Rock and Roll concerts in mid-sixties Spokane were marketed to teenagers, who by now were fans of The Monkees, an industry created, television promoted band that was more marketing than edging out of the musical envelope; or Bobby Sherman, a singer leveraged into the music industry by his management team after placing him on television’s music show Shindig; teenagers were teenyboppers, a marketing concept that earned money for the actors, musicians, producers, record company executives and publishers targeting that age group. The music wasn’t serious, or meant to be. Teenyboppers were just delirious, mindless teenagers responding to the best that the industry could crank out in as short of time as possible, marketed with photo spreads and made up stories in 16 Magazine, Tiger Beat, or whatever marketing tool was available. The record companies release the singles, and then tour the bands at concerts or teen fairs in just about any town with a big enough venue.
In 1966 the Bob Dylan concert at the Spokane Coliseum was cancelled. However, the Beach Boys came to town to appear at the Coliseum, Paul Revere and the Raiders were a hot act that year appearing on stage as headliners; and at the Spokane Teen Fair in August, promoted by George Phillips and the radio station KNEW, kids got to see the Animals from England and the Beau Brummels from California.
But something was changing in rock ‘n’ roll music in those two years from 1965 to 1966. It’s a shame that Dylan cancelled his concert in Spokane, because anyone who would have gone to the concert would have heard what were some of those changes then and there.
Since the music industry considered teenagers a marketing group, producers applied the lowest common denominator to the creation and promotion of the music they were selling on the ten week pop single plan. The plan was based on the long held model of producer/band/song concept that meant putting out a single every ten or twelve weeks, promote it through the radio station networks, get as much publicity in the teen media, and then see how far up the charts it can go. The farther up the chart it went, the more money everyone made.
But bands like Dylan’s’, or the Beatles at this time with their album Rubber Soul, and a host of bands in San Francisco, were creating music not meant for the teenybopper market; these bands were appealing to an older part of the generation, those in their twenties, in college, and yes, those over the age of thirty. It was a more modern music, and thanks to Dylan, the lyrics now had a more grown up message of alienation, anger, and protest.
All through 1966 bands such as The Grateful Dead, The Great Society, Quick Silver Messenger Service, Every Mother’s Son, Mount Rushmore, Jefferson Airplane, Captain Beefheart, The Son’s of Champlin, and the Steve Miller Blues Band, were playing various venues in the San Francisco area, including a number of events known as Acid Tests put on by the Merry Pranksters led by Ken Kesey. The Acid Tests, of course, involved the taking of the the drug LSD by not only the audience, but the band as well. Music was expanding in various ways in 1966, media was including the descriptive adjective trippy, to describe it, and categorized it as Acid Rock. Musical events were often advertised as a trips festivals, named after Kesey’s acid tests, a phrase that was soon picked up and exploited by the industry who once again saw dollar signs wherever they went.
After the breakup of her band, the Great Society, Grace Slick was asked to join the Jefferson Airplane, who had recently lost their lead female singer, Signe Toly Anderson, when she started a family and opted out of being in a band for a while. Slick joined the band in the fall of 1966 while at the time they were scheduled to be in the studio to produce another album. Surrealistic Pillow, the album they produced, was released in February 1967, along with the single, White Rabbit. At the time the San Francisco sound of music was just hitting the national media. An article appearing the previous December in Newsweek included references to the taking of drugs and describing people who wore bead necklaces (hippy beads) using them as a sign that they have taken and experienced an LSD trip.
These songs were not targeted to the hit single, 10 week plan of making money. Hendrik Hertzberg, the Newsweek writer who wrote the article noted that the songs written and played by these San Francisco bands were often characterized by the length of the song, often 15 or more minutes long, which was contrary to the two and half minute pop single. But that didn’t stop the industry from exploiting the bands for the teenage market. Hertzber wrote, “Meanwhile more and more record companies are tempting the San Francisco groups, more and more clubs across the country are opening wide their doors. But so far the San Francisco Sound prefers the warmth of its hippies. ‘When we play out of town,’ says 23-year-old John Cipollina, lead guitarist of the Quicksilver Messenger Service, “the out-of-towners have to be turned on to our message of freedom. In San Francisco they already accept it. The people out here are really open and the musicians are open. There’s a big love thing going around, you know.”
In January of 1967 all of the burgeoning hippy culture from 1966 seemed to appear out of nowhere at Golden Gate Park for the Human Be-In featuring dozens of the local bands for a free concert that garnered wide media coverage. At the very forefront of this cultural storm that was breaking over America were The Jefferson Airplane. Another hot band from Los Angeles that helped create the term folk rock because they included many Dylan songs in their playlist, were the Byrds.
Spokane was lucky to get both these bands booked into the Coliseum right at this time, as the music was just beginning to influence rock ‘n’ roll. Promoted as a Trips Festival, the appearance of the Jefferson Airplane and the Byrds was to be the essence of what happend at the notorious concerts at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms in San Francisco. It was the trippy drug induced hippy experience exported and taken on the road. Or at least that was what was advertised.
Spokane’s underground newspaper had just begun printing its weekly edition when the Airplane and the Byrds appeared at the Coliseum. Spokane Natural editor Orman Otvos, who went to the show, listed a number of things that he claims were advertised for this Trip-Lansing promoted concert at the Coliseum. He said he knew from accounts of what was happening in San Francisco the previous year involving what would be the Acid Test would be brought to Spokane for this show. This would mean that the concert would involve many of the typical Acid Test items – light show, strobe lights, cheap things to munch on like apples, candy, or whatever, open floor seating, black lights, fluorescent paints – but Otvos said very little of that was available, only a bare dance area and the bands, with a dysfunctional sound system to boot. There was a strobe light, there were sheets on the wall for the light show, and there was a mirrored ball, now called a disco ball, twirling overhead.
The event was not as advertised, according to Otvos, who said that “The Coliseum management pretty throughly screwed Trips-Lansing. Which ran the show. Mr. Stinnerson, the manager is a very arbitrary person, and treats problem people by expelling them.”
Spokane musician and record collector Bob Gallagher, had also gone to the show. Mainly because Byrds guitarist David Crosby was one of his musical heroes. When he got to the Coliseum he immediately worked his way to the front of the stage in order to see the band as close as possible. “It was the best show ever,” Gallagher said. “The Byrds were playing Younger Than Yesterday, from their best album, and the Airplane were playing songs that would become Baxter’s, their second record (with Slick), as you know, not a hit single on the record at all, being mostly ten minute songs. I thought both bands were at their prime, a really good show. What happened was the PA wasn’t happening right. I was right in front of a PA speaker, and there was a cop standing right next to the PA on stage. The Byrds play and they go back behind the stage and close the curtains and you hear David Crosby say ‘all they hear is our goddamn rhythm tracks, they can’t hear a goddamn thing we are singing!’ and it’s coming through the PA, and there’s a cop standing right there. We thought it was over for them, but they came back out. The Byrds were so awesome. It is one of my favorite concerts of all time.”
The Jefferson Airplane, Otvos said, refused to go on stage until the sound system was hooked up correctly. Otvos said that the Coliseum electrician responsible for hooking up the system was told by someone in the audience who had appeared onstage, how to hook it up. When the Coliseum electrician could not adequately do so, the guy complained and Stinnerson had the fellow removed from the stage area. Otvos said the system wasn’t operational until after 20 minutes of work, and that when it was working appeared to be along the same lines as what that guy had outlined in the first place. Otvos called the show “amateur,” but only from the point of view of how he thought the show should have been more like what he knew from shows in San Francisco at the Fillmore.
Otvos, Ormon. “Jefferson Airplane – Byrds Concert Spokane Coliseum.” Spokane Natural, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2 June 1967: 11.
“Minutes of the 182nd Coliseum-Stadium Advisory Committee.” May 25, 1967
Hertzberg, Hendrik. “The Nitty-Gritty Sound.” Newsweek. 19 December, 1966: 102.
Interview with Bob Gallagher, 4 April 2012.
Copyright 2013 © Robert G. Schoenberg