The Legendary Longshoreman's Hall "Dr. Strange" Dance of October 1965

Until Jack's arrival, the Airplane had confined their performances almost exclusively to the Matrix, with one exception. The club had been designed with them in mind, they were able to fill the room to capacity each time they played (which wasn't that difficult as the legal limit was under 300–more often than not there would be twice as many bodies crammed inside), and they liked the place. The band was able to rehearse there during the week without having to set up and take down its equipment each time. Being the house band was ideal for them.

But as the Airplane's reputation spread, there was more of a demand for their services and, like any new band, they needed all the work they could get. The most pivotal of the first outside gigs was undoubtedly the one that took place October 16th at Longshoreman's Hall, at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, dubbed by its comic-book-loving promoters "A Tribute to Dr. Strange." Also featuring the Charlatans, the Marbles and the Great Society, the event was presented by a four-person collective calling itself the Family Dog, who took their name in honor of Harmon's recently deceased pooch and lived together in a communal house on Pine Street. It was billed as a Rock 'n' Roll Dance and Concert.

Airplane lineup at the time of the Dr. Strange dance: l. to. r. Jorma Kaukonen, Bob Harvey, Marty Balin, Signe Anderson, Paul Kantner, Skip Spence

It was that last part that hit home with the Airplane. Their music was meant to be danced to, and this nonsense about no dancing being allowed at the Matrix was awfully frustrating.

Elliot Sazer: When people tried to start dancing, the police would stop them. You're not allowed to dance in San Francisco, unless you're in a hotel or the place has a special dance permit. And for a very liberal town, this was the craziest law I'd ever heard of in my life.

Joe Buchwald: Marty was always the one who instigated, "C'mon up and dance." He'd work
the crowd up into a frenzy and then they'd all rush forward to the stage and that's when all that commotion started.

Alton Kelley: We threw six or seven dances before we even knew we had to have a permit. The city tried to shut it down but once it was happening there was no shutting it down.

A recent photo of Longshoreman's Hall, San Francisco

Ralph Gleason agreed that San Franciscans should be able to dance to rock and roll. He had mentioned the lack of dancing at the Matrix in his very first Chronicle column on the band. So when the Family Dog members–a young woman named Luria Castell, accompanied by two friends, Ellen Harmon and Alton Kelley–came to see him in October about putting on a dance concert, Gleason was all ears. He said he'd help any way he could.
Castell had been a political activist and had recently returned from L.A., where she'd enjoyed dancing to the Lovin' Spoonful in a discotheque, wondering why San Francisco couldn't have the same. Harmon had come to the city from Detroit, quit her straight job and lived in a tree. And Kelley was an artist from Connecticut, into exploring the possibilities of day-glo paint and collage and experimenting with new art forms. The fourth Family Dog member, Jack Towle, didn't come to that initial meeting.

"San Francisco can be the new Liverpool," Castell told Gleason right off the bat. She proceeded to outline the plan of this decidedly unbusinesslike troupe, to reunite dancing and rock and roll in San Francisco. In his 1969 book, The Jefferson Airplane And The San Francisco Sound, Gleason wrote, "There was a reason that they picked San Francisco in which to start and it wasn't just because they all happened to be there at the time." Those reasons, among others, were that New York was too large and Los Angeles was "super-uptite plastic America."

But mostly, it was because San Francisco was San Francisco, and that was where it had to happen.

Neither the Family Dog nor Jefferson Airplane were operating in a vacuum. An undercurrent had been bubbling toward the surface for some time in San Francisco, but one group of young renegades from straight society was not always aware of the other. Rock groups were forming all over the place, more of them, it seemed , every day. Same for politically active groups, protesting social conditions and our nation's policies abroad. Artists were experimenting with new graphic forms and previously unexplored media such as light. New advances in electronics offered previously unimagined directions in which the music could go. Castell, Harmon and Kelley ran this all down to Gleason, how they wanted to bring it all together. They told him about the dance they were planning for Longshoreman's Hall. Gleason said he'd be there.

Permits were secured, bands were enlisted, handbills were drawn by Kelley and printed by Joe Buchwald, and the word went out.

When Gleason arrived at the hall, he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Everyone approaching the hall, Gleason wrote in his book, appeared to be going to a costume party. He described men dressed as characters out of the Old West, long-haired girls in longer dresses. There were "riverboat gamblers" and "mining camp desperados," black leather and brown buckskin. Inside, the scene was even more colorful. The crowd, Gleason reported, danced wildly all night as the bands played. The light show, although primitive by later standards, pulsated to the beat of the music.

"It was orgiastic and spontaneous and completely free-form," Gleason wrote. He described the happy coexistence of hippies wearing buttons for peace and political types wearing buttons touting the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). What also impressed Gleason was that the Family Dog, the promoters, were out there dancing with the rest of them. This was unheard of at traditional dance events!

Jorma Kaukonen: In the beginning, when we first started playing, the audience was mostly sitting down, because that's what audiences were trained to do then. But then audiences began to realize, "Hey, we don't have to sit down. It's rock and roll, for Chrissakes."

Bill Thompson: I remember long lines of people, holding hands, dancing to the music. I mean, 20, 30 people sometimes, going around in a circle. They'd get caught up in the energy of the music, and the excitement. There was so much freedom. This was not like school dances–that was a whole different story, everything was regulated.

Bob Harvey: Longshoreman's was the foreshadowing of the psychedelic dance concerts. But it was more than just music and dance. It felt like belonging, like family. It was my last gig with the band. I knew I was going and it felt so bad.

Paul Kantner: Before the dances, we were just the band at a party, because we weren't connecting with an audience, even at the Matrix. And the party was often much more interesting. I mean, there was a structure there of a stage, and an audience. But, quickly, that wall broke down almost instantaneously.

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