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Where the Deed Was Done

05/24/2010

We all know San Francisco to be the birthplace of 1960’s hippie culture and psychedelic music. But, have you ever stopped to ask yourself, where did the mothers and fathers of this movement get it on 9 months earlier? Probably not. Because that would be weird. The question certainly never crossed my mind until I watched the documentary, Rockin’ at the Red Dog. According to this 1998 film, the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada is where the counterculture deed was done…

The Red Dog Saloon

In 1965, San Francisco dwellers Chandler Loughlin and Mark Unobsky, and friend Don Works acquired an old hotel in Virgnia City with the hopes of creating a live music venue with good food that yielded a profit. That way, their parents would get off their backs and they could still enjoy a marijuana-hazed, peyote-enriched lifestyle. Not a bad idea. Loughlin had experience running folk music coffee houses, Unobsky’s parents forked up the cash for the building, and Works was already living in Nevada. All they needed was the entertainment. Not having a plethora of musicians in town to choose from, the gang turned to San Francisco to recruit talent. Enter: The Charlatans.

Hailing from the same streets as the Grateful Dead, The Charlatans were virtually unknown and had yet to be established as a ‘real’ rock band. With the good word of manager Phil Hammond and a whopping $35, The Charlatans were headed to Virgnia City where they would audition for the Red Dog Saloon. Their psychedelic rock was unlike anything anyone had ever heard and their confident, 1800’s inspired style won over Loughlin and the rest of the Red Dog crew. By June of 1965, The Charlatans would play their first gig at the opening night of the Red Dog Saloon. And at the end of that successful, mind bending, rock and roll, acid-filled summer at Red Dog, the party would move to the streets of San Francisco.

Poster for The Charlatans' summer of 1965 performance at Red Dog Saloon. This is said to be the first psychedelic-inspired poster that would become the face of bands like the Grateful Dead.

By Fall the Family Dog, a group of promoters born from the saloon, migrated to San Francisco where they hosted mass dance parties with psychedelic music from the likes of Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother Holding Company, The Charlatans, and so on. Suddenly, hippies were coming out of the woodwork.

“Everybody danced. I mean everybody… Everybody really danced their butt’s off.” (Family Dog founder Alton Kelley)

The scene was set, all the elements were at play, and the fervor that had been boiling under the surface was ready to explode. There was no turning back. Not that anyone wanted to. For the next two summers the Red Dog Saloon would continue to spread the hippie bug, but by this point San Francisco had already laid claim as the birthplace to the 1960’s hippie lovechild. Small town Virginia City couldn’t compete and the Red Dog Saloon closed down in 1968 (only to reopen twice, most recently in 2009).

As much as I love the story of the Red Dog Saloon, I can’t help but wonder how many other small towns across the country had their own summers of love. We see this all the time. One person or town or venue laying claim to being the first to introduce so and so or the whatchamacallit. Does it really matter? Things were changing. People were changing. The world was changing. Where the change was conceived, gestated, born, raised, or whatever other personified life event you can muster becomes entirely unimportant. What’s important, and much more interesting to me, is that something big was happening all across the country and at the same time. And whether you were a small farmer in Alabama, an executive in New York City, or a nine-fingered musician in San Francisco, you could be a part of it. And with the technology of 2010, you can certainly be a part of it. Start by commenting below or emailing me at becomingdead1@gmail.com

“Sunshine daydream
Walking in the tall trees
Going where the wind goes
Bloomin’, bloomin’ like a red rose”

Sunshine Daydream

Resources and Links

The Red Dog Saloon Official Site

Reno News Article

Watch the Documentary Online Now

Um, Peyote is Legal?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 05/26/2010 3:59 am

    Interesting history on the Red Dog–I had not heard of it before.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    06/20/2012 9:04 pm

    thrilled that i stumbled upon this site,been here 30 mins and ive already checked out three really good stories as well as learned something new .which is a great thing .learn somethin’ every day.great story man

    • 06/21/2012 2:03 am

      I’m glad you stumbled upon the site, too! If you’ve learned something, that’s great. I’m all about sharing knowledge :) Hope you enjoy the site and be sure to check out the new site (Grateful Dead inspired, but includes everything else from my heart + brain): http://www.MoveMeBrightly.com.

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