Feb 12, 2013

January 1966: The San Francisco Acid Tests


San Francisco’s reputation as a center for avant-garde activity, artistic and otherwise, seems about to be enhanced.
At any rate there are a number of events scheduled for the coming weeks which bear upon this. Not all of them lend themselves easily to description, but it is obvious that there is something going on here touching upon creative activity and, possibly, a lineal descendent of the non-objective film days and the well-remembered programs of Vortex.

The San Francisco Museum some years ago presented an evening in which a jazz group, headed by tenor saxophonist Kermit Scott, improvised music as an accompaniment to films by Pat Marx and Harry Smith. Vortex, utilizing the possibilities of the moving lights at the Planetarium, presented some exciting combinations of light and sound.
A production called “Vision in Motion,” billed as “a spontaneous light sound composition,” will be offered at the Tape Music Center January 14 and 15 at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, January 18, at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. and again on the following weekend.
“The light and motion are being created at the very moment that we see it,” Henry Schaeffer, producer of the affair says, and adds that it is not a film.

Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” is presenting his Merry Band of Pranksters tomorrow night at the Fillmore Auditorium in a program he finds impossible to describe in words. The happening is called “The Acid Test” and includes lights, sound and music.
Kesey says that he is expressing himself through “The Acid Test” these days and not through the more orthodox methods of fiction. “I write in this thing so you can see it as it happens,” he says. The Fillmore Auditorium happening is scheduled to go on all night, Kesey adds.
And then on the weekend of January 21, 22 and 23, there will be a giant “Trips Festival” at the Longshore Hall, which will include just about every possible light-sound trip available. Kesey’s group, including his “Psychedelic Symphony,” will take part. There will be two shows nightly, 8 and 12 o’clock.
The first program, January 21, has Ben Jacopetti of the Open Theater as M.C. and includes some standards from the Open Theater repertoire such as The Jazz Mice, Beatle Readings, The Endless Explosion, The God Box, the Congress of Wonders and other wonders. Stewart Brand’s “America Needs Indians – Sensorium 9” with slides and movies about innumerable Indian tribes plus sound tracks, rock ‘n roll and an eagle bone whistle shares the evening.

Kesey will be M.C. on the Saturday program. There will be “Parades and Changes” by members of the Tape Music Center and the Dancer’s Workshop; the Holding Company rock ‘n roll group will play; there will be a sound-light console and overhead projection and 50 flashlights! Kesey’s “Acid Test” with The Grateful Dead rock group, Ron Boise and his Electric Thunder sculpture, Hell’s Angels, Allen Ginsberg, and an event called “Neal Cassady vs. Ann Murphy Vaudeville.”
The third evening is unplanned and the audience is invited to wear “ecstatic dress” and to bring its own toys (sic). Someone or something called “Pinball Machine” will be M.C. The Open Theater, the Tape Music Center, America Needs Indians, the Dancer’s Workshop, Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, Vortex, Marshall MacLuhan (author of “Understanding Media”) and “The Stroboscopic Trampoline” will take part.
The stated objective of the series is “an audience-experienced psychedelic reaction without the use of drugs.” Or how to go up without taking off.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the "On the Town" column, SF Chronicle, January 7 1966)


* * *


Wow! What a weekend. There was so much going on I had to pull an amoeba and send my alter ego to some of it. [ . . . ]
My alter ego, Saturday night, scurried around to the various events in town: here are excerpts from his report:
“At the Longshoremen’s Hall, there was a rock ‘n’ roll dance with the Vejetables sponsored by KYA. I was there early and there were no pickets protesting the firing of Russ ‘The Moose’ Syracuse. At least not while I was there. The audience was young. Very young.
“At California Hall, the Family Dog was running another dance with the Jefferson Airplane and the Charlatans. The crowd was older and the Airplane, for the first time I’ve heard them, had the voice mikes up enough so you could understand what they were singing. They have a sound as good as the Byrds. The crowd was older – very few under 18, I would say. And there were light patterns flickering on the ceiling.

“Up at the Fillmore Auditorium, Ken Kesey’s Acid Test event was in action when I got there around the middle of the evening. The people were like the backstage crowd at the California Hall dance. The costumes were, wow! A strobe light was flickering at a very high frequency in one corner of the hall and a group of people were bouncing a golden balloon up and down in it. It was a most perturbing frequency. It hurt to look at them.
“In one corner there was a piece of metal, tubular sculpture, a thumping machine. If you hit it, you got different sounds when you hit it on different places.
“There was a lot of electronic equipment which sent out a low reverberation that resonated throughout the hall. And the whole place was full of streamers and balloons. There were TV cameras and a TV screen, and you could see yourself in it. On stage there was a rock group; anybody could play with them. It was a kind of social jam session.
“A guy in a white mechanic’s suit with a black cross on the front, and on the back a sign saying “Please Don’t Believe in Magic” ran up and down all night. Oh, wow! Periodically the lights went out and everybody cheered. Giant frisbies, balloons like basketballs, acrobats, girls in felt eyelashes four inches long, fluorescent painting on jeans, glasses low on the nose with eyes painted on them, people with eyes painted on their foreheads, men with foxes on their shoulders! Wow!
“And then the cops came and said the entertainment had to stop, defining entertainment as music, singing, and the strobe light! Quite a night!”
It must have been.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the “On the Town” column, SF Chronicle, January 10 1966)



* * *


this is the FIRST gathering of its kind anywhere. the TRIP – or electronic performance – is a new medium of communication & entertainment.
in this FESTIVAL, audience & participants will see how the TRIP has been developed for THEATER, MUSIC & DANCE, EDUCATION, LIGHT & SOUND, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, SCULPTURE, NOVELISTS & POETS.


america needs indians, sensorium 9 – slides, movies, sound tracks, flowers, food, rock ‘n’ roll, eagle lone whistle, indians (senecas, chippewas, hopi, sioux, blackfeet, etc.) & anthropologists. open theatre – “revelations” – nudeprojections. “the god box” by ben jacopetti. the endless explosion, the congress of wonders, liquid projections, the jazz mice, the loading zone rock ‘n’ roll, steve fowler, amanda foulger, rain jacopetti, & the unexpectable.

ken kesey, members of the s.f. tape music center, big brother & the holding company rock ‘n’ roll, the don buchla sound-light console, overhead projection, anthony martin, ramon sender, bill maginnis, bruce baillie. “the acid test”, the merry pranksters & their psychedelic symphony, neal cassady vs. ann murphy vaudeville, the grateful dead rock ‘n’ roll, alen ginsberg, roy’s audioptics, movies, ron boise & his electric thunder sculpture, the bus, hell’s angels, many noted outlaws, & the unexpectable.

high-energy experiments conducted in the cyclotron of dome-shaped longshoreman’s hall by america needs indians, open theatre, s.f. tape music center, the merry pranksters, gordon ashby (light matrix), henry jacobs (air dome projection), kqed, don buchla, the grateful dead, the loading zone, big brother & the holding company, & many others still being assembled. since the common element of all shows is ELECTRICITY, this evening will be programmed live from stimuli provided by a PINBALL MACHINE. a nickel in the slot starts the evening.

the general tone of things has moved on from the self-conscious happening to a more JUBILANT occasion where the AUDIENCE PARTICIPATES because it’s more fun to do so than not. maybe this is the ROCK REVOLUTION. audience DANCING is an assumed part of all the shows, & the audience is invited to wear ECSTATIC DRESS & bring their own GADGETS (a.c. outlets will be provided).
the FESTIVAL begins with a joyful public PARADE under the blizzard of torn-up calendars in downtown san francisco on december 31.

JANUARY 21, 22 + 23
8 TO 12 PM
TICKETS - $2 per evening, $5 for series

* * *

PROGRAM (Excerpt)

Friday, January 21

Ned's Mob and the Congress of Wonders
Music and Beatle Readings
The God Box: a conception by & with Ben Jacopetti & Wainwright / Masturbation Sermon from the works of O.S. Fowler by Stephen Fowler / Sermon from the works of Aimee Semple McPherson / Amanda Foulger Revelations including the Open Theatre staff producing sounds, colors, lights & effects in high frequency and The Loading Zone Rock & Roll

Saturday, January 22
8:00 OPTIONS and CONTRACTS at the present time with

Tape Music Center members &
Canyon Cinema
performers: Don Buchla, Charles Macdermod, Ramon Sender
The ring-modulated guitar of JIM Gurly
Films & loops by Anthony Martin & Bruce Baillie
[ . . . ]

The Merry Pranksters

Can YOU pass the Acid Test? There’s no way to think about it or read about it. There’s no other way to know than go ahead on it. Can you die to your corpses? Can you metamorphose? Can you pass the 20th Century?
What is total dance?
The Acid Test has been conducted in recent weeks at Santa Cruz, San Jose, Palo Alto, Portland, San Francisco, here, and is snowballing fast. Rolling east next month, it will soon be international, if not cosmic.

Sunday, January 23
We don’t know.
Participants, besides yourself, are Henry Jacobs (who first carried out the fantasy of turning on an air dome), John Korty (illustrious film maker), Gordon Ashby (who designed the Light Matrix for IBM), Bruce Conner (illustrious film maker), Ann Halprin & dancers, Pauline Oliveros (with Elizabeth Harris and the 12-foot light sitar), Chinese New Years Lion Dancers & Drum and Bugle Corps, the Stroboscopic Trampoline, The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Loading Zone, America Needs Indians, Open Theater, Tape Center, the Merry Pranksters, and
It’s prayer, mostly.


* * *


A mammoth, three day “trips festival,” or electronic show, will be held this weekend at the huge San Francisco Longshoremen’s Hall. Shows are set for tonight, Saturday and Sunday, with each performance running from 8 p.m. until midnight.
Tonight’s affair will feature members of Berkeley’s Open Theater, slides, movies, rock and roll music, jazz, American Indians, poetry reading and revelations.
On Saturday’s bill are the San Francisco Tape Music Center, Dancer’s Workshop, a rock and roll group with 50 flashlights, thunder sculpture, a psychedelic symphony, movies and Hell’s Angels.
Sunday will highlight spontaneous sound, a stroboscopic trampoline and more carrying on by assorted actors, dancers, musicians and technicians. Improvisation and extensive audience participation will be an integral part of all three evenings.

(from the Oakland Tribune, 1/21/66, January 21 1966)
Thanks to Corry!

* * *


In the opening pages of that modern classic, “The Circus of Dr. Lao” (available now in a Bantam paperback), Dr. Lao’s circus is described as having a midway “replete with sideshows wherein were curious beings of the netherworld on display, macabre trophies of ancient conquests, resurrected supermen of antiquity.”
Dr. Lao would have been right at home at the Trips Festival this weekend: the variety, imagination, degree of exoticism and just plain freaky far-outness of the thousands who thronged the Longshore Hall defies description.
Hastening to get this report to you, I have had to skip Sunday night’s affair, but I can tell you what went on at the other two. Friday night: Nothing. A bust, a bore, a fake, a fraud, a bum trip. One of the frustrated customers got on stage halfway through the dull evening and said, unselfconsciously, into the microphone, “this is a bore even on acid.” A little while later, the guy behind me said to his partner, “Let’s go out in the car and listen to the radio.” It seemed like a bright idea.

Despite the promise of unspeakable delights, all that happened Friday was a series of dull stage events from the Open Theater (which may be successful there, but are nowhere in a large hall), some slides of pictures of Indians and some free form, multi-colored flicks. At one point I went over and looked into the Indian teepee that was set up on the floor. There was nothing in that, either.
But Saturday night was a different story. It was, in fact, a ball. The theme might well have been the line from The Drifters’ hit, “Right smack dab in the middle of town I found a paradise that’s trouble proof.”
You would have been hard put to it to buy a fight. There wasn’t room enough to swing. And the place was jammed with a congeries of exotics Dr. Lao would have been proud to exhibit. There was a man bandaged all over, with only his eyes peeking out through dark glasses, carrying a crutch and wearing a sign: “You’re in the Pepsi generation and I’m a pimply freak.” Another long-haired exotic dressed in modified Hell’s Angels leather jerkin had “Under Ass Wizard Mojo Indian Fighter” stenciled on his back. Several varieties of Lawrence of Arabia costumes wandered throgh the crowd and even one of the guards, in those silly ersatz police uniforms which don’t say WHAT police but only “police” on them, was wearing a bit of plastic gook referred to as “psychedelic plastic jewelry.”

There was a Psychedelic store selling books. Another selling Trips Festival Sweatshirts and another selling publications about insects.
There were five movie screens up on the wall and projectors for the flicks and other light mixes spread around the balcony. A huge platform in the middle of the room housed the engineers who directed the sound and the lights. Loudspeakers ringed the hall and were set up under the balcony and in the entrance. A huge pair of red and yellow traffic lights blinked constantly. Stroboscopic lights set at vantage points beamed down into the crowd and lissome maidens danced under them for hours, whirling jewelry. A man played a pennywhistle for one of the dancers.
On stage a succession of good rock ‘n’ roll bands, The Grateful Dead Big Brother and The Holding Company, produced the kind of sonic high that big bands used to, only the rock groups do it quicker and for more people. A platform in front of the stage was for dancers who free-form twisted all night long. On the main floor, people stood around and watched or danced, and the balcony was jammed. Both nights were huge box office successes, but only Saturday produced things like the solitary male who spun around in circles gazing at the ceiling and the guy who held his head in his hands and danced, bent over with his face to the floor. Long legged girls in leotards leaped around the hall with shrill whistles blowing.

Three people sat on a blanket in the middle of the floor all evening talking. A handsome, tall woman danced up to a blonde man and said, “Can’t we go somewhere and dance? Privately?”
Various non-participatory spectators, such as Eric “Big Daddy” Nord, Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue, and Dr. Francis Rigney, walked around bedazzled by the display. Dozens of film men and photographers thronged around the stage. Ken Kesey in a space helmet and jumper suit stalked the floor.
At one point, early in the evening, a beautiful young lady, wearing a long denim shirt, danced with a muscular young man who was shirtless. The young lady opened her shirt. She abandoned her shirt. Shortly she was topless. And they danced. It was indicative of the evening that even after the Merry Pranksters had removed this delightful bit of the unexpected, the evening continued to be exciting.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the "On the Town" column, SF Chronicle, January 24 1966)


See also http://www.digthatcrazyfarout.com/trips/trips_festival_history.html

* * *


The really impressive success of last weekend’s Trips Festival at the Longshore Hall deserves a few afterthoughts, as well as the review of Monday last.
In the first place, it should be noted that the success of the evening was in direct relationship to the quality and the presence of the music.
On Friday night, which was a drag, there was no music at all until almost 11:30. I mean no music for dancing. On Saturday, the music was good (The New Brothers were outstanding, incidentally) and it went on all night long. The dancing was so good that the episode of the gorgeous young lady who disrobed in order to be topless, which then provoked her bare-chested partner into doing what every red-blooded male has wanted to do when he has seen an attractive topless dancer – or almost doing it – didn’t make the rest of the evening an anti-climax.
On Sunday night, the success was spotty and so was the music.
And the only music worth mentioning was the rock ‘n roll bands which were live and in person and played from the stage. The vaunted electronic sound, and the rest of the pre-event propaganda which some of us fell for – just simply didn’t materialize or, if it did, was unnoticed.

There were lots of amplifiers and lots of reverberating sounds coming from them, but there was nothing, for instance, as well done as the things Henry Jacobs showed years ago in Vortex. I might add that the management and its flacks really do deserve censure for announcing all sorts of things that didn’t happen including Vortex, the presence of Allen Ginsberg, and Marshall McLuhan, and numerous other events, as well as the terrible hang-up at the entrance and exits.
The Truth about the Trips Festival is that it was a three-night, weekend-long rock ‘n roll dance with light effects. When the dull projections took over, as on Friday, it was nowhere. When the good rock music wailed, it was great.
The thing which provided all the paying customers is the fact that urban America is producing an increasing body of people who want to dance. The bomb and the pill and the New Youth combine (and intertwine) to motivate people to dance. That’s all. We haven’t had anything like it in over 20 years.
It is new. But new only to this class of people. Negroes have patronized dances right along. It is only the non-colored, WASP population which has been so inhibited by the Grey Flannel Suit Age of Conformity that it could not dance. Now, this splinter group of creative people is dancing. These are the brave ones.
The crowd at the Trips Festival was the same crowd that came to the Lovin’ Spoonful dance and to the Mime Troupe benefits at the Fillmore Auditorium. No Acid Test, no circus ballyhoo attracted them – even though some of the sideshows, like Ron Boise’s sculpture, was a gas. They came for to dance. That’s all. And they dressed as far out and as creatively as they could. Just like they have been.

As I’ve said before (I hate that phrase but as far as I can discover nobody else IS saying it) the public officials and the law enforcement agencies will just have to adapt to this new thing. It is harmless and it is legal. It is, in fact, a delight. The presence of exotically dressed adults and youths dancing in a wild, free-form, abandoned manner naturally puzzles the fuzz. As Ken Kesey remarked, “There’s a lot of stuff that isn’t quite illegal but they know there must be something wrong with it.”
The fact of the matter is that we are in a new age with a new religion and with new standards. That we may still be governed by laws made in the last one, and interpreted by people raised in the last one, only indicates the inevitability of change.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the SF Chronicle, January 30 1966)


*  *  * 


With a few minor exceptions, the "Trips Festival" was a flop. The next significant thing that happened was that the whole idea of trips, mass psychedelics, and the costume-hippies movement started on its way to respectability. This may not be a good thing. It rated newspaper reviews, camera crews from Time, Life, Newsweek, etc., and network-TV coverage. And they have received offers from various respectable sources to come to other cities. 
The spirit of the Trips Festival passed through the Bay Area. It's continuing. A few nights ago I heard a radio advertisement for a rock and roll dance featuring the Jefferson Airplane. It prominently mentioned that it would have lighting effects from the Trips Festival and advised people to come in costumes and fluorescent colors. The KYA announcer told his audience (largest of any radio station) that tickets could be purchased, among other places, at the "Psychedelic Shop!" More than one or two teeners will be looking into the meaning of that word.

Friday night was a grand drag. The audience was too much like fans at a high school football rally waiting for the pom-pon girls. There were too many cops and too many undercover narcos. But the real fault of Friday night was with the Open Theatre. They were vapid, boring, and dull. Definitely a bad trip. They just didn't know what to do with the audience or how to do it. The haphazard appendage at the end of a rock and roll band, The Loading Zone, (not that good), was a frank admission of their failure. 
The "America Needs Indians" group, responsible for the other part of the show, was slightly better, but definitely nowhere as far as trips are concerned. As Ralph Gleason noted, the teepee they set up was empty. Their slides were clever juxtapositions but a little too obviously sociological and political in their message. What didn't come across is why America really needs Indians: The government supports them so they don't have to work; they weave and make things of extravagant colors and designs; and they spent a lot of time chewing Peyote. 

Saturday night was too crowded. The Tape Music Center which put on the first part of that evening's show had some nice ideas, but they couldn't do it either. The colors and sounds were nice, if curious, but unimaginative. They had some fantastic electronic equipment but didn't know how to use it with people. 
The best part was the Acid Test. This free-form inspiration of Ken Kesey and his pals is definitely a trip. But it never really got off the ground. They only had three hours for what is supposed to be an all night thing (eight hours!). Past Acid Tests have begun with rock and roll from the Grateful Dead, probably the best of all the Bay Area rock groups. This loosens everyone up and makes them more responsive to other people and their environment. That this was shortened is significant; this particular flight never took off. The Pranksters did a good job in the time they had, but it wasn't enough. 

The Festival as a whole had several problems. The idea of stands selling their wares (such as the Psychedelic Shop, which ain't so psychedelic), is too much like the state fair. The huge number of people and the setup of the Longshoreman's Hall created an audience where what was called for was participants. 
The advertising and literature for the Festival promised much more than was delivered, leading to inevitable disappointment. The mass promotion brought too many of the wrong people. Those who know what's happening show up anyway at these things, as they have at the Acid Tests in the past. Too many people who had to be told what was happening came to the Trips Festival. 
The rock and roll was careless and haphazard. The electronic music was poor. The Festival's 'producer,' i.e. the-man-who-was-in-charge-of-the-busy-work, was a total drag. Mr. Bill Graham of the Mime Troupe seemed opposed to havng a good time, relaxation, and producing general ease. His extreme up-tightness put the rent-a-cops up-tight, and the rent-a-cops put quite a few other people up-tight. 
It is doubtful the Trips Festival will ever happen again. Kesey inspired the idea, but too many groups who didn't know what they were doing became involved in it. Three hours of the Acid Test couldn't rescue it. The Acid Test is where a "trips festival" should probably be at. By itself, The Acid Test is going on, in their words, "and snowballing. Rolling east next month, it will soon be international, if not cosmic." More on that next week.

(by Mr. Jones, from the "Something's Happening" column, Daily Californian, February 4, 1966)

*  *  *


The Acid Test is a free-form inspiration of Ken Kesey and his Pals. His pals call themselves "The Merry Pranksters." They drive themselves around in a cerise, chartreuse, and magenta colored school bus which disappeared last week along with its novelist owner. Will the Acid Test disappear along with its father? They are planning to hold it in Los Angeles this weekend, and it is reasonable to assume Kesey won't be there even if they will. They are dreaming of a cross-country tour to New York, and wildly speculating about a trip to Europe. It may not die without its father, but it may be doomed because of congenital birth defects. 
Let me say right here that the Acid Test is no place for a person's first LSD experience. The very first time on acid is too valuable to waste. Anyway, the Acid Test, in its nearly ten presentations has a somewhat different plot each time, but the ending is usually the same - the cops step in. It begins with about three hours of excellent rock and roll music by the "Grateful Dead." The music gets people moving, meeting each other, loosened up, happy, and prepared. 
The Acid Test has many nice tricks. The stroboscopic lights to dance and play under, or merely to stare at, are the best. TV cameras are set up so that you can see what you are doing. Heavy use of reverb and echo on the sound systems give the effect that what is happening is in front, in, and behind you all at once. There's Ron Boise's thunder-sculpture for people to bang on, play with, and get into. Noisemakers are provided for people to click with. They also pass around sugar and serve free koolaid, letting the rumor fly it contains acid. They think people will 'think' themselves into an LSD trip without the drug, but merely by the Test. It's an interesting idea but just will never work. 
Meanwhile on the sidelines, the Pranksters (twenty people dressed in outlandish costumes of incredibly bright colors) are running tape recorders, projectors, and videotape machines. (They recently acquired $15,000 worth of Ampex television equipment.) On stage then comes the "Psychodelic Symphony," one of the most non-psychedelic things going these days. It is four or five Pranksters fiddling with music instruments that were only a few minutes before making excellent rock and roll sounds. The Symphony includes Kesey on his special red-white-&-blue, orange and green electric guitar with harmonica and noise-maker attachment; Ken Babs, Kesey's co-equal in the show, on the electric bass; and Bab's wife Gretchen on the organ. Among others. No one really enjoys them. As if they sense the poor reception, they exeunt quickly. Perhaps comes a little more music, again the "Psychedelic Symphony," and then what is supposed to be the main part of the Acid Test. 
The audio controls are turned over to the Pranksters. These plus lighting effects, colored projections, electronic sounds, plus whatever else comes along, are used in an attempt to induce mood changes and stimulate the participants. The participant is supposed to experience and become aware of an entire set of emotions which should change at a whim. The whim of Kesey and his Pals. From their point of view it seems like experiments with rats in a maze. 
Is this where psychedelics and LSD are at? 
As a whole, it doesn't work. The real act of getting people loose, person to person contact, and mass community is the work of rock and roll music. The Acid Test is at its best as a dance, but once the music stops, it becomes very dull. The primary mood change is one into boredom. The best thing is to plan on an incredibly lively rock and roll dance-show, play with all the toys, enjoy yourself and have fun. When the music stops and it becomes a drag, leave. As for "passing" the Acid Test - forget it. It hasn't passed itself.

(by Mr. Jones, from the "Something's Happening" column, Daily Californian, February 10, 1966)


  1. A few notes:

    There were a lot of contemporary articles on the Trips Festival; but much less was reported of the earlier Acid Tests, which were more 'underground' events.
    Fortunately we do have this review of the 1/8/66 Fillmore acid test, which the cops stopped. The only reference to the Dead: "On stage there was a rock group; anybody could play with them. It was a kind of social jam session."

    Michael Rossman is said to be the reporter Gleason quotes in the 1/10/66 article.
    (Gleason himself went to see a “piano & French horn duo” at the Berkeley Little Theater and Vince Guaraldi’s Trio & Bola Sete at the Pittsburg Creative Arts Auditorium, and mentions BB King playing over in Oakland.)

    The Acid Test was just one part of the three-day Trips Festival (though no doubt acid filled the other days as well).
    Aside from Charles Perry's writeup (in the "Trips Festival History" link), McNally also describes the event at length in his book, p.123-127.

    The Festival was advertised heavily, but rather vaguely (a "trip" was said to be an "electronic performance" featuring lights & sounds, etc). Someone even told Gleason the event would be "without the use of drugs" - no doubt police interference was feared. Even in Gleason's post-festival reviews, he surprisingly downplays drug use, making it sound like an unusually colorful "rock ‘n roll dance with light effects."

    Gleason gives some vague praise to the Grateful Dead & Big Brother in the 1/24/66 review. (Big Brother had just formed, and people later remembered them being pretty much brushed off the stage by the Dead. Accounts of the Dead's sets vary wildly; the Dead played on both Saturday & Sunday.)
    In the next review, Gleason particularly praises the New Brothers as "outstanding" - I don't know who they are; I thought it might be a mistake for "Big Brother," but a forgotten band called the New Brothers did exist, mainly playing a few gigs in Berkeley coffeehouses round that time. Chickenonaunicycle.com's Jabberwocky page describes them as "a jazz/R&B combo with organ and drums and occasional harmonica and vocals."

  2. Gleason refers to "the Lovin’ Spoonful dance and the Mime Troupe benefits" as precedents. I like how he says "the" Lovin' Spoonful dance, as if of course everyone will remember that one. He's referring to the 10/24/65 show at Longshoremen's Hall.
    The Family Dog put on several rock dances there the previous fall, which were big events in the growing 'freak' community. The Warlocks attended the 10/24/65 show and were knocked out, though at the time the Family Dog didn't want them to play.
    (Gleason could also possibly be referring to the Lovin' Spoonful show at Mother's, "the first psychedelic nightclub," on 8/4/65. He says in his 1967 interview with Garcia that when "the Spoonful played Mother's, I went right out of my nut in there, completely." Amazingly, the Warlocks attended THAT show too, and it had a big effect on them.)

    Gleason also mentions in that Garcia interview that "the Trips Festival was a drag except when the music made it...The bands are at the center of it, really - take the band out of it and it all goes to pieces... It doesn't feel good without the music."
    Garcia agrees with him & speculates that the music provides "an excuse" for being there.

    The Acid Test blurb in the program lists the cities where it's been and says it's "snowballing fast" and is "rolling east next month." Instead they went down to Los Angeles for a couple months, and the trips fizzled out there despite a few more "Trips Festivals" that year - partly due to Kesey's legal trouble, partly due to the Dead's disengaging with the Pranksters to return to SF.

    (By the way - the man wrapped in bandages - in Phil's book, Lesh remembered his sign as saying "I'm in the Pepsi generation and you're a pimply freak." The other way around from Gleason - perhaps Lesh is misremembering, but I like it better this way...)

  3. In my next post, an interview from August '66, Garcia recalls the Trips Festival as a great time: "Everybody was stoned and all on the same trip and everybody having a good time... It wasn’t a dance or anything else, it was a huge party."
    He saw the later Acid Trips as unsuccessful imitations.

    Surprisingly, the New Brothers duo had made such an impression that the interviewer asks Garcia about them! Garcia's very vague on what's become of them - "I heard they got together again... I’ve also heard that they were playing around somewhere but I don’t know how true that is either." He says they were "real good, real fine sound."

  4. Thanks very much for these! My deceased father went to the Longshoreman's Hall event with Mr. Gleason. A fact he didn't reveal to me until much later in his life. These stories make it real. Ralph was the best.

  5. An example of how the acid tests were reported elsewhere in the country:

    'The beatniks who drank quarts of coffee and snapped their fingers in applause during readings of dismal poetry have been succeeded in the San Francisco-Berkeley area by some real oddities. The new crowd revels in "ecstatic dress" such as East Indian garb and topless dresses, soaks up baroque art forms that glorify the senses, and talks about "expanding human consciousness." Many of them take, or have taken, the drug LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) which produces hallucinations and time-space distortion - and can also make a full-blown goof out of you.
    The "Insider's Newsletter" says the devotees now attend shows - called "trips" - which simulate hallucinations. A sample unveiled by the author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" had the actors jumping around in a strobe light that flickered at a frequency painful to the eyes, to the accompaniment of constant whine. The girls wore felt eyelashes four inches long and the boys, barefoot in tuxedoes, sat in a musical group called "The Grateful Dead." When the lights went out periodically, the audience cheered.
    Wonder what they'll do if they ever grow up, which isn't likely?'
    (from Ollie James' "Innocent Bystander" column, the Cincinnati Enquirer, January 22, 1966)

    The Insider's Newsletter was a business/financial weekly which took a dim view of these carryings-on. Their article was also quoted in other papers, for instance the 2/1/66 Jackson, MS Clarion-Ledger, which carried the same article and concluded: "Mississippi and other Dixie areas will be seeing this new Weirdo type all too soon, more than likely - as 'civil rights' crusaders, etc., ad nauseam." (This was on an editorial page which also warned about "Communism taking over the world," "the hellish results of race-mixing," etc.)

  6. Ken Kesey and Mountain Girl had been arrested a few days before the Trips Festival, reported by the 1/19/66 San Francisco Examiner: "Author Kesey Has New Bout With Law."

    Police found them on a rooftop, after "complaints that there were two people there who were tossing gravel at windows and at passing pedestrians." The police "surprised the couple at 1:55 a.m. under blankets on a mattress." A plastic bag of marijuana, which Kesey tried to throw off the roof, sealed their fates.
    The article informs us that Carolyn Adams was 19, "a stunning brunette...a lanky beauty with long pigtails." Asked what she was doing with the married Kesey, she assured reporters, "absolutely nothing romantic." (Their "rendezvous on a roof" was front-page Examiner news, complete with photo of the fetching Carolyn.)

    "Kesey's lawyer, Brian Rohan, told reporters that the rooftop tryst...was a business conference...
    While Kesey would not talk with reporters, Miss Adams unburdened herself before the lawyer arrived to counsel her to keep mum.
    “We’ve been very busy working on rock and roll shows that will go on this weekend at the Longshoreman’s Auditorium,” she said.
    “It’s a festival called ‘The Grateful Dead.’”
    Kesey, she added, is the president of the producing firm and she is the sound technician. She described it as a “mad little group.”
    Last night about eight members of “The Grateful Dead” staff had dinner, took in a movie, and then adjourned to the apartment of Stewart Brand.
    “There wasn’t room for us to spend the night in the apartment, so he said we could sleep on the roof,” Miss Adams explained.
    The marijuana?
    “Ken has been so careful to stay clean, as the word is. He couldn’t pull out of the show without collapsing it.”"
    They were released on bail.

    1. I forgot to mention: Carolyn's nickname of "Mountain Girl" was not reported; and she was already pregnant.
      Given that the reporters were only interested in details of the arrest, not in rock shows, I can't say whether they quoted her accurately, but it's interesting to see her conflation of the "Grateful Dead" from a band to the whole festival, as well as her feeling that Kesey was central to the whole thing.

      The Examiner had run a rather mocking article back on January 9, 1966, announcing the Trips Festival ("Baby, It Will Be Cool" by George Dushek). Ken Kesey is referred to as a "prominent botanist":

      "Stand back, you aloof, dissociated, and literate Westerners! We are about to be mcluhanized.
      The poohbah and party theoretician of Cool is coming to town.
      Marshall McLuhan, director of the Center for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronoty, author of "Understanding Media"...will take part in a three-day Sensorium or electronic trip at Longshoremen's Hall over the weekend of January 21-23.
      The public is invited to take part in a drugless psychedelic experience, a kind of electronic satori or Zen revelation.
      'The mark of our time is its revulsion against imposed patterns,' says McLuhan, who fires off ideas like a Roman candle, with about the same coherence and structure.
      'We are suddenly eager to have things and people declare their beings totally.'
      Thus the Festival of Trips will be minimally structured. The goal is to get total audience involvement, to tribalize the aloof and literate.
      The first night will feature Stewart Brand's America Needs Indians, Sensorium 9; and Ben and Rain Jacopetti's Open Theater.
      Brand, a young anthropologist, and Zach Stewart will present 600 slides, two movies, four sound tracks, flowers, food, rock 'n' roll, eagle bone whistles, Tipis, Chippewas, Senecas, Hopies, Poncas, Tlingits, Pomos, Miwuks, and a thunderstorm. All at once.
      The content of Jacopetti's Revelations is even more cryptic: Nude projections, the God Box, an Aimee Semple MacPherson Sermon, the Jazz Mice, the Endless Explosion, Amanda Folger, the Ineluctable, Evanescent and Unexpectable.
      On Saturday night Ken Kesey, author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest" and prominent La Honda botanist, will be master of ceremonies.
      The San Francisco Tape Music Center will participate, as well as Ann Halprin's Dancer's Workshop, The Holding Company Rock 'n' Roll, 50 flashlights, and a modulated guitar. There will be overhead projections.
      Later in the evening the evanescent will hear the Merry Band of Pranksters and Their Psychedelic Symphony, Neal Cassady vs. Ann Murphy, the Grateful Dead Rock 'n' Roll, Allen Ginsberg, Roy's Audioptics, Ron Boise and His Electric Thunder Sculpture, and Many Noted Outlaws.
      Are you still with it? Remember what McLuhan says...
      'The goal is to transform all of mankind into a single, totally involved, all-participating consciousness.' ...
      On Sunday, Jan. 23, the master of ceremonies will be a pinball machine. The audience is invited to wear ecstatic dress and to bring their own electronic toys. AC outlets will be provided in plenty. Bruce Conner movies will be shown. Spontaneous Sound and the Light Matrix will compete. High Energy Experiments will be conducted. Stroboscopic Trampoline. Bring $2 and plenty of cool."

  7. I added two articles at the end from the Daily Californian (UC Berkeley's student newspaper). These were written by "Mr. Jones," the pseudonym for Jann Wenner, for his new "Something's Happening" column which would run in the paper for another year.

    Wenner was already an Acid Test devotee - I don't know how many he went to, but his second article makes clear he was quite familiar with how they'd usually proceed. He doesn't mention it, but he was close with one of the Pranksters, Denise Kaufman aka Mary Microgram - who had just recorded a garage-rock song inspired by their relationship:

    Wenner's feelings about the Trips Festival were pretty close to Ralph Gleason's, but he didn't think much of the music and wasn't happy about a watered-down Acid Test attended by "the wrong people," filled with cops, and overseen by Mr. Uptight Graham. So he devoted another column to describing how a REAL Acid Test went. But here, too, he wasn't all that thrilled with the experience: "once the music stops, it becomes very dull."

    For him, the star attraction of the Acid Tests is the Grateful Dead, "probably the best of all the Bay Area rock groups." The Dead's music is what makes the Acid Test work: "It begins with about three hours of excellent rock and roll music by the Grateful Dead. The music gets people moving, meeting each other, loosened up, happy, and prepared"...and "makes [everyone] more responsive to other people and their environment."
    It's unfortunate that none of the Acid Test recordings we have include the Dead playing for three hours and loosening up the crowd. Quite the opposite - the 1966 Acid Test shows on tape are mostly disasters. I presume Wenner was remembering happier Tests from late '65 (or perhaps exaggerating the Dead's role in them).

    In any case, by the time he wrote, the Dead had split to Los Angeles along with the Pranksters, and San Franciscans wouldn't get to hear them again until the Trips Festival in April.

    1. As Wenner mentions, Kesey had already fled as well after the festival. Not wanting to stick around for the sentence after his arrest, he slipped off to Mexico, leaving his truck on the coast to be found with a supposed suicide letter, his "last words." (Printed in the 2/18/66 Berkeley Barb.) He would resurface in the fall.
      Among the list of people Kesey thanks in the letter, he includes:
      "The Grateful Dead - for learning to play. (Flash: exclusive, San Fran - New R & R group dubbed Grateful Dead Smash at Carnegie. Dateline 1967 ... because there isn't a dozen people in the US this year able to comprehend their excellence in 1966)"