Feb 19, 2012

February 19, 1969: Fillmore West


SAN FRANCISCO - It was a "Frontiers of Science Celestial Synapse."
A what? What's Frontiers of Science? What's a synapse, and what's the Grateful Dead's name doing among the lines of medieval Irish script, the kind preferred for church bulletins?
The answer to the questions raised by the classy printed invitations was unquestionably the best musical gathering in months. Fifteen hundred invitations were sent out for the February 19 event, and though there was no other announcement, probably double that number attended. Everyone was treated to the best vibrations and some of the best music the Fillmore West had seen in some time.
After a stirring oboe and bagpipe introduction by the Golden Toad, Don Hamrick of Frontiers of Science spoke for a few minutes in a gentle rural accent, addressing the crowd as "the Goodly Company." "It is our hope," he said, "that this evening there will be an opening and a free interchange, so that something new may emerge. Let the barriers fall, let there be a merging."
Then the Grateful Dead began a set that ran for four hours or so with scarcely an interruption. "I haven't seen anything like this in years -- it's like one of the old Ken Kesey Acid Tests," said Bob Thomas, piper of the Toad and, like the Dead, veteran of many an Acid Test, "-- only it's less hectic and confused. It's fucking amazing." People were handing each other flowers, joints, funny incomprehensible little picket signs four inches high.
The Dead played continuously, a flowing improvisatory set of new material. (Originally the concert was to be recorded for inclusion on the next Dead album, but last-minute difficulties in setting up the recording equipment scotched that.) Three light shows were playing, at no charge to the sponsors. The Grateful Dead and Bill Graham donated their services for free.
Invitations had gone out to people in music and a broad range of psychedelic tribes -- from Rancho Olompali and other communes to the Hells Angels. Many Frontiers of Science people and other communards could be seen embracing each other, greeting strangers, dancing and celebrating.
Toward two in the morning there were a number of stoned occurrences. People began taking off their clothes. Don McCoy of Olompali got up on the stage stark naked, against a tableau of Bill Graham restraining the rent-a-cops from pulling him down.
The organizing body was Frontiers of Science, headquartered at Harbinger, a former hotsprings resort 100 miles north of San Francisco. Incorporated as a nonprofit organization a year ago, FOS grew up around Don Hamrick, a 33-year-old alumnus of both a Church of Christ seminary (he has since been excommunicated for his radical mystical views) and research physics. Around two years ago Hamrick started speaking of a religious calling to establish order and unity on earth and to connect the physical and metaphysical aspects of science.
It has to do with the crystal at the center of the living Earth, which is affected by human vibrations and which may either change shape (a creative change) or change size (a destructive change, since it would cause earthquakes). The idea is to send down good vibrations to change the shape of that crystal, and the Celestial Synapse may very well have done just that.
"Synapse" is the term used by the people around Hamrick for a mass meeting of minds, parallel to the linking-up of brain cells that makes thought possible, called a synapse in psychology. The Celestial Synapse was the beginning of a five-day Frontiers of Science conference, which included a Congress of Concerned Educators at the College of Marin and a two-day gathering of about 400 people at Harbinger.

(from Rolling Stone, April 5 1969)

(The article also features a picture of Don McCoy & an equally naked woman at the mic.)


See http://deadessays.blogspot.com/2011/01/mystery-of-61968.html for a discussion of the recording.

See also http://obie1.homesite.net/deadcd/articlesrs.htm which transcribes several Rolling Stone articles.


  1. The 2/21/69 Berkeley Barb also had a brief description of this event (along with a photo of "Adam and Eve" nude onstage).

    "Several people gathered at the once Carousel Ballroom Wednesday night. Joints, tabs, caps, buttons, spikes, red yellow blue were all unnecessary. The sounds, the sights, the feelings merged in bliss.
    The Fillmore has never heard better music, nor the walls seen a headier show. In the crowd there was much talk of brotherhood - much of it was real.
    A girl standing next to me, after some delay, put her arm around my waist, no longer fearing to touch my naked skin. I returned her smile and we departed friends.
    A reported invasion of the Blue Meanies proved groundless as people expressed love for themselves and each other with less than customary restraint. Bill Graham smiled. The Carousel became Pepperland.
    - Masked Marauder"

  2. A reader has alerted me to a detailed account of this show written in 1974:

    This was by Bert Kanegson, one of the Dead's managers who organized the Celestial Synapse event. He later renamed himself Sat Santokh Singh Khalsa - a little more on his introduction to the Dead (apparently at the 6/21/67 Solstice park show) is here:

    And some photos of the 2/19/69 show are here:
    https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/xv396rr4464 (images 22-27)
    Lots of Dead shots, along with Golden Toad, Don Hamrick speaking, and Steve Gaskin blowing a horn to the crowd.