Thursday, 1 July 2010

Provo Park, Berkeley Concerts 1967-69

(this is a substantial update of an earlier post about Provo Park concerts in the late 1960s)

Provo Park in Berkeley, originally named Constitution Park, lies in the center of town, near City Hall and Berkeley High School. It is bounded by Allston Way, Martin Luther King Junior Way (called Grove Street in the 1960s) and Center Street. In the mid-1960s, Berkeleyites started calling Constitution Park "Provo Park" in support of the Dutch Provos (I had thought it was the IRA, but I was mistaken), and the name stuck. This is typical Berkeley politics, and almost no one living there later recalled why the park was called Provo Park.

When free concerts in the Golden Gate Park Panhandle became commonplace, many Berkeley rock bands looked to extend the idea to Provo Park. It was fun, it was cool and anyway it was good publicity for the bands. The first Panhandle show was October 6, 1966, the day LSD was declared illegal, and when The Grateful Dead, Big Brother, Wildlower and Orkustra played an unauthorized event there. By Spring 1967 the idea had spread to Berkeley, and there were apparently almost weekly shows, mostly during weekend afternoons. While many of the performers were simply aspiring local folk musicians or Berkeley High School rock bands, many larger events took place there too.

Provo Park remains fairly similar to how it looked in the day, although the buildings around have changed considerably. I took the top photos on August 11, 2009. Its vantage point is from near Center Street (Stage Right), looking across towards Allston. The Berkeley Community Theatre looms in the background, on the grounds of the High School.
The 60s musical history of Provo Park is considerably less celebrated than that of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, but in fact Provo played a key role in expanding the Berkeley music scene, because local fans had a chance to see groups for free, so a good group didn't have to be well known to become popular in the San Pablo Avenue clubs. This sort of promotion is a microcosm of modern Internet style marketing, but without the Internet, just one of the many ways in which Berkeley was ahead of its time.
It would be impossible to compile a complete list of Provo Park shows in the 1960s, as many of the performances were casual. Nonetheless, I am making an effort here to make a list of scheduled performances at Provo Park, that were publicized in the newspaper or with local flyers, an effort that has been considerably improved by Ross. Anyone with additional memories, additions, insights or corrections is encouraged to Comment.

January 15, 1967 Loading Zone, Ulysses S. Crockett, Drongos
Bands like the Loading Zone were playing for free in Sproul Plaza at anti-war protests, so the idea was extended to the stage at Constitution Park. While this event wasn't exactly sanctioned, it was mentioned in Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle column of January 13, 1967 (above). Note that Gleason still calls it "Berkeley City Park."

The Oakland-based Loading Zone were one of Berkeley's popular hippie bands, one of the first groups to mix psychedelic rock with R&B. They were well connected to the Underground, having played many seminal events like the Trips Festival. This was a portentous weekend in the Bay Area, as among many other events the Human Be-In had taken place in Golden Gate Park the day before.

Ulysses Crockett and The Afro-Blue Persuasion were a funky modern jazz group who were regular performers in the East Bay and San Francisco. Law student Crockett played vibes and flute, and the bassist at this time was probably Phil Marsh of The Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band. The Drongos were a Berkeley High School band.

January 29, 1967  Loading Zone, New Delhi River Band
The New Delhi River Band were Palo Alto’s leading psychedelic blues band, and featured David Nelson and Dave Torbert, both future members of The New Riders Of The Purple Sage. NDRB were popular in the South Bay, due mainly to having been the house band at The Barn in Scotts Valley, near Santa Cruz. They were looking to expand their horizons, and a free concert in Berkeley was the perfect opportunity to introduce themselves to a different audience.

March 5, 1967  Loading Zone, New Delhi River Band, Motor
The group Motor, while familiar from many handbills, is unknown to me.

March 11, 1967 Mineral Springs, Tilden Park, Berkeley
The Reversal of Planet Earthquake Picnic
After the Human Be-In in San Francisco (Jan 14), similar events were held all over the West Coast and the rest of the country. Ralph Gleason described the peculiar Berkeley landscape in his Friday column (March 10):
Tomorrow, the Berkeley Provos, who are modeled on the Dutch Provos and are similar to the Haight Ashbury Diggers, The Los Angeles Diggers and a new group in Cleveland called the Cleveland Prunes, are having a Berkeley Be-In.
The affair will begin at noon in Tilden Park at the Mineral Springs area. The Provos are organizing a car pool for those without wheels which will leave Constitution Park at 11am. There will be free food and lots of music.
Among the groups which will appear at the Berkeley event--which is being officially called the Reversal Of The Earthquake Picnic--are:
The Loading Zone, The New Delhi River Band, The Junior Teachers Band, Soul Purpose, Motor and Blue Cheer.
Given the basic political orientation of Berkeley, as opposed to the basic non-political orientation of the Haight/Ashbury, this affair ought to be different and even more interesting. It might even achieve the Yellow Submarine (remember, Mellow Yellow!) community envisioned by some who hope to see the two merge.
As it happened, the event was rained out, and re-scheduled for the following Sunday at Constitution (Provo) Park.

March 19, 1967  Loading Zone, New Delhi River Band, Motor, Blue Cheer, Soul Purpose, Haymarket Riot, Ulysses S. Crockett and The Afro-Blues Persuasion
The Reversal of Planet Earthquake Picnic
This event had been planned for the Mineral Springs area of Tilden Park the previous Saturday (March 11), but the event was rained out. The event was held eight days later, with a slightly different set of groups scheduled.

Blue Cheer had formed only recently, and had rarely ventured beyond The Matrix at this point.

April 9, 1967 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley Loading Zone/others
An unscheduled "Happening" on Telegraph Avenue drew several thousand participants. Telegraph Avenue led straight into the Berkeley Campus, and the street was blocked off, which did not make the City comfortable.

April 30, 1967  Loading Zone, New Delhi River Band, Motor, Notes From The Underground
As a result of the friendly but unscheduled “happening” on Telegraph Avenue (a few blocks from the Park) on 9 April, the city agreed with Loading Zone manager Ron Barnett (quoted in an April 21 Tribune article) that the band just wanted a place to play. As a result, the city agreed to regular concerts in Provo Park, thus sanctioning what was already occurring. The first show was scheduled for Sunday April 23.
However, there was extensive rain on Sunday the 23rd, and the show was rescheduled for the next Sunday (Apr 30).

May 7, 1967    Loading Zone, SF Mime Troupe

May 28, 1967  Loading Zone, Steve Miller Blues Band, Mad River, Purple Earthquake

May 30, 1967 New Delhi River Band, Motor, Purple Earthquake 
Purple Earthquake were a Berkeley High School band, regular performers in Provo Park, who would later evolve into the band Earthquake, who had a number of albums on A&M and Berserkely in the 1970s (h/t Ross for all the Provo scans).

This was a Tuesday event, probably related to Memorial Day.

June 25, 1967   Loading Zone, Steve Miller Blues Band, Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, Motor
Although the Steve Miller Blues Band were some ways away from their first album, they were a popular group locally. Later in the week they would appear second on the bill to Chuck Berry at the Fillmore, and they backed him on stage (part of it was released on the 1967 Chuck Berry album Live At The Fillmore on Mercury).

[update] a correspondent writes
at one of the Provo Park concerts I attended, the Steve Miller Blues Band was supposed to play, but they didn't show. I'm guessing that it was June 25, 1967, because I would have gone to see Dynamite Annie perform, and it stayed light well into the evening. After the other bands had finished playing, everyone (hundreds were there) went home. The only people left were myself and three other guys playing Frisbee. After a while, a van pulled up and Steve and his band emerged and began to unload their equipment. We went over and told them that since there were only four of us, they didn't need to perform. Steve responded, "We're going to play." And play they did. Eventually, passers-by heard the music and a decent crowd developed, but for 15 minutes or so, the four of us had a free personal concert from Steve Miller. Only in Berkeley in the 60's could stuff like this happen.
July 9, 1967 Country Joe and The Fish, Notes From The Underground, Second Coming, Haymarket Riot
Country Joe and The Fish were established rock stars by this time, regular Fillmore and Avalon headliners with a popular debut album (Electric Music For The Mind And Body). Nonetheless, they played Provo Park for free, too, just as the Dead played in Golden Gate Park as a statement of purpose.

September 17, 1967  Mad River, Notes From The Underground, Savage Resurrection, Hades Blues Works
Savage Resurrection were from Richmond.

September 24, 1967 Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, New Delhi River Band, Strawberry Window
Strawberry Window were from San Leandro.

September 24, 1967 Initial Shock
Initial Shock was newly arrived from Montana. Guitarist Bill ‘Mojo’ Collins had been assigned to an Air Force base there, and had stayed to play lucrative bar gigs for a while. The band eventually left Montana for warmer weather and a chance to make it bigger.

October 8, 1967 Second Coming, Zuckerman Clavichord, Liquid Blues Band
The photo was taken on August 11, 2009, about half way back on the lawn from the Martin Luther King Jr Way side (Grove Street), looking at the whole stage

April 14, 1968 Country Joe and The Fish, Mad River, Loading Zone, SF Mime Troupe
This would have been a fairly substantial event. Country Joe and The Fish were huge, relatively speaking, and Mad River, Loading Zone and the Mime Troupe all had local followings as well.

April 28, 1968 Charlie Musselwhite, Frumious Bandersnatch, Crome Syrcus
Charlie Musselwhite was a blues harmonica player who had relocated from Chicago to San Francisco in 1967. Frumious Bandersnatch were from Lafayette. Crome Syrcus were from Seattle, although they spent a fair amount of time in the Bay Area

May 5, 1968 Steve Miller Band, Ace Of Cups, Indian Headband
Steve Miller had relocated from Chicago in late 1966. After some scuffling, he became a hit at the Avalon and Fillmore and signed with Capitol. He hadn't forgotten his Berkeley cred, however, and still played this free show. Ace Of Cups were a popular all-women band based in Marin. Indian Headband was an interesting improvisational band that featured guitarist Hal Wagenet, later in Its A Beautiful Day. 

May 12, 1968 Phoenix, Martha’s Laundry, Creative Arts Guild Improvisational Ensemble
Phoenix and Martha's Laundry were both San Francisco based groups. The fact that they were playing for free in Berkeley meant that bands recognized the adage that playing for free was a good way to get known.

May 19, 1968 Mad River, The Circus, Crystal Syphon
Crystal Syphon were from Merced. The Circus may have been The Flying Circus, from Mill Valley.

June 8, 1968 35th Annual Berkeley Old-Time Fiddlers Convention
The Finger of Scorn, The Golden Toad, Jose’s Appliances, Dr. Humbead’s New Tranquility String Band and Medicine Show, Styx River Ferry, Stayton Family, Diesel Ducks, others, Fiddle Contest, Banjo Contest 
Back when Berkeley was actually subversive, the idea was fairly inspired. In the liner notes to the Berkeley Farms lp on Folkways, Rita Weill explains the genesis of the event, which was:
Conceived in the back of a Volkswagen bus, on the way to a party in Marin County, by a group of people who wanted to retain the good music and interplay they’d witnessed at Southern fiddle-banjo contests, without the competition and corruption extant there.
In true deconstructionist Berkeley style, bribes and drunkenness were encouraged, and performers were judged on unfair criteria that were never explained. Since first prize was 3 pounds of rutabagas (second prize was 6 pounds of rutabagas), no one cared. Second prize was awarded to someone who wasn’t there, so the rutabagas were thrown into the crowd. A hilarious eyewitness description is provided by banjoist Winnie Winston, newly arrived from the East Coast, startled to see Berkeley hippies smoking joints while the policemen watched placidly.
The local enthusiasm for this event was instrumental--so to speak--in the foundation of The Freight And Salvage, Berkeley's long-running club for traditional folk music (and other cool stuff).

June 9, 1968 Charlie Musselwhite, Linn County, Lazarus
Linn County were a blues band who had relocated from Cedar Rapids, IA. Lazarus was a Berkeley band.

July 10, 1968 Big Brother and The Holding Company, Phoenix, Lazarus
This was a Benefit for Balloon, who provided free food in Provo Park (similar to The Diggers). How a free concert functioned as a Benefit isn't quite clear--I assume they asked for donations.

Big Brother and The Holding Company were already a popular Bay Area headliner, but when Cheap Thrills was released shortly after this, they promptly went global, and free concerts in Berkeley would have overwhelmed the park.

July 21, 1968 Sky Blue, Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, Crome Syrcus
Crome Syrcus were from Seattle, and had an album. The fact that they played for free meant that at least the hipper parts of the industry recognized that Provo Park was a valuable place to get known.

July 28, 1968 Silver Apples

August 10, 1968 All Men Joy, Mad River, Immaculate Contraption 
"GI Teach-In"
All Men Joy was a San Francisco band (Duane and Gregg Allman had been in a different group in Los Angeles, called The Hour Glasss).

October 6, 1968 Youngbloods, Santana, Sons of Champlin, Frumious Bandersnatch
This too must have been a major event. The Youngbloods had moved to the Bay Area the previous year, and they were a headline act by this time. Santana was still a year away from their debut album, but they were a popular local band, as were The Sons of Champlin and Lafayette's Frumious Bandersnatch.

November 4, 1968 Notes From The Underground, Mad River, Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, Sky Blue, Country Weather
Rain is almost never a threat in the Bay Area, and the temperatures are always mild, so outdoor concerts in November were a perfectly reasonable proposition.

March 2, 1969 LeConte School, Berkeley Loading Zone, Lazarus, Purple Earthquake, Dementia
An article in the Berkeley Barb (Feb 28 1969) says that this show was an effort to move the “Provo Park” scene indoors, and suggests that this was the first of five shows. However, I've never been able to identify any of the other events, if there were any.

March 23, 1969 MC5

April 6, 1969 Sons of Champlin, Lamb, Frumious Bandersnatch, Ace of Cups, All Spice Rhythm Band
This may have been the show when Berkeley guitarist Charlie Cockey (ex Melvyn Q Watchpocket) sat in as an Ace because one member of Ace Of Cups was late.

April 13, 1969 Crabs, Lazarus, Mungo's Forest

April 20, 1969 Joy of Cooking/Clover/Flying Circus/Metropolitan Sound Company
Joy Of Cooking were a newly-formed Berkeley band, holding down a popular weeknight residency at Mandrake's (at 10th and University near San Pablo Ave). Clover and Flying Circus were popular Marin bands, and Metropolitan Sound Company was a Hendrix-style "soul rock" band from Oakland.

May 4, 1969 Loading Zone, All Spice Rhythm Band, This Ole World, Gentle Dance

June 21, 1969 17th Annual Old Time Fiddler's Convention
The 17th Annual Old Time Fiddlers Convention, held that day in Provo Park downtown (several blocks away from the Freight) was actually Berkeley’s second. The first, held the previous year, was the 35th Annual Old Time Fiddler’s Convention (see June 6, 1968 above).

The second event was named the 17th Annual contest, and similar lunacy ensued, with a sort of after-party that night at the Freight And Salvage. Note that the proceedings were broadcast live on KPFA--I wonder if anyone thought to tape it?

The contest lasted one more year, and then became too formal and successful, thus defeating its purpose. However, after a brief 34-year hiatus the Festival and Contest were reactivated in 2004 as a multi day event.

September 7, 1969 Lazarus, Syriatuscan, Hades Bluesworks, Eddie's Blues Group, Backwater Rising
"Bahai Fiath Gathering"

September 21, 1969 Maximum Speed Limit, Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, The Crabs
This event was organized by Judy Jackson as a showcase for the local group Maximum Speed Limit.

September 28, 1969 The Tunnel, Sunny Street Blues Band, Purple Earthquake, Brother Brown's Band, Syndicate
"Celebration Of The Solstice"

October 12, 1969 Septentrionalis, Purple Earthquake, Lazarus, Floating Bridge
Floating Bridge were from Seattle, and their twin-guitar act is fondly remembered by those lucky enough to see them. The group had just finished a week at Berkeley's New Orleans House

November 23, 1969 KiddAfrica, Lazarus, Scrapple

Berkeley continued to have free concerts at Provo Park, and to my knowledge continues to have them to this day, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale and much more occasionally. However, the taste for free concerts waned over the years, as the crowds got potentially bigger and the expectations higher. We do know of a few additional dates:
  • April 11 1970-Festival of Toads
  • April 18, 1970-Kentucky Suckers, Rhythm Aces, Artichoke Jones, Emily
  • May 19, 1970-Youngbloods (partially released on their album Rock Festival)
  • July 5, 1970-Osceola
  • August 8, 1971-Mike Finnegan, Pendergrass, Dry Creek, Your Own Backyard
  • April 2, 1972-Country Joe McDonald, Joy of Cooking, Commander Cody
  • July 30, 1972-Country Joe McDonald, Banana and The Bunch, Asleep At The Wheel
For Berkeley's 100th Anniversary in April 2, 1978, Country Joe McDonald headlined at Provo Park over reformed-for-the-day Joy Of Cooking and Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen, and all the acts mentioned from the stage that it was good to be back in Provo Park. Provo Park is quieter now, and a significant free concert would cause a major parking problem, but it remains largely unchanged from its days as a concert venue. Its easy to stand on the field and stare at the modest stage, thinking about weekend afternoons long ago.