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Thursday, April 21, 2011

JG19810624: Wednesday, June 24, 1981, Sherwood Hall, Salinas, CA (UNCERTAIN)

We have the great good fortune of working some pretty data-rich terrain. It varies from place to place, period to period, but partly as a result of the work of folks who might read this blog (semper fi!), a lot of Garcia's performing life is pinned down pretty well in terms of its basic architectures. Not so much that it's not interesting, mind you --we all like a challenge, right? The thrill of hunting down a fact or flashing on an observation?-- but enough to sink your teeth into. Indeed, and probably like the world at large, there's a lot more evidence than insight to go around.

That's nice for other reasons, too. For the scientifically-inclined, we can expect not only logical argumentation, but also empirical support, for a big chunk of what we are examining. I love that and think it's really important to be conservative in changing the status quo designations, assignations, etc. But it also means that we are almost certainly committing lots of type II errors (false negatives). Of course we miss the stuff that has left no trace. But we also miss the stuff that's floating out in the ether somewhere, that snatch of memory or that rumor or whatever.

Here I think I have a case of a snatch of memory that we should commit to the record. I am going to argue --based wholly on the testimony of one person, and on my own additional conjecture on top of that-- that the Jerry Garcia Band (Garcia, Shaw, Seals, Warren, and guest bassist Phil Lesh) played Sherwood Hall, 940 North Main Street, Salinas, CA, 93906-3913, on Wednesday, June 24, 1981.

Correspondent Charles C. Peterson relayed the following, and very graciously allowed me to reference him. Thank you, Charles!
I am 100% certain that I saw the JGB in Salinas CA, with Phil Lesh on bass, in late June 1981. I was in Pacific Grove for a summer invertebrate zoology course, the show was my first date with my lab partner (whom I later married) (and divorced), and by August the class was over, I was back in Michigan and she was back in Palo Alto ... given the combination of (subjectively) clear memories and the time-stamps provided by known circumstances, there is simply no way I could be wrong about this.
He elaborates as follows:
I was taking a class at the biological field station in Pacific Grove and my guess is I heard about the show from a poster in a record store there or in Monterey. I asked my lab partner to go with me (as I knew nobody else in town and liked her) and we [drove] over the mountains to Salinas. Neither of us had ever been there before, but we'd both been reading Steinbeck and we talked about that.
Regarding the venue, Charles recounts the following:
I remember the hall as a cheesy VFW-type place with no seats and maybe an eye-level stage. No ... theater curtain or anything; I got the impression it was a hall-for-rent more than a concert venue. We were pretty close without trying very hard; it wasn't packed.

Sherwood Hall was like a community center or something; no seats, just a big flat gym-like floor and a 5-6-foot stage at one end. I seem to recall low-ish ceilings. Not a large place; I am notoriously shitty at estimating crowd numbers but it seems to memory like less than a thousand of us were there; there was plenty of floor-room at the setbreak.
Regarding Lesh:
The band came out and after things quieted down somebody yelled "Good to see you Phil!" and he smiled and waved. I remember what me and my date were wearing but not Garcia. During the setbreak everybody sat down on the concrete floor and hung out.
Charles is sure the show is not the one that gook place on August 6, 1981 at the same venue:
I'm ... sure it was earlier than August ... I took the June half of a June/July class (and then hung around for July) and I'm sure it was in June. I'd bet money it was a day or 2 before the Santa Cruz and Warfield shows.
Recall that he has specific professional and major life markers to pinpoint the date. I find all of this totally credible.

Now, Charles doesn't say Wednesday, June 24. So I am speculating/extrapolating here even beyond what Charles has supplied. But I think it's a pretty safe exrapolation. Why? Here are some points, in no particular order.
  1. I asked Charles if he recalls it being a weeknight or a weekend. His reply: "It was a low-key enough deal that it must have been a weeknight; also I seem to remember having had class that day." Now, this is far from 100%, but it's suggestive.
  2. Charles recalls that "it was a day or 2 before the Santa Cruz and Warfield shows", i.e., a day or two before June 25 and June 26, 1981.
  3. Charles notes that there was "a Santana tour in 1979 that also went Salinas -> Santa Cruz -> SF" and wonders whether it might have been the same promoter. I have just found an article in Billboard (fn1) that confirms that Bill Graham was promoting shows at precisely these three venues: Sherwood Hall in Salinas, the Civic Auditorium in Santa Cruz, and the Fox-Warfield Theatre in San Francisco.
  4. Charles has the concrete memory of Phil Lesh being there, specifically welcomed by name by the crowd, and we know that Lesh was not present on the August 6 show (I have listened to it, and it's John Kahn). I am also 100% sure that that August show is correctly dated, given the posters and ads, the tape, the friend-of-taper's recollections and the "Happy Birthday Jerry" chant on the tape.
  5. We know that the Garcia Band liked to woodshed guests, new band members, etc. in out-of-the-way places before taking them to the usual haunts in the core Bay Area. With Nicky Hopkins in the Fall of '75, they started off at Sophie's in Palo Alto, far-away Sacramento, and tiny and local Fairfax. In early '81, the Garcia-Kahn-Seals-Warren-Shaw quintet debuted at the Keystone Palo Alto. The fall 1982 return of Greg Errico to the drummer's seat took place at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz. Etc. Given that the next two shows to be played in June 1981 were higher-profile shows (in the sense of larger, Bill Graham-run rooms), and that Phil Lesh was subbing for Kahn during this period, it makes sense that they'd want to work out the kinks in front of a less seasoned crowd. I have to think that the Salinas locals would have fit the bill.
When I look at that pattern of facts, I am become persuaded that this was a night or two before the Santa Cruz show, and that the most likely date for this event is Wednesday, June 24, 1981. I acknowledge that there's uncertainty around this estimate. It could have been the 23rd or the 22nd, but why would it have been?

Regarding other personnel, I asked if there were backing vocals, and also asked if there was any chance it was Merl playing keyboards, since he showed up on June 25th in Santa Cruz. His replies:
Gut feeling: no backing vocals, but I’m not at all sure.
I don't think Merl Saunders was on keys; I think I would have known him by then from the Keystone records. Not 100% sure.
Analysis

I am generally skeptical of memory as an exclusive basis on which to add a Garcia date. But I find this too persuasive to ignore. I am entering this gig into my own list.

I do have a few questions/bigger points.

First, where the heck was John Kahn? If this gig happened, there would now be four dates (6/24-26/81 and 8/22/81) in a two-month period when John is not there. It would happen a few more times in March of '82, I think. This is truly exceptional. In the twenty-plus years from when they started playing together, there are only a tiny handful Garcia On The Side shows without John Kahn on bass. It's weird.

Second, the fact that these appear to have been Bill Graham Joints is noteworthy. Garcia had a long partnership with Freddie Herrera, which Corry has documented so beautifully in terms of the professional relationship and in terms of the basic data. It was only in 1987 that Garcia finally stopped playing Herrera venues and switched over to Bill Graham in the Bay Area. (I imagine that was a devastating loss for Freddie and probably personally painful for Jerry as well. After the GD and John Kahn, Freddie Herrera was probably third in the Garcia loyalty sweepstakes, even before his wives and kids. But I digress.) Was Graham courting Garcia, trying to take him from Freddie? One would have to think so. Did this June run discussed here and the odd little "1st Northern California Tour" of August 6-7-8, 1981 have anything to do with this putative inter-promoter competition?

Third, I note Charles Peterson's uncertainty about backup singers. He could only report a gut feeling. Unless another attendee, or a participant, or some other data materialize, we won't know whether there were backup singers at this show. My own gut tells me that Essra Mohawk and Liz Stires probably sang, even if only on a few numbers. I can't imagine they wouldn't have wanted to debut at Sherwood Hall in Salinas, get their live performing sea legs under themselves there, rather than at the larger Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium the next night. It would be more consistent with the broader pattern for them to have been there. Again, though, we just cannot know.

If anyone knows anyone in Salinas, can you please send them down to the local library (assuming they still have those in cash-strapped California) to spin some microfilm from late June 1981 in search of ads, calendar listings, show reviews, or anything else? Much obliged.

REFERENCE

fn1. Jack McDonough, "New Venues Blossoming Throughout the Bay Area," Billboard, April 14, 1979, pp. 41-42, accessed via Google Books.

2 comments:

  1. I find this line of reasoning 100% convincing. I'm sure that the backup singers joined in at least for a few numbers, even if it wasn't made much of at the time.

    High Noon opened the shows in Santa Cruz and San Francisco, so with Merl in the house it made more sense that he sat in at Santa Cruz (he didn't at Warfield).

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  2. Wow, that about covers it. Thanks.
    Hope something turns up...I'd hate to think that I was, like, insane or something.

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