Jul 9, 2019

May 29, 1971: Winterland

SAN FRANCISCO - An impromptu Acid Test was held at Winterland Saturday night at the Grateful Dead concert. Electric Punch was passed out, and unfortunately, a lot of people failed the Test (around 50 were taken to hospitals). Chief Snooky Nelder is pissed off. He has the power to revoke Winterland's and Bill Graham's licenses, and is holding hearings to determine whether he should do so. Too bad Snooky didn't get any of the punch.

(from "Short Shit" in the Berkeley Tribe, 4 June 1971)

* * *

Heavy Water at Winterland

Chief Nelder is after Bill Graham's ass as a result of the "electric water" that turned on hundreds at a recent Grateful Dead concert at Winterland.
A full scale investigation is going on to determine who was responsible for passing around water laced with acid (although it hasn't been proved that the substance actually was LSD). Nelder tends to blame Graham, who holds the license on Winterland. Graham says that Nelder is harassing him, that he's given thousands of concerts and this was the first time something like this has happened. A police hearing on whether Graham should be allowed to keep his license may follow.
As well as can be determined, about 600 people out of an audience of several thousand got turned on by spiked water being passed around in paper cups. Some shadowy figure announced from the stage that people should take a swallow and pass it on. A lot of people got stoned and between 30 to 40 were treated at Mt. Zion Hospital's Crisis Clinic for bad trip symptoms. The police got into the act when a freaked out guy started running around the neighborhood in the nude, gibbering about death and destruction.
No matter what your opinion of Bill Graham, it seems clear that he shouldn't be punished for someone else's idea of a good time. We all know that it sure as hell wasn't Graham who passed the acid around. For that matter, no one should be punished by the police for handing out psychedelics. It's an act of love. But whoever did the number should think twice about giving dope of undeterminate quality to a crowd of people who may not be ready for it. It's not criminal, but it's irresponsible.
As for Graham and Winterland, the main problem is that this ballroom is sitting in the middle of a mixed ghetto, but reflects zero community consciousness. The area surrounding it is a "gray" neighborhood of poor blacks, Japanese, and hip whites. At no time have Winterland facilities been made available to the immediate community for neighborhood functions (although there have been benefits held there for other causes). During the day, the ballroom would make an ideal child care center. Unemployed kids from off the streets could be trained in skills in the vast facilities. A few benefits at Winterland could kick off these projects.
As it is, the neighborhood can only react to the ballroom in a negative way. Hundreds of stoned teenyboppers from the suburbs inundate the area, littering it with wine bottles and blocking driveways with their cars. On the night of a big concert, there [are] so many stoned people driving around that there are at least two accidents.
Rock concerts used to be an up. People who came to them used to be up. Now it's a totally negative scene. We're stuck with a plastic palace eagerly taking money from ego-tripping, insensitive kids in the middle of poverty and helplessness. Forget the acid, what about this Bill Graham?

(from the San Francisco Good Times, 11 June 1971)

* * *


I went to see the Grateful Dead concert Saturday night.
I went down to Winterland about 5 in the afternoon and found a long line had formed. It was still 3 hours away from concert time.
The security pigs bunched us up into fours and had us stand behind a line on the sidewalk. If we were standing with one foot over that line they'd scream at us to get back.
Finally we were let into the building. We got a seat about 40 feet from the stage. And this is where I met Jane. She was really farout and we got along really well together.
The first group to come on was R.J. Fox. They were an acoustic group that sounded like C.S.N.&Y. They played for about 45 minutes and seemed to bore everyone. Then came the New Riders without Garcia. They played only one good song and that was Honky Tonk Women. They really needed Jerry on the pedal steel to make things go.
Finally at about 11:30 they started setting up equipment for the Dead. It took a long time to set up because the organ didn't work. But they finally got that settled and the Dead came on.
At about that time people started passing back what I thought was water. Jane and I took a few sips and passed it on. It tasted like watered down Koolaid but looked like tea. A couple in front of us must have drunk a whole cup of it.
It hit me right away, I felt totally wasted. I just wanted to lie down and go to sleep. Things began to grow fuzzy and the music never stopped.
It was then I started to imagine things. I began thinking that I was the center of attraction and that everyone was watching me. I would look around and notice that people were watching me. The exit doors were open and it was raining outside.
I looked up at the Dead and they were covered with checkerboard patterns of green, blue, and red.
A girl in front us kept asking if we were on acid. She fell down on the floor and started to put things in her mouth. She would pick up tin cans, papers, socks, coats, garbage, and anything else that was on the floor. She threw up all over and then tried to take her clothes off.
People were freaking out all over the place. It was like people were being shot down. People would fall down and struggle to get on their feet again. One guy fell on about five people and they all fell like dominoes.
People were fighting with each other. Others were trying to calm down the ones who had freaked out.
I just held on to Jane and kept my balance as best I could. Time actually halted as if we were dead. Jane and I were the only ones standing in a five foot radius while the people around us were squirming on the floor like dying fish. 
The Dead must have played one song that was a half an hour long and that half hour seemed like an eternity. Finally they pulled their plugs and left the stage.
Jane and I sat down as the people started to stomp. The whole floor shook. I looked around for my coat and never found it. The place was a dump, there was clothing and garbage all over. So I picked Jane up and started for the door. I noticed that everyone else was totally spaced. We got to the door and the fresh air hit me. It was so beautiful after what we had just got out of. I looked up and watched the cops chase people off the fire escapes.
We then started home. It was hard for me to cross the streets because the lights blended together. We went into a gas station and got something to drink. Jane was just numb. I don't think she felt or heard anything.
That's where I met Chick and Ed, they were from Stockton and they needed a place to crash. So we all started off for my place. It was lucky I had them along with me because I started to trip again. I didn't know what I was doing or what I was saying, I was just walking straight ahead.
It took ages to get home. Every city block seemed miles long. We finally made it home and crashed right away.
The next morning I woke up with double vision and I couldn't think at all. I walked Jane to the exit and she hitched home.

(from the Berkeley Barb, 11 June 1971) 

* * *


About 1000 of the 4500 youths attending a rock concert at Winterland Saturday night got stoned when someone spiked caldrons of water with LSD.
"There's some water being passed out. Just take a sip and pass it back so everybody can have some," was the announcement made over a mike shortly before midnight.
"It was electric water," commented George S. Lawes, bearded 21 year old son of a New York banker who came here six months ago. "We all knew what it was."
Sitting on a bench at the jail in the Hall of Justice, he told how he freaked out after a couple of sips of the free punch, and how he was arrested when he walked outside to find a ride home to Berkeley.
He and seven others, including a girl he met on the street, were arrested on drug charges as they wandered around "lost" on the street near Winterland.
In addition four juveniles were taken home to their parents, and one youngster was taken to the Youth Guidance Center.
Police were called to Winterland early yesterday after firemen reported that the auditorium was overcrowded.
The first two police to arrive, Loyd Yeargain and Stephen Bosshard, said there were two girls completely nude but the place was so jammed they couldn't get close enough to make an arrest.
Yeargain reported:
"The main floor was crowded and no aisles were available for exit. Numerous persons were observed to be in an intoxicated condition, but no alcoholic beverages were observed."
He later estimated that almost a fourth of those present had sipped some of the spiked "water." Of those, almost 40 went to nearby Mount Zion hospital for treatment of "bad trips."
Bill Graham, who promoted the concert by The Grateful Dead and other rock bands Saturday and last night, said he was unaware of the announcement about free liquid refreshments.
Both he and the police saw to it there was no repeat performance by the audience last night.
But police, who pass on license applications for places like Winterland, said an investigation would be made to see if the Winterland permit for concerts should be withdrawn. Last night's concert was a sellout, at $2 a head, with youngsters lined up on the street two hours before the doors opened.

(from the San Francisco Examiner, 31 May 1971)

* * *


Police Chief Alfred Nelder said today that Winterland's dance and entertainment permits will be revoked unless the operators can prove they took measures to prevent Saturday night's mass stoning.
He said he will call a hearing in his office to review the case of the LSD-spiked water that caused 1000 of the 4500 youths attending a rock concert to get stoned. Thirty persons were taken to a hospital after suffering a bad trip.
Nelder said the permits were granted by the Police Department's permit bureau some time ago to an outfit calling itself the Shasta Corp. The chief said the outfit was not familiar to him but he still intended to call its top people into his office after an investigation of the stoning is completed.
"I would expect the operators to conduct any affair properly," Nelder said. "There was a good possibility somebody could have died."
Sgt. Charles Hoenisch of the narcotics detail said parents called police even two days after the concert to complain that their children were still showing a reaction to the drug.
As the Grateful Dead, among other rock groups, were presenting a concert, someone announced over the public address system:
"There's some water being passed out. Just take a sip and pass it on back so everybody can have some."
"We don't know it was LSD," Nelder said, but a number of the participants at the concert told police it was the drug, he added.
"We know there were three people involved - one who made the announcement over the microphone and two others who brought in two 30-gallon plastic garbage cans of spiked water," said Hoenisch.

(from the San Francisco Examiner, 1 June 1971)

* * *


Rock concert promoter Bill Graham today aired his feelings concerning Police Chief Al Nelder's comments that the Winterland Arena dance permit should be withdrawn as a result of Saturday night's incident in which dozens of patrons drank punch laced with LSD.
"Six years and 1300 concerts we've done, and we've had nothing of this kind before," Graham said. "And now a single incident over which no one could possibly have complete control, and we are all over the front pages and on national television, and Chief Nelder is asking us to close down our operation.
"We are being treated like opportunistic punks rather than established members of the San Francisco community. Does the chief want to police the drug trade or police our dances and concerts?
"I'll help the chief fight drugs, but I won't be his political tool. Our policy at the Fillmore and Winterland has always been to take wine bottles, booze, beer cans and such from customers as they enter the hall. But we can't check on everything that people bring with them."
The Grateful Dead and their friends who presented the music over the weekend had nothing to do with the LSD incident, Graham said.
"What burns me is that the instant response of the police makes it appear that the majority of officialdom in San Francisco would rather see our dance halls and auditoriums dark and shut down and thus avoid all problems rather than face the difficulties we have as producers of the shows."
He added:
"I don't call Chief Nelder's attitude much in the way of community spirit."
Graham continued:
"I doubt if the Chief understands the seriousness of his suggestion.
"I am proud of my relations with this community, and with New York (Fillmore East).
"Next week in New York I am receiving the B'nai B'rith "Humanitarian of the Year" award...and in the town where I live and work (SF) they're saying I'm ripping-off the kids.
"Will this get me out of the rock-dance promotion scene? ... It may make me move faster than I'd planned, which was to close down Fillmore West at the end of the summer.
"Don't praise me for what I've done, don't knock me for what I don't do."

(by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 3 June 1971)

* * *


The nudes frolicked and the cops couldn't get near enough to make a pinch.
And if Winterland loses its entertainment license, there will be no traditional Ice Follies opening here, a variety of witnesses told a police permit hearing officer here yesterday.
Patrolman Loyd Yeargain said he personally viewed two female nudes and three unclothed males before the bandstand of the rock dance held May 29 in the jam-packed auditorium at Post and Steiner Streets.
There was another nude male with a bloodied head staggering outside the auditorium, Yeargain added.
The patrolman also said his investigation had turned up the 35 gallon "trash can" filled with LSD-spiked water, which led to the arrest of nine young people and hospitalization of 40 more for narcotics abuse.
It was that mass ingestion of LSD which led to yesterday's hearing before Deputy Police Chief Donald Scott on whether the department should revoke the entertainment permit of the vintage auditorium.
Yeargain testified he found the offending "trash can" next to the auditorium stage. He also said he heard a voice on the public address system urge rock fans:
"If you have any refreshments it would be nice if you would share it with others. This is with the compliments of the band."
The performing band of the moment, as recalled by Yeargain, was the Grateful Dead. But neither Yeargain nor any other witness testified who really was responsible for the mass LSD freakout and no fingers of guilt were pointed at the Dead.
Yeargain said he found many members of the crowd commenting on how they had no trouble procuring marijuana and a variety of pills. The biggest lack, according to Yeargain, was security guards.
Fire Department Captain Frank Flaherty told the hearing officer his department found the auditorium extremely overcrowded and that the youthful rock crowd had brought blankets and mattresses, which he deemed a panic hazard.
The captain noted that, despite his department's continuing inspection of auditoriums, Winterland lacks sufficient exits on its north side.
"Panic city" was Flaherty's estimate of what might have occurred.
The possible death knell of the Ice Follies inaugural was sounded by Harold C. Copeland, president of the Follies. Noting that his fully costumed Follies skaters are now in rehearsal for the traditional local opening, Scallen said:
The Follies opening is scheduled for July 2 and the show will run in Winterland, providing no revocation, until Sept. 5.
Bill Graham, promoter of the rock dance, refuted Patrolman Yeargain's criticism of the lack of private security guards. According to Graham, there were 25 guards on duty when the minimum required by law was only eight.
Graham, who has announced his withdrawal from rock promotions, observed he has promoted 1283 concerts but "saw nothing that would attract his attention as the officer described."
Yeargain was asked by Cecil Poole, attorney for both Graham and Shasta Telecasting Corporation, which owns the auditorium, why he had not arrested the offending nudes.
"I couldn't get near them," admitted the patrolman.

(from the San Francisco Examiner, 30 June 1971)

See also:



  1. The famous 1971 "acid test," not that anyone knew it was a test. You'd think by this time, everyone in San Francisco would know that if you're at a Dead show, and cups are being passed around, and a "shadowy figure" onstage tells you to take a sip...it's probably unwise to drink deep. But a lot of the kids there apparently didn't know better, with memorable results.

    Attendees remembering the show today say that leaving it was the most harrowing part:
    "Not a good scene outside when the show ended and many unprepared people tried to navigate their way home in an altered state..."
    "The scene outside was definitely nuts."
    "Some young 16 or 17 year olds didn't know what was happening to them, and got treated like shit when they exited the show and asked the cops for help."
    "Once the Dead came back out all Hell broke loose... The place was packed to the rafters... We left during the show. And when I say left I mean on our hands and knees literally. My starkest memory was coming out of the show and seeing this naked guy on top of a car howling at the moon with San Fran's finest standing there laughing with each other waiting for him to come down."
    "I have many memories of this show: the group mind, hanging on each note...alternate realities, and oh yeah - getting busted outside by SF's finest... The experience disoriented me for awhile afterward."

    The Good Times article mainly uses the event as another opportunity to complain that Graham's Winterland doesn't serve the community and rock concerts are now a "totally negative scene."

    The Barb article is fantastic. Strikingly, it says of the Dead show that "the music never stopped... [They] played one song that was a half an hour long and that half hour seemed like an eternity."
    Of the openers, James & the Good Brothers aren't mentioned, making me think they didn't actually appear. One attendee of the May 30 show says they did not perform on the 30th, so it's likely they didn't show on either date:
    NRPS gave a rare performance without Garcia; this reviewer was not thrilled with their act without the pedal steel, saying Honky Tonk Women was the only good song of their set.
    The Winterland shows were originally scheduled for May 28-29, but were changed to May 29-30 at the last minute. (The Examiner noted on the 29th, "Canceled last night due to Jerry Garcia's illness.") It's puzzling that Garcia didn't feel up to sitting at the pedal steel for an NRPS set on the 29th, but was still up for a long Dead show in which he doesn't seem too impaired. (Maybe he had a sip!)

    The Examiner articles mostly feature the aftermath, in which the police debated whether to shut down Winterland. (Note that the cops decided not to bother with the crowded Bosch scene with nudes inside, but instead waited outside to arrest confused lost kids wandering around the streets.)
    Fortunately for the band, "no fingers of guilt were pointed at the Dead" - instead, Bill Graham received the brunt of the accusations, to his irritation.
    But concerts would continue. Graham had already announced in April that he was shutting down the Fillmores, which proceeded on schedule, while he continued to run shows at Winterland. The Dead's Winterland shows were the last of the season; the next rock shows there would be in September, for just as every summer, the Ice Follies took over Winterland during the summer months.
    The 9/23/71 Examiner reported that deputy chief Scott "sustained a charge that the dance at which 30 young people were drugged and subsequently hospitalized was operated in a manner that endangered the public. But he would not sustain a charge that Graham acted improperly, and the rock promoter was allowed to continue operating on probation for a year."

  2. This is pretty crazy stuff. One should not underestimate the evangelical zeal of acidheads in the early seventies.

    Raymond Chandler’s Trouble is My Business was originally published in Dime Detective in 1939, featuring acerbic John Dalmas, not Philip Marlowe. In later editions of the story, Marlowe was substituted.

    I didn’t know this when I saw Bert Deling’s 'Dalmas' at the Schonell Theatre at University of Queensland when it was first released in 1973.

    The plot outline:

    "An ex-cop, Pete Dalmas, is pursuing a drug runner Mr Big. He visits another ex-cop, Rojack, who has become a drug addict. Rojack gives him a lead to a drug dealer called the Plastic Man. He follows the Plastic Man to a seaside camp and the film turns into a film about the making of the film, with the director and actors discussing filmmaking and drugs."

    My recollection of the film was consistent with that outline. The drugs that the director and actors discuss are mostly one drug: LSD.

    At the time I was very impressed, and looked forward to Deling’s next effort, which turned out to be the wonderful 'Pure Shit'. 'Dalmas' was never released commercially. It never appeared in the VCR or DVD eras. I thought I would never see it again. It was the one outstanding item on my list.

    Turns out I was wrong. Finally, it emerged on YouTube in 2013.

    'One critic wrote that "with Dave Jones’ Yackety Yack [the film] constitutes the clearest presence of Godard in Australian cinema."'
    Also from Alchetron

    I was tripping when I saw Dalmas for the first time. I had the location as Sydney, but it was Melbourne. This is forgivable since I was familiar with neither city at the time. It certainly wasn’t Brisbane. I had the Plasticman as a dwarf, based on a strong memory of him beating a drum in a public space, explaining his intentions to sell LSD to the onlookers’ children. He wasn’t a dwarf, but most of that I had right. Amazingly, snatches of the dialogue were still lodged in my memory.

    When movie starts to mutate, the director (played by John Duigan) combines an explanation of the anarchist principles that guide their work with a pep talk:

    '"… you’ve created a fine balance between texture and style, Brian."
    "Sorry, Frank.”'

    No wonder 'Dalmas' was four years in the making! It is a full length 101 min feature, available for your viewing pleasure at:


    or by searching for Damas-Redux.

    I think it is a very valuable film about LSD, and should have amassed far more than the 418 views it was registering when I found it.

  3. I was at this show with a friend and we had a grand old time! The music was awesome as always and I didn't notice anyone freaking out around us. I was VERY weird when we left and some odd things happened with security that I won't go into. It was such a good night overall, we rushed out the next day and got tickets to the Sunday show.

  4. Hey! Thanks so much for this info. I'd love to use a quote from that San Francisco Good Times article, "FAILING THE ACID TEST: Heavy Water at Winterland", but I noticed you haven't included the author. Do you know who wrote it? I've been digging like crazy through archives and I can't find it anywhere. You'd really be helping me out a lot. Thanks so much!

    1. No attributed author. Try here:
      https://www.jstor.org/stable/community.28044074?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=ti%3A%28%22san+francisco+good+times%22%29&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3Fccda%3DeyJpZCI6ICIxMDAwODYzNDciLCAicGFnZU5hbWUiOiAiSW5kZXBlbmRlbnQgVm9pY2VzIiwgInBhZ2VVcmwiOiAiL3NpdGUvcmV2ZWFsLWRpZ2l0YWwvaW5kZXBlbmRlbnQtdm9pY2VzIiwgInR5cGUiOiAiY29sbGVjdGlvbiIsICJwb3J0YWxOYW1lIjogIlJldmVhbCBEaWdpdGFsIiwgInBvcnRhbFVybCI6ICIvc2l0ZS9yZXZlYWwtZGlnaXRhbC8ifQ%253D%253D%26so%3Dasc%26Query%3Dti%253A%2528%2522san%2Bfrancisco%2Bgood%2Btimes%2522%2529%2B%26sd%3D1971%252F06%26ed%3D1971%252F06&ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_phrase_search%2Fcontrol&refreqid=fastly-default%3Ab36d042d09bc16f31bdc484507a96722&seq=4#page_thumbnails_tab_contents (page 4)

    2. Thank's so much! That's very helpful.