Tuesday, July 14, 2020

March 17, 1969 Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Members of the Airplane, Dead and Sons "Monster Jam For Olompali"

An article from the March 17, 1969 Berkeley Barb, describing the planned "Super Jam" at Winterland to raise money for the former residents of Rancho Olompali

March 17, 1969 Winterland, San Francisco, CA: "Super Jam" with members of Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and Sons Of Champlin" Benefit for Rancho Olompali (Monday)
About a decade ago, I had found a reference to this show and speculated that a 1969 Benefit Jam for Olompali might include members of the Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane. Expert research by Ross turned up the goods, namely an article from the March 17, 1969 Berkeley Barb (above) promising that members of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Sons of Champlin and others would perform. The article says
A "Superjam" dance and concert will be thrown at Winterland this Monday, St. Patrick's Nite, to benefit the Chosen Family that was busted and burned out at Rancho Olompali in Novato.

Featured will be musicians from the leading Bay Area rock groups, according to Bob McKendrick from Olompali, the Airplane, the Dead, and Sons of Champlin are expected to show up; also jamming will be the Garden of Delights, and a blues-rock group new to San Francisco, Red Mountain. Glen McKay's Headlights will provide enlightenment for all. The Superjam is for a good cause . . . something like 18 to 20 people from Olompali haven't the bread to pay their attorney's fees, and they are all homeless, as Burdell Mansion on Olompall burned down after the bust.

The Benefit is being sponsored by the Deja Vu Foundation, Inc., in association with Crinkle Productions, and will happen at Winterland, Post and Sterner Streets in The City. That's Monday, March 17th, from 8:30 pm till 1 am; donation asked at the door will be $3.00 . . .for some beautiful people.
Rancho Olompali was the Marin County retreat for the Grateful Dead in Spring 1966, before they moved to 710 Ashbury (via Western Marin) in September.  It was owned by Don McCoy, who later lived across the street at 715 Ashbury. In 1967, McCoy started a commune called The Chosen Family. A fire caused by faulty wiring burned down the mansion, possibly connected to a drug bust at the same time.

Most San Francisco bands didn't work Monday nights, so a benefit for friends was somewhat easier to put together. Some will recognize Bob McKendrick (the Olompali resident quoted in the article) as a promoter of San Francisco rock shows in 1966 and 1967. Mind you, calling the event "Super Jam" and not mentioning the groups by name means that its not an absolute guarantee that the complete Dead or Airplane showed up. The show could very well have featured some combination of Hot Tuna and/or Mickey and The Hartbeats instead, although to me that makes the show even more intriguing.

Rancho Olompali, and the mansion on it, had a long and complicated history dating back to 1843, General Vallejo and Mexican California. The property had ended up in the hands of the University of San Francisco by the 1950s. In the 1960s, they attempted to sell it various times, but when various buyers defaulted, the property kept reverting back to USF. I assume Don McCoy gave up on the property as well. In 1977, the State of California purchased the property from USF, and turned it into Olompali Historic State Park. The address of the park is 8901 Old Redwood Highway, 3.5 miles East of Novato, CA.

Rancho Olompali had been an important way station for the fledgling Grateful Dead. In early Summer 1966, they had lived there for a month or two, throwing epic parties. Garcia recalled (in Signpost To New Space, via LIA:
It was a great place. It had a swimming pool and barns and that sort of thing… We didn’t have that place very long, only about eight weeks. It was incredibly intense for everybody… Novato was completely comfortable, wide open, high as you wanted to get, run around naked if you wanted to, fall in the pool, completely open scenes. And I think it was the way they went down and the way people responded to that kind of situation. Everything was just super-groovy. It was a model of how things could really be good. If they really wanted to be. All that was a firming up of the whole social world of rock and roll around here…all the musicians in the Bay Area, most of them are from around here, they’ve known each other for a really long time in one scene or another – and that whole thing was shored up…at those parties. The guys in Jefferson Airplane would get together with Quicksilver and different guys, 81 different players, would get together and get high and get loose and have some fun… That was when we started getting tight with Quicksilver… They came and hung out at our place in Novato when we had our parties. And a lot of people like the various filmmakers and writers and dope dealers. All the people who were into doing stuff. People who had seen each other at rock and roll shows…in that first year. Those parties were like a chance to move the whole thing closer, so to speak. It was good times – unselfconscious and totally free. After that we moved back into San Francisco.

In 1968-69, the members of the Dead were all over the North Bay, but they still hung out at Olompali. They regularly held jams outdoors there, with the likes of Jack Casady. Fellow scholar LightIntoAshes has a fascinating article detailing the complicated connection of the Grateful Dead to Olompali, with photos and eyewitness accounts. Most fascinatingly, the back cover photo of Aoxomoxoa was taken there, in early 1969. Besides the Dead, there are all sort of Chosen Family members, band friends and girlfriends, and even pianist Vince Guaraldi (a pal of the Dead's at the time) (no, Courtney Love is not in the photo). So the Grateful Dead in particular were very connected to the land and the residents, and it must have been no small thing when it burned down after a drug bust.

Ralph Gleason mentioned the benefit in his Monday night column of March 17, 1969

Ultimately, in the way of the Long Tail, an eyewitness turned up. "Terry Nails" said
As someone who was living at Olompali at the time of this concert I have vague memories of this gig. Most of the members of both the Airplane and the Dead showed up to play as well as Elvin Bishop and some of the member of It's a Beautiful Day and others. It was a good gig though not as successful monetarily as was hoped and the ranch was sadly closed not too long afterwards due to the drowning of 2 of the ranch's resident children in the unattended swimming pool...
Here's to hoping something good came of a bad event. Maybe someone else out there might realize the strange flashback they keep having really actually happened...


  1. Something good that came of the bad event is Mickey's Barn and all that came out of that.

    Rosie McGee explains in "Dancing With The Dead"

    "Mickey called me one day in early spring of 1969. Rhonda Jensen, who helped run the horse rental facility at Olompali, had found him the perfect property to rent in Novato. She and her sisters, Vicky and Sheri, had moved to Mickey’s Ridge Road house when a fire had nearly destroyed the Burdell mansion, where they’d been living with Don and Paula McCoy and a group of other families...

    Mickey secured a lease on the place and he, the Jensen girls and Jonathan [Reister] all moved in. Mickey and Jonathan were both seasoned horsemen, although coming at the skill from different backgrounds, and soon a riding arena was constructed in the open field below the barn. Since the property was really too small for the Jensens to bring their horses out from Olompali, they left them at the boarding stables and rode out to Mickey’s from there. Other members of the Dead family started hanging out at Mickey’s and some of them moved in and out of the ranch at random. It was so changeable and there were so many visitors that it was hard to know who actually lived there on any given day."

  2. I'm guessing the "Bread" in the event name is intended as a double entendre-- the commune was well known for it's bakery & sourced a fair amount of bread to the Diggers' free food projects.