The sixties and seventies epitomized a City/River Rock ‘n’ Roll hookup. Several bands lived within a six-block radius of each other in the Haight Ashbury District of San Francisco during the Summer of Love (1967). In fact, there were over 500 musical groups in the City at the time, many of them playing at the Avalon Ballroom, the Fillmore Auditorium, Winterland, and the Straight Theater. That same year, the Monterey Pop Festival helped to catapulted at least four northern California ensembles to stardom. The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service all vaulted to the top of the psychedelic acid heap, soon venturing north to the Russian River to showcase their infusion of Indian, jazz, folk and blues.
The Rio Nido Dance Hall and the River Theater in Guerneville were but a few of the venues where these musicians strutted their stuff in Sonoma County. (more…)
Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead played at Rio Nido along the Russian River on September 3, 1967. At the time that was not a long commute for the boys as they owned an eighteen acre commune in Forestville’s Pocket Canyon off of Giovanetti Road. The only glitch was that one of their trailers hit the old road sign upon entering the hamlet and knocked it down, but it has been resurrected for all to admire once again. (more…)
Dick Crest was the pied piper along the banks of the Russian River for 10 summers. Not only did he conduct the Bohemian Club’s Jinx Band, but he also was the resident musician at Rio Nido. During the school year, he taught at James Lick High School in San Jose and later at the College of San Mateo. In addition, he hosted two teen TV shows–“Pepsi Party” on KNTV in San Jose followed by “Rock ‘n’ Rally” on KPIX in San Francisco.
He will best be remembered by all you River Rats for those sweet, pure sounds of yesteryear. I know that the “Sheik of Araby” was covered by the Beatles in 1962, but the tune for many belongs in the dance hall at Rio Nido. You could make the same case for “Show Me the Way to Go Home” and other songs that trumpeted a care-free attitude long gone.
Some River Rats are still in possession of their membership cards with Rivasimacale printed at the top. Of course, you were required not only to carry this I.D. with you twenty-four-seven, but you had to show your large green toenail as well. (more…)
There were Big Bands galore up at the Russian River back in the day. The first was Art Hickman of the Ziegfeld Follies who played at the Palomar Dance Hall on Fitch Mountain in Healdsburg in 1913. But you had other venue choices including the beach ballroom at Mirabel (where Burke’s Canoes is presently), Rio Nido, the Grove in Guerneville, Guernewood Park and Monte Rio. You could listen to the sweet sounds of Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Phil Harris, Buddy Rogers, Ted FioRito, Kay Kayser or perhaps Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiians. The last musical group of this era to play in Rio Nido was Tex Benecke’s Glenn Miller Band in summer of ’53. One of the more popular Big Bands was the Ozzie Nelson Orchestra. (more…)
Rio Nido and the Big Bands of the thirties had a beautiful relationship along the Russian River in west Sonoma County. In a conversation with Claire Harris in 2007 while drafting my first novel, Memories That Linger, he shared with me his excitement as such greats as Harry James (upper right photo) visited the small hamlet. After watching a preview of the band at the amphitheater (upper left photo), you could buy a ticket (75 cents on weekends, 50 cents on a weeknight, or $1.25 for the entire week) and go next door to the dance hall. (more…)
The Rio Nido Lodge along the Russian River in rural Sonoma County is over one hundred years old and has been with us since the railroad days. One way to get to Rio Nido was by flatboat from San Francisco’s Embarcadero and up the Petaluma River. The S.F. & North Coast Line would take you from the train depot at Donahue’s Landing (known today as Gilardi’s Marina near the old Papa’s Taverna restaurant on Lakeville Highway) to the junction at Fulton and River Roads. From there the Northwestern Pacific Railroad would deliver you to your vacation hideaway along the Russian River.
Claire Harris (who operated Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville for 48 years until 2015) remembers that the Friday night trains were crammed with tourists. Those who came by car traveled by way of Forestville and Pocket Canyon, across the Guerneville Bridge and headed east on a narrow dirt road beside the tracks. (more…)
The Russian River in rural Sonoma County was THE vacation spot for us City kids. Only seventy miles from San Francisco, the area provided a sunny haven from those fog-bitten summers. It felt like the entire world was a cookie jar, and you never got caught. One adventure after another waited for us. Trolling for chicks along the banks was a favorite hobby. God forbid that one of the girls should test our bravado and say hello. What then? But for the unseasoned “cruiser”, the Russian River was the perfect place to hone your skills. Trial by fire (the fire being the unrelenting punishment by God in the form of eternal guilt).
During the summer of 1953, I remember Harry James and His Music Makers were playing for the last time at Rio Nido. The Big Band sound was not my thing. Even as an eight-year-old, singers like Roy Orbison and Bill Haley rocked my world with their sinful music. But Harry James’s jazzy style would provide the background music for my first kiss. It was behind the four-lane outdoor bowling alley. Of course, I had to bring witnesses. I brought three for insurance. Francis was her name. It was a delightful kiss done with the utmost propriety. Damn. Years later, my friends would tease me, saying I had kissed Francis the Talking Mule (named after an old-time movie). Poor Francis. She deserved better. (more…)
Rio Nido along the Russian River was my favorite getaway as a kid growing up in San Francisco. Living atop Market Street below Mount Davidson, I would bundle up against the biting fog of summer. It wasn’t until my family made their first journey north thru the Rainbow Tunnel that I knew sun existed during the month of July. It was then that I began to appreciate Mark Twain’s famous quote: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
Rio Nido was a special place, not just for the warmth, but for so much more. As I rode my bike up and down the redwood canyons, adventure waited around every turn. There were pretty girls and live music and dance halls. Ah, be still my heart. Other pleasures could be indulged as well by venturing into the pinball arcade, outdoor bowling alley, soda fountain or the bingo parlor. My mom would play cards with the ladies in the lounge at the Rio Nido Hotel while my dad took me and my sisters down to the beach. We crossed under the busy River Road via a tunnel, down a steep path to a pedestrian bridge that would take us to a boardwalk and several concession stands where you could buy anything from a Mabs one-piece bathing suit to a cherry snow-cone.
If further excitement was needed, I would board the River Queen and go downstream to Johnson’s Beach and more pretty girls. For more tales of these innocent times, try reading a good book. May I suggest Memories That Linger and Stumptown Daze. Until next time, cheers!
The River Queen ferried passengers between Johnson’s Beach and Rio Nido, a distance of more than one mile. I have used this scene in a couple of my historical fiction novels–Memories That Linger and Stumptown Daze–remembering those childhood adventures that often got us into a lot of trouble. But in reality, the banks of the lower reaches of the Russian River near Guerneville in rural Sonoma County were relatively safe in those days, at least in the fifties.
My father would drop my mother, two sisters and myself off for the entire summer while he visited on the weekends from his job in San Francisco. Relatives and friends would join us for the wholesome fun that this vacation wonderland had to offer. The feeling of freedom was welcomed with open arms by kids of all ages. We rode our bicycles through the redwood canyons until supper time after which we would listen to a live band at one of the five local dance halls. The times began to change with the introduction of 1960 and the radical changes of the protest movement. Charles Manson, LSD, cabin squatters, and rage invaded the area, leaving a legacy of torment and confusion. But we always had the River Queen.