A History of the Haight-Ashbury
Vintage Books, A Division of Random House,
New York, 1985, Copyright 1984 by Rolling Stone Press.
new Year's Eve, Stewart Brand and some associates staged a parade
down Montgomery Street, the heart of San Francisco's financial
district. Office workers were celebrating with the traditional
ritual of shredding the past year's calendars and throwing the
paper out the windows. "What you are doing is beautiful," the
paraders told the bankers and secretaries they passed in the street.
"Realize that you're in a parade and you'll be as beautiful as
what you do."
real reason for the parade was to get a little press attention
for an event three weeks in the future, a sort of circus that
would gather together the Acid Test, the Open Theater, Tape Music
Center activities, rock bands, light shows and everything else
the organizers could think of. Brand and his friends were going
to use Longshoremen's Hall and have Bill Graham coordinate it.
The name was straightforward: the Trips Festival.
was another small Test on New Year's at Sound City, a San Francisco
recording studio, where the events were recorded to be released
as an album.
January 8 they planned a bigger Test than ever before. They
had the Fillmore Auditorium, with more electronic equipment than
ever, since Owsley Stanley had turned his perfectionist attentions
to the sound equipment being used by the Dead. He'd bought cratefuls
of amplifiers and speakers and monitors and even an oscilloscope.
This time the Pranksters had closed-circuit TV portapaks to add
to the instantaneity. Ron Boise brought a lot of Thunder Sculptures
for this event, including one shaped like a vulture, another shaped
like a seashell that you could crawl into and get lost in, and
the Tuned Woman.
Fillmore was basically a huge dance floor with a balcony running
along two walls. The balcony was subdivided into dressing
rooms and offices, so the Pranksters were able to wire the place
up with microphones and speakers in unexpected places, so
might be downstairs watching somebody make a fool of himself on
the closed-circuit TV and suddenly hear something you'd said upstairs
a few minutes ago broadcast
all over the hall. The floor was littered with electronic boxes
and skeins of electrical cable. They had packed in so much electronic
equipment the whole hall had a low, dull buzzing sound.
one of the balconies Stewart Brand found Neil Cassady in an unusual
pose, standing still and watching. Not jerking around, not running
his mouth, not tossing his biceps-exercise hammer. He was gazing
down at the sea-floor riot of blinking electronic equipment, stoned
people reeling around blowing whistles, counting their toes, looking
for their lost minds in the Thunder Machines. Two electrified
guitar bands were playing at cross-purposes; slides and swirls
of color were being projected on the walls, as well as sometimes
what seemed to be snatches of a Kesey novel in progress,
this whole event was a Kesey novel in progress. Cassady looked
serene and meditative. "It looks," he said placidly, "like the
publicity for your Trips Festival is going pretty well."
for the Trips Festival, which had now hired an advertising agency,
was going full blast. With full McLuhanite confidence in the world-historical
force they represented,
Brand and company took posters and leaflets advertising their
event to the posh Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill. "Trips Festival"?
They were directed to the travel desk.
Gottlieb, a folksinger whose highly successful group, the Limelighters,
had disbanded two and a half years before, had just started writing
a music column for the San Francisco Chronicle. Stewart Brand,
Ramon Sender of the Tape Center and Ben Jacopetti of Open Theater
went to talk to him about a write-up. His column appeared on Tuesday.
I were to tell you that an event of major significance in the
history of religion is going to take place in this City of Saint
Francis this weekend," the column began, "you would say,'You stayed
out of work too long.' And if I were to tell you that an event
of major significance in the history of the arts is going to take
place simultaneously, you would pat my hand and say, 'Drink this
glass of warm milk slowly and try to get some rest.' " In a work,
what was happening was that "in His infinite wisdom the Almighty
is vouchsafing visions on certain people in our midst along side
which the rapturous transports of old Saint Theresa are but early
"Milton Berle Shows" on a ten-inch screen." Gottlieb recommended
the Trips Festival to the churches, the intellectuals, the man
in the street and even the man in the ghetto. To the Chamber of
Commerce he pointed out that a tourist attraction during the slump
season was nothing to despise.
judge also had warned him [Kesey] specifically not to go to the
Trips Festival. Too bad. Kesey and his friends took their garish
bus directly from the courtroom to downtown Union Square to publicize
the Trips Festival. They paraded around in Prankster costumes,
which had come to look like Marvel Comics superhero suits,
in white jeans with the word HOT printed on one buttock, COLD
on the other and TIBET in the middle. They spoke to the press,
set up and played a Thunder Machine, and unloosed two balloons
carrying a sign imprinted with the word NOW that ascended beautifully
until snagged on an airlines's sign on an office building.
Brand was worried that this publicity front-page news from rooftop
bust to balloon ascent might jeopardize the Trips Festival's use
of Longshoremen's Hall. They had been promoting the event as a
"non-drug re-creation of a psychedelic experience," a McLuhanite
Global Village electronic art happening. On the handbills they
had suavely defined a trip as "an electronic experience."
first night was supposed to be shared by America Needs Indians,
now evolved to a stage designated Sensorium Nine, and Open Theater.
Or as the handbill explained, "slides, movies, sound tracks, flowers,
food, rock 'n' roll eagle lone whistle, indians and anthropologists,"
plus "Revelations__nude projections, the God Box. The endless
explosion. The Congress of Wonders, the Jazz Mice, liquid projections,
etc. & the unexpectable."
The promoters were also spreading rumors about the possible appearance
of Allen Ginsberg, Marshall McLuhan and topless dancers. Of course
that was possible. Christ knew, anything was possible.
practice the event engulfed the two shows. Both America Needs
Indians and the Open Theater's cabaret theater were mournfully
out of place in the rackety, echoing space of Longshoremen's Hall.
America Needs Indians was just a little tepee and some slides,
so far as most people could tell. But there were things to do.
Mikes and speakers and electrical gadgets strewn around. A light
show with strobe. A booth selling books on psychedelic subjects,
and another selling books about insects. There were Trips Festival
T-shirts for sale. And a shopping bag full of Owsley's latest
LSD was making the rounds of the hall.
mostly it was unparalleled chaos in a crowded hall pulsing with
undirected energy. A young woman jumped up on stage, stripped
to the waist and danced until Brand got her off. This clinched
it for the Open Theater, which was supposed to go on at ten__they
weren't going to attempt their nude "Revelations" in this wild
energy. They read their sermons and got about halfway through
the God Box skits when it became obvious that the crowd wanted
rock and roll. They quickly brought on the Marbles, who had recently
metamorphosed into a band calling itself the Loading Zone.
Saturday night the Tape Center was going on with films by the
Canyon Cinema Group in something called "Options and Contracts
at the Present Time." The Ann Halprin
Dancers, films by Bruce Baillie and Anthony Martin and a Vortex
Light Box were going to be the visuals. Sound would come from
a synthesizer invented by Donald Buchla, which would perform on
its own and also modulate the rock and roll sounds of Big Brother
and the Holding Company in freakish and avant-garde ways. The
Acid Test would follow at 10:00 P.M. "Can you die to your corpses?
Can you metamorphose? Can you pass the twentieth century? "What
is total dance?"
indeed. Big Brother and the Holding Company, fresh from their
first gig a week before, barely had time to set up onstage before
the Grateful Dead swept them off and the Acid Test was fait accompli.
Dancing, strobes, ultraviolet lights that made Day-Glo paint fluoresce
all the more brightly, strange things being written on the overhead
projector and flashed on the wall (Anybody who knows he is God
go up onstage) and announced over the loudspeakers.
lines to get into the hall were endless. When the hall closed
at 2:00 A.M. there was still a line; probably two or three whole
audiences passed through the place in a single night. But the
two o'clock close-down left a lot of spectacularly wasted people
out on the street with nothing to do but locate somebody's apartment,
or find their way down to the beach and listen to the waves until
thought had been given to what people could do in the morning
hours when they were still stoned from the night before. The festival
listed some side Trips. There was a "Worship Service" at the Tape
Music Center at 11:00 A.M. with Chloe Scott, dance mistress, and
Lou Harrison, composer. Those who showed up found that the room
was already scheduled for a light show in the Sunday morning series
Bill Ham had been doing there for the past couple of weeks. After
confused negotiations the two events combined, sort of. For 3:00
P.M. a mime dance sound show was scheduled at a downtown theater.
The Music Elizabeth Harris, Pauline Oliveros The Dance and large
Mime Troupe Cast The Bows The SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS Psychedelic Shop
1535 haight St. Sunday evening's events were "still being assembled"
when the handbills were printed. The planners tap-danced around
this with McLuhanism: "Since the common element of all shows is
ELECTRICITY, this evening will be programmed from stimuli provided
by a pinball machine. A nickel in the slot starts the vening."
program listed filmmakers, light artists, dancers, more avant-garde
music, "Chinese New Year's Lion Dancers and 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."
turned out as another sort of rock dance plus Acid Test. A film
consisting of a repeated loop of Jackie Kennedy reaching for a
door handle after her husband's assassination
was on the screens. Kesey was writing on the overhead projector
again, but Stewart Brand's partner in America Needs Indians was
squabbling with him and projecting slides of architecture over
Kesey's novelistic fragments. The stroboscopic trampolinist actually
showed up, a champion amateur trampolinist who wore a ski mask
to preserve his amateur status. He dove from the balcony onto
his trampoline under a strobe light as the Dead played. The crowd
was so psychedelicized nobody seemed to pay him any particular
Trips Festival had decidedly been the place to go this weekend.
Not counting those who got in through the back door, over 6,000
people were admitted that weekend. The festival netted $4,000
which to the promoters seemed fabulous wealth. They agreed that
the Acid Test was more successful than the films, the theater,
the ring-modulator sound machine or the slide show, so Kesey got
half the money. Bill Graham, a poor immigrant kid from the Bronx,
couldn't believe his eyes__people taking a lower profit voluntarily,
with no muscle being applied.
Trips Festival also noted "with approval and great interest the
participation in the festival of Look, Newsweek, Time and Life."