Although some might not believe it because it does not appear in any official Grateful Dead chronologies, the famous Bay Area band played at Ladera School for the Ladera Christmas Dance on the night of December 17, 1966. We have neighbors’ recollections and newspaper accounts to prove that the event was a wildly successful evening.
Barbara Rusmore, formerly of Ladera, recalls being involved in preparations with the neighborhood art group. The team created window covers from long rolls of newsprint and dye, with a wax resist (sort of a one-time glass window effect) that appear in the photo printed in the Country Almanac. She also recalled police providing security, very loud music and a dancing but orderly crowd.
Ann Wilsack, another former Laderan, recalls, “Yeah, I brag about helping to organize a Grateful Dead Dance when I was in high school. The Ladera Community had put on a lot of dances for the teenagers and had actually made money on them. Someone found out that the Grateful Dead would do a dance for $2,000. We had money in the coffers and decided to spring for it. I may have been the one making arrangements with their manager, which is probably why I found myself in a circle hanging out with the Dead and their manager. Months after the dance, we hadn’t had another dance. My mom said that it was predictable, that after the blowout with the Grateful Dead, we wouldn’t go back to the local bands.”
The $2,000.00 that the teenagers had raised to pay the band was a significant amount, equivalent to $15,000.00 today.
Before becoming a San Francisco institution and gaining worldwide fame, the band’s local connections include their first gig at long-gone Magoo’s Pizza Parlor located on Santa Cruz Avenue (where Harvest is now). Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir taught guitar lessons at Guitars Unlimited (formerly Su Hong) and borrowed all of the equipment for their shows from the store.
The band members and some followers lived on Perry Lane and Santa Cruz Avenue in the early ‘60s; Bob Weir even attended Menlo-Atherton High School for a time. Local connections are numerous but this show in the Ladera School’s multipurpose room is of special significance to the Deadheads living amongst us.
Countless magical events have occurred in Ladera over the last 70 years but few have included a band that went on to become one of the greatest of all time, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and whose musical legacy continues in many incarnations to this day.
This article originally appeared in the Ladera Crier; used with permission