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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 467: Chet Helms & the Family Dog

In 1969, Chet Helms opened a new music venue called the Family Dog. Located in the building formerly known as the Ocean Beach Pavilion and later, Topsy's Roost, the Family Dog featured performances by bands that epitomized the late 60s/early 70s like the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Santana, and more.
- Jul 30, 2022

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 467: Chet Helms & the Family Dog Outside Lands Podcast Episode 467: Chet Helms & the Family Dog

(above) Great Highway near Balboa, circa 1930

Exterior of Topsy's Roost restaurant and dance hall. Autos parked in front. Building was originally constructed in 1884 as the Ocean Beach Pavilion, became Topsy's Roost in June, 1929.


Podcast Transcription

WNP467 – The Family Dog

Nicole: [00:00:00] It’s Outside Lands San Francisco, podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Nicole Meldahl.

Arnold: And I’m Arnold Woods.

Nicole: Well hello Arnold.

Arnold: Hello Nicole. How are you today?

Nicole: Oh, you know, I'm just putting out history fires all over San Francisco these days. Things I can't talk about on the podcast yet. But just know that our hands and our hearts are full

Arnold: And because our hands and hearts are full, we've made a little change to this week.

Nicole: It's true. I very confidently announced that we would be talking about Laguna Honda Hospital today, given everything that's been going on with its closure and its, whatever's going on there right now. But, fun fact, there's a lot of history there and there's a lot of recent history on like why the hospital is in the predicament it's in, and we wanna get that right. [00:01:00] So, I'm giving us one more week of research time so we can provide the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Arnold: But nonetheless, we've come up with a very nice alternative this week and the one that kind of fits in with what we're doing these days. And is leading into a 50th anniversary coming up in Labor Day weekend.

Nicole: Ooh.

Arnold: And so, this is gonna be nice.

Nicole: Yeah. Well, I mean, luckily you did all the research for this and I just get to skate along for the ride. But, we do love 50th anniversaries here. We've experienced many significant things in the past few years. We had, of course, the Summer of Love in 1967 and the closing of Playland in 1972. Those are just two examples and sandwiched between those two events was a short-lived music venture down by Playland, operated by a local music luminary. Those who were around then know what we're [00:02:00] about, what we're talking about here. It was called The Family Dog, and it operated outta the Ocean Beach Pavilion for about a year, between June 1969 and August 1970. But for such a short life, it had a pretty big impact. So, we're gonna get into that today.

Arnold: And we start as we must with Chet Helms, who's the local music promoter legend who ran The Family Dog. And while the old timers and music fans will recognize the name, others of you may not know who he is. So, let us introduce you to Chet Helms.

Nicole: He was born in Santa Maria, California in 1942, but he largely grew up in Missouri and Texas. And when it was time for college, he went to the University of Texas in Austin. He became involved in the local music scene there and became friends with a fellow student who you may recognize. Let me see. What was her name? What was her name? Oh, Janis [00:03:00] Joplin. And Helms would later confess that he was, and I quote, “dearly in love with her at the time,” but they never managed to get together because of wrong signs or something. He thinks it might have been something.

Arnold: Perhaps. And like many others in his generation and, in fact, many others in future generations, Helms became enamored with beat generation writers like Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac. So enamored, in fact, that he took the extreme steps of dropping out of college and hitchhiking across the country, arriving in San Francisco in 1962.

Nicole: I mean, all the cool kids come here because of Jack Kerouac, speaking from experience. Pat's self on back. But after Helms arrived, he found his way to the Haight-Ashbury district, eventually landing at a boarding house at 1090 Page Street near Broderick. He also began making friends among local musicians. The boarding house had [00:04:00] a large basement. So, Helms began arranging for his friends to hold jam sessions there. Naturally. With the musicians playing there. 1090 Page became a really popular hangout, and Helms quickly realized that this could be a good money-making venture. So, he started charging a 50 cent admission fee, and his career as a rock promoter had begun.

Arnold: Now Helms also realized that an old friend would probably dig and thrive in the San Francisco's hippie vibe. So, he returned to Austin for a week to party with, you guessed it, Janis Joplin, and finally convinced her to come to the city. So, she followed his path. She dropped outta college and hitchhiked with Helms to San Francisco in January 1963.

Nicole: See kids, all you gotta do is drop outta college and come to San Francisco and your careers will be set. So, once here, Joplin recorded some songs with, and [00:05:00] I'm gonna ruin this name. Jorma. Kaukonen. Nailed it. I got a hard nod from my podcast listeners here. Okay, Jorma Kaukonen. And, of course, did a lot of drugs. This is the tale every parent likes to hear, right? Some friends thought that the drug culture was a bad influence on her though, and convinced her to return to Texas in early 1965, and her absence from San Francisco did not last long. The following year, Helms persuaded her to return to San Francisco to sing for a band that he was then managing. And, of course, that band was called Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Arnold: We're gonna be hearing more about them as we go along. And besides hooking Joplin up with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Helms himself hooked up with the hippie commune at 2125 Pine Street, which is between Buchanan and Webster.

Nicole: So much hooking up.

Arnold: This Hippie Commune hosted music and other events and called themselves, The Family [00:06:00] Dog because their home had a lot of dogs. Something that their landlord allowed and had become, had come to be known as the Dog House.

Nicole: All right, here come a lot of names. The members of The Family Dog were Luril Castell, Ellen Harmon, Anton Kelly and Jack Towle.. Castell and Kelly had spent the, the summer of 1965 working at the Red Dog Saloon in Carson City, Nevada, where they produced some shows. The Family Dog Collective then brought their shows to the Longshoreman's Hall at 400 North Point Street in San Francisco.

Arnold: And some of their shows at the Longshoreman's Hall included Jefferson Airplane, who Jorma Kaukonen had become a part of, and the Lovin’ Spoonful. Unlike usual concerts where people sat in seats for the shows, The Family Dog production shows at the Longshoreman's Hall included a large dance floor where the crowd would, of course, dance. These are considered the [00:07:00] first, or some of the first rock dance concerts ever held.

Nicole: This sounds like such an old person recounting of like, and then boys and girls, they danced at the rock concert.

Arnold: Well, and you, of course, you realize what this means is like when people went to see, you know, Elvis or somebody like that beforehand, it's like they were just all sitting in their seats. or the girls were standing and screaming in their seats, but, you know, it wasn't a dance floor there for 'em.

Nicole: We like to tell history straight. Even if it's, it feels like we're, you're sitting on our lap and we're telling you a tale of the olden times. So, in February 1966, after Helms had joined the collective, they formed a company called Family Dog Productions to promote concerts around San Francisco. Helms acted as the main promoter, which is what he really excelled at. He worked with fellow Collective member Castell on a Jefferson Airplane and [00:08:00] Big Brother and the Holding Company show to be held at California Hall on Turk Street. However, Castell, who was supposed to book the venue, split for Mexico without doing it. Typical. And without a venue, Helms went to Bill Graham, who had a lease at the Fillmore and worked a deal to hold the show there.

Arnold: And that worked out well. So, Family Dog Productions then began producing shows every other weekend at the Fillmore with Graham booking the alternate weekends. And Helms, with now a little bit of experience, and Graham being the young up and comer on the circuit, Helms acted as a mentor for the young Graham for a while. But while Helms had, and hears Nicole's favorite term, a loosey goosey, easygoing style.

Nicole: Yeah.

Arnold: Graham was more business-like and hard-edged.

Nicole: That's an official business term.

Arnold: Loosey goosey, every time.

Nicole: Hundred percent.

Arnold: Conflict inevitably arose between the two, and Helms decided to take his concerts elsewhere. So, [00:09:00] he arranged to take over the Avalon Ballroom at 1268 Sutter Street near Van Ness.

Nicole: In June 1966, Helms produced his first concert at the Avalon, featuring none other than Big Brother and the Holding Company, with their new singer, Janis Joplin. Over the next two and a half years, Family Dog Productions hosted numerous shows there, featuring many legendary performers like Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Steve Miller, the Doors, Buffalo Springfield, Carlos Santana, the Grateful Dead, The Velvet Under, Underground and Joan Baez to name a few. And we hope Carlos Santana is doing okay these days, cause he did have an episode at a recent concert. So, Carlos, if you're listening to this, extremely doubtful, we're rooting for you buddy.

Arnold: And not the last time you're gonna hear a list of bands in this podcast.

Nicole: Exactly. So, these shows offered, often featured elaborate lighting. And this was another example of how Chet Helm sort of revolutionized the way we experience concerts, right? [00:10:00] In addition to music, Helms sometimes featured speakers like Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsburg, and Professor Steven Gaskin, who will get into a bit more and a little bit later.

Arnold: And besides the Avalon shows, Family Dog Productions also put on free concerts in Golden Gate Park in 1966 and ‘67. And then Helms went and opened up a concert venue in Denver, Colorado in ‘67 that was simply called the Family Dog Denver. Creative name. Shows were also booked in Portland. So, basically at all the future hipster places where you can get an overpriced craft beer now.

Nicole: But this is also something Bill Graham did, right? He opened up Fillmore East, Fillmore West, things like that. So, like everyone, everyone thinks Bill Graham like came out of the ether as this fully formed concert promoter. But, in actuality, there's a history here, like he learned from people on the ground. To promote their shows, Family Dog Productions introduced psychedelic-style posters that were commissioned [00:11:00] from a number of young local artists. The poster design team was led by Alton Kelly of the Family Dog Productions Group, and notably included a man named Stanley Mouse.

Arnold: And in ‘66 and ‘67, Alton Kelly and Stanley Mouse lived at 715 Ashbury, which, as we should all know by now, it was across the street from the Grateful Dead house. They tapped into this countercultural movement to create the psychedelic designs for their posters, and many musicians were so impressed with the posters for their shows at the Avalon that Mouse was soon in demand to create album covers. He went on to design album covers for the Dead and Journey among others. And thanks to our good friends at San Francisco Heritage, you can see some of these on display at the Doolan-Larson building right now.

Nicole: Yeah, they're having a Stanley Mouse exhibition. And Stanley Mouse is in the house sometimes signing its posters. So, hopefully that is still going on this week. Hope it has not [00:12:00] already closed. So again, unfortunately because of his loosey goosey style, Helms often had little to no security at his shows. So, the young crowd found it easy to sneak into his shows. This happened so much that Helms eventually just declared that there would be free admission after midnight. As one might suspect, this was not necessarily a good business model. Further, the shows at the Avalon stopped after November 1968, when San Francisco revoked his sound permits after some neighborhood complaints.

Arnold: Helms wasn't done though. And now we get to what is the real subject of this podcast.

Nicole: No one puts Helms in a corner.

Arnold: There you go. On April 24th, 1969, Helms held a press conference inside the Funhouse at Playland. Why was he there? He announced that he had applied for and received a dance permit for 660 Great Highway, which is the Ocean Beach Pavilion. [00:13:00]

Nicole: Ooh.

Arnold: Now, the Pavilion had most recently been the home of the model car raceway. We covered the whole history of the Ocean Beach Pavilion way back in Podcast 284, but it really only touched upon the Family Dog era for a few minutes. We thought it deserved a deeper dive, so we're headed into the deep end.

Nicole: Here we go. So, Helms also announced that his new concert venue would be called, what do you think, The Family Dog on the Great Highway, and promised that it would be the nation's first musical environment sensorium. He said it would be the ultimate in environment and showmanship, and explained this by noting that previously, the band was the focal point of any show, and that as music became big business, the party element had been diminished. It was Helms’ intention to bring the party back to the music experience.

Arnold: Which is exactly what we do here at the WNP.

Nicole: I can't.

Arnold: We bring the party to the history by providing an immersive experience [00:14:00] like we do at The Museum at The Cliff.

Nicole: You can't see this, but I'm raising the roof right now. Oh my God. Did kids still do that? I don't think they do.

Arnold: Anyways, Helms said that the admission at the Family Dog would only be $3 per head, same as it had been at the Avalon. Then about a week later, Herb Caen, in his inimitable way, poked on, at Helms’ language and stated that if it was $3 per head, how much was it for Straights? And funny enough, our Museum at The Cliff is also incredibly affordable at $0 to get in.

Nicole: Look at how seamlessly we worked in that plug. We're getting better at marketing you guys. So, the party began on June 13th, 1969. Helms recruited local faves, Jefferson Airplane, who are also my personal favorite, as the headliners to introduce his new venue along with three other bands, Pulse, the Devil's [00:15:00] Kitchen, and the Charlatans. Helm sent out invitations to various people that read, “Chester Leo Helms, Esquire, cordially solicits the honored president of,” insert your name here, “at the Tribal Stomp heralding the grand opening of The Family Dog on the Great Highway.”

Arnold: Now the Beach Pavilion had a large dance floor, and Helms had, had it encircled by several rows of seats with bandstands at both ends, so there'd be no downtime between sets. Thus, as one band was playing at one end, the next band will get set up at the other end. Also, at one end, there was a huge painting by Michael Bowen, one of the organizers of the 1967 Human Be-In. See our podcast number 207 about that event. Nicole and I were both guests on that podcast.

Nicole: We were.

Arnold: And there was also a flagstone patio in the back where refreshments were served

Nicole: With its location across the Great Highway from the Pacific Ocean, The Family Dog was [00:16:00] often shrouded in fog and the waves crashing on the beach could be heard. Chet Helms advertised the place as “magic at the edge of the Western world.” Which is how we should start marketing The Museum at The Cliff. On opening night, The Family Dog was packed,

Arnold: So packed, there was a monster traffic jam and, by 9:00 PM, nobody could get in other than the performers and the press. Inside it was described as soaked, as packed as rush hour subway trains.

Nicole: Fun.

Arnold: As a result, the dance venue featured no dancing that night, since it was too crowded to do so. The Chronicle review of that initial show was not too kind about the environment there, but it did note that the sound and music was excellent.

Nicole: Helms was really well connected in the local music scene, so he had no problems booking all the great musical talent here. After the initial Jefferson Airplane show, pretty much everyone of local note played there. We have [00:17:00] the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, New Riders of the Purple, of the Purple Sage, excuse me, Clover, Big brother and the Holding Company, Commander Cody, Canned Heat, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Steve Miller. All of them found their way to The Family Dog. And man, you gotta appreciate stoned people in the ‘60s giving their bands names.

Arnold: Indeed, but it wasn't just the local kids playing here. There was also nationally and internationally known acts playing there like Elvin Bishop, Eric Burden and War, Mike Bloomfield, Canned Heat, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Joan Baez, T. Rex, and The Kinks. And kids, if you don't recognize any of these bands and artists we just named, go ask your parents, or if you're really young, maybe you'll go ask your grandparents.

Nicole: No, just Google it. This isn't good, search it on Spotify.

Arnold: Oh, and trust us. All of them were pretty well known [00:18:00] for the time and. again, many of these performances featured very elaborate light shows,

Nicole: Those light shows, I went to a rabbit hole at one point in my like young researching career and was like, we need to do these everywhere always. And you know what? They're redoing them at the Chapel now. There's like an artist in residence who adds one of these like light show components to the Chapel. I haven't gone to one yet, but it's on my list.

Arnold: We kind of have some light show elements at The Museum at The Cliff too.

Nicole: Look at you. Look what you did. So, we're getting better every day. So, Helms didn't stick to the rock and folk singing either. The Family Dog also featured blues, classical, and jazz shows. A ballet company once performed there. The Family Dog also showed films, hosted religious festivals, comedy shows, poetry recitals, and other spoken word performances. Sometimes shows included a combination of all of these things, which really [00:19:00] makes him like ahead of his time, right? Like thinking of performance and a stage as a platform for way more beyond music.

Arnold: And then on a day that has special significance to my fellow podcast host, Nicole.

Nicole: Yeah.

Arnold: September 4th, 1969, Helms teamed up with Playland ownership to present a quote, “Mardi Gras night at Playland, a carnival ball at the Family Dog ballroom.” Quote, end quote. The event featured two bands and a coronation of Playland Girls ‘69 . Oh boy, my name is wrong on several levels. And we 100% have a poster designed by Reino Niemela that advertises this event on display at the Museum right now,

Nicole: On a wall that I have lovingly termed the Me Too wall. Because there's a lot of like questionable imagery, but very much of the time. So, it was clear that Helms produced quite the [00:20:00] eclectic bills at his venue. And we haven't even mentioned the Monday Night Class yet. On Monday, September 15th, 1969, a local college professor brought his writing class turned discussion group, called the Monday Night Class to The Family Dog. So, who was this college professor and what was the Monday Night Class?

Arnold: So, the college professor was a name we mentioned earlier, Stephen Gaskin. He was born in Denver, Colorado in 1935. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1952 to ‘55 and in the ‘60s, like many others, he moved to San Francisco. That's where he got a BA and MA from San Francisco State, where he was a student of the famous Semanticist and future US Senator, S.I. Hayakawa. Gaskin then was teaching English, creative writing and general semantics himself at San Francisco State.

Nicole: And his writing class evolved into an open discussion group first as an experimental college class on campus, and eventually moving to the [00:21:00] Straight Theater in the Haight-Ashbury District. RIP the Straight Theater in the Haight-Ashbury district. And finally, to The Family Dog in the fall of 1969. Known as Monday Night Class. As many as 1000 people would eventually attend the weekly meetings.

Arnold: Gaskin had a rapport with young people and he could articulate in great detail many of the questions and answers of the day. He spoke about his experiences with psychedelic drugs and religious experiences and how to apply that knowledge in your daily life, what other, whatever path you chose to follow. His popular weekly gathering was attended by hippies and members of the countercultural from all over the San Francisco Bay Area and all over the country during the years ‘68 to ‘70.

Nicole: So, Gaskin became what was known as an acid guru. On a continuum, you had, Ken Kesey was at one end, while Timothy Leary was at the other end, and Gaskin was right in the middle. And there were many spiritual leaders in San, in the San Francisco Bay [00:22:00] Area at this time. You had Zen masters, rabbis, swamis, yogis, medicine men, you name it. Like the, San Francisco was the mecca for them all. But Gaskin was unique. As a dope smoking hippie, a lot of folks were attracted to his message. And you can always tell who writes the notes and what age they are if they call weed dope

Arnold: Now we are gonna get into these Monday Night Classes because we now have a surprise special guest joining our podcast. Please welcome David Friedlander. Hello David.

David: Hi Arnold. Hi Nicole. How you guys doing tonight?

Nicole: Well, We're much better now that you're on the podcast.

David: Really? Okay. Well Good. Good to know that

Arnold: And we brought David on because David attended the Monday Night Classes with Professor Gaskin. So, David, let's start with a little background. How did you be, come to be involved with the Monday Night Class?

David: Okay. Well, there's, I think probably the first [00:23:00] time I ever heard of Stephen—nobody ever called him Professor, it was just called Stephen—but I was at San Francisco State in the spring of ’69. And another podcast that we'll do someday is about the strike in San Francisco State at that year. And so, campus was kind of in turmoil. He had this experimental college class for several semesters there. And it moved right around the time I was in school there that semester to the Straight Theater. And that was the first time I ever went to a class. And then the next day, the next week, the doors were padlocked on the Straight Theater and that's when he moved down to The Family Dog. And that was when I started going to Monday Night Class. But because I grew up in the Outer Sunset, I mean, I used to go to, I hung out at Kelly's, you know, I hung out at the beach there. So, going to The Family Dog was just across the street. It wasn't that big of a deal. And then later on, as a, an addition, he started having sunrise services, which were at Sutro Park. You [00:24:00] know up on top of the hill. So that was my kind of introduction to Monday Night Class.

Nicole: So, what were these classes like? Like, what would you talk about? What would you study? Things like that.

David: Well, usually the format was he would speak for, well, let's back up. First thing, people would sit and meditate for, you know, 15, 20 minutes. And then everybody would om. You know, you have a big om and it would be like, like kind of a Gregorian chant, because you could hear different parts of the audience. You know, some would be, you know, base, some would be treble. High, low, whatnot. And this would go on for, you know, a couple of minutes or so. And then he would talk. He would talk about whatever was on his mind, whatever was on the mind of the collective consciousness that week in San Francisco, the state, or in the country. You know, it's 1969. It's, there's a lot of stuff going on in the world. Kind of like today. And so, that would usually go on for maybe about 45 minutes. Then he would open it up to questions and people in the audience could ask questions of whatever was on [00:25:00] their mind, and he would try to address those, those questions. And then, you know, so it would last maybe two, three hours maybe at the most. And then afterwards, you know, people would leave. But also, people would congregate around him, wanted to talk to him about personal issues, whatnot. So, you know, He was kind of on deck 24-7, you know. And he lived on a bus. He had a nice school bus that he had fixed up. He had a woman that he married at San Francisco State, was a librarian named Margaret. And a lot of his followers lived around the Haight and around that part, you know, the Outer Richmond, Outer Sunset, you know. Lived in campers, you know, like maybe they still do around the Panhandle. I don't know if you can find a place to park. Like, oh sorry.

Nicole: I was gonna say like brains are always way cooler than you think.

David: Yeah, Margaret was very cool, so.

Arnold: Can you tell us like, how well did you know Gaskin and what was he like?

David: I, you know, I didn't really know him or, you know, [00:26:00] the people close around him. I was attracted to that because they looked like the kind of people I wanted to know. It's, you know, if you, certainly, you know, the history of the Haight-Ashbury, by the time ‘69 came around, it was pretty much over. You know, there was a lot of hard drugs, there was a lot of crime. It wasn't, you know, the Summer of Love was just kind of a made up thing. That whole thing kind of disappeared pretty early. And so, but these folks seemed to have it together. You know? And, you know, I, you mentioned Kerouac and whatnot. You know, Nicole knows about this. I was always attracted to Dharma Bums and, you know, Gary Snyder's character Japhy Ryder. And so, I was looking for some kind of zen anarchist, eco warrior. And these were the kind of the closest people that I could find that seemed to be like that. But I wasn't really close with really anyone in the classroom. And I don't think I ever met Stephen more than once or twice. You know, I never asked any questions, but would go every week just because it was like [00:27:00] kind of the hippest thing going on. You know, at the time. For me, you know?

Nicole: Yeah. Did you attend any musical performances or anything other, otherwise at The Family Dog?

David: No. I went to a lot of concerts there, you know, and because again, I lived in the Outer Sunset now. But, by this time, I had dropped outta school. I was working for the post office. I was living down in Pacifica. You know, a lot of my friends were Speech people. Hung out in Kelly's, whatnot. And so, we would always go to concerts there. The only one I remember really clearly is seeing the Airplane and, Jefferson Airplane, who I had seen years before at The Matrix. You know, the club that Marty Balin ran and they were the house band. And, and what I remember about The Family Dog is they had a very low stage so you could get right up close to the band, and so you could be real close. I mean, they were like right there. And so, it was very, very homey. And again, this whole thing about dancing, not a lot of people dance, but there was a lot of room to like, you know, do that whole hippie, you know, like a quar, you know, Age of [00:28:00] Aquarius type thing when people would just trip out. So anyway, it was a good you. Chet had a, had a good thing while it lasted, but again, it was the end of the era. You know, that era was kind of fading fast. So, this was kind of like the last, last gasp. But he had a lot of good bands there. You know, the Youngbloods. The Dead played there a lot. Santana, different people like that.

Arnold: You know the, you mentioned the low stages, and that was actually one thing when the Chronicle reviewed that initial show that they hated. Because it meant that if you were too far from the stage, you couldn't really see the band as well. You only saw the heads of the band members above the rest of the audience. I did wanna ask though, cause I think you said this earlier, you also attended some of The Family Dog shows at the Avalon. Is that right?

David: Sure, yeah. And the thing about that is, Chet wouldn't necessarily have, I mean, sure he would have the Dead and the Airplane and Quicksilver and Big Brother and stuff. But, you know, I remember seeing the Doors there when they first came out from L.A. [00:29:00] And Steve Miller Blues Band before they were the Steve Miller Band. You know, Boz Skaggs is in that. And the Sparrow, which became Steppenwolf. And so, he had a lot of p, he didn't necessarily have the big bands per se. And Chet was more like, well, obviously him and Bill had different business. Not that I knew them personally, but they had diff, different business models and Chet was more like kind of a man of the people. So, he had bands that, the bands that I like to go see were people like the Sons of Champlain, or Moby Grape. Not the top, the top bands, but bands that were really good musicianship, and they were local. They were local hippies, you know. And so, Chet kind of wanted to make those people attractive to, you know, promoters and local people and also get 'em contracts, recording contracts and stuff. So he was, again, lived on Page Street, knew Janis, all that kind of stuff. So, it was cool, you know. But he lost his lease, he lost his license or, you know, lost his lease at the Avalon. Had to move out to the beach. But like I said, for me and a lot of my friends who lived out there, who were already hanging [00:30:00] around at the beach, so all we had to do is walk across the street. You know.

Nicole: Meet the people where they're at. Right,

David: Exactly. So, and then, you know, of course you go to these concerts and you wanna go out and get in, have a slight altered state of consciousness. You walk across to the sea wall and listen to the wave for a while and then walk back, you know?

Nicole: Did you smoke dope when you were on the sea wall?

David: Oh yeah, totally

Nicole: You heard it here, probably not first listeners.

David: Yeah, but here's the thing about all that. All I cared about was I just wanted to be able to do that and have it be legal and then 50 years later is legal and I don't care anymore.

Nicole: Well, it’s funny like, you know, I've, we talk a lot about like, since we spend so much time on Point Lobos Avenue and Great Highway right now, about how quiet it is. And how awful that is given its long history of being this very vibrant place where people came and they listened to music and they ate corn dogs, which is what I'm really here for. [00:31:00] And like, you know, all these things and there's perhaps nothing more that epitomizes how quiet it is than by knowing that Chet Helms got shut down because his permit wasn't renewed.

David: Right.

Arnold: We have a little bit more to the Professor Stephen Gaskin story.

Nicole: That's true.

Arnold: Because they only had the Monday Night Class at The Family Dog for a few months in 1969. But in 1970, the gathering of mainstream religious figures occurred right here in San Francisco. And hearing of Gaskin and his meetings as well as his influence on young people to be non-violent and seek positive change, they invited him on a speaking tour of the United States.

Nicole: So, this was during the time of the Manson clan. You've got Kent State. The draft, and the war in Southeast Asia. This speaking tour eventually became known as the Caravan and on the night of October 12th, 1970, many school buses converted into mobile homes or step vans, trucks, and [00:32:00] other campers, they left San Francisco to follow Gaskin's pilgrimage around the U.S.

Arnold: This strikes us as something maybe a little bit similar to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in their 1964 cross-country trip, also on a converted school bus that they called Further.  That trip was the basis for Tom Wolfe's book, the Electric Kool-Aid Asset Test. But it turns out we can find out what it was really like cause we know somebody who was on that trip.

Nicole: David, did you take part in the Gaskin caravan?

David: Yes, I did. Though I didn't leave on the night of October 12th, 1970. I watched this, you know, wagon train of vehicles drive up Point Lobos Avenue, up Geary Street to Park Presidio and disappear across the Bridge. But I was not part of that crew. It took me a little while to get it together before I made it to the caravan.

Arnold: So, at what point did you make it to the caravan?

David: I made it to the caravan, actually January 2nd. So that would've been about what, two and a half months later. [00:33:00] And we actually met the caravan in Nashville of all places, which is where they were already circling, coming back. So they were, they left on October 12th and the caravan stopped in a lot of places in the Midwest and the Northeast and down into the South. And then was coming back to basically the Bay Area. By the time we got it together, go out there and meet them. This was with a woman that I met who eventually I would marry, and we met at the corner of Carl and Clayton. There was a lot of people, after the caravan left San Francisco, there was a lot of, I guess you would call Stephen's followers, people that liked that lifestyle, who kind of coalesced around this commune, at the corner of Carl and Clayton. And a bunch of those people finally got their act together, rigged up school buses, whatnot. Got their finance together and somehow met the caravan at various locations around the country. So…

Nicole: I’ve always been impressed by how all of these different individuals who want to no longer be part of the system, right, [00:34:00] who are trying to find an alternative way, like, I don't wanna be part of this organized mess, are able to organize themselves so well.

David: Yeah. Well, you know, it was a bunch of hippies. And, you know, I was talking to somebody this weekend, this woman that I know, and she said, well, I was on such and such a bus. Buses, the buses on the caravan, a lot of 'em had names, like the Sausalito bus, because guess what? It came from Sausalito and there might be eight or 10 people on it. Well, maybe the Sausalito bus blows an engine in Ann Arbor. Well, what do you do? Get some money together and fix it. Or buy another bus. Or go on another bus or fi, you know? So. people dropped out, people joined, people left, people, you know, people came. There was babies were born, you know. So, that was, you know, the caravan was many-faceted. And actually, there's books about, there's a book called Monday Night Class. There's a book called The Caravan. And so, that's kind of the story you would end up with. Stephen would do a rap session or some kind of gig at every town. His people that were on the caravan, if they needed money, they maybe find a job for a [00:35:00] few days, you know, raking leaves. Or some people were carpenters, some could.do various things. So, you just made your way around the country. He had said, look, if you wanna go with me, that's fine, but you gotta pay your own way.

Nicole: Yeah.

Arnold: That kinda rolls into what my next question was gonna be, and that was, like what was life like during this caravan? So, the caravan rolls into a town, what would happen?

David: Again, you know, depending on where we were, usually, I mean, if you're going into Ann Arbor or places like that, where you had a large, you know, hip population, people usually knew people on the caravan. They would like, again, work, you would fix up your bus, you know, whatever, whatever was going on. You know, there would be the gig, whatever he would do, people would publicize it. Mostly it was just like, you know, each bus was responsible for their own manifestation, their own vehicle. And so again, some people had kids, most people didn't. There's a lot of single folks, but there was married folks. And so, you just took care of your life until the next stop. But man, I can tell [00:36:00] you that on the way through Kansas, basically, the Kansas State Police escorted us from one border to the other. We got to stop at a rest area, but it was like, okay, Kansas was like, “you can be Colorado's problem. You can be Missouri's problem. But you're not gonna be Kansas' problem.”

Nicole: That reminds me of, my girlfriend worked, she lived in Norman, Oklahoma for a bit in museums, and she had like some sort of California-themed bumper sticker or like, something. She got pulled over by a cop who was just like from California. I asked her a bunch of questions. This was in like, I don't know, 2016, 2015. So, some states don't change very much.

David: Yeah. Well, that was no disrespect to Kansas. That was just how Kansas handled it. I mean, imagine there's a, you know, there's, at this point there's maybe 200 people, there's a hundred vehicles and you know, I mean, it's not like psychedelic painted buses. These are buses that are, you know, somewhat tastefully done. But they're driving down the road and they got all these people in and it's like, I don't really [00:37:00] think I want you all to just land on any of the towns in my jurisdiction. Why don't we just keep you going? So…

Nicole: I bet you would double the population size of some of those towns,

David: Yeah, but you know, places, Minneapolis, New York, you know, upstate New York, Buffalo, I mean all Cincinnati, I mean any Chicago, every place you can imagine. These were the places that the caravan stopped and did some kind of gig. And moved on to the next town. And so, you know, I don't know if we wanna get into it. And so, then we got back to San Francisco. And then there was nowhere to park and then this wagon train of people and it's like, you know, just like a wagon train, you know, you circle the wagons, there was no, nowhere to circle the wagons. So, then it became well, where are you gonna go next? So that's, that may be another story, but…

Arnold: Well, a, as you just explained, they returned to San Francisco, had no place to go, and were looking for where they wanted to go. So, they decided to leave the Bay Area, look for land to establish a small town. And after looking in Oregon and [00:38:00] traveling across country and looking in Arkansas and Georgia, the caravan or a wagon, train of miscreants, as someone once called it.

David: That's David Gallagher's word. Miscreants, I adopted it, cause I thought it was so perfect. Because that's who we were. Miscreants may still be miscreants,

Arnold: But they found a piece of land 75 miles southwest of Nashville, Tennessee, and founded the farm community in May 1971. By this time, it had grown to over 300 people and a hundred vehicles during its travels. And, once again, I think we know somebody. who may have ended up in Tennessee because of this.

David: Yep.

Arnold: So, David, tell us how you ended up in Tennessee as part of this.

David: Well, It's, you know, I don't want to go into too much detail. I mean, there's a couple things that I think were important is, one thing is that in order to earn money, when a bunch of us got back to the Bay Area, we, there was one guy from San Jose whose family had, was into [00:39:00] farming, had a big farming operation. And he knew how to manage people. So, he got us this contract working up in Smith River, in Del Norte County, up in Northern California in an azalea greenhouse. Potting azaleas. And a, we all went up there and camped and worked, and so it was like, it was an introduction to like, oh, this is how we can actually work as a community. You know, it was like, for me, it was my introduction. I knew how to work hard, but I had never worked in a big crew like that. And so, that was how a lot of people earned money to make it back east. And so, I mean, I could go into a whole lot of personal stuff about my father dying at this time and trying to figure out, you know, helping my mom together and whatnot, but long story short, we finally made it back to Tennessee in June of 1971, which is about a month after the caravan arrived. And we ended up arriving in Lewis County, Tennessee, named after Meriwether Lewis, who on his way back from the Lewis and Clark expedition. Several, earlier had died on the Natchez [00:40:00] Trace Parkway, very close to where the community ended up settling. So, some folks in Nashville had an old homestead down here. And we're parked at, the whole caravan is parked in Nashville at an Army Corps of Engineer campground. And, you know, all the local people are coming, “Hey, look at them.” You know, it’s like we needed to find a place to be. So, we landed at this homestead and a cattle ranch down the road came up for sale. And the guy wanted $70 an acre for a thousand acres. $70,000. Now, anytime you get a group of people together, somebody's gonna have some money. Right? Well fortunately, we had some people that had some money. So, we bought 78, 7, a thousand acres for $70,000. And about two years later bought another 750 acres. So, this became basically the farm community, which again, that's a whole history in itself, and I could talk for an hour about that, but I won't.

Nicole: It is, and we know David, because I was fortunate enough to spend a good amount of time with you talking about your [00:41:00] life. It's part of our oral history series, but unfortunately, it hasn't seen the light of day yet. But we're getting there. David, I promise.

David: No, it's fine, Nicole. It's not like you're not, you don't have anything to do, Nicole.

Nicole: Oh, you know, yeah. I just hang around and I eat bon bons.

David: And hang out with Billy. You just get her to, you know, not walk on your laptop or whatever.

Nicole: My cat just walked by the screen cause she's like, you're done with work tonight. It's time for us to snuggle.

David: So, that’s how I ended up in, in Nashville and in Summertown, Tennessee. So, which is where I still am today. Come to the Bay Area a lot. My parents are gone. Sold my parents' house to my good friends’ son and daughter-in-law, you know. and we come out to the Sunset and Richmond. My uncle still lives in the wine country still very close to the Bay Area. and I always will.

Nicole: So, and you share some of the most wonderful memories and things on Instagram. And I, it's such a joy for me to watch your feed. I really do enjoy it. And you are one of the members I'm excited about coming back to San Francisco. Like, I will have lunch with you and things like that. SomethingI don't [00:42:00] do to with every member

David: Next time it's with Arnold so I can, so he can find about all this stuff, but…

Arnold: I don't wanna miss the next one.

David: That kind of wraps up that thing. That's what happened. Monday Night Class became the caravan, became the farm community. And there's still about 250 people or so that live in the farm community. And the land is held in common. It's like a, it's like a condo, you know? It's a land trust.

Nicole: Yeah.

David: And each family's responsible for their own finances and got great piece of land down here, except we live in a red state and that's just how it is.

Arnold: Well, we greatly appreciate you, David, for sharing your personal experiences somewhat related to our subject matter. We've digressed a little bit beyond The Family Dog, but Professor Stephen Gaskin was such an integral part of The Family Dog that we figured it had to be gotten into. But getting back to The Family Dog, after a little over a year, Helms produced his last show there, headlined by Quick Silver, [00:43:00] Quicksilver Messenger Service on August 22nd, 1970. Financial issues were Helms undoing. Helms owed back, owed back taxes for 1967, his last really good year at the Avalon. And, as we noted earlier, his easygoing loosey-goosey style did not engender good business practices. So, while the building itself would host a few more concerts in the next year or so, The Family Dog there was done.

Nicole: Yeah. Chet Helms was also done with the music promotion business, largely retiring from the racket except for like a, shoot, a few shows over the years, including the 30th anniversary of the Summer of Love concert in Golden Gate Park on October 12th, 1997. I mean, how could he not be involved? The Family Dog on the Great Highway had a short, but memorable life as an integral part of the late 1960s, early 1970s hippie and music culture in San Francisco. Proof that the West side, again, is the [00:44:00] most definitely the best side.

Arnold: Which brings us to Say What Now?

Nicole: Oh.

Arnold: And perhaps because of Chet Helm's connection with the local lighting union from these elaborate light shows, The Family Dog ended up being the host for a meeting between concert promoters and the union in August 1969. Helms had previously responded in, quote, “in good faith” to the union demands, and they had suspended their picketing of The Family Dog after five days. This meeting at The Family Dog resulted in the end to a lighting show strike against the ballrooms, which included Bill Graham's places. Unfortunately, at that very same meeting, Bill Graham announced the closure of the Fillmore West, which he said would occur on December 31st of that year. Graham actually ended up keeping the Fillmore West open until July 1971, though. But then it was done.

Nicole: Every time we talk about the lighting union, I think of Krissy Kenny. [00:45:00] So this one's for you, Chrissy, who's still in the union today. Also, fun fact, the final resting place of Chet Helms is in a niche at the San Francisco Columbarium. Which means forevermore, Helms is a West side guy.

Arnold: If you've never visited the Columbarium, go. It's well worth it. Very cool.

Nicole: I know. One of these like Halloweens, we're gonna do some sort of program with them, cause I love the Columbarium. Okay, my cat is totally over us recording this podcast now. So, hang in there kitty just a little bit longer. Cause now it's time for Listener Mail. So, first of all, Arnold, how does one send us listener mail?

Arnold: Well, there’s a whole variety of ways, but surely the simplest is send an email to podcast@outsidelands.org. Can also hit us up on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Pretty much you can send an [00:46:00] email to any email address at the WNP, and then we'll get to us.

Nicole: Fun fact, every email address that we ever publish online just comes back to my inbox. So, if you're ever wondering why I haven't gone back to your email, it's because of that. So, our loyal listener Doug took the email route and sent us this note. “Your podcasts are the greatest. With each podcast, I'm realizing just how much of California's history was not taught in our schools. The podcast about Thomas Starr King made me realize California was not a free state. And when Southerners came to California, they brought their slaves. The story of Ephraim Merida is just one of many stories of the inequality at that time. And there was another court case which took place in San Francisco, which involved a man from Kentucky who brought a slave to California and granted that slave his freedom. The former slave went on to acquire [00:47:00] land, and then his former master later took the former slave to court to reclaim ownership. California laws protected the slave's freedom, but the courts ruled for the master and the freed slave became a slave again in a court case and public opinion similar to that of Ephraim Merida.  Are you familiar with that story?” And he mentioned, “I'm sure that there's very much more.” And I'm sorry to say Doug, that we are not familiar with that story, but it is gonna be on our list of things to research now.

Arnold: We would also, again, like to remind people that we are planning a big Playland Memories podcast for Labor Day Weekend. If you visited Playland before it closed in 1972, we would love to hear your memories about it. We are looking at having people on the podcast to relate those memories. We're also looking to have a large listener mail section on that podcast to relate emories of people write into [00:48:00] us. So please forward your Playland memories to us at podcast@outsidelands.org.

Nicole: And our special guest today, David Freelander, is of course one of the best WNP members. So, let's tell you all about the benefits of membership and donating.

Arnold: There's a lot to be said there. So, you can get your quarterly membership magazine. You can get discounts on events and other exclusive perks. And we have a lot of events coming up, so pay attention. Your membership supports all the good work we do and make available for free, which includes OpenSFHistory. It also includes the Cliff House collection up at The Museum at The Cliff. And, of course, it includes this podcast because you listen to, and people like David here find our stories about growing up in San Francisco to be something they're interested in.

Nicole: And I also have to say that for all the things [00:49:00] that are project specific and we have funding for, because of your generosity, we also spend our time responding to emergency needs here in San Francisco. Like, oh my God, they closed the Cliff House and they put everything up for auction. Do you know how often this happens? And every, it seems like weekly now, we get a call where we're like, oh my God, can you help us save this thing? Or I have to do this, or can we get your advice? Because we're the group that figures out how to find a way. So, and we love that. You know, we wanna help as much as we can, but we do need your support to continue it. So, clickety, clickety, clack that big orange button at the top of every webpage please.

Arnold: And this week our podcast has a special sponsor and he's right here with us. So, our very special surprise guest, David Freelander, generously has sponsored this podcast. And he would like to dedicate this podcast to his mother's parents, his grandparents, [00:50:00] Ida Levitt and Morris Eisenstadt. They immigrated from Canada and Russia with their children, David's mother Anne and his Uncle Irwin to the Outer Richmond during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Nicole: David also dedicates this podcast to his father, Harry Friedlander, who came from New York City a few years later and married his mother and, after World War II, and then both of the families moved to the Outer Sunset. Because of them, David was fortunate to grow up with a strong work ethic and a modest amount of common sense close to the sights and sounds of Ocean Beach.

Arnold: Thank you so much, David for sponsoring this podcast and I would note, in fact, you were the inspiration for doing this podcast. It was something you mentioned that we oughta do and it indeed was a very fascinating story to learn about.

David: Thank you so much. You guys are just both of you and everybody that helps you is doing a great job. I just, I'm just, there's a Yiddish word, I think it's called plotzing. You're plotzing. It's [00:51:00] like, you know, it's like everything is so amazing. You can barely stand it. And then, so I'm plotzing, you know. It's like great job. Thank you so much for everything you all do.

Nicole: Well, A shiksa like me appreciates you. Did I do that right?

David: Yes, you did. And which reminds me, you need to thank Harvey's mother for me, for adopting, adopting me at the gala.

Nicole: You know, the, I talk a lot about WNP in a family, but like, it truly is like. I adore David and like we do talk offline and like, like that's what makes it worth it. Cause let me tell y'all, there's not a lot of money in local history. So, like the fact that we get to enjoy each other's company and get to know each other and like truly connect around local history is what makes everything worth it. And David, thank you again for being a wonderful part of our family.

David: Thank you, Nicole. Thank you, Arnold.

Nicole: And now we're gonna awkwardly segue into announcements. [00:52:00]

Arnold: So, The Museum at The Cliff is still going on every weekend. So…

Nicole: As long as we can staff it.

Arnold: Exactly. The new exhibition is called Naiad Cove. It was curated by John Lindsey of the Great Highway Gallery. It has original historic artifacts from the Cliff House collection and beyond that you did not see before when we were just in the gift shop.

Nicole: Yeah.

Arnold: It also has an immersive sound installation, special events, curators’ tours, and so much more. It's open on the weekends, 11 to 5, until at least August 21st. We're keeping our fingers crossed about maybe going beyond that. But nothing official there yet, so we're just hoping at this point. It's all free, but because of capacity limitations, you should reserve your spot. Although that's, we get a lot of walk-ins as well. But you can reserve that spot by going to the events page on our website, outsidelands.org.

Nicole: And per federal regulations, we do need you to wear a mask when you're in [00:53:00] the museum. Not our rule. The man makes us do it. But, and also, we keep adding things every week because being a one-person organization, it's hard to get stuff on the wall.

Arnold: We're just gluttons for punishment.

Nicole: We keep thinking of new and cool things to add to the exhibit. So, John Lindsey has added all these really cool contemporary art pieces. We're consistently adding more historic film projections and all kinds of stuff. So, just because you went on opening weekend, well especially if you went on opening weekend, we've got a lot more stuff on the walls now. So come on by again. It's free. You know, we'd love to see you again in the Cliff House. And while you're on our events page, we just got the green light from the National Park Service, blessings from the GGNRA, to host epic evening events at the Cliff House. We're doing History Happy Hours on Wednesday nights. So that's myself and sometimes Chelsea Sellin. We're back at it drinking adult beverages and chatting with local authors, [00:54:00] historians, all kinds of things. We’ll have Patrick Moser, who just wrote a book called Surf and Rescue. You can come meet him in person. We also ordered a lot of books from the University of Illinois Press, which is the first time I've ever done that. And so, we'll have those on hand for you to purchase and have your copy signed. Hopefully it gets here in time. But then, we're also having a Happy Hour with Woody LaBounty, who is gonna talk about his favorite Cliff House memories, and Reino Niemela, Jr., whose dad has contributed all of this incredible artwork to the show. He did all the hand painted signs at Playland at the Beach. So, it's incredible. So, we've got a lot going on and we're also doing curators’ tours on Friday night. And yes, of course, drinks and snacks are provided. By snacks, I mean, Cheezits.

Arnold: So, the details for all of these events can be found on the Events page at outsidelands.org/events.

Nicole: Also, if you follow us on Eventbrite, then Eventbrite sends you [00:55:00] an email reminder that we have published something. Which is very handy, cause sometimes I forget to send out the monthly newsletter via email.

Arnold: And if you are planning on attending the Outside Lands Music Festival next weekend, we're gonna have a booth in the Eco Lands area. So come visit our booth. We're gonna be focused on Playland and music in the booth this time. And come see what we have to show you there.

Nicole: I can't believe that's next weekend. What happened to 2022? That's a longer conversation we'll have to have drinks for. But anyways, Arnold, what's our preview for next week?

Arnold: Well, Nicole, remember the preview we had last week?

Nicole: I did, cause I said it.

Arnold: This is not déjà vu. We'll be talking about Laguna Hospital, but this time for real.

Nicole: All right. Thank you, David for being with us.

David: Thank you for having me. It's great. Keep up [00:56:00] the good work.

Nicole: Aw, thank you David. And we'll see you all next week.

Arnold: Ciao.

Nicole: Goodbye.

Ian: Outside Lands San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media production at ihadley.com.

Nicole: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more on San Francisco history, go to Outsidelands.org. You can also find us on social media at Facebook, which is outsidelands with an S, at Twitter, which is outsidelandz with a Z, and on Instagram, which is outsidelandz, also with a Z. And check out our historic San Francisco images website at OpenSFHistory.org.

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