Deb’s Saturday Psychedelica – On Becoming a Hippie – Chapter 10
Written by Liam Sweeny on May 9, 2020
One of the best things about living on the west coast in the 1970’s was the music. We saw the best shows there. Paul and I had been “Deadheads” for a while before making it west. So far, we’d only seen east coast shows. The Grateful Dead was a San Francisco band. We didn’t follow them around the country the way many others did, but during those traveling days we always seemed to be where they were. Who knows, maybe they were following us. The first Dead show I ever saw was 1972, somewhere in New Jersey. I struggle to remember details from those earlier days. Then Paul and I saw them together all over the east coast, mostly in New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut, New York City and New Jersey. East Coast concerts had a very different vibe than the West Coast shows. Some of the best shows were The Garcia Band with many different people sitting in including Papa John Creech at one show just blocks from our house where Amber could babysit. We saw Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur and Emmy Lou Harris. We went to a local bar to see Neil Young’s band The Ducks, but Paul was too young to get in, so we stood outside and listened.
We also saw The Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins at The Keystone in Berkley on New Year’s Eve. Jessie was four-months old. Although this was way before anyone even had car seats for infants, I was aware that the music would be too loud for her little ears, so I always managed to find a quiet spot where I could still hear and see. The Keystone was small, so it was trickier, but I found a backroom with a window that looked onto the stage. I could see well, and it was loud enough to hear. When the band took their break, I was sitting on a bench in that room nursing Jessie when Nicky Hopkins walked in and sat down. He explained that the crowd in the Green Room was sometimes too much for him during a gig. We chatted for a while, then he asked if he could hold my baby. He hung out and cooed to her a bit then left to go back onstage. He was a very cool guy.
Shows were mellower out west. There were shows everywhere and many free shows in and around Golden Gate Park. It wasn’t a long drive at all from our home in Santa Cruz up the coast to San Francisco. We still didn’t own a car, but our good friend did, and she loved the company. The deal always was that Amber would drive one way, and Paul would drive back. I was always either pregnant or holding a baby, since there were no car seats, yet and we were all very young. I didn’t mind not driving and still love having a chauffeur. That way, I get to enjoy the ride in a different way, though I really love driving when I’m alone.
On March 23rd, 1975, Bill Graham organized a fundraising concert to benefit the San Francisco schools. They had been forced to cut their budget and were doing away with all extra-curricular activities. This meant sports, and all of the arts, including music. The S.N.A.C.K. Benefit Concert, or S.N.A.C.K. Sunday, was an all-day musical and cultural extravaganza. Tickets were $5 at Kezar Stadium. It was the first large benefit concert in history and led the way for future ones. It raised almost $300,000, mostly in ticket sales, enough to cover the costs for one year. You can do the math if you want, I just know there were a lot of people there. The bands were Eddie Palmieri & His Orchestra, Tower of Power, Graham Central Station, Doobie Brothers, Jefferson Starship, Santana, Joan Baez, Grateful Dead with Merl Saunders on organ, Bob Dylan with The Band and Neil Young. Between sets there would be motivational speakers like Willie Mays, Jesse Owens and Marlon Brando and of course the mayor of San Francisco to rev up the crowd. It was an unbelievable concert. Everyone was great, but Santana blew away everyone else. He even came up and jammed with The Dead and whipped them into a frenzy. The parking was horrendous that day. We had to park miles away. Meanwhile, other people parked wherever they wanted and were being ticketed and towed. Pedestrians were everywhere blocking the roads, walking home or to our cars. I’ve been in some ridiculous traffic jams before, but this was the worst! It took hours just to get to the car because you couldn’t get across the street without climbing over someone’s car. But we were all hippies and most of us were mellow … peace, love and all that. Here’s the audio from that day.
Another great show was at Marx Meadows on May 30th, 1975 in Golden Gate Park with Jefferson Starship, Diga Rhythm Band and Sons of Champlin. The Sons of Champlin were a popular, mostly west coast band and were really great but never made it nationally. Stanley Owsley, or Bear as we known, the king of LSD and sound wizard, was running sound for Starship at the time and ended up running the board for The Diga Rhythm Band. The Diga Rhythm Band was an amazing percussion-based psychedelic world music band that consisted of, among others, Mickey Hart who was one of the drummers for The Grateful Dead, and Alla Rakha, a world renowned Indian tabla player who specialized in classical Hindustani music and often accompanied Ravi Shankar and appeared on many recordings. The Diga Rhythm Band sadly only played three public gigs, and I’m glad I caught one of them. That day, they were joined onstage by Jerry Garcia on guitar and David Freiberg on bass for an almost 15-minute version of “Fire On The Mountain.”
They were awesome. The whole day was awesome but incredibly hot. It had been 94 degrees in a wide-open field with hundreds of hot sweaty hippies.
As always, we’d agreed that Amber would drive there, and Paul would drive home. Paul, not having a car of his own, jumped at the opportunity to be behind the wheel. He was also a great driver. Now, I have always trusted in the universe, or as some people refer to it, “Guardian Angels.” Well, maybe not always, but I did learn that lesson early. When you have that trust, you can be a little riskier. We all had trust, though Paul trusted a little more than anyone else. We took many chances based on the belief that things would always work out in the end. We followed the hippie motto, “Just go with the flow, man … go with the flow.” That day we had all smoked a little, some more than others. There was plenty of variety offered, and other delights as well. None of us really drank much if any now. I think we’d all burnt ourselves out on alcohol previously. I was pregnant as that time and wasn’t drinking at all. We were all exhausted, so Amber fell asleep next to the window in the front seat while I sat in the middle keeping Paul company while he drove. It was a breath-taking ride home down the winding coast along cliffs that sheer off into the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes we’d stop on that route and watch for whales swimming by. This day, however, everybody was beat and just wanted to get home.
I gazed out the side window for a just little while when I realized Paul hadn’t said anything in a little while. I looked up and saw that his eyes were closed with his chin resting on his chest. I couldn’t believe it! He hadn’t seemed sleepy only a few minutes ago. I certainly didn’t want to startle him and have him jerk the wheel and crash or plummet over the cliff to be dashed on the rocks below, but I didn’t know what to do. I gently said his name a few times, trying to keep my voice calm. Then, I noticed that he was actually driving … safely. I thought I’d better wake Amber. It amazes me now that neither of us ever freaked out. We just took it in stride that here was another bizarre experience in our lives. We quickly decided to be ready to grab the wheel if necessary and trust that it would be okay. We were very alert as he drove down Highway 1 in his lane, making all the curves, never speeding, going right down the road for miles, while we sat there willing the car to stay on its path. After many minutes, he rolled his head around, lifting it up to look ahead, stretched his shoulders and said, “Aah, that was a nice little nap. I feel really rested now.” Amber and I sat there incredulous with our mouths gaping open for minutes, then we both lost it. After holding in all the stress of that terrifying experience, it came out all at once. It was a combination of awe, anger and laughter. What an end to that day! Those are the experiences that really cement relationships. I wonder if it’s because no one else would believe you but a fellow accomplice?
On September 28th, 1975, we went to a “secret” free show at Lindley Meadows in Golden Gate Park. It was billed as The Garcia Band and Jefferson Starship, but it turned out to be Starship and The Grateful Dead coming out of their break. They were great. There are disagreements about the attendance, but it was somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 people, turning on and tuning in. Phil Lesh said in his biography that it was the last time the whole band dropped acid for a show. It was a definitely a psychedelic scene that we just heard about through word-of-mouth. Whenever moving to a new scene, Paul always made connections fast and always heard about these shows through the grapevine. The next summer we heard about a bicentennial free show by The Grateful Dead on July 4th, 1976. Thousands of us showed up for that historic show that never happened. Various hippies kept calling Bill Grahams office to ask if it was happening, and they would decline to answer. We took that to mean that they were coming, but they never did. The park was filled with hippies having the biggest party that I have ever attended. Here’s an Archive of the Dead’s set.
I can’t even remember, let alone name all of the musicians I saw while living out there. There were always people showing up randomly to sit in with the different bands. We also did a lot of jamming ourselves. Our home was always filled with music. I sang all throughout the day, singing to my baby and myself and singing with Paul when he was home. We found many other musicians along the way, jamming at parties or just in small groups, learning new songs and writing our own. Much of my relationship with Paul was built on our shared music and crazy adventures. Rather than running away from home, we were both running toward a new home at breakneck speed. The music grounded and healed us, individually and as a couple.