Jul 22, 2020

1967: San Francisco Ballrooms

Hippies 'Super Children' 

San Francisco electric rock is not so much soul music as it is stomach.
There's something about 300 watts of amplified guitars, drums, harmonicas, and organ that grabs your lower intestinal region and turns it into a private, pulsating baffle. How much you enjoy the concert may depend on how much you enjoyed your last meal.
Actually, it doesn't really matter whether you enjoy the music or not; it will have accomplished its purpose - to suck you in, to make you totally involved with what's happening.
This basically is what the hippie creative renaissance is all about, a sort of sensual extremism that runs through their music, their light shows, their costumes and psychedelic posters.
Renaissance headquarters is San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, the West Coast's music center for the bombarding arts. But the Haight-Ashbury influence - and this is important - can be observed at every teen-age gathering and on every teen-age radio station around the country.

"What we're trying to create is a total environment kind of thing. We're getting the kids aged 16 to 25," explained Bob Cohen, 29-year-old co-manager of the Family Dog, a hippie production agency at 639 Gough St.
He said the Family Dog's main job is sponsoring the wild, weekly weekend teen-age dances in San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom, fluorescent balls that regularly draw thousands of costumed youngsters from the bay area per night.
With his long, receding hair, Cohen is one of the few hippies in Ben Franklin glasses who actually looks something like Ben Franklin. He quit his electronic engineering job and joined show business after discovering the electricity of rock and roll.
"The groups we book all have the 'San Francisco sound,'" he said. "It has to be experienced in person. I've taped every group that has appeared at the Avalon; they're strange tapes, they can only be played at full volume."
After joining the Family Dog, Cohen's first job was to build the entire Avalon sound system. "It's one of the best systems in the country. It cost $4,000. It'll put out 126 decibels at 100 feet, and that's only for the voice."
Most groups use their own sound systems for the instruments, he explained, and if it weren't for the Avalon system, beautiful rock lyrics would be drowned out.
"We match the groups by energy levels," said Cohen. "We try to book two high energy groups and one low energy per show. Certain blues groups, say, are low energy groups. Then you get groups like the Grateful Dead or the Quicksilver Messenger Service - they're high energy. When they're on, you can't talk anywhere in the building."
Not that the youths do much talking anyway at the Avalon. Mostly it's a lot of dancing, a lot of staring, some rolling on the floor, some flaking out, and occasionally a freak-out or two.
"We only have a few rules," Cohen said. "You can't wander in and out of the building. You can't take your clothes off - it would be nice if you could, but the police are against it. There is no physical violence and no narcotics."
"It doesn't matter," Cohen added. "Everybody's high when they come in, some have trouble getting up the stairs.
"We've had a few acid freak-outs. See, there's these pillows and rugs in front of the bandstand where the kids can lie down if they don't want to dance. Well, when the dance is over at 2 a.m., some of the kids won't leave. We have to go around and wake 'em up.
"A few are so turned on we have to bring them down with tranquilizers. We have a doctor on hand at all times, and we always see that the kids get home or to a hospital."

One's first visit to the Avalon Ballroom can be an exhilarating or shattering experience, depending on how long one stays and his threshold of pain. The following description of what happened there two Saturdays ago may or may not be fully accurate; it was written without the benefit of drugs.
They start lining up an hour before the doors open. They are two kinds: the hippies, the freaks and flower children of the entire Bay Area, dressed in every fabric of their expanded imagination and decorated by all the beaded symbols of the world; and the frat boys, the conservatively coat-and-tied and clean-faced youngsters who have come mainly to dance and see what's happening.
The dance floor itself is bathed in ultraviolet light which makes even the frat boys, in their bright white shirts and teeth, glow like zombie visions.
A giant projection screen hides three of the four walls. It is covered with blood; no wait, honey; no wait, oil and ink and alcohol, all the vibrating ingredients of a liquid light show, operated from an upstairs booth by six men with rotating glass dishes.
Everything keeps time to the music, the lights, the slides, the abstract films, the dancers, even a mad black-light puppet show near the snack bar upstairs.
In one corner of the dance floor a stroboscopic flood light turns giggling hippies into spastic silent actors. They toss a balloon into the air and watch it jerk and act funny. The strobe attacks their peripheral vision, and soon the whole room darts from left to right to left. Nothing is fastened anymore.
In another area, kids play with fluorescent toys, a fluorescent ball and boat and rubber elephant. An electric orange go-cart whizzes by. Surrounded by dancers playing ring-around-a-rosy, someone in a sailor suit is drawing with fluorescent chalk. He applies chalk to the floor, then his hands, then his face and hair, and finally over all his shoes and clothes.
This is not the Avalon; it is a fantastic, turned-on nursery of super children. In its own way it is the Haight-Ashbury and the entire hippie world.
Which raises two question: When is the dance going to end? And when and if it ends, who is going to wake up the kids and send them to their homes and to their hospitals?
Perhaps that is the wrong attitude. At the Avalon a dancer is dancing by himself. He is jumping and laughing and waving a fluorescent tambourine. When asked why he is dancing alone, the tambourine man shouts:
"I'm not. I'm dancing with everybody, I'm dancing with everybody. Think positive, man."

End of a series.

(by Dave Felton, from the Los Angeles Times, 13 April 1967)

* * *

'Haight - It's Love'

Haight-Ashbury -- Last in a Series.

Editor's Note: Stater reporter Jim Toms, on a recent trip to San Francisco, spent considerable time in Haight-Ashbury, new "hippie hub of the world."

SAN FRANCISCO -- Three walls of the huge auditorium are smothered with psychedelic colors and patterns - and the ultraviolet lights in the ceiling blink in perfect time with the deafening band on stage.
Except for the flashing patterns and moving globs of color, the scene could be any modern rock 'n roll dance - but the difference is that no one dances.
The band playing calls themselves the Jefferson Airplane, and although they're not in concert this night, the audience sits on the floor and just watches - enthralled.
Fillmore Auditorium, located in the heart of the Negro section of San Francisco, fills to capacity every time the Jefferson Airplane makes an appearance. The group began its career here, and now that it has "made it" with a national hit single, kids from all over the Frisco area come to identify.
The big auditorium seats about 1,000, and at three bucks a head you have to figure the proprietors are making out pretty well.
The cop at the door told us, "Sure, three bucks is a lot of moolah to most of these kids, but they come up with it night after night. We're keeping 'em off the streets aren't we? That's got to be considered a service."
There are no alcoholic beverages served in Fillmore Auditorium - only soft drinks. The kids all sit politely in rows, their legs crossed and heads bowed. No one makes trouble - they're all having too good a time.
Jefferson Airplane is the alltime winning band at Fillmore, which means they can return whenever they want. Three bands compete each night, and the winner comes back for another try. The audience rates the band by applause, the night we visited a group called "The Grateful Dead" stole the show. Others competing were the "Paupers" and "Collage."

The Fillmore district is where some racial rioting took place last summer, and city officials were skeptical as to what will happen this year with an influx of 30,000 hippies to nearby Haight-Ashbury. They're hoping things stay as they have been - nice and peaceful.
Shop owners in Haight are facing the expected invasion of hippies this summer with equanimity.
"These will be the amateur hippies on vacation from school," one owner told us. "They'll pretend they don't have any money, but many of them will have a nice packet of travelers checks provided by mommy and daddy." The owner was probably right.
Any way you look at it, a stay in Haight-Ashbury is an experience never to be forgotten. But as one editor so aptly put it: "Haight's a wonderful place to visit, but I'll be damned if I'd want my kid living there."

(by Jim Toms, from the Daily Kent Stater, OH, 19 May 1967)

* * *

San Francisco Scene

Although Billy Graham and Emmett Grogan do not have much in common, they both play vital roles in keeping the perpetual San Francisco hippy carnival rolling. Graham (not the evangelist) provides the circuses and Grogan (of the Diggers) the free food.
Each weekend, Graham, who runs the famous psychedelic Fillmore Auditorium, coordinates a concert, complete with noise (rock and roll bands) at a painful decibel level, strobe lights, light shows, and day-glo paint. San Francisco has more than one modern coliseum, and if the Fillmore becomes a drag, the Avalon isn't far away. But it is just as far out as the Fillmore.
San Francisco is nurturing a sound-oriented culture and the developments there in rock and roll are months ahead of the rest of the country. The Jefferson Airplane, for example, which piloted the San Francisco sound at the beginning of the hippy boom last fall, is suffering a popularity nosedive now that they have started doing commercials for white Levis.
They are being replaced by new groups like the Grateful Dead, the Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, the Chocolate Watchband, and the Sopwith Camel, all of whose multiamplified music in the San Francisco auditoriums has not yet reverberated to the east coast.
On April Fool's night, the Byrds were at Winterland. Billy Graham also runs Winterland, a converted ice skating rink, but saves it for the big concerts. Knowledgeable sources claim that the acoustics and light shows at Winterland are real "bummers" (not as good as at the Fillmore or Avalon).
Nevertheless, what may have been just another normal, or even worse than normal concert to a Bay Area veteran, was an earful awakening to a New Yorker brought up on the printed word and the movie screen.
Apparently Billy Graham is attempting to shatter the sense barrier. The sights and sounds at Winterland merge into a new artform based on transforming the environment into an unbearable medium. Yet the few thousand hippies who packed the Winterland until 2 a.m. seem to thrive on the pain. Only the few tourists who strayed from the Greyhound bus could not make the Winterland trip.
But the uniqueness of the experience and the realization that everyone else was in a euphoric state nullified the pain. By obliterating the outside world of sense perceptions, the synthetic environment of Winterland became a whole new "reality" to be experienced and possibly enjoyed:
Six hippies sit cross-legged lettering "love" and "peace" in luminescent day-glo paint on the floor, on themselves, on others. Strobe lights blink on and off 120 times a minute fracturing all motion into a rapid series of dissociated actions.
Each person exists and ceases to exist 120 times a minute. Reality is dead. Time and space collapse into a slow progression of people spectrally floating by. Dizziness, but no nausea.
Just another concert to sate the hippy masses. And it goes on every week. But these masses are not satisfied by rock and roll alone. Music is just their outlet of expression. The common denominator and creative food for all hippies is dope and acid. Not only do drugs give them a passive personal self-experience, but they provide them with a new type of communication and community spirit. This spirit is perhaps the most striking aspect of the hippy community in Haight-Ashbury (better known as Hashbury). A crude type of communism underlies the community, and possessions, whether a place to stay for a night, or food, are freely shared.
The San Francisco Bay Area hippy community lives together, eats together, and trips together. The pulse of the synthetic Winterland environment is the pulse of a community vibrating between reality and what is to them a more meaningful psychedelic world - of a community that has dropped out and is looking for a place to land.

(by Robert Friedman, from the Columbia Daily Spectator, NY, 12 April 1967)

* * *


SAN FRANCISCO (UPI) - Sixty years ago this city was rocked by an earthquake. It wasn't the place to be.
Today San Francisco is quaking with vibrations of a different sort - the music of the 1960s called rock. And this is where it's at.
The vibrations come from amplifiers blaring sounds of electric guitars, rim shots on a snare drum, and wailing from a long-haired and wildly dressed singer.
The San Francisco sound, synonymous with the "turned-on" world of psychedelic happenings, is being felt in popular music quarters across the country.
Some local writers prefer to call San Francisco "The Liverpool of the United States." Liverpool is, of course, where the sound of the Beatles was born.
There are a number of reasons why San Francisco is, as young sound maker put it, "the holy city of music." It has hippies, a strong tradition of jazz, freedom of social expression, and large halls for dancing. Then, there's the aesthetic beauty, too.
The so-called "tribes" seem to blend easily. Those of the barefoot-and-bells set can "groove out" in the same dance hall with the Establishment in its costume of suit and tie, skirt and heels.
"People found out here that music is fun," said Jim Murray, 25, from Philadelphia. "Everybody wants to be themselves in this city and the music is part of it."
Murray plays guitar with a quintet called the Quicksilver Messenger Service. Quicksilver and a number of other groups such as the Jefferson Airplane, Steve Miller Blues Band, and the Grateful Dead have taken the local sound to other places by recordings and concerts.
The San Francisco sound - many musicians testify that there is such a thing - is a combination of electronics, visual effects, freedom, and the chance to play original pieces.
The widespread usage of LSD, marijuana, and other drugs is part of the scene, influencing the titles of songs, musicians' jargon, and the sounds themselves.
One band manager said he felt that "95% of the musicians in town have taken LSD." But musicians from the Dixieland, swing, and bop eras also used drugs.
It has been estimated that 2,000 groups are in the San Francisco Bay area, but not all of them can work regularly, or record.
Basically the sounds are the same, except for some soloists or electronic gimmicks. The musicians dress similarly, in outfits the "straight" world calls costumes.
New groups are born every week. You can hear rock bands playing in garages and apartments in the Haight-Ashbury district - the center of the hippie movement of the United States. [ . . . ]
Musicians emphasized that playing San Francisco happenings offers a chance to play original music. [ . . .]
Two of the "big rooms" for the new sounds, former dance halls of a near-forgotten music era, are the Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore Auditorium. On weekends, hundreds of persons wait in line to get in - and many never make it.
Avalon manager Chet Helms, 24, labels his dance-light show "Environmental Participatory Theater" and feels a responsibility toward the groups which play there.
Helms is more identified with the Hippies than Bill Graham, 35, who runs the Fillmore, in a predominantly Negro area skirting the Haight-Ashbury.
Graham has stated he is not a Hippie but a salesman of "talent and environment."
An evening in these halls means total assault of the senses. The music is loud. Abstract light patterns and psychedelic images with art films superimposed on them are projected on the walls. It is like looking at a moving colored slide under a microscope in a biology class.
There is often the smell of incense. Many dancers paint designs on their bodies and clothes in glowing paint, giving an eerie effect in strobe lights.
San Francisco has a solid history of contemporary music. The Barbary Coast of pre-earthquake days was a Dixieland center. Downtown, King Oliver played on Market Street before Chicago heard his Creole Jazz Band.
The Barbary Coast is now North Beach, where the mode is topless dancers. There isn't much work here for rock bands which want to experiment and express themselves to appreciative audiences. 
There's a line from a popular song that Hippies and their followers like to quote. It applies to the music scene, too.
"Something's happening here."

(by Mitchell Hider, United Press International, from the Nashville Tennessean, 19 June 1967)

* * *

Here's one account of an outdoor show from an English reporter visiting Haight-Ashbury... 

THE HIPPIES  [excerpt]

. . . That day there was a love-in, at least that is what the newspapers called it, although it did not seem to me to live up to quite so exotic a name.
At two o-clock on Saturday afternoon, the hippies set up a platform in one of San Francisco's parks, a narrow strip about 200 yards wide called the Panhandle. For eight hours through blaring loudspeakers a succession of bands beat out the loudest music I have ever heard.
Long-haired and bearded the hippies danced. As I went into the crowd the first thing which struck me was the overpowering reek of marijuana smoke.
And yet it was fun. This was the hippies not on their mystical beat but what they called the joyful thing. Mothers danced with babies strapped to their backs. Children danced. Lovers lay on the grass kissing.
One group after another played the wild-sounding music of the hippies. Music forms an important part of their lives.
The more famous groups have exotic names like Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, and the most famous of all - The Grateful Dead. This last group, led by an enormous wild figure known only as Pigpen, produces music which Paul McCartney regards as a threat to British groups. These were not the best groups, but their beat and electronic Indian whine stirred the crowd.
Two girls, as hippy girls are prone to do, took off all their clothes. No one among the crowd looked worried, but the police did.
Sirens, shrieks. The traffic was cut off from either side of the park. The girls were taken away. But it never occurred even to the police to disband the rest of the crowd.
I went away and came back at dusk. A new note had crept into affairs. Mingled with the hippies were people drinking from beer cans. The hippies were stoned but some others were drunk.
As the last band was finishing and packing up their instruments, Michael Bowen, the organiser of the love-in, appealed to the crowd to clean up the park before they left. Obediently the hippies set out to pick up the paper, the bottles, the detritus of the day.
Then a drunk threw a bottle at the stand. Michael Bowen came down to talk to me.
"You see it is going to be spoiled. Alcohol. That is the trouble in the world. What harm do we do? But drunks, they kill."
As I left the park I saw a girl lying writhing on the ground. From her mouth trickled yellow saliva. She was having what I had come to recognise as a bad LSD trip.
The next morning was the last that I spent in Haight-Ashbury.
For a time I had been beguiled by the hippies' gentleness, their generosity, their openness. Now I was depressed by their lethargy, their woolliness, their totally ineffectual way of life. [ . . . ]
In three months nearly a quarter of a million kids from all over the country...would come down to San Francisco, bed down where they might, and lose themselves in a mish-mash of aimless, pseudo-mystical drifting.
They would be kids disenchanted with the war, with the path which the American dream has taken. Lost, lonely, afraid.
California would seem a haven! LSD an alluring illusion. The music would entrance them. [ . . . ] And they would follow the new leaders. Leaders who might be almost as perverting of their minds as LSD.

(by Quentin Crewe, from the Sunday Mirror, UK, 4 June 1967

Thanks to Dave Davis

* * *

And from later in the year, an interview with Bill Graham...


The small neon sign on the dilapidated corner building reads simply "Fillmore Auditorium," and aside from the sight of a few couples walking up the wide stairs to the second-floor hall, there is little on the outside to suggest that this is where the action is in San Francisco.
Once inside, however, there is plenty of action - incredibly loud music, crazily flashing lights and slides, and a mass of people watching, listening, and absorbing the floor's vibrations.
Here, in a Negro slum district far from San Francisco's tourist attractions, is the original psychedelic dance hall, where the attraction of rock groups and bizarre light shows first achieved fame nearly two years ago.
Now, imitations of the Fillmore Auditorium are springing up all over the country. New York has the Electric Circus, Los Angeles the Kaleidoscope, Washington the Ambassador Theater. Even Chicago has its version of the Cheetah.
In the midst of this, The Fillmore, the father of them all, is doing its best to maintain its own identity. Its manager, 35-year-old Bill Graham, rejects the others as mere money-making ventures, describing his own Fillmore in such terms as "free art form" and "mixing of the media."

The Fillmore rocks, blinks, and shakes every weekend to the sounds of a variety of Bay Area groups, including the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Big Brother, Mother Earth, the Flaming Groovies, and a host of others. It attracts an average crowd of 1,000, sometimes as many as its capacity of 1,500. In addition to the best of San Francisco's rock groups, it presents well-known out-of-town performers, a skillfully composed light show, art shows, poetry readings, and free apples.
The apples, placed in baskets outside the dance hall, represent to Graham as much of the atmosphere of the Fillmore as does the music and light show. He gave them out free at first because he thought it would be a nice gesture. He keeps giving them out, partly as a tradition, but also because he feels they serve a practical purpose.
He compares the offering of free apples to offering house guests a drink. "It breaks down the subconscious tightness of some people," he says. "When they start to munch on something, it lessens inhibitions. It loosens them up."

For 12 years before it came under Graham's direction, in January, 1966, the Fillmore shook to the sounds of Negro bands playing for Negro audiences.
Since taking over, Graham has spent a considerable amount of time and energy molding the Fillmore to his liking. He has installed overhead projectors, liquid projectors, 16-mm cameras, strobe lights, fluorescent lights, and others - all of which are operated by four experts working together during performances.
The result is a light show that, through the skillful use of all the equipment, is tailored to the mood and rhythm of the music being played. Slides of ancient and modern art, famous personalities, motorcycles, and psychedelic cars are flashed on the side walls along with silent film shorts. All the while, enormous, colored, liquidy blobs grow and shrink on the wall in back of the performers in rhythm to their music.
On the third floor is a balcony where those with headaches and eyestrain can retreat for soft drinks and a snack (no liquor is served) and to watch the activity below. Throughout the building are the personality and pop art posters that have become a fad.

Graham, a long-haired, mod-dressed man, also manages the Jefferson Airplane, currently the most popular rock group to come out of San Francisco. He came to the United States in 1942, fleeing from Nazi Germany, where both his parents died in concentration camps. He says he has done everything. "From truck-driving to huckstering." He has a degree in business administration from City College in New York, and before coming to the Fillmore, he was producer for the satirical San Francisco Mime Troupe.
As the first place of its kind, the Fillmore had some difficulties winning community acceptance, most notably from the San Francisco Police Department.
In the early days, there were problems in obtaining a dance permit, and the police raided the hall. Graham fought back, insisting that there had never been a fight on the premises since he had taken charge.
At the time of the troubles, San Francisco Chronicle critic John L. Wasserman described Graham as "...ambitious, aggressive, imaginative, responsible, hard-working, opinionated, impatient, and the best entrepreneur of public entertainment in San Francisco."

In the interests of "free art form" and "mixing of the media," Graham has had at the Fillmore such people as poet Allen Ginsberg, folksinger Joan Baez, Muddy Waters, Stokely Carmichael, and jazzman Charles Lloyd.
Graham estimates he has given the Fillmore over to benefit performances more than 50 times since he opened. "That's what differentiates San Francisco rock and roll from others," observes Graham. "They'll play for nothing."
In fact, the success of the Fillmore stems in large part from its location in San Francisco, according to Graham. "The great thing we have going here is the people. They're sensitive, warm, and passionate. They're here to have a good time and that's about all.
"San Francisco, as far as the arts are concerned, is made up of a lot of rejects. They're from the theater, they're musicians, and they're writers. You add to that the up-and-comers and professionals. It's also a very romantic city. You get an emotional breed that comes here. You've got kinetics, action-reaction."
Graham becomes incensed when the Fillmore is referred to as a "hippie haven." "I want the shirt-and-tie to come here as well as the hippie. It's for everybody," he insists.
Nevertheless, he estimates that probably 60 per cent of each audience is of "the hippie movement." Most of those at the Fillmore who consider themselves hippies might probably more accurately be termed "establishment hippies" or "respectable hippies," mostly because they can afford the price of admission ($3 per single ticket) to the Fillmore.
With the "hippie haven" reputation naturally goes the marijuana-LSD reputation, Graham answers the implication by pointing out that he has had neither legal trouble not unpleasant personal experiences with drug users. He feels that these people have too much respect for the Fillmore and the service it performs to put its existence in danger by bringing drugs along when they come.
"If I were to tell you that nobody comes here glassy-eyed, I'd probably be lying," he concedes. "But if they do, they don't cause any trouble."

A quick, incisive man, Graham sees the Fillmore as the most uninhibited place of its kind. "Above all," he says, "the Fillmore doesn't stop being what it was. Success doesn't keep us from changing the way it does a lot of places. We're always trying to improve."
As for the future of the Fillmore, Graham believes it will still lead the way in setting rock music trends. "We're going through cycles," he observes. "We've had a blues cycle, a jazz cycle, and now we're going through an English cycle. I hope we'll grow instead of shrink. Above all, I hope that the dollar will remain secondary, and if it doesn't, then I hope they run over me."

David Gumpert is a University of Chicago student who is making his second appearance in Panorama. 

(by David Gumpert, from the Chicago Daily News, 25 November 1967) 


  1. I've added a few articles on the SF ballroom scene of early 1967, as seen by outsiders visiting the city. (I might add more as I find them.) Places like the Fillmore and the Avalon were becoming known nationwide.
    1967 saw a boom of articles from around the country on the growing hippie community in San Francisco - many of them fascinating, but generally outside the parameters of this blog. I wanted to include some pieces on the environment the Dead played in, the way baffled reporters perceived it.

    The Dead aren't mentioned much in these - the first review doesn't even name what band is playing. The actual music is irrelevant to these writers, all that matters is that it's too loud. (As Hans Keller asked Pink Floyd that year: "Why has it all got to be so terribly loud? For me it's too loud, I just can't bear it!" For that matter, a radio DJ in '66 also asked the Dead, "Why so loud?")
    The Kent State reporter attended one of the Dead shows at the Fillmore the first weekend of May '67 (with the Paupers and Collage), but I'm not sure of his accuracy...he sees the concert as a competition in which the band that gets the most applause gets to play the Fillmore again (the Dead win handily), and he seems to say that the Airplane played a surprise set even though they weren't billed.
    To the other reporters, it's all just deafening noise and lights and painful sensory overload. Each reporter views the hippies differently, though - Friedman sees them sympathetically, as a group ahead of the rest of the country creating their own strange new community. Toms, at the Fillmore, reports that nobody is dancing, they're a politely sitting and well-behaved crowd (who are suspiciously well-funded). Felton, at the Avalon, sees a much wilder crowd of dancers, stoned out of their minds and turning into little children again. Part of the difference may be because the atmosphere at the Avalon was looser and more permissive than Graham's venues. (They even provide pillows for the kids freaking out!)

    Many articles at the time worried about the upcoming 'summer of love.' As the 4/13/67 LA Times put it:
    Like a ship attacked by pirates, San Francisco is getting ready to repel boarders.
    City and council officials take seriously the threatened summer invasion of thousands of long-haired, indigent hippies, beatniks, and other rebellious youngsters with no means of support.
    The prospect of hippies pouring into [the city] when school is out gets more appalling every day...
    Police Chief T.J. Cahill [is] adamant: All existing ordinances governing sanitation, the blocking of public ways, and disturbing the peace will be enforced against all comers...
    Chief Cahill said hippies are no asset to San Francisco - even though the tourists like to gawk at them."

  2. I added a couple more pieces - both articles note that the influence of San Francisco has been spreading across the country; it's said that similar ballrooms "are springing up all over."

    First, a UPI article that ran in papers nationwide in June '67. (I also spotted it in the 6/11 Bridgeport Post, CT, the 6/11 Louisville Courier-Journal, KY, and the 7/1 Los Angeles Times.)
    It covers the rock scene in SF and, written for a general mainstream audience, isn't too insightful. (All SF bands are said to sound the same!) Some comments on the ballrooms echo the earlier articles - the "assault of the senses," the mix of hippie and suit-and-tie audiences, the disregard for any actual bands. There's some attempt to connect the scene with San Francisco's earlier history.

    Chet Helms is briefly mentioned - in May/June '67, a UPI interview with the "hippie leader" ran in dozens of papers around the country. That article called him "an elder statesman of San Francisco's long-haired, marijuana-smoking love generation...the operator of a successful dance hall loaded with pop art, psychedelic lighting effects, and San Francisco folk rock music that attract hippies, weekend hippies, and hundreds of tourists." Unfortunately that interview didn't say a thing about music or the ballrooms, it was all questions about the hippies and their philosophy (which is why it was reprinted so widely).

    Lastly, an interview with Bill Graham at the Fillmore. Naturally this focuses a lot more on the Fillmore as a business enterprise rather than its hippie audience. (And the suspicion that the people attending are too well-off to be true hippies resurfaces.) Graham, happy to be regarded as a trend-setter, speaks fondly of San Franciscans: "They'll play for nothing!" Of course he scoffs at the idea that he has any financial motive.

  3. To expand on Bob Cohen's interview in the first article, here's a 1970 interview with Cohen that I didn't have a home for anyplace else:


    It all started in the summer of 1964. Bob Cohen was asked to come to Virginia City to construct a light machine and when he arrived he found the old West.
    "Heavy drinking guys would tie their horses to hitching posts, wear guns, boots, long hair, and listen to the Charlatans. This place was so real that the tourists wouldn't even come to the town. Even the lettering used on the first posters was different; it was the image of old grand super funk.
    "Once I saw this place I got a job and spent the summer there. I felt that this style of life wasn't going to change. I really believed that the whole world would turn on and become hip," Cohen explained.
    After Cohen left Virginia City he heard of the things that were happening in San Francisco. So he came here in the Summer of 1965 and worked with Bill Graham on his first show, The Tribal Stomp.
    "Chet Helms and Bill Graham would trade weekends at the Fillmore, then Chet found the Avalon Ballroom," he said. Since that time Cohen has been doing all the sound work at the Avalon Ballroom and the Great Highway.
    "I recorded the shows as often as I could. I had no idea that they would have any value," he explained. Cohen's first album "Vintage Grateful Dead" was 144 on the album charts in its fourth week out.
    "The Columbia people are coming to listen to some Janis Joplin tapes I have. They were her last performance with Big Brother about three or four months ago. I had tapes of some of the first shows she did, but they are too far in the past and they are nothing really great. I also have tapes of Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Taj Mahal, and Steve Miller," he said.
    When asked how he came to work with Chet Helms he said, "I was resigned to living in Big Sur, but there were rumors trickling down from San Francisco about trips festivals and acid tests. I then got a letter from a friend saying that Chet needed somebody to do sound work, so I just went to his house and introduced myself."
    "At that time there were about 4-500 people involved in the scene. All the ingredients for the scene were within a few blocks of one another. There were sound people, light show people, and musicians. But things have changed since then. Now it's a music business. Then we were doing what came naturally and making money for what we would have been happy to do for free.
    "It was so exciting in the beginning. It was exciting to turn people on to an environment. The bands were only a part of that environment. The audience needed to participate because they were also part of the whole. We needed all the parts.
    "It started with about 1,000 people coming, but every week there would be more people. Then the rest of the world took notice. The people in New York kept asking us, 'What's your gimmick?' 'Where do you get your ideas?' We were just being ourselves. It was a happening.
    "Then the evolution began. People changed and there was the influx to the Haight and now there is no more scene. Now the other part is all over, but I like to live in the past. Now everything is proceeded by how much is in it for me? Now everything has gone underground, but that's sad because everyone is unaware of what others are doing." [...]
    Now Cohen is involved in promotion. He has an electronics firm that makes customized electronic equipment. He also rents out sound systems for rock shows and is in the process of building a recording studio in Oakland. [...]

    (by Kathy Bramwell, from the Synapse, the UCSF student paper, 12/4/70)

  4. I added an excerpt from a long, negative June '67 report on the San Francisco hippies printed in the English paper the Mirror. Unlike the other pieces here, this article was about the hippie scene in general with just an incidental section on a concert, but I included it since it has an outsider's view of one of the famous SF park shows.

    "This stretch of Haight-street is the home of the hippies, the weirdest phenomenon that even America has ever produced in the way of eccentric cults. In a sense the hippies are the successors to the beats, but they are in a class of their own... In the past six months the hippies have literally taken over an area of San Francisco covering about four blocks. And so peculiar are they that tourist buses now include the district in their route.
    The hippies either ignore the tourists or they laugh at them. For the hippies are either drugged or they are busy pretending that the rest of the world does not exist.
    The first thing you notice as you walk down the streets is that at least half the people are swaying slightly. Their eyes are glazed and they give sudden laughs. Or they cry. They are stoned, drugged, doped."
    The article emphasizes the hippies' drug use, silliness and naivety: "The hippies' idea of pleasure is to be 'high' all the time. For them the drug and its effects have become something like a religion... Young people from all over American were flocking to San Francisco to join in this bizarre cult. Anything from 100,000 to 200,000 youngsters are expected this summer to 'tune in' to the message, 'turn on' to LSD, and 'drop out' of society as we know it. They are coming to share in the poetic vision... They cannot find a place in the world as it is."

    This reporter is unimpressed with the hippie community, finding it a sad, shabby, crime-ridden place, and the hippies themselves delusional. Among others, he interviews Allen Cohen of the Oracle and Hetty McGee (a friend of the Dead's, though that's not mentioned), who extol the benefits of LSD; and he also visits the Diggers' shop.
    Given the author's grim portrayal, you can almost see the "summer of love" turning bleak before it even began.

    Amidst this, he also drops by a Panhandle love-in (date unknown). Like pretty much all the other reporters, he's uninterested in the bands (except for their weird names and how "wild-sounding" and loud they are). He's more taken by the behavior of the stoned crowd, dancing, tripping and undressing.
    The article doesn't have any approximate date for the reporter's visit, but the love-in was on a Saturday sometime in May (Expo '67 is mentioned in the article, the Montreal World's Fair which had started in late April). Michael Bowen (the love-in speaker) was an editor of the Oracle who'd been one of the organizers of the Love Pageant Rally in the Panhandle on 10/6/66, as well as the Human Be-In.

    It's said that Paul McCartney regards the Dead "as a threat to British groups." Very unlikely! Nonetheless, McCartney had visited San Francisco back in April '67, even dropping in on a Jefferson Airplane rehearsal and spending some time with them:
    So he probably at least heard of the Dead, and perhaps some (mis)quote about the SF musical threat was given to the British press on his return home.

  5. Another article on the Fillmore from closer to home - the Daily Gater, the SF State College student paper:

    As a young legend, the Fillmore Auditorium sparkles with the hippie culture.
    The auditorium, a barn-like structure affectionately called "The Mo," bills itself as psychedelic music with light show. But it's more.
    Take the light show for example. Strobe lights freeze the customers into grotesque images, shrouding the shapes of hirsute, showless hippies.
    The hippies and inhabitants of the Fillmore find an almost child-like fascination in the blinding lights and ear-shattering music.
    Although the atmosphere approaches that of a pipe-dream, it conveys the unreality that permeates hippiedom. It produces a certain aesthetic entrancement and creative impetus.
    The on-looker feels an intensive experience as wild images glow on the walls. The spontaneous light shows grant instant entertainment. A naked snake woman, when flashed on a wall, combines an air of mysticism with reality.
    Skilled light operators like the "Head-Lights" conjure up a series of sights of such perfect uniformity that the sensation produces a lasting effect. The "Head-Lights" are a group of young enthusiasts skilled in their work, producing astonishing effects with their lighting equipment. They often appear at the Fillmore. They are a self-made group.
    One of the members said they make all their own crystals and colorings that produce the images. They have reels of film which they use to display figures against the psychedelic lights. As a group they travel from one place to another - the Fillmore, then Colorado, Los Angeles, and eventually back to San Francisco.
    Hippie attitudes are reflected in the Fillmore: independence, material possessions [sic], and honesty, all subordinated with an air of permissiveness. The permissiveness dwells in the individual. It is an odor, a sight, a sound.
    (by Brenda Brooks and Jim de Maio, Daily Gater 7/14/67)

    (Has a picture with caption: "Girl rocks with Grateful Dead in psychedelic setting.")