Tuesday, 28 December 2010

2727 Milvia Street, Berkeley, CA, Iceland Skating Rink September 13, 1968: Sky Blue/Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band

(the poster for the Sky Blue/CGSB show on September 13, 1968 at Berkeley's Iceland Skating Rink. Poster by Jeannie O'Hara. h/t Brian for the photo)

The 60s were a time of new possibilities and new ideas, particularly in Berkeley. However, not all those ideas worked out as intended. Bands were always looking for new places to play, in the hopes of expanding their audience and making a little money. The manager of the Berkeley band Sky Blue got the clever idea of putting on a rock concert at Berkeley's ice skating rink, Iceland. Friday night was date night there, to some extent, and it seemed like a good idea to make an event out of it. It was a good idea, perhaps, but it still didn't work out.

Iceland was Berkeley's first skating rink. In some parts of the country, ponds would freeze over in the Winter and skating was a regular part of the Winter, but in balmy Coastal California that never happened. Ice skating, then, was an exotic activity imported from a foreign land, practiced only by the specially initiated and the very curious. Nothing says "Berkeley" like "imported from a foreign land" and "specially initiated," so Berkeley's Iceland was opened in 1940.

Iceland was at 2727 Milvia, between Derby and Ward. It was a few blocks below Telegraph, and about six blocks West of the Jabberwock. It was in between residential and commercial neighborhoods, a good location for a skating rink, but it was also near where a lot of hippies lived as well. Skating rinks were a comparative rarity on the West Coast, so Iceland had a bit of history to it: the National Ice Skating Championships were held there in 1947, 1957 and 1966, so famous skaters like Dick Button and Peggy Fleming had competed there. By the 60s, the rink was owned by the Zamboni family (Frank Zamboni had invented the Zamboni ice resurfacing machine). No one had considered Iceland as a venue for rock concerts, however.

Allen Silverman and Sky Blue
Allen Silverman had been a songwriter in Los Angeles, with his partner Audie DeLong. De Long and Silverman had had some modest success, placing a song on a Stone Poneys album, among other things, but by 1968 they had moved to Berkeley. Silverman ended up living on Warring Street with the band Sky Blue, a group who was popular in Berkeley but had not yet managed to get any traction outside the city. Silverman became Sky Blue's manager and helped to arrange shows for them. The poster was created by the bass player's girlfriend.

The Iceland show was put on by "Buried Treasure Productions," but that was just Silverman and Sky Blue. The Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band were a fellow Berkeley band, a little more successful than Sky Blue at this point, since they had been signed to Vanguard Records. It seemed like a very clever idea to put on a rock concert at the Ice rink, since a lot of hippies lived within walking distance, it was a chance for couples and groups to go out together, and it would have seemed like a fun thing to do while stoned.

Brian Voorheis of the CGSB reports that after all these years he remembers the gig well, since he's never played a concert for ice skating couples since then. The fact that the event was never repeated suggests that it was not a financial success. A couple of possible reasons come to mind:
  • West Coast people mostly don't know how to skate. If someone had invited me to a skating rock concert at Iceland (I lived in the area in the late 70s and 80s) I wouldn't have wanted to embarrass myself, so I wouldn't have gone. I can't have been the only person who thought that way
  • Even in the warm October of Northern California, it's cold inside an ice rink. Voorheis recalls that his then girlfriend wore a sun dress and nearly froze to death. She was probably a Californian, and most of us had never set foot in a skating rink, so as a result we wouldn't know to bring a jacket. His girlfriend probably didn't tell everyone the next day that she had a really great time, and she probably wasn't the only chilly Californian there
The Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band released their album on Vanguard, and then led the recording of the Masked Marauders album, along with some members of Sky Blue, but CGSB ground to a halt in early 1970.

Sky Blue never released an album, although two members of the group (Vic Smith and Anna Rizzo) joined forces with Allen 'Slim Chance' Silverman to form the band Grootna, who did release an album, but they too did not grab the brass ring. Silverman, however, became successful as a manufacturer of guitar picks.

Iceland soldiered on for another 40 years, finally closing in 2007, as the aging structure and changing economics of Berkeley finally forced it's demise. It is remembered fondly by many skaters, but it's very brief history as a rock concert venue has gone unremarked until now.


  1. God, that's funny. I remember hearing about that at the time, and I wouldn't have gone, either. Even though I had been ice skating two or three times in my life, I didn't like the experience very much.

    This idea could be seen as remake of an older tradition. I was a kid in Compton and the slightly older kids were heavy into R&B (and I also mean even the junior high and high school marching bands seriously kicked).

    The older kids went to the roller rink and for thirty-five cents plus the price of skate rental would roll around an oval wooden track to the beat of their favorite records, and I went a few times. Fortunately the rails were padded as awkward skaters gaining too high a speed would lose control and they'd aim their bodies at the rails to slow themselves with the idea of eventually coming to a complete stop, which was deemed less harmful to the body than hitting the hard wooden floor and risk other skaters rolling over or in other ways colliding with them.

    Couples would skate together, their arms linked across their chests as if they'd studied the gliding graceful moves from Ice Capades. Some of those kids could skate backwards, and others could propel themselves forward at high speed when crouching like young roller derby stars in training for a double jam. Eventually, a promoter brought in a live band to play for the roller skaters.

    But that was roller skating in the mid-50s in Compton, and not ice skating with hippies and hippy bands a decade later. Still, there was some kind of tradition that way that might account for considering the venture.

  2. These were very experimental times. And anything was a possibility.

    1967-1968. Does anybody but me remember seeing that new band "The Grateful Dead" on a local Let's Go Bowling television show? Where the Grateful Dead, or at least Jerry Garcia, bowled for the camera?

    Or when in that same era the Berkeley Free Store on San Pablo Ave won a coupon for a free chicken dinner after being called by random by some local television host and answering a simple question?

    And that was just daytime local television. Just try to imagine the other kinds of shenanigans that went on ... Those could be some great fun times. Aside from the losing money at Iceland part.

  3. Iceland from the air ...