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Early, little venues

April 17, 2012

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Blue Mountain at Chateau Liberte
Sunday afternoon concert, 1972

When I was growing up, so much of our young interests revolved around the up and coming music from the Beatles, the Stones, the Who and so many others. And if you were really into it, there was the hard core Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and the others in the folk aspect of this new music. But Ma and Pa and uncles all over the place refused to join the appreciation of this new stuff. They still listened to Tom and Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Firzgerald, just part of long list of pre-World War II artists. The war of music was definitely between the generations back then.
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I assumed that the same war was going on today between the generations, after all, I hate rap music. But also, I never had kids so I haven’t been real intimate about what recent kids like and don’t like nowadays. While in the process of re-integrating myself back into my hometown, however, I’ve come to find that lots of my friend’s kids and grand kids are still listening to the same music I listened to when I was their age and it is most surprising to me, a pleasant surprise.
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One thing I have also become aware of, however, is that these young people have no idea just how close and local the core of this music was. Everyone is aware of Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium up in San Francisco, and later, Winterland, but I never hear anything about the local venues that provided fertile environments for so many first generation rockers and folk singers. The Catalyst in Santa Cruz was the first one I became aware of. Its original location was in the ground floor of the old Saint George Hotel. Its front door was on Front Street while the entrance to the hotel was on Pacific Avenue. The Catalyst had three grandly unique rooms, the largest being a big, open room with the wall facing Front Street being a high collection of large panels filled with small window panes going nearly all the way up to the shadowy ceilings. This room had the stage. Near the stage was a doorway into a narrow bar, long with only a few tables. The third room was my favorite. It was an irregular pentagon with a red, Spanish tile floor and all of its five walls were simply smallish panes of mirrors from floor to about eight feet high. What a room to “people watch” in. If you knew how to use these mirrors, you could view six or seven great vantages of a good looking chick with just a few glances, and without moving your head. In the center of the tile floor was a small, raised pool with a famous fountain in its center, a fountain that, it was said, was rushed around the “Horn (Cape Horn in southern Argentina)” in a clipper ship. The mirror room was my favorite.
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Plopped into one of the five, mirrored walls was a door leading into the back end of “Bookshop Santa Cruz.” What more could one ask for; a huge, well provisioned deli counter that served espresso, a rock and roll stage, as much beer as you could drink, a fun house full of mystical mirrors with a magical doorway to take you into an intellectual Alice’s Wonderland? Here was everything a non-sports guy could ever want. All this without leaving the one, single establishment, the Catalyst. Why shouldn’t such an eclectic place not foster lots of great music (and a lot of other stuff)?
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There existed an even more eclectic and less known musical outpost than the Catalyst on the Santa Cruz “Main Street,” be introduced to the “Chateau Liberte.”
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The “Chateau” as we simply called it, had a long, dirt drive that started near the top of Old Santa Cruz Highway and ran down to an old style “lodge” with several out buildings and a unique swimming pool. It was on the wall of a canyon, deep in the redwood forest.
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My first experience at the Chateau was when I was a young hippy living in the Zayante neighborhood of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Some older friends had been hired them to do some repairs and they took me along with them to further my indoctrination into the hip lifestyle well entrenched in these mountains. In the shade of the thick redwood, the main building just seemed to be an old, big log cabin to me. Inside, it was much bigger than I expected. It had a big main room with a stage at one end and on the other end was an open counter from which you could see a fairly complete commercial kitchen. The place was greatly rundown, but it was comfy, the edges worn off, the floors had absolutely no finish on them. I loved the place. But this was daytime. It was a lovely place, comfortable and kickback. When the work was done, we parked ourselves on a back deck and drank lazy beer as the sun set in the redwood at our backs.
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Over the next few years, I visited the Chateau many times for concerts you only heard about from friends or on the street. I don’t ever remembering seeing a poster for any concert up there. Not to say there weren’t posters for these gigs but I don’t remembering seeing any. I always heard about them by word of mouth, which seemed to be good enough because the place was always filled to overflowing. In fact, now that I think about it, there was one Friday night when I was waiting tables at Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant and I was in the middle of a huge rush; people waiting for tables were lined up out into the street. All of the employees were frantically busy that night. There was this one waitress at Manuel’s who was older and took care that I didn’t get running with the wrong crowds, the dopers. On this ultra busy Friday, she was off that night, but out of nowhere, she shows up and fights her way to my section. She comes up and takes my order book from me and has to scream at me that Hot Tuna (an alter ego of the Jefferson Airplane) was playing a gig up at the Chateau that night. She was taking over my shift so I could make it to the mountain top club. I was so grateful for her intervention and off I went. I’d never seen a poster for that show, either. Obviously, I got hooked up with the groovy hips, not the slime balls.
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If you were any sort of regular at the Chateau, there was one thing you just never thought about, parking. The early people would park on the side of the long, narrow, twisting drive. The middle people would start parking in the middle of the narrow drive right at the main building and then the next guy would simply park behind the first guy. So on and so forth until the little dirt drive was filled with two rows of parked cars all the way up to the Old Highway. The next comers would simply park up and down the highway itself and hike in to the club, in the dark. But, those guys were the first to drive away from the show. The little dirt road was often clogged up until sunrise.
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Personally, I saw the Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, Juice Newton and many more I’m not sure of at Chateau Liberte. However, many more memorable bands played there that I missed, most notably, the Doobie Brothers. I’ve googled on the Chateau and read a lot of good stories about the place. For me, it was all about the music and afterwards, the long walks in the cool, clear mountain air with your ears ringing and your heart still keeping time with the music.

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(I guess there were some posters . . .)

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