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1969: A great year for restaurants, movies, jazz, blues, rock
By Ernest Beyl

Jefferson Airplane
photo: Dan Shannon;

How much do you remember about 1969 – take the months of July and August for example? What were you doing then? What restaurants did you go to? What did you do for entertainment? What movies did you see? What bands did you dance to? What smoky nightclubs did you hang out in?

Recently I was cleaning out an old drawer in a spare room, and lining it I found a faded pink, Sunday, July 20, 1969 San Francisco Chronicle Datebook. So I sat right down and started reading about 1969. You remember 1969 – hippies in Golden Gate Park (maybe you were one of them), the year of Woodstock, and the year of the Rolling Stones at Altamont. Willie Mays and Willie McCovey were in the starting lineup for the Giants.
Here’s what was in the old Datebook pink section. There was an antique show in town, so I read about that. Then I read an article about the alcoholic poet and playwright Brendan Behan. One of his plays, The Hostage, was about to open at the Geary Theater. There was a great Behan quote: “… when I was growing up, drunkenness was not regarded as a social disgrace. To get enough to eat was regarded as an achievement. To get drunk was a victory.”

I continued reading: under the listing for restaurants, I found Alfred’s, The Domino Club, El Sombrero, Far East Cafe, Henry’s Fashion Restaurant, Tommy’s Joynt, and Yamato. No Chez Panisse or French Laundry back then. Alfred’s is still going strong. I miss the old Domino Club on Trinity Alley in the Financial District – great steaks, salads with Thousand Island dressing, and a collection of paintings of nubile young ladies.

Movies we saw in those two months of 1969 were: I Am Curious Yellow (a dirty movie then, tame by today’s standards), Goodbye Columbus (an adaptation of the Philip Roth novel), Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch with William Holden and Ernest Borgnine, Midnight Cowboy with Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, and War and Peace. Not bad. I missed War and Peace but saw the others. They were terrific movies.

But it was when I started reading about live entertainment for those two months that I was blown away. Here in no particular order is what I found:

Jefferson Airplane played the Matrix in the Marina, San Francisco’s first folk nightclub. Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops played Stern Grove. The San Francisco Mime Troupe was in Golden Gate Park. Country Joe and the Fish, Joe Cocker and the Grease Band, Ten Years After with Alvin Lee, Ike and Tina Turner, Steve Miller’s Blues Band, and Albert King – they were all at Fillmore West during that time.

Want more? How about Jim Morrison and the Doors and Elvin Bishop? They were at the Cow Palace. Or James Brown, Blood Sweat and Tears, Blind Faith with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, Woody Herman and his Orchestra, Dionne Warwick, and Hugh Masakela – they all appeared at the Oakland Coliseum.

Down at the Circle Star Theater there was Ray Charles, Frankie Laine and the King Sisters. Over at the Concord Summer Festival, artists were Erroll Garner, the Vince Guaraldi Trio, George Duke’s Trio, the Cal Tjader Quintet, Bola Sete Trio, the Willie Bobo Sextet, Don Ellis, Carmen McRae, and the Buddy Rich Big Band. Mose Allison was at the Jazz Workshop. Tony Bennett was at Mr. D’s with drummer Louie Bellson.

Are you impressed yet? Let me keep going with this.

Lou Rawls was at the Fairmont and Eartha Kitt at Bimbo’s 365 Club. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was down at Stanford. Comedians Allen Sherman and George Gobel were at the Civic Auditorium and Bimbo’s. Stan Kenton and his Orchestra were at Basin Street West. Oscar Brown Jr. played the On Broadway. The Committee was in its converted North Beach church. And if you still couldn’t find anything to do, the musical Hair was playing at the Geary Theater.

Yes, I know, there is ample live entertainment in the Bay Area these days with top bands to dance to and a lot of nightclubs. We’ve come a long way, baby – nightclubs are no longer smoky; however, I do miss the long-gone Jazz Workshop and the Blackhawk, smoke and all.

Nevertheless, I thought it might be instructional to check out a sampling of live entertainment in the Bay Area in July and August of 2010. So, just to compare, I checked out the Chronicle’s Datebook for Sunday, July 18, 2010 and other listings of miscellaneous events.

The first item that struck my eye was Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in July. Well, I suppose that counts as live entertainment. There was also the Second Annual Food, Wine and Spirits Festival in August. Dreamgirls opened at the Curran Theatre, and summer opera and the symphony were going strong.

Without doubt, the biggest gun for the period was Sir Paul McCartney at AT&T Park. We also found Pearl Jam, the Dave Matthews Band and Black Eyed Peas at the Outside Lands Festival. SFJazz Summerfest featured Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers and the Brass Menazeri.

As I said, this is not a complete list of July and August live entertainment. The Chronicle’sSFGate site is almost impossible to navigate and besides, I am restricted somewhat by space here.

But without denigrating July and August 2010 – was there ever a period like those two months in 1969? I don’t think so.

Ernest Beyl loves to pore over old newspapers and magazines. He has a closet-full of popular publications dating back to World War I. E-mail:

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