When people talk about "the 60s" in San Francisco, they're talking about a period from January 1967 to December 1969 just three short years that would nonetheless forever reshape the population of the city and our image in the eyes of the rest of the world. San Francisco, during that brief period, starting with the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967, became one of the main epicenters of hippiedom, and arguably its spiritual heart, serving as the birthplace of multiple bands that would go on to shape the music of the era, and draw crowds at another defining event of the 60s, Woodstock. As the city prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, i.e. the spring and summer of '67, here's a bit of history, and a quick roundup of anniversary celebrations planned so far.
An anniversary of the Human Be-In was already celebrated back in January where it happened, on the Polo Field of Golden Gate Park, and it was billed at the time as a "gathering of the tribes" which also served as a rally in protest of a new state law banning the use of LSD which had just taken effect. That was the day that psychedelic drug champion Timothy Leary coined the famous phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out," and the play on the term "sit-in" would go on to inspire everything from "love-ins" and "teach-ins" to the sketch comedy TV show Laugh-In, which premiered a year later.
Allen Ginsberg took to the stage to chant mantras, Beat poets Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti all read poems, and Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and Big Brother and the Holding Company all performed for a crowd of 20,000 to 30,000 people, the first such major gathering to define the burgeoning counterculture something that historians argue began with disaffected students at SF State, UC Berkeley, and City College of San Francisco, all of whom had already been reading Ginsberg and Kerouac and gathering in the Haight-Ashbury (where cheap, run-down housing was abundant) and at music venues like the Fillmore.
As David Talbot says in Season of the Witch, which opens with the Human Be-In, Paul Kantor of Jefferson Airplane may have summed it up best: "The difference between San Francisco and Berkeley was that Berkeley complained about a lot of things. Rather than complaining about things, we San Franciscans formed an alternative reality to live in. And for some reason, we got away with it. San Francisco became somewhere you did things rather than protesting about them."
The Haight became a mecca for runaways and rebellious youth from around the country, in part because of the publicity of the Be-In, and in the spring of 1967 several local groups formed the Council for the Summer of Love to address the influx of young people, organizing housing, food, and helping form the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, which was founded that June. Hunter S. Thompson started covering the "Hashbury" neighborhood, as he called it, for the New York Times Magazine, and by the time schools and universities let out for the summer, San Francisco was crawling with unwashed hippie kids with no real plan except to get here.
Also helping the pilgrimage along was the instant hit, released to the radio in May 1967, "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" by Scott McKenzie. The song was actually written by McKenzie's friend John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, declaring "summertime will be a love-in there," and it became nothing short of a siren song for all those tens of thousands of kids, and what became the Summer of Love.
That fall, exhausted by too much publicity and too many newcomers, some locals staged a mock funeral for the Summer of Love in Buena Vista Park, publicized as "The Death of the Hippie," on October 6, 1967.
Anniversary Commemorations and Events
"Hippie Modernism" Exhibit in Berkeley
Potentially the best commemorative exhibit of the era just opened at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive a few weeks ago. Running through May 21, it's billed as a "comprehensive exploration of the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s and its impact on global art, architecture, and design." This includes a program of short films playing daily.
deYoung Museum Exhibit
Opening April 8 is "Summer of Love: Art, Fashion and Rock & Roll," an exhibit at the deYoung featuring clothing, rock posters, photographs, ephemera, light shows, avant-garde films, and more from the era a total of 150 items from the museum's permanent collection.
Bus Shelter Posters
Along Market Street you may begin noticing a series of posters that were commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission from 60s-centric Los Angeles artist commemorating the Summer of Love with images taken from photographs taken here that year, including one of a Vietnam War protest, and one of a Hell's Angel at the Human Be-In.
A Night With Janis Joplin
Closing out the season at the American Conservatory Theater, and opening on June 7, will be A Night With Janis Joplin, a jukebox musical of sorts that premiered on Broadway in 2014 and played for four months there. It's billed as a "musical journey celebrating Janis and her biggest musical influences icons like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Odetta, Nina Simone, and Bessie Smith." Find tickets for that here.
50th Anniversary Concert
In recent days we've been following the fight to get this concert off the ground, which is planned for June 4 on the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park. Promoter Boots Hughston ran afoul of the Rec and Park folks, and so he's now stepped down, but he and others claim that the thing is still on, even though it's unclear what the lineup is, or if it can still get a permit. Stay tuned.
California Historical Society Exhibit
Opening May 12 is "On the Road to the Summer of Love," an exhibit of photographs and ephemera curated by Grateful Dead historian and author Dennis McNally, on view until September 10th at the Society's headquarters at 678 Mission Street.
LGBT Hippie Exhibit
A small exhibit in the front gallery of the GLBT Historical Society's 18th Street museum opens April 7 and is called "Lavender-Tinted Glasses: A Groovy Gay Look At the Summer of Love."
Jimi Hendrix Exhibit
"Summer of Love: Jimi Hendrix" opens April 26 at the Museum of the African Diaspora at 685 Mission Street, and describes the great guitarist's rise to fame beginning at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
How Weird Street Faire
The oddball springtime SoMa street fair this year, on May 7, will be using 1967 as its theme, dubbing this year's event "Summer of Weird." It's also the fest's 18th anniversary, and as they say, "Join us as we gather the tribes once again to celebrate peace, dance in the streets, be inspired by art, shop exotic stores, make new friends and greet old ones, generate waves of joy, and expand our consciousness."
Public Library Exhibit
At the Jewett Gallery at the Main Library you'll find the "50th Anniversary of Love and Haight," an exhibit of images and literature from the era.