Better Red Dog than dead

This past weekend, June 20/21 was quite the time in Virginia City. No, it wasn’t a celebration of camels, tasty testicles, or Mark Twain, but a proper look back at Nevada’s very real connection to the Psychedelic Revolution that bloomed in San Francisco in those oh-so-heady ’60s.

In the summer of '65, a scene sparked up in V.C. that would plant some wondrous seeds, seeds that would germinate and take hold in S.F. that fall and go on to play a major role in the utopian experiment in alternative lifestyle that would center at the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets.

The much ballyhooed Summer of Love took its first steps in that Summer of '65 on the Comstock, when three creative rascals—Don Works, Mark Unobsky, and Chandler Laughlin, a.k.a. Travus T. Hipp—were motivated to open their own saloon/dance hall/party joint, which they named the Red Dog. The band they hired to kick things off in late June was a quintet of San Francisco cool cats named The Charlatans, who ended up staying till the end of August. Those nights with the band ended up being (1) way fun, (2) highly spirited, and (3) going way past 2 a.m. This was mainly because the LSD being gobbled by the patrons was dazzling, powerful and long-lasting. Walls were moving. So were minds. And the seeds planted during those swingin' shindigs on C Street in July of '65 inspired a band of enthusiastic Red Dog regulars to become The Family Dog in San Francisco. The Dog to Dog connection was palpable, based on the common pursuit of ecstatic dance fueled by this remarkable new drug that seemed to lend itself to—well, whatever it was, it was kinda slippery and seriously upending. All kinds of hysterical history proceeded to proceed.

This past weekend was remarkable in that the four surviving Charlatans—George Hunter, Dan Hicks, Michael Wilhelm and Richard Olsen—returned to V.C. for a weekend of nostalgic and appropriate commemoration. Saturday was the concert at Piper's Opera House, Sunday the party at the still rockin' Red Dog. Some of the guys are ailing—Wilhelm was on stage in a wheelchair, and Hicks has been dealing with various cancers. But god bless 'em, they got together, they rehearsed, and they made some seriously cool and unique music. At the Red Dog on Sunday night, I was very pleasantly surprised by the sounds goin' down.

Mention must be made of the great Bill Ham, the father of the psychedelic light show, who also began making his name at the Red Dog 50 years ago. He came back for the weekend, too, and the lights were outta sight. It was thoroughly terrific he was there, his art being such an important part of that then new raving experience.

If you want to know more, (1) visit the Red Dog, and (2) get Mary Works' essential video called Rockin' at the Red Dog. Amazon has it.