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Up until the mid-1960s, Virginia City, NV was probably most culturally famous as the site of the Ponderosa on TV's "Bonanza." That all changed in 1965, when the Red Dog Saloon opened its doors and bands such as The Charlatans and Big Brother and the Holding Company began to experiment with their music in a live setting, with a backdrop of swirling colored lights; a gestational environment that would usher in the San Francisco psychedelic ballroom era shortly thereafter. "Rockin' at the Red Dog" is a fine documentary from 1996 that explores those heady times. Filmmaker Mary Works, who was employed at the Red Dog way back when, has here managed to interview many of the club's original founders, hired help, hangers-on and, of course, on-stage talent. And while it would have been too much to expect actual video footage of The Charlatans, The PH Phactor Jug Band, The Wildflower, The Final Solution and other seminal Red Dog bands caught in the act, we DO get to see a Charlatans rehearsal from 1965, as well as assorted footage of those other groups. The film even manages to provide some rare audio of Quicksilver's John Cipollina during an interview, and show some pre-Janis footage of Big Brother in concert. The film, in its final half hour, kinda veers off its central subject to cover the early S.F. ballroom scene, but since I'm a sucker for anything smacking of this era, I didn't mind a bit...especially when luminaries such as Peter Albin and Dave Getz (from Big Brother) and Family Dog cofounder/poster artist Anton Kelly are the ones dishing out the dirt! This documentary is a cogent reminder that although summer 2007 marks the 40th anniversary of the so-called "Summer of Love," the years 1965 and 1966 were when all the real fun was going down, and that the Red Dog Saloon was in large part responsible for getting the ball rolling. A worthwhile film.
Rockin' at the Red Dog recounts the mid-1960s performances and antics of a bunch of kids with long hair and thrift store chic who were hired to perform at a saloon in a Nevada mining town, including the Charlatans, Dan Hicks, Big Brother & the Holding Company (pre-Janis), and Quicksilver Messenger Service. After opening with a short clip of a 1964 Charlatans rehearsal, the film interviews dozens of musicians who played in these bands, as well as the Great Society, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead; and others, like poster artist and co-founder of the Family Dog production company Alton Kelly; as they recount the scene in both San Francisco and at the Red Dog. As well as financing the film, scores of people contributed photographs and film and audio clips to the project, so it's a real archive of obscure material in addition to the narratives, and the director spends about half an hour covering the early San Francisco ballroom concert/dance scene. One absolutely creepy part, for me, though, is where the bar owner runs short on cash, so pays the musicians with guns . . . several times. Guns. Hippies with guns. Hippie musicians with guns. Hippies musicians on drugs with guns. Yikes. But, of course, the hippie scene was what it was, nothing more and nothing less. Not making sense was nothing new.
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