Friday, November 4, 2011

Jerry Garcia Band Keystone Scheduling Overview

The Sunday ad for the Keystone Family, SF Chronicle Jan 27, 1980
I have written at length elsewhere about Jerry Garcia long and fruitful partnership with the Keystone family of nightclubs. From 1971 to 1987, in numerous musical configurations, Jerry Garcia played the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, Keystone Berkeley, Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone in San Francisco over 400 times. At the peak of this activity, from 1977-84, the Jerry Garcia Band (and occasionally other ensembles) would play a run of a couple of shows at the Keystones over the course of a few nights. Generally, he would play one night at each Keystone (Berkeley, Palo Alto and The Stone), three nights in a row, every month or two. There were numerous exceptions to this, and I am using this post to unpack the various scheduling agendas between Jerry Garcia and the Keystones. As a sample for analysis, I am using the Keystone ad for Sunday, January 27, 1980 (above, from the San Francisco Chronicle), which lists upcoming shows at all three venues over the few weeks that would follow publication.

The January 27 ad does not, in fact, list every show at all three Keystone family clubs. All of the clubs were typically open at least six nights a week, but they often only had local bands. The Sunday Chronicle ad was intended to encourage people from around the Bay Area to make a plan to attend one of the clubs, so only the most high profile bookings were listed. In the specific run advertised here, the Jerry Garcia Band was scheduled to play Sunday, January 27 at Keystone Berkeley, and then Friday and Saturday, February 1 and 2. The JGB had played Keystone Palo Alto the previous Sunday night, January 20.

Since all three Keystones were open almost every night, it is plain that to some extent the JGB business managers (presumably Sue Stephens and Steve Parish) looked at Garcia's personal schedule and selected some dates to play shows, and the Keystone family then assigned them to the appropriate Keystone. I'm sure there was some cooperative give and take, but since the Keystones had to find 15 or more headliners every week, there were always some open slots on the bill. An analysis of the ad confirms this.

The typical Keystone booking was a touring rock act who would play two or three nights in different Keystones around the bay, depending on the band's schedule. Thus Cecilio & Kapono, for example (surely you remember them) were booked for Friday, February 15 in Palo Alto, Saturday (Feb 16) in Berkeley and Sunday (Feb 17) at The Stone in San Francisco. Roy Buchanan and The Beat were also booked at the clubs that weekend, and the bands rotated around (The Beat was almost certainly "The Paul Collins Beat" as opposed to the more famous "English Beat"). However, Buchanan played two nights at The Stone, leaving Santa Cruz heroes Snail to headline Palo Alto on Saturday night. Keystone Palo Alto was the nicest of three clubs, with the best parking (you could actually consider taking a date there without shame) and also served a South Bay market from the San Jose area, so the headliners were sometimes different. 

On the weekend of February 1 and 2, there were a number of higher profile bookings at Keystone Palo Alto and Keystone Berkeley. An exciting double bill of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker was playing The Stone on January 31 (Thursday), Berkeley on February 1 (Friday) and Keystone Palo Alto on February 2 (Saturday). Berkeley hero Greg Kihn was playing Berkeley on Friday February 1, and San Francisco hipsters Pearl Harbor and The Explosions were playing Palo Alto on February 2 as well. Thus The Stone was the "available" club for Garcia Band bookings on the weekend of February 1-2. Although I don't have the previous calendars in front of me, I am sure that a similar analysis would show why the Sunday night shows on January 20 (Palo Alto) and January 27 (Berkeley) made sense for those weekends as well.

A lot of really good bands played the Keystone family of clubs in the 70s and 80s, but the need for 900 headliners a year (roughly 3 clubs x 6 nights x 52 weeks) meant that the Keystones could always accommodate the Garcia Band. Back in 1980, the Grateful Dead were not an exceptional draw in the Bay Area, so even at the Keystones the Garcia Band seems to have striven to book on weekends. In both earlier and later years, that seemed to be less the case. In earlier years, I think Garcia was just looking for enough money to keep his bandmates happy enough to stay in his band, and in later years I think the increasing popularity of the Garcia Band allowed them to book more weeknights. In 1980, however, with the Garcia Band having been largely dormant for two years (the 1980 version, with Ozzie Ahlers on keyboards, had only debuted in October '79), and the Grateful Dead's financial situation as precarious as ever, there seems to have been a conscious effort to find the most attractive dates to book the Keystones.

Appendix: Some Keystone Notes
Keystone Palo Alto had three levels, with a dance floor in front of the stage and two raised levels of seating. There was no sawdust on the floor, and a full bar, setting it apart from the Keystone Berkeley. Also, while The Stone had a full bar and multiple levels, parking at both The Stone and Keystone Berkeley was difficult, and the neighborhoods were sketchy. Finally, The Stone and Keystone Berkeley competed with a variety of San Francisco and East Bay clubs that were very different than the Keystone Palo Alto.

The Keystone Palo Alto was located on 260 S. California Ave in Palo Alto, about a mile South of Downtown. Parking in those days was easy, and the streets were quiet and safe (and dead as a doornail). Palo Alto was well within the range of a huge population of music fans in San Jose who would not have been as likely to come to San Francisco for all but the biggest shows. Conversely, while San Jose in those days--a place that manufactured silicon chips, rather than just designed them--was full of noisy pickup joints with danceable bands, there was very little in the way of serious, original music clubs. As a result, quite a few acts would play The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco but then play Keystone Palo Alto to cover the South Bay.

Mose Allison was booked at Keystone Palo Alto on Thursday, January 31, but he would have been wildly inappropriate at the harder rocking clubs of Keystone Berkeley or The Stone. He probably played the Great American Music Hall instead. Snail, on the other hand, had formed in Santa Cruz in 1968 and were hugely popular in the South Bay, but largely unknown outside of the South Bay. Thus Snail could headline Keystone Palo Alto, but they were small potatoes in Berkeley or San Francisco (Santa Cruz was right about this one--Snail was a really good band). Country swing act Back In The Saddle and Sonoma folksinger Kate Wolf could deliver a good show at Keystone Palo Alto, but they would have been doomed at Keystone Berkeley or The Stone. On the other hand, they probably did very well at Berkeley's Freight And Salvage, but there was no such club in the South Bay, so Keystone Palo Alto could pick up those bookings as well.

Queen Ida and The Bon Temps Zydeco Band (January 28) probably had a following in the East Bay, at least, but they also probably had more choices to play, as the East Bay was more of a multi-cultural soup than the South Bay in those days, so once again Palo Alto was a good choice. The Monday night show (Jan 28) was probably a Monday "Fat Fry," a live performance broadcast on the legendary FM station KFAT, out of Gilroy.

On the other hand, Berkeley has always been a self-contained island, so its not surprising that certain acts were way more popular at Keystone Berkeley than the other clubs. While Greg Kihn had broken beyond the Berkeley border with his 1978 hit "The Breakup Song," Beserkeley Records label mates Earthquake were still popular pretty much only in Berkeley. The group had formed at Berkeley High School in 1967 under the name Purple Earthquake, and stuck together through thick and thin and various record labels. They were fading by 1980, but they could still headline Keystone Berkeley on a Saturday night. The Psychotic Pineapple, a goofy band from Emeryville, had a regular Monday night residency at Keystone Berkeley around 1979-80 and were a weird sort of Berkeley institution. The cover charge for Monday night Pyno shows was typically about a dollar. I don't think I ever saw Psychotic Pineapple in a club, but I recall their flyers and saw them many times playing in a semi-acoustic fashion on the UC Berkeley campus at odd hours.

The Stone had the least identity of the Keystone clubs, and generally skewed towards louder, harder rocking acts. It was located on Broadway in San Francisco, an area that was very difficult to park and on a street full of topless clubs, homeless people, punk rockers and general madness. People from the suburbs were the least likely to attend a show at The Stone just because of the sheer difficulty involved. On the other hand, its convenient location meant that it could serve a broad population, and with a full bar and a capacity of 700 (officially) it seemed to do quite well.


  1. Before its makeover in 1977, the Keystone Palo Alto (and Sophie's before it) had the stage at the opposite end of the hall and was all on one level. Clearly the Keystone crew invested heavily to give it a more upscale feel, with better sight lines for patrons.

  2. By the way, February 1, 1980 was the official opening of The Stone as such. I can't remember what it was called just previously.

  3. The Stone had most recently been The Hippodrome. The history of 412 Broadway is

    1965-67: The Moulin Rouge
    1968-69: Mr. D's
    early 70s: The Seven Divinities
    Aug-Dec '73: The Matrix (sometimes known as The New Matrix)
    1974>: Don Cornelius's Soul Train (yes, the very same)
    late 70s': The Hippodrome
    1980-90: The Stone (Keystone overview is here)
    1990s: mostly empty
    Today: Broadway Showgirls Cabaret (don't google it at work)

  4. The "Newsreels" column in BAM no. 72 (February 1, 1980), p. 9, speaks to this as part of the transformation of the surrounding neighborhood. "The Mabuhay was certainly first, but it looks like Broadway in San Francisco is changing over from a sleazy tits and ass/porno bookstore district to a veritable hub of rock and roll." Nice!

    The item only notes the Greg Kihn/Rubinoos billing on February 8 and then "the grand opening (when the room will have been completely remodeled)" 2/15 with Roy Buchanan.

  5. > Cecilio & Kapono, for example (surely you remember them)

    hawaiian music guys, i may have one of their LPs.