California

The main venue for the band in California was Finnegan’s Rainbow, a nightclub in Orange County owned by Syl Grove. 

Soon after the association with Danny, the band began rehearing in a house on 19th Street in Costa Mesa.  They had been together only 3 weeks when they were offered the opportunity to play an outdoor concert at the University of California at Irvine (UCI), headlining Lee Michaels.  There were 8 or 10 other bands on the bill, including Love, and Wildfire went on right before Lee Michaels.  Thousands of people showed up, including people from Finnegan’s Rainbow.  Soon after the show Wildfire was asked to be the house band at Finnegan’s, playing 5 nights a week.    After only a few appearances, lines formed around the block waiting to get into the club and hear the band.   

Another memorable concert was at an obscure location in the hills above Laguna Beach known as the “Top of the World,” a remote spot available at that time only via a dirt road.  Wildfire pioneered the concept of “word of mouth” advertising, and told a small number of people about the venue.  The band knew a man who worked for the Aliso Creek Water District, and he had the keys to all of the locked gates.  Given entrance, the roadies set up the gear on a flat-bed truck with a 10kW gas generator.  About 500 people came through the gates, settled into the beautiful valley setting, and the gates were locked once again.   

The Top of the World concert stands as one of the epitomes of “peace/love/joy.”  There was no violence.  No arguments.  No “hassles,” as they said back then.  The audience was as much in love with the music as the boys were making it.  As was fitting, the generator ran out of gas on the last song, the second encore, “Quicksand.”  There were rumors that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department personnel were outside the gates wondering where all that music was coming from, hearing the cheers of 500+ people from somewhere up on that mountain! 

The Top of the World concert stands out in a series of outdoor concerts in Southern California.  The Ortega Festival, the last outdoor concert Wildfire did in California, was much larger, almost 2,000 people, and the organizers were not ready for the crowds.  Wildfire played at the end of the day, and by that time, the venue had become a dust bowl, covering the guitar strings with dirt.  It was the last outdoor venue Wildfire played until they came to Texas. 

Prior to the Ortega Festival, Wildfire had played at the Merced County Fairgrounds, opening for Elvin Bishop and Santana.  It was a typical county fair situation, with people from the surrounding areas coming to enjoy a day of county fair activities.  The bands performed outside in the afternoon, and then were to perform inside a convention center that evening.   

Wildfire created such a stir with their loud amplification and high-energy original songs that other more established bands were in awe of their musical power.  Thousands of faces turned away from the main stage and started grooving on this powerful trio. Ultimately, the name acts asked the promoters to cancel the indoor appearance of Wildfire, and as usual, money spoke.  Despite the pleas of the audience, Wildfire was not allowed to perform that evening. 

Wildfire had better luck with the Laguna Beach movie theater. One night Randy was walking past the theatre, right across from the beach, thinking that it would be a great place to play after the movies were finished.  He walked in and asked for the manager, who happened to be there, and told him of his idea.  Several weeks later the manager called Randy and said that his theatre was about to go out of business, so he had nothing to lose by adding bands at midnight.  The boys of Wildfire were geared for the show and had friends doing the promo work.   The place was packed and the crowd was on its feet by the end of the show.  That single night launched a concert series on Friday and Saturday nights that lasted nearly 4 years.  Jerry Garcia and other groups of international acclaim played there.  It was at this venue that Wildfire opened for Blue Cheer in the late 1960’s.  The local attention paid to Wildfire assured that any name act would find a packed audience.

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