Hipstory:  T R I P S   F E S T I V A L  January 1966
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Charles Perry
A History of the Haight-Ashbury

Vintage Books, A Division of Random House,

New York, 1985, Copyright 1984 by Rolling Stone Press.

On 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." 

The 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.

There 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. 

For 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. 

The 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 you 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.

On 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, unless 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." 

Publicity 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. 

Lou 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. 

'If 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.

The 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, Kesey 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. 

Stewart 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."

The 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. 

In 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. 

But 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. 

On 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?" 

What, 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.

The 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 dawn. 

Some 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." 

The 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." 

It 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 mind. 

The 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. 

The Trips Festival also noted "with approval and great interest the participation in the festival of Look, Newsweek, Time and Life."

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