably do a series of posts on the Golden State Country Bluegrass Festival, which was held in San Rafael from April 26-28, 1974.
I have become rather obsessed with this festival. It barely gets mentioned in most Dead-/Jerry-ology, but I think it provides a fascinating glimpse into all kinds of things: 1974, bluegrass, rednecks-meet-hippies, hippie business practices, GD, Bay Area, Garcia, Northern California/SF in their relations to "America", etc. etc. Folks who have read Gans and Simon's still wonderful Playing in the Band [Amazon link, 1996 updated version] might recall the iconic picture by John Sievert of John McEuen, Steve Martin, and Garcia "pickin' and grinnin'" together at the festival (1):
I don't have a clear plan in mind for this series, which is probably really dangerous. It's been many years since I've written something of any length/continuity without a very tight outline, so this could meander. That's fine. I'll just kind of post things as they come, and since I have mentioned it once already I'll call this post GSCBF #2. I hope to at least make posts about the business side of things, the performers, and the recordings. This post is a quickie that mixes the first and third.
Let me just make five empirical observations.
1) The festival was to be recorded for an album release on a "major label" and there were plans for "a major motion picture company [to be] filming the Festival with the production of a theatrical feature being the objective" (2).
2) Judy Lammers, who organized the festival with her then-husband Paul, says that film was conferred on someone, unremembered, right after the festival, and has been lost to her since.
3) another person closely involved with the festival (3) says that things started to get organizationally crazy, especially surrounding recording and filming, when the GD organization took over these aspects. This person says that the tapes "walked away" after the festival.
4) I have been under the impression that a set of these tapes resides in Grisman's vault, and maybe that another resides in the GD (?Garcia?) vault.
5) There are various quite nice sbd recordings in circulation (i.e. among collectors) of many of the festival acts. At least one and maybe two very low gen sets of tapes, slightly different sbd tapes, are out and about a little bit. I will be analyzing the tapes and posting about them separately.
What's the point of this post?
Not quite sure, but let me spitball one or two speculations and other ideas.
1) I have already posted about how Garcia was half-owner --with Ron Rakow his equal partner ... yikes!-- of Round Records. It makes sense to imagine that a festival recording might be a Round release. Hardly a "major label", but I wouldn't put it past the promotional materials to be willing to gild the lily just a tiny bit.
2) Re the filming, we know Jerry would eventually do the GD movie. He might have liked the idea of doing the festival film. What's more, this is music he loved in the area he loved, bluegrass in Marin County. I can see how portraying that combination would have been especially rewarding for Jerry.
3) If #1 and #2 are true, this might explain why the "GD organization" horned in on the festival action. It became something of a Garcia/GD production, despite the facts that 1) every living bluegrass icon (less Bill Monroe) and many of the hottest folk and country acts were present (and, coincidentally, playing their asses off); and b) others had worked long and hard on planning this thing. If Round was involved, Garcia had a tremendous personal stake in making any release a commercial success. What would suck is if the GD --imagine!-- shanghai'd the tapes while letting the festival organizers take a bath on the gate receipts and such.
4) Putting all of this together, I would suppose that the tape and film is all in GD-family hands, and that an eventual release could be foreseen. I rarely get normative, but he's a hope: How's about a festival film and soundtrack, David Lemieux! And while they are at it, I am sure the Lammers would love to see some fruits of their labor of love in putting this thing together, after dealing with financial ruin at the time. Win-win-win: fans and historians get to see some presumably great footage of some incredible music and musicians, we all get to hear great music in the best possible sound, and the people who deserve to might see some much-deserved reward.
(1) Gans, David, and Peter Simon. 1985. Playing in the Band: An Oral and Visual Portrait of the Grateful Dead. New York: St. Martin's Press, p. 147. Updated memorial version, with new last chapter, published 1996.
(2) "The Hills Around the Bay to Resound With Music: Country Music, Bluegrass Music, Old-Time Music, and Much More American Folk Music; The Bay Area's First Bluegrass Festival -- Last Weekend in April." Jewell Productions and Communications Assistants, April 11, 1974. Southern Folklife Collection Festival Files, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, folder 54; 8 pp., information from p. 4.
(3) Lest anyone draw the wrong inference, this is not Paul Lammers. I haven't spoken to him, though I would very much like to.