We’ve all heard the tag “The Summer of Love,” but how many of us really know what happened that eventful summer in 1967? What drew 75,000 young people to the streets of San Francisco? That particular summer did see a revolutionary new movement, but there was another reason why it became such “a thing.” And it’s because the media started to really identify and focus on the whole hippy phenomenon.
The covert, alternative youth culture had already been developing in America and Europe for several years. And it reached a boiling point that summer, in the Haight-Ashbury district, attracting people from near and far with a promise of escaping from conservative social values to get the chance to experiment with you know what.
Many of the travelers came for the Monterey Pop Festival, which happened to be the world’s first such major event. You know Scott McKenzie’s hit single San Francisco? (“If you’re goinggggg to Sannn Frannnnncisco…”) Well, that song was actually intended to promote the pop festival. The tune even became the Summer of Love anthem, reaching No. 4 in the U.S. charts and No. 1 in Britain.
During the early 60s, a new generation of bohemians began, which was unofficially the Beat Generation of poets and writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. It all really started, though, in January of 1967, with the Human Be-In rally in San Francisco. A gathering of Beat Generation speakers and poets stood in Golden Gate Park to celebrate some new ideas…
It was all about rebellion and revolution: communal living, political decentralization, environmental awareness, and “dropping out.” During that rally, Jefferson Airplane played as LSD was being handed out to the crowd of about 20,000 youth. Then, suddenly, there was a power failure and a break in the music.
The Haight-Ashbury district was the place where disenchanted students would congregate. It became the mecca of the hippy counterculture. Around 100,000 people came to the district over that summer. It was supposedly the local council that came up with the title “Summer of Love,” which was their way of putting a positive spin on the drug-filled, denim-wearingcrowds of hippies that were portrayed negatively by the media.
The title given to this movement means that it was one season – one ecstasy-filled summer that will forever be looked back upon with nostalgia. But as we know, what goes up must come down, and all good things come to an end. By the autumn of 1967, things started to sour, and a dark side started to loom over the hippies’ dreams of reform.
The movement turned into a messy, commercialized media spectacle. “Dropping out” became real “Free love” was used to excuse sexual harassment. Moreover, thousands were suffering from serious addictions and mental problems, and there were many who became homeless. San Francisco was becoming flooded with dealers and teenage runaways. The once dream-like Haight-Ashbury scene was becoming more of a nightmare.
With this new setting of homelessness, addiction, and crime, most of the movement’s originators fled, and in October, those who remained performed a mock funeral. They called it the “Death of the Hippy” ceremony. Most of these hippies got a reality check and realized that peace and love wasn’t going to sustain them forever.
So, most of them went back to college or got jobs. There were, of course, a few who found ways to continue their alternative lifestyles, either at home or by traveling abroad. For most, however, utopia was now a pipe dream.
That, though, is the story in a nut shell. But we don’t do nut shells. We dive deep. Wanna know the nitty gritty of it? Then, let’s begin…
Height-Ashbury is a 25-square-block area in San Francisco, and in 1967, it managed to become its own little cocoon. But rather than a big, beautiful butterfly emerging from it, it created one of the biggest divides in American culture. Anyone between the ages of 15 and 30 that year found it nearly impossible not to be seduced by the glamour, ecstasy, and idea of utopia the neighborhood peddled.
The title “Summer of Love” was being thrown around, but the originators didn’t hire any publicists or craft any media plan. And yet, the phenomenon washed over the nation like a wave, basically washing away the residue left over from the martini-sipping Mad Men professionals of the 1950s.
The Summer of Love brought with it a new kind of music, acid rock. Long, messy hair was in; clothes were traded in for costumes; and psychedelic drugs became the key to unchartered territory. Calling someone “uptight” was basically the same as calling someone “racist.” America’s new favorite word was “free.”
Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia summed it up: “It was this magical moment… this liberation movement, a time of sharing that was very special… a lot of trust going around.” She had a baby with author Ken Kesey, which helped kick off the summer. She then married Jerry Garcia, who became the epitome of the movement.
For some reason, certain places in California became socio-cultural hot beds in the early 60s, and Northern California’s area from San Francisco to Palo Alto was one of them. The core was in North Beach, where the Beatniks would hang out at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore. There, espresso was sipped, and jazz was heard (and worshipped).
North Beach was like other areas in the U.S., New York’s Greenwich Village, L.A.’s Venice Beach and Sunset Strip, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. What made North Beach unique, though, was what was happening across town. Young artists, musicians, and San Francisco State College kids were becoming infatuated with the city’s past.
According to Rock Scully, who rented cheap Victorian houses in the run-down neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury, “There was a huge romanticism around the idea of the Barbary Coast, about San Francisco as a lawless, vigilante, late-19th-century town.”
Scully said people would wear “old, stiff-collared shirts with pins, and riding coats and long jackets.” Old-timey became a tradition. People were dressing and living in the Victorian era, yet it was 1963. To put it into context: It was a year before the Beatles came to America. Students were wearing long velvet gowns and lace-up boots – a major contrast from the Beatnik style of the early ‘60s.
Chet Helms, a University of Texas dropout, hitchhiked to San Francisco and joined the old-timey group. He came there with a friend, a nice, middle-class girl who was a member of her high school’s Slide Rule Club. She, too, left college in hopes of becoming a singer. Her name was Janis Joplin.
Helms and a few others lived semi-communally, and they considered themselves purists. Each of their homes had dogs, which is why they called themselves the Family Dog. A group within the group took up instruments that they were barely familiar with and formed The Charlatans, which happened to be the first San Francisco band of the era.
Wes Wilson, who stood out from the rest since he kept his hair short, became the scene’s first poster artist, creating a style that would be era-defining. They started out sharing houses, beds, music, and style, so it was only a matter of time until they started sharing drugs. And the drug of choice was LSD.
By then, it had already been over a decade since Sandoz Laboratories made the first batch of lysergic acid diethylamide. In 1961, Harvard psychology professor Timothy Leary had his famous life-changing “trip” with psilocybin mushrooms in Mexico.
Leary was charismatic as well as a womanizer. His colleague at Harvard, Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), was a closeted bisexual. The two of them would invite friends and grad students to go on “trips” with them off campus, with the naïve goal of applying a scholarly methodology to the lone-enhancing and sometimes psychosis-inducing properties of the drug.
Meanwhile, as Leary and Alpert were raising consciousness on the East Coast, Ken Kesey (from Oregon) was doing the same thing in San Francisco. But his method was far more outrageous. He bought a school bus, painted it in graffiti, and drove it around stoned with a group he called the Merry Pranksters.
In 1959, Kesey volunteered to be part of the CIA-sponsored LSD experiment (MK-Ultra) at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Menlo Park. The result was his 1962 novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A year later, he assembled the Merry Pranksters with other authors. At the same time, the San Francisco Peninsula was nurturing a music scene.
The wild-haired Jerry Garcia was leading a jug band, and he had a huge following. People just gravitated toward him. In those days, Joplin was in her “folky stage.” Only later on, when she went to Texas to recover from her addiction, did she become “R&B Janis.”
Neal Cassady introduced Carolyn Adams to Ken Kesey, who was married at the time, but the two began a love affair anyway. Adams recalled: “I saw the bus and fell in love.” She saw Kesey as “this Promethean figure, who saw psychedelics as a gift to mankind.”
Adams became one of Kesey’s Pranksters. The group soon initiated the Acid Tests, or “happenings around the Bay Area,” as she called them. According to her, they “were creating a safe place for people to get high.” They would give people a “low dose” that would be taken from a big picnic cooler or garbage can that held 10 or 12 gallons of diluted acid in Kool-Aid or water. To those who “passed the test,” they would give out diplomas at “graduation.”
Carolyn Adams and Jerry Garcia were a couple in the late 60s, with two daughters. They finally married in 1981 (only to divorce in 1993). But in the mid-60s, Garcia ditched his jug band and formed a new one, the Warlocks. They then became the Acid Tests’ resident band, and Rock Scully was their manager.
Scully and Garcia were brought together by a young Berkeley chemist by the name of Owsley Stanley, who was revered for making the purest acid on earth. As though they heard the sirens calling, young people in their 20s started flocking to San Francisco.
A number of “seekers” came from Brooklyn, including Dave Getz, who would become a drummer for Big Brother and the Holding Company (both acid bands). Heading for the Bay Area was like a calling, Stanley Mouse, a painter from Detroit, recalled. As he crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, a friend asked him, “How long you staying?” He replied, “Forever.”
Meanwhile, two groups, The Family Dog and the Charlatans, were spending the summer of 1965 in in Virginia City, Nevada, an old mining town. The Charlatans played their music in the Red Dog Saloon, run by hipsters who also romanticized the days of the Gold Rush. A new type of psychedelic dancing was born right there in an old-timey saloon.
Once they returned to San Francisco, the members of The Family Dog were eager to replicate the experience. That October, they rented the Longshoremen’s Hall, near Fisherman’s Wharf, for the first of their bacchanals (wild, crazy parties). 400 or 500 people showed up, dressed in “kind of crazy Edwardian clothes,” artist Stanley Mouse recalled.
The Family Dog continued to host more parties, each one with a clever name, like “A Tribute to Ming the Merciless,” for example. By January 1966, the Pranksters were hosting the Trips Festival, also at the Longshoremen’s Hall. There were tepees, synthesizer music, and acid was in the ice cream. The festival lasted for three insane nights.
As Carolyn Garcia remembers, it was around this time that they met Bill Graham, the manager of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, who was rescued as a child from the Germans and later earned a Bronze Star in the Korean War. Watching this whole new scene unfold in front of his eyes, he had a revelation.
He decided to take everything he saw there and turn it into a fortune. Soon enough, two abandoned halls in San Francisco – the Avalon Ballroom (run by Chet Helms) and the Fillmore Auditorium (run by Bill Graham) – became venues for the ongoing music and dance parties. This is when future hit bands started making their appearances.
Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Sopwith Camel played both halls. These parties were being advertised with posters on every lamppost and in every coffeehouse in the Bay Area. The star band was Jefferson Airplane.
Grace Slick’s transcendent hit White Rabbit (composed one stoned night while listening to Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain) became one of the anthems of the coming summer. The opposite of the cool – slick – lead singer of Jefferson Airplane was the needier Janis Joplin, who was lured back to the Bay Area by Chet Helms. He wanted her to audition for Big Brother and the Holding Company.
Dave Getz remembered that Janis “was not attractive…she had bad skin and was wearing funky sandals and cutoffs. But her singing “knocked us out, instantaneously.” Getz knew that audiences would love Joplin for one reason: She was “one of the most vulnerable people I have ever met.”
Keep in mind that this was a woman who was voted “Ugliest Man on Campus” by a bunch of fraternity boys. According to Getz, it really hurt her. Joplin was a drinker, though, not a psychedelics user. But Getz said she was open-minded enough to try anything and everything.
Joplin ended up having a creative epiphany after a friend of Getz’s gave her some acid for the first time. Then they went to Fillmore to hear Otis Redding. According to Joe McDonald, Joplin invented her “buh-buh-buh-ba-by” after seeing Redding.
Local artist Victor Moscoso recalled 1966 being a time when you would walk down Haight and nod to another “longhair,” and it meant something. They painted their houses bright colors and basically took over. The Grateful Dead crammed themselves into a house at 710 Ashbury, along with Carolyn Garcia (just 20 years old at the time), her daughter Sunshine, and Kesey.
More and more young people were flocking the Haight-Ashbury district, and little did they know that they were entering an extraordinary moment in history. To say that a lot was going on would be a major understatement. The Vietnam War was in full swing, and with it, the anti-war protests.
The Civil Rights movement was morphing into Black Power, and the Beatles and Bob Dylan were becoming the voices of a cultural revolution on the radio. Haight district wannabes started popping up in pretty much every American city. In New York’s East Village, James Rado and Gerome Ragni were writing the musical of the era: Hair.
The media was paying attention. Reporters started using the word “youth” to refer to the postwar baby-boomers. The pill was now available, and “fee love” was the new motto. Weekly news reports added, “youth beats.” It was clear: the youth were leading the way.
Golden Gate Park saw Joplin and the Grateful Dead as regular performers. The music was as free as the food. Thanks to one of the local groups, The Diggers, the Haight-Ashbury district became a city within a city. With this new “free society” came public celebrations, and citizens lobbied the city in order to hold them.
In September 1966, a Haight union wrote letters to the city fathers about getting a permit to host an October “love-pageant rally.” Then, on January 12, 1967, a group of activists issued a press release for a “Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In” that was to be held two days later.
The press release read: “Hang your fear at the door and join the future. If you do not believe, please wipe your eyes and see.” The Human Be-In attracted some 20,000 people to Golden Gate Park. The music, costumes, and even marijuana could be seen as well as felt.
As reports about the Be-In started spreading, the media coverage increased. By the spring, a group of insiders held a makeshift version of a press conference, calling on the youth of America to converge on San Francisco to “experience the magic for themselves,” but only as soon as school let out.
The Diggers, who established a free store and clinic, braced themselves for the hordes heading their way. It wasn’t too hard to lure in the youth of the nation, especially given the seductive name of the “Summer of Love.” In the end, the youth were too eager to wait for school to be out.
People drove their VW vans, rode Greyhound busses, or used their thumbs to make it out to San Francisco. By June, the city’s public-health director, Dr. Ellis D. Sox (nicknamed “LSD Sox”), was irritated by the fact that there were already 10,000 hippies in the city. He warned everyone that soon enough, they were going to have to fight all the hippie diseases.
Lou Adler, the producer of The Mamas and the Papas, brought a song written by John Phillips and recorded by Scott McKenzie: San Francisco. Adler and Phillips, with their commercial minds, saw the captivating anthem as a money-maker.
Adler admitted that it was a flat-out call for kids to come flocking in. The song became an immediate hit, and the Grateful Dead were pissed off. It’s because Adler, Phillips, and McKenzie were “the total opposite of Haight-Ashbury,” Adler confessed. “We were Bel Air, we were slick.”
The song was definitely a factor, but it was also the success of Jefferson Airplane’s first album and the underground buzz about this new girl Janis Joplin that lured these kids from all over the nation. One estimate counted 75,000 visitors. There were giant puppets, paper tunnels, girls in silver pants and tie-dyed tops reciting poems.
The Grateful Dead effectively stopped traffic as 25,000 people jammed up a mile of Haight Street to listen and dance to their music. “Every day, it was a parade, a procession,” Stanley Mouse recalled. CBS’s Harry Reasoner arrived with a camera crew and Look magazine’s youngest writer, William Hedgepeth, was sent in to investigate underground at the scene.
“I hopped out of the cab and was shocked that people’s hair was longer than the Beatles’,” Hedgepeth said. He added that once he got back to New York and wrote his cover story, he never wore a suit and tie again. “Consciousness is irreversible. It changed my life.”
But not all of the reporters on the scene were so gung-ho about what they were experiencing. Some of the older reporters, like Nicholas von Hoffman of The Washington Post, covered the Haight in a suit and tie and was “appalled” by what he saw.
Von Hoffman likened it to the tactic Gandhi used, luring 100 million people “with no money, no guns, no nothing — these were his troops.” According to him, these hippie troops were “this mass of young people who had no political knowledge, were not particularly well educated, but the thing you could get them to do was sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.”
What alarmed von Hoffman was the seemingly overnight change in the attitude toward drugs. “A generation and a half before,” he said, “you could back a dump truck full of cocaine into a Jesuit schoolyard, and none of those boys would get near it.”
But now, suddenly, there were these middle-class and working-class kids doing what he called “vice tours,” until their feet got dirty enough, and then they went home. Soon, the summer was about to reach an all-time musical high, with the Monterey Pop Festival…
The summer’s three-day climax began on June 16, and it was organized by John Phillips and Lou Adler. Their mission was to produce a great event that would give the genres of rock, pop, and soul music the kind of respect that jazz had.
The festival’s board of governors included Paul McCartney, Donovan, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, and Smokey Robinson. They came up with the lineup of acts, which included a black Seattle guitar virtuoso who was also a former 101st Airborne paratrooper. The kid had just become a sensation in Britain, but at that point, no one in America had even heard about Jimi Hendrix.
Adler said that Haight-Ashbury “was becoming known all over the world.” That said, the publicity was just what no-name or up-and-coming bands needed to get their jump start to fame. Jefferson Airplane signed up, as did Big Brother. But still, according to Dave Getz, there was an air of “Diggers mentality.”
It wasn’t about stardom or profit; everyone was equal, “including Janis,” he said. The Grateful Dead, whom Adler went specifically to see, were adamantly against it. Adler recalled his conversations with Rock Scully and his co-manager Danny Rifkin as “heated.”
Questions like, “Why are you guys here?” “What do you want?” and “Why should we do it?’” were being yelled out by a man named Ralph J. Gleason, whom the groups trusted. It was Gleason whom they had to convince.
Gleason asked drug and music charities tough questions, like “Where was the money going?” and “How is San Francisco going to be presented?” The Monterey Pop Festival ended up reeling in over 30 acts, in perfect weather, for over 90,000 people. “And, as hard as it is to believe now, most of these stars had never met one another,” Adler stated.
Grace Slick said that she “had never seen Jimi Hendrix live. I’d never seen The Mamas and the Papas or The Who live or Ravi Shankar. It was stunning for us.” The director D. A. Pennebaker filmed the whole event, which resulted in the film Monterey Pop.
The Grateful Dead, who finally relented and joined the cause, refused to be filmed. They had their hardcore-hippie integrity to protect, after all. Really, it was this integrity that helped make them America’s most acclaimed and enduring rock group. But they weren’t the only group to refuse being filmed.
Big Brother refused, too. However, Joplin, who delivered a show-stopping rendition of Ball and Chain, was devastated when she heard that she didn’t get captured on film. Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager, talked Janis into convincing her group to be filmed.
So, Adler had them perform a second time. It was then that the camera zeroed in on Joplin. At that moment, a star was born. The Haight bubble, with all its “free” idealism, was being met with actual reality. Even Jerry Garcia was facing his own pedestrian ego issues.
According to his wife, Garcia and the band were annoyed that, “after Otis Redding put on the show of a lifetime, they did not play a great show.” Carolyn said that Garcia was scowling, feeling as though “nobody even noticed them.” Things started to change, and, eventually, bad vibes took over.
Soon enough, it was the beginning of the end. It was The Diggers and the Thelin brothers who led the “Death of the Hippie” march and mock funeral, complete with a coffin, down Haight Street. It didn’t take long for people to start moving away.
All the movers and shakers started fleeing the scene they had once helped create. The musicians and artists moved to Marin County, the Diggers to different communes stretching up the Oregon border. Again, all good things come to an end. The utopian, hedonistic life wasn’t sustainable.
Although the era is long gone, there are lessons that can be learned. There’s the cautionary tale to not build a social movement on drugs. But there’s also the positive takeaway – that love and liberation should be core principles of life.
The Summer of Love’s 50th Anniversary in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco almost didn’t happen. The city’s council gathered about 25 poster artists, but their work was never printed. The council was contacted by numerous bands and musicians who wanted to be part of this potentially historic event.
They were all waiting for a date to be determined before making any final commitments. But thanks to new rules enforced by the San Francisco Parks and Recreational Department, the council was prohibited from holding a free event of such size. In the end, the anniversary event was announced two weeks before it began. It might be the reason that “only” 20,000 people showed up.