A rock & roll oasis just off Highway 101 in Novato, Rancho Olompali was where the Grateful Dead, the Diggers, the Angels, the Black Panthers and the San Francisco music scene went to dance after a head-banging week in the city. The Grateful Dead were each paid twenty-five dollars a week in those days and gigged wherever they could, often five days a week. An incredible freedom cruised through each day like a tide. The Jefferson Airplane, It’s a Beautiful Day, Country Joe & the Fish, The Sons of Champlin, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Charlatans, Big Brother & the Holding Company …
Weekend free-form celebrations of whatever anyone wished to celebrate, beginning in party clothes at the main house, ending naked in the sunshine by the pool. In addition to the Harley-scaled acreage, a huge outdoor oven cranked non-stop. It was the Diggers baking their daily bread to give away later in the park. As each participant got coated with flour, ghostly apparitions would leap from the oven to the pool, long hair flying in the wind. It was an easy scene for music and lovers, bands interwove and produced moments that were as high as they get.
The Dead used to have some pretty good parties out at their place in the country, in Olompali. Two or three hundred people would come, and of course, most of them probably took LSD. This was around the time that a lot of new ground was being broken socially, and it seemed like a third to a half of the people at these parties would be naked, hanging around the pool. It was a great place. It was a sort of ranch estate that had a nice big house that looked kind of like Tara in Gone With the Wind. Then there was a lot of land around it — hills, a creek in the back, a big lawn and the pool. It was maybe I000 feet off the highway, so it was fairly secluded. In between the house and the pool the Dead would set up their equipment and play from time to time during the day.
Usually there’d be members of other bands there, too, like the Airplane and Quicksilver, and there’d be little jams with people who wanted to play. I remember that the Dead would be playing and Neal Cassady would be doing this strange little dance – it was almost like breakdancing; very fluid. Out on the lawn there was this very far-out configuration of plumbing that was once part of a sprinkler system or something. It stuck out of the ground and stood maybe five feet high. I couldn’t figure out what the hell it was for. It was just a mess of pipes with faucets coming out of it that had been modified over the years. Very strange. So the Dead would be playing, and Neal would be dancing on the lawn with this bizarre metal partner. He’d dance around it, with it, really. He had some pretty good moves, too. Neal was always in the thick of things.
Those parties – I’m not sure how many of them there were – were always on a nice aftemoon. Everybody would play all day in the sunshine just doing everything – and then when the sun would start to go down and it got cold, people would pack it in. By the time it was dark most people were gone, but there were always enough people who were either around to begin with or who wanted to stay, so that the party would continue inside. In fact, with the number of people hanging out there all the time, it was pretty much a party all the time anyway. I don’t know if it was 24 hours a day, but every time I was there it was going. – George Hunter (The Golden Road)
One of the rare photos of Chet Helms without his glasses, since he was in the pool. Chet was the other big rock music promoter in SF and also managed Big Brother and the Holding Company for a while. He and Janis Joplin hitchhiked from Texas to join the scene in SF.
George Hunter, on the left, a member of The Charlatans and a gifted artist who designed some of the early posters
Pigpen in his car
Jerry and Mountain Girl canoodling on the lawn at Olompali.
Photos: All – Herb Greene