Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Season with Kingfish Part Three


After giving my phone number to Tim Hovey at the Keystone Berkeley, I don’t think I really expected to hear from him. Imagine my surprise a couple of weeks later when I got a phone call from Richard Hundgen, Kingfish’s manager at the time. Richard there at the beginning of the in the Haight Ashbury music scene, a member of the original inner circle of Big Brother and the Holding Company and a good friend of Janis Joplin’s.  Turns out he had an open date, and we actually began talking about bringing Kingfish to UCSC on March 7. Since it was already early February, that didn’t provide a lot of lead time.

At the time, I was a member of Gotterdammerung, the group at UCSC’s Crown College that screened films in the college’s dining hall every Saturday night. As such, getting access to the dining hall wasn’t too big a problem. A bigger problem was how to sell tickets and deal with expenses, principally paying the band. Because it was technically a university function, all of the funds had to flow through the events office, which also sold tickets for the event, and they would only issue a check for the performers – a situation that understandably did not sit well with the band. It took a lot of finagling, and at least one promoter-to-manager phone shouting match, to get everything settled, but amazingly, it all came together. My colleagues in the film group were amazing, working out details like lighting, security, and publicity.  The event poster was drawn by Judy, by then my fiancĂ©, and copies were put up mainly just on campus.
Crown College Dining Hall entrance today.
The dining hall proper is to the left


During this period, we saw several other Kingfish shows, including a second one at the Keystone Berkeley where I met up with Richard face to face after the show. He invited me back to the Keystone Green Room, which looked exactly like it does in the inside gatefold of the Garcia-Saunders live album, minus the nun, and with a different cast of characters. 

As the date of the show approached, tickets were selling briskly, and things were looking up. In talking with Richard, we had broached the idea of hosting a dinner for the band before the show. He initially declined, saying that the band usually ate by themselves, but later accepted the invitation on behalf of the band and crew. At that time, Crown College had a small conference facility near its parking lot in a secluded building that now houses radio station KZSC.  We ended up serving dinner to the band and crew down there. People came and went as they set up for the show in the dining hall up the hill. The crew that night was Tim Hovey and Rex Jackson, and Richard was there to tend to business.

If memory serves, we served them baked chicken, rice, and some dolmas that Judy scared up in downtown Santa Cruz. Although there was plenty to do, we managed some face time with the band during dinner. Oddly enough, the main topic of conversation among the group was the Karen Black TV movie “Trilogy of Terror,” which had aired earlier that week. The most significant music related bit of information I gleaned from the session was a confirmation by Weir that the Dead had indeed plotted to do a free show at UCSC’s gorgeous quarry amphitheatre in the late sixties. They ultimately abandoned the plan when it became apparent that it would be pretty much impossible to make the logistics work without ending up with a Santa Cruz version of Altamont. Still, it was nice to have that urban legend confirmed firsthand.

Quarry Amphitheater UCSC

The band, who had been playing several nights a week in clubs, had a relatively minimal setup, although they did bring their own PA. We handled the lights from the projection booth near the top of the dining hall’s elevated ceiling. As the show approached, I was tasked with doing a lot that glamorous promoter stuff – finding Mr. Kelly some decongestant, guiding Mr. Weir to a secluded restroom, cleaning up after dinner… you get the drift.

With little more than on-campus publicity, the show handily sold out, and there were a few people listening outside, but the numbers were completely manageable. If I remember correctly, the show started more or less on time, and the band played the three one-hour sets specified in the contract. As I noted in the previous entries, Kingfish was a stellar live act in 1975, and their show that night did not disappoint, although promoter duties distracted me from giving it my full attention. The audience, mostly UCSC students who had not yet heard Kingfish, gave the band a rousing reception.

I did get some significant karma payback that night. The previous year, I had been part of a group of Crown students that smuggled a large number of marshmallows into Winterland for the 2/23/74 Dead show. This was inspired by tales from Bob R., the preceptor of our dorm, who had first seen the Dead on 4/14/71 when they played at his undergraduate alma mater, Bucknell College in Lewisburg, PA. Apparently a group of Bucknell students had similarly smuggled in marshmallows, and Bob and his friends were participants in a ferocious marshmallow fight. He waxed poetic about how much fun it was to throw the marshmallows around, and how it was harmless and good clean fun.

Doing the same thing in the spacious confines of Winterland proved fun, but certainly not clean and, unfortunately, a good number of the squishy missiles made their way onto the stage, prompting Phil Lesh to admonish the crowd to “share the marshmallows with your friends rather than throwing them up on stage.”

At any rate, some of the same miscreants decided it would be fun to recreate this event one more time,
Ticket stub from the 3/7/75 show
at the UCSC Kingfish show. A marshmallow war did occur, brief in duration but lasting in impact, as I and my colleagues learned as we spent well over an hour scrubbing the sticky dining hall floor after the show. Meanwhile, the band packed up their gear and prepared to hit the road. I got surprisingly warm thanks from the band, and especially from Hovey and Jackson.

After the Kingfish show, I got a call from John McIntire, who was managing Keith and Donna at the time, asking if we wanted to promote a show with them a few weeks later. At that point, though, I was looking at a wedding in May, and had a round of chemistry and biology classes to finish up before graduating in June. That show did go on, but with a different group of student promoters and at the somewhat roomier Kresge Town Hall.  All in all, I am glad I had the experience of promoting a show, and it gives me a great appreciation of all that goes into making such events run smoothly. Furthermore, I believe this was still the only time that any of the original core members of the Dead have performed on the campus that now houses the Grateful Dead’s Archive.

I saw Kingfish a number of times after the UCSC show, but the frequency dropped as other commitments (graduating, marriage, graduate school) took more and more of my time.  The last really memorable shows I can think of were in June, 1975. On June 8, Kingfish preceded Garcia and Saunders on a warm Sunday afternoon in Palo Alto’s El Camino Park, where I had attended a couple of Midpeninsula Free University Be-Ins several years earlier. Kingfish played their usual tight set. After the show, Judy and I walked back across the street to Stanford Shopping Center’s parking lot with Dave Torbert and his partner Patty. Nine days later, Kingfish played a two set show at the sprawling Winterland benefit for poster artist Bob Fried that culminated in an epic “Garcia and Friends” set that was actually the Dead’s first full show since their hiatus from touring the previous October.

Kingfish in its original incarnation carried on for about another year, at which point Bob Weir chose to devote his energies once again to touring with the Dead. Kingfish carried on, but the original lineup splintered, leaving Torbert and Kelly with a changing crew of guitarists and drummers over the next several years.  Torbert passed away, way too early, in 1982, but Kelly carried on with the Kingfish name until well into the 1990s, occasionally reuniting with Weir, most notably during a 1986 tour that also featured Steve Kimock on lead guitar. 

3 comments:

Raychem said...

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Raychem

Corry342 said...

A great and long-lost story. Here's a little bit about the Keith And Donna show a few months later:
http://hooterollin.blogspot.com/2012/03/may-11-1975-town-hall-kresge-college.html
The poster advertised the show as having taken place at Kresge College Town Hall--did they share the Dining Commons with College 5?

cryptdev said...

Corry - you're quite right - Kresge, not College Five. I did not attend the Keith and Donna show as I was on my weekend long honeymoon.