Feb 12, 2013

January 1966: The San Francisco Acid Tests

THE ACID TEST AND OTHER MARVELS

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)

http://www.goodbear.com/concert_art/01_07_66.html


* * *


IT WAS QUITE A WEEKEND!

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)

http://www.goodbear.com/concert_art/01_10_66.html

http://archive.org/details/gd1966-01-08.sbd.lestatkatt.106505.flac16


* * *


TRIPS FESTIVAL HANDBILL

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.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 21

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.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 22
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.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 23
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
LONGSHOREMEN’S HALL
(400 NORTH POINT)
TICKETS - $2 per evening, $5 for series


* * *


PROGRAM (Excerpt)

Friday, January 21
10:00 OPEN THEATRE PRESENTS

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
dancedancedance

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

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

10:00 “THE ACID TEST”
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.

http://www.postertrip.com/public/5577.cfm
http://www.o-art.org/history/50s&_60s/Trips/TripProg.html


* * *


LITTLE THEATER NOTES

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!


* * *


ONE WILD NIGHT – A TRIPS FESTIVAL

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)

http://www.goodbear.com/concert_art/01_24_66.html

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


* * *


CENSURE, PRAISE FOR ‘TRIPS’ FESTIVAL

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)

http://www.goodbear.com/concert_art/01_30_66.html

4 comments:

  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."

    ReplyDelete
  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.
    http://www.gotarevolution.com/longshoremans.htm
    (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...)

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  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."

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  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.

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