Please make yourself at home! Check some tags, do some reading, leave a comment.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ron Polte on the Demise of the Carousel

Bottom line:

A bunch of hippies, a bunch of good people, got together and refused to run a business. And, I'm sorry, you've got to live in that world if you're gonna run a business.

On Rakow, in particular:

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.

On Graham taking over:

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.

Ideas for the future:

Let's get together, do a benefit or a festival, and rent two places like the Matrix for a year, one at the south end and one at the north end of the city. And hire a couple of people to manage those 2 or 3 hundred capacity rooms, and put the young bands in there. … We should do that. Right now, there's a lot of wounds to heal and everybody is tired after the Carousel, so it's gonna take a little while. But it should come to pass.

The festival idea would manifest as the ill-fated Wild West Festival. At the same time, the Matrix really did take up some of the slack left by the Carousel (the  Tuesday Night Jam morphed into the Monday Night Jam), and the Family Dog had the south end of town covered, albeit in a bigger room with the problems of rent and overhead and all that Polte identified as problematic for the prospective hip community musical operations. Indeed, Chet Helms never could make the Dog work, and he was out in less than a year.

Darlington, Sandy. 1968. Ron Polte: A Good Word for Bill Graham. San Francisco Express Times, July 31, 1968, p. 13.


  1. Big Brother and The Holding Company was at the original meeting where the Carousel set up was agreed to. They were very supportive, but--in front of everybody--Janis said "a bunch of hippies--I give you guys six moths." She pretty much called it to the day.

    Polte was a hard-nosed manager for which he didn't get a lot of hippie love, but he was right about a lot of things. Since Polte has hardly given an interview since (he talked to Joel Selvin sometime in the 90s for his book, and that was it), it's instructive to read his opinion.

  2. It's also instructive to see Ron Rakow criticized by a knowledgeable & financially astute source in 1968; in hindsight you could use almost the same words in 1975. Not that this served as any kind of warning for the Dead!

    From the mid-March opening to the late-June closing, the Carousel experiment lasted a whopping three & a half months.

    As manager of Quicksilver, you'd expect Ron Polte to have been involved in the Carousel, but he talks about it impersonally like he had no involvement. In fact, I think Quicksilver only played there once while they were ostensibly co-running the operation! I guess any input from them was pretty limited.

    Ron Polte goes on to praise Bill Graham in the rest of the article.
    Another excerpt: "Graham went over and negotiated a much smaller lease, and he's running it. In fact, the straight person [Bill Fuller] 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."

    The Dead felt more peeved, since they refused to play at Graham's Fillmore West for a couple months afterwards.


!Thank you for joining the conversation!