Nine Hours of Peace, Love and Sports: Dylan, Brando and Co. Work for Snack

Stars raise funds for San Francisco schools

Neil Young and Bob Dylan perform at Bill Graham's SNACK Benefit (Students Need Athletics, Culture and Kicks) at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California on March 23, 1975. Credit: Richard McCaffrey/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

San Francisco — For only five dollars you got to see the Doobie Brothers, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship, Santana, Tower of Power, Eddie Palmieri, Joan Baez and Graham Central Station, plus Neil Young with three members of the Band. So nearly 60,000 people came and were treated, on top of all that, to surprise appearances by Marlon Brando and Bob Dylan.

It was San Francisco's musical event of the season. It was a personal triumph for promoter Bill Graham. And, almost parenthetically, Snack Sunday was the largest rock benefit concert ever, half again larger than the Concert for Bangladesh.

It seemed an unlikely charity for rockers to support: a school extracurricular sports program. Snack — an acronym for Students Need Athletics, Culture and Kicks — was organized to help out the San Francisco city school system, which, in a move that was a local outrage, had dropped intramural sports and other after-hours activities to cope with a budget shortage of $3 million. Graham conceived the idea of a benefit concert after reading a February 4th newspaper story while flying to Los Angeles; by the time of a February 19th press conference, he'd signed Starship, Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, Joan Baez, Tower of Power and Graham Central Station.

Refuting cynical explanations that he was eyeing largely unused Kezar Stadium for future rock shows, Graham, a one-time high-school basketball player who still participates in staff games, said that he'd planned Snack because, "We make our living from the youth of San Francisco. This is one way we hope to thank them." For two weeks, his crew braved periodic downpours to reconstruct the stage and sound system—featuring eight Moloch-sized (six by ten feet at the mouth, with horns 14 feet deep) speakers—which had been used during last year's CSN&Y tour. Then, the day before the concert, area newspapers announced that the school board had "found"—by a change of accounting practices—$2.1 million, which would wipe out most of the shortage. But an angry Graham decided to go ahead as planned, and on March 23rd neither rain nor scandal dampened the Snack spirit. It was almost as if the gods of rock & roll had decided to smile on the event for being so nearly a 1967 sort of thing. Kezar Stadium is almost in the Haight-Ashbury and adjoins Golden Gate Park, site of previous solstice and equinox celebrations.

For an outdoor rock concert, it was a miracle of split-second timing. As Graham put it to radio station K-101, "We told the Grateful Dead they had 30 minutes, and they held themselves down to 40." The stadium gates opened promptly at 6 a.m., giving early birds—most of them drawn from the estimated seven to ten thousand who had camped out all night on the stadium lawn or in Golden Gate Park — first shot at the soft turf seats of the playing field. Later arrivals filled the bleachers.

At 9:01 the first set began, the New York Latin sounds of Eddie Palmieri. A last-minute addition not listed on the program, Palmieri in effect substituted for two scheduled acts that weren't there: Mimi Fariña and the Miracles. Fariña's listing had been due to a misunderstanding, while the Miracles—the only band without Bay Area roots, invited to give representation to soul music—dropped out because of impossible plane connections. Palmieri filled in gamely, despite the handicap of a missing brass section, and the show went on, rescheduled for nine acts in nine hours—a deadline it made with an error of only three minutes.

Outside, the predominantly high-school crowds kept converging on foot—there was no parking to be had within ten blocks and 308 misparked cars were towed during the course of the day—from every direction, with knapsacks, sleeping bags, blankets and picnic hampers. Around the stadium itself small knots of people tried to beg tickets, or even buy them with dope. Actually, Graham had reserved 2500 tickets for sales that morning as a safety valve and had little regret that 1000 went unsold at the gate. Some of the ticket beggars may have gone home to listen to the show on the radio, or joined the estimated five- to ten-thousand people who listened outside the stadium, in the streets or on neighborhood rooftops.

As the Palmieri set ended, Larry Graham rolled up backstage in one of the white golf carts reserved for transporting the stars, motoring past the assemblage of dressing-room and office trailers, chemical toilets and striped circus pavilions set up as a rest stop for performers, press and friends of Bill Graham's people. The direct route backstage from outside the stadium was through an ordinary tunnel underpass—ordinary except that it was lit with strands of twinkling clear-white Christmas tree lights. Larry Graham emerged from that spaceoid environment appropriately clad in tinfoil and denim with a 30-band transoceanic radio in his lap.

On the stage, the worker ants of Graham Central Station's equipment movers and the seven quippies from Bill Graham's FM Productions were adjusting two dozen mikes and switching equipment around according to meticulous plan — in the case of amps and drum risers, wheeling them rapidly on custom-made dollies. Out in the crowd, there was a shower of frisbees as the first "Guest Celebrity," the Reverend Cecil Williams of San Francisco's radical Glide Memorial Church, sounded a quick note of brotherhood.

Then Larry Graham addressed the crowd. "It's good to be here this evening!" he said, perhaps a little shell-shocked from the club circuit. He soon had them wriggling around with Sly-styled partying numbers such as "Release Yourself." Those close to the stage also marveled at the group's rock & roll costume, from Graham's tinfoil suit to the synthesizer player's clockwork orange outfit, with silver platforms and a rhinestone-banded black bowler.

The sun was up bright and clear and it was turning into a beautiful day. The signs over the stadium doors expressly warned "No Alcoholic Beverages," but with a crowd of close to 60,000, mostly carrying bags or hampers, it was out of the question for Graham's security to make it stick. There seemed to be beer, wine and tequila everywhere. Even the roadies had bottles and flasks stashed behind the amps. Fortunately, though the infirmary reported numerous alcohol overdoses, there were scarcely any injuries from thrown bottles. On the whole, the infirmary staff of 75 reported medical problems to be below average for a crowd of this size.

The next group was billed as Jerry Garcia & Friends, but turned out to be a full-scale reunion of the recessed Grateful Dead, plus Garcia friend Merl Saunders on organ and Phil Lesh's recording partner Ned Lagin. Before they came on, though, Bill Graham introduced three more guest celebrities, former San Francisco 49er football stars Cedric Hardman, Bob St. Clair and Frankie Albert. All three uneasily observed that they'd never seen Kezar so full during their playing days, and the gist of their speeches was, "I won't take up much of your time, enjoy yourselves." They seemed to sense that the hungry breathing of the Boogie Monster had driven sports into the shadows. After speaking, the athletes were available to the public for autographs and conversation on a small stage adjoining the main one. But like the "hourglass," a clear plastic structure meant to hold donations on the same platform, the athletes' stage was largely ignored. (A few hundred dollars were collected, but as Graham later pointed out, the school board's last-minute discovery of $2.1 million may have sabotaged the potential charitable spirit of the day. The hourglass itself was built to hold an expected $25-30,000, but with diminished expectations, only the bottom half was even brought up onstage.)

The reunited Dead came on to enthusiastic cheers. Their set was entirely taken up with "Space Age," a long, noodling space shuffle written for the event. But their encore, "Johnny B. Goode," had people pouring down the aisles from the grandstands to the stadium floor. The playing field was by now divided into two ecological zones: the vast center, where people were flaked out on their blankets and which was still grass, and the periphery, which in the aftermath of the week's rain and its use as a pathway, was a ring of mud.

The day had begun to fall into a pattern. During sets there was dancing in place and a slowed down flow of people in the crowded mud zone; between sets there was enough smoking and drinking to make a gym coach weep. As time went on, the athletes left their platform and wandered around backstage, where Graham had set up a basketball/volleyball court for the musicians and their friends. (Out front, among the students in need of athletics, culture and kicks, the only sports to be observed were frisbee tossing, ass grabbing and bottle lifting.)

Tower of Power was the next act up after the Dead, around noon. They gave their new lead singer, Hubert Tubbs, a workout and his strutting, vigorous delivery drew cheers during "Down to the Nightclub," "Sparkling in the Sand" and "You're the Most." Following them came Santana, with Carlos Santana — very popular as a home-town boy with the city's Mission District Latinos — wearing a knee-length white sweater trimmed in blue, with a photo of guru Sri Chinmoy pinned at his throat. Santana treated the crowd to a set of new, unreleased material, then encored with their oldie "Black Magic Woman." During the Santana set the first and most organized attempt to crash the concert by scaling the 70-foot east wall of the stadium was mounted—only to run into the implacable resistance of Graham's security.

After warm greetings for baseball legend Willie Mays and footballer Gene Washington, the Doobie Brothers, riding "Black Water" 's month in the Top Ten, won the crowd. With ex-Steely Dan guitarist Jeff Baxter now a full-time member they turned in a tight, attractive set of singles, including "Jesus Is Just Alright," "Long Train Runnin'," Kim Weston's "Take Me in Your Arms" (from their new Stampede album) and their encore, "China Grove." Then came a long wait—which seemed longer because of a chilly breeze that had sprung up around 2:30—between the Doobies and Jefferson Starship. Starship bassist Peter Sears had gotten hung up in traffic and there was nothing to be done about it. "I can't believe it!" Graham was shouting backstage. "Such a beautiful day. I knew something terrible was going to happen!" He had reason to be tearing his hair: Out front, the crowd was getting restless. Shouting and shoving broke out in spots, and there were fist fights. There was no serious violence during the day—the phrase, "There's no room to be uptight, man," had a terrible precision in the mud zone—but the Boogie Monster was hungry.

Graham was ready to send Joan Baez on in place of the Starship—the one last-minute substitution that was at all possible, since the only equipment she needed moved onstage was one acoustic guitar. "Five more minutes!" Graham could be heard shouting throughout the backstage area. "Or the band goes on without him or not at all!" The minutes ticked by, thick with tension and punctuated by the impatient sounds of the crowd. Then, suddenly, with seconds to spare, Sears appeared and walked meekly up the stairway to the stage, and the Starship was immediately on.

They opened with "Ride the Tiger" from Dragon Fly, with Grace Slick an austere figure dressed completely in black, then played five new numbers: "Sweeter than Honey," "Fastbuck Freddie," "Gitfiddler" (featuring Papa John Creach's stinging rock & roll fiddle), "Another World" and "Play on Love." They ended with "Somebody to Love," encored with "Volunteers." All afternoon there had been rumors of a surprise guest—the one who would turn out to be Dylan. Radio station K-101 had even been promising one over the air, identified only as "the Man from the Fairmont [Hotel]," but after the Airplane set Graham came onstage and introduced a visitor who genuinely surprised everybody: "Ladies and gentlemen, a man who needs no introduction—Mr. Marlon Brando!" Gone a little to paunch, with thinning hair and a neatly trimmed pepper-and-salt beard, Brando made his first contact with the rock/youth culture a truly dramatic one, both for the rockers and for himself. He seemed as impressed as the athletes were with the size of the audience — filling the stadium like a vast carpet unrolling from stage front to the top of the stands—and he spoke in a voice that occasionally dropped into the tones of Vito Corleone but more often reached out unexpectedly passionate, even desperate for communication with this crowd.

"Nobody in history has witnessed an occasion like this. [Cheers] All these brothers up here — blacks, Chicanos, whites, Indians—people! [More cheers] All the brothers out there—that's you—make this possible. They make this spirit possible. If it's not for you and it's not for them, and it's not for all of us...it's not gonna happen. [Applause] "We came here today because some people needed some sports equipment. Some people came to hear the sound. [Long, thunderous applause] But there's another sound, another sound that we have to listen to—because if we don't listen to it, we're not gonna get it together. It's not my generation—I'm doin' five-oh right now—but your generation's gonna catch the shit that my generation and the people before me have laid down for you. And somehow we gotta keep the world together.

"Now the school system suddenly found a bunch of million dollars, but they didn't need the dough. So the brothers up here have decided we're gonna split the money. Now, there are plenty of people that are hurting. The poor people—the white people, the blacks, the Chicanos, everybody that's been ripped off. This money is gonna go to [drowned out by applause]. If you've got a penny, if you've got a nickel, if you've got an old hat you don't need...there are a lotta people throwin' frisbees around—get one, save it—make a contribution of somethin'!

"I'm gonna give 5000 bucks to the show [applause], but that's not gonna help us—we gotta give and give and give and give—we gotta give of our feelings. If we haven't got anything but our feelings, let's give that, 'cause that counts more than every...fuckin' piece of money in the world!"

He came off the stage almost dazed from the experience. As he told Bill Graham, "They weren't extras!" In the excitement of the moment his plea for donations—for the Indians, Graham said later—was dealt with only in a small way, but four or five hundred dollars are said to have been collected. Also, in the excitement of the moment, he had uttered a forbidden word—"fuckin'"—to the consternation of K-101, which had to apologize to its listeners and to the FCC after an afternoon of successfully deleting expletives from its taped musician interviews.

To explain his appearance at the concert—the invitation from Graham came during a 3 a.m. phone call early Friday morning—Brando said, "I have five kids. The youngest is five and that kid is going to inherit what my generation has done." He went so far as to suggest the same motivation for Bob Dylan's participation.

It was hard to imagine what the energy pattern of the afternoon would have been like if the Starship hadn't gone on as scheduled. As it turned out, Joan Baez was the act to follow Brando's speech. It was perhaps too much to expect one acoustic guitar and a bell-like voice to sustain the level of seven heavy bands and Marlon Brando—the amazing thing is that she was heard at all. She sang "All My Trials," "Hard Rain" and "Help Me Make It through the Night," and the Boogie Monster allowed itself to be cuddled and lullabied. But try as she might, she could get no more than whisper of a sing-along going on "I [or as she sang it, We] Shall Be Released," "Joe Hill" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

Now began the long wait. The last act of the day, the one perhaps most of the crowd had come for. Graham had ruefully admitted that the Doobies and Neil Young—rather than sports, as he would have wished—were the big factor in Snack ticket sales. By now many of the crowd may have figured that the "Surprise Guest" had already been on and were settling themselves for a set of "Cinnamon Girl" and "Heart of Gold." But they were in for another unexpected treat: "The Man from the Fairmont" was already stalking the backstage area. As usual, Bob Dylan was drawing stares even from his fellow musicians, and after a long swing among the picnic tables and the generously stocked barbecue tent, he returned to the privacy of a tuning trailer, an aisle forming for him as he went. He had come along with the group that had assembled for this concert when Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, who have played with Neil Young on record (though never before onstage), got Young to take up Graham's invitation to play for Snack. This request had come through Larry Samuels, the factotum for this group of musicians. While Danko and Helm are sports minded, Samuels also credited the Brando theory—that the musicians, like Brando, were ready to appear because at this point in their lives they are parents with stakes in their children's futures.

There was a 20-minute delay, and the backstage was unusually silent. Then the band trooped out of the trailer, Dylan looking positively leonine in tan Levi's jacket and pants and beige shirt, with a great mane of hair and an energetic, pantherlike manner. Neil Young, by contrast, had partially submerged his personality in the spirit of the day, prominently wearing an RCO T-shirt. There was a rush of backstagers to the stairway the instant the stars finished climbing it but a protective Bill Graham granted passage only to musicians, roadies and the press while keeping the rest of the club down on the grass.

Amazingly, the crowd out front didn't recognize Dylan at first, despite the giveaway of his trademark harmonica holder, so the drama was completely in Graham's hands as he made the day's final presentation: "Thank you for waiting. And now, to close it out, may I introduce...on bass, Rick Danko. On keyboards, Garth Hudson. On drums, Levon Helm. On guitar, Tim Drummond. On pedal steel, Ben Keith. On harmonica and guitar, Bob Dylan." The crowd erupted. "And on guitar and piano, Neil Young." The eruption topped itself.

Before the applause could even taper off, the band was slipping and sliding into "Are You Ready for the Country," Young singing at the piano with Helm and Danko backing him up. The audience was almost entirely on its feet. There were musicians clustered on the stage to watch the event—stage left, Starships; stage right, Joan Baez, beaming at Dylan and holding a blue iris.

Dylan was the focus of everybody's attention, but he was just being a member of the band. He took off his harmonica holder with quick, nervous gestures and sat at the piano to accompany Young's "Lookin' for a Love." The third song was another of the day's unrecorded specials, Young's "Darker Side of Me," with Young and Dylan on guitar, Dylan and Danko on backup vocals. Then Danko did the old Four Tops tune "Loving You (Is Sweeter than Ever)," which was part of the Dylan tour repertoire last year but has never been recorded by the Band.

Then it was back to these musicians' famous oldies: A tuneup resolved itself into Dylan on "I Want You," and then Helm and Danko sang "The Weight." From this point the background roar of the audience never really died down. Then came the aggregation's most stage polished number, with the musicians taking their breaks neatly and stepping back—Young's "Helpless," which segued incredibly into Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," mysteriously altered by Dylan into "Knockin' at the Dragon's Door." Behind the speakers Brando and Baez were embracing, while a public announcement that David Crosby had been planning to be in the show that day but had just become father to a baby girl, Donovan Ann, added to the delirium.

After "Knockin'," the musicians gathered at the top of the stage stairway and conferred with Graham about an encore. They chose the old Carter Family hymn "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"—but in performance Dylan forgot the lyrics of the second verse. Garth Hudson covered with a keyboard riff.

And then it was over, just before 6 p.m. The musicians paraded offstage, down through a corridor of onlookers and directly onto the golf carts that whisked them away through the stadium underpass. Out front the crowd dispersed quickly (as quickly as could be expected: There was a three-hour traffic jam at the nearest freeway on-ramp) under a mostly illusory threat of rain, leaving the usual crowd litter of papers, bottles, wallets and clothes.

They left Bill Graham with a tremendous sense of achievement—"One of the few treasured moments of my life," he would call it on the next day. They also left the cleanup and the packup — it would take an eight-man crew a week and a half to take the, stage away—and a whole new set of problems. The change of plans for the proceeds which Brando had announced violated state charity laws, and a week later Graham met with the school board and agreed to donate the money to the original aims of Athletics, Culture and Kicks. But only after they promised him a monthly accounting to show the money was being used as agreed.

The proceeds were expected to run between $175,000 and $200,000. Ticket sales amounted to nearly $300,000, but as Graham said, "The rain cut into the profits," and in the wake of the school board's monetary discovery and the short-lived decision to do something else with the benefit proceeds, some of the people who'd donated their labor to the concert decided to ask for wages after all. The personal donations—Brando's $5000, K-101's $12,000, and $10,000 each from Graham and San Francisco mayor Joseph Alioto—weren't expected to bring the" final total over $200,000.

The musicians went their separate ways. Larry Graham had left before the Young/Dylan set; Graham Central Station had flown in from Denver expecting to rejoin the Ohio Players tour in Portland, but that gig was switched at the last minute to El Paso and the group was unable to make it.

Neil Young went back to the Fairmont Hotel, where he hung out with the three musicians from the Band. At the Fairmont bar, Neil Young explained Dylan's fluff on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken": "He just said he'd do it. He didn't ask if we knew the words, and we didn't ask if he knew them."

And the surprise guests? Marlon Brando and "the Man from the Fairmont" spent the night as they had spent the day: in the company of Bill Graham. For them, the Haight-Ashbury picnic called Snack Sunday concluded with dinner at the Victorian home of Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola, an offer they couldn't refuse.