Words by Heidi Antoine Cavanaugh
Throughout the 1960’s there was a cultural shift; teenagers and young adults emboldened with hope, bravery, and the promise of tomorrow flocked to the area, looking to become a part of something bigger, something momentous. Abandoning the traditional shackles of corporate America that their parents had been bound by, the youth of the 1960’s sought another way. Joining hippie communes, sharing and bartering for goods and services, holding peace-ins and love-ins to share ideas and form a conversation, participating in nonviolent demonstrations to fight the war, making music and art to reflect the times, documenting and being heard. Peace, love, and freedom. Haight Ashbury was the place to be in the 1960’s. Surrounded by the ocean and trees, and nestled between the country and other bustling cities, San Francisco was an ideal hub, a meeting place for musicians, artist, poets, and anyone looking to shake up the system and try to change the world. In a time of political uproar, the love generation shaped the way for the free thinkers and dreamers of today. There was a feeling of change in the air, and it pointed towards San Francisco. A city built out of the remnants of an earthquake, a gold rush that brought people from all over looking to stake their claim, and immigrants of Asian, European, and Mexican descent, it has always been a melting pot of diversity. Each group brought with them the influence of their culture. This blending and unity helped to forge the spirit of togetherness that made San Francisco the epicenter of free thinking, liberal rights, and a destination for every flower child.
The music and fashion reflected the liberal ideals and message of counterculture. Long skirts, patchwork pants, beads, embroidered flowers, tie dye and bell bottoms. Rebelling against the suits and ties of the past, and shedding inhibitions, the love generation created a look of freedom. Girls and guys alike grew out their hair, and handed out flowers, incense, Marijuana, and LSD. Timothy Leary, a psychologist at Harvard University, was at the helm of the acid explosion, encouraging others to Tune in, Turn on, and Drop out, as a means of connecting with the universe and fellow mankind. He sought out artists, musicians, and intellectual colleagues for psychedelic experiments. Looking to gain insight and seeking spiritual enlightenment. Psychedelic experiences varied, from the absolute mind bending colorful hallucinatory visions to deeply profound scientific discoveries. One could argue that the micro dosing trend of today within the intellectual community started within this period of experimentation. When the mind is opened greater answers can be found.
Everyone that flocked to the Haight Ashbury was on the same level, looking to shake things up, change antiquated laws, push the boundaries of mainstream society, raise questions, and change the course of history. Strangers bonded over shared experiences, there was a sense of unity, and anything was possible. Prominent musicians, including the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, and The Jefferson Airplane called San Francisco home. The rock bands that played live there and recorded their songs became known as the San Francisco Sound. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Mamas and the Papas, and many more encompassed this sound. Playing at venues all around the Bay Area, collaborating with their contemporaries, and immersing themselves into the community around them, the local musicians were turned on, speaking out, and accessible to their audience. Many artists and musicians within the community were friends with these bands, and there was a feeling of inclusion and collaboration that bore forth some of the best music and art of the time. Frequent jam sessions fostered a spirit of sharing. Copyright infringement was scarcely an occurrence when everyone shared songs and made love, not war.
The Jefferson Airplane were undoubtedly one of the first prominent psychedelic rock groups. Driven by warbling guitars, rising tempos sounding of impending doom, wailing vocals catapulting into lush melodies, and liquid light shows swirling on the walls and ceiling around them as they played in a fervor. It was an experience to see them live. The crowds writhed in throngs, becoming a wave of bodies dancing in response to the commanding hallucinatory sounds evoked by the music. The performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1967 brought them a larger audience for their art and expression. One of their managers, Bill Graham, later became responsible for the success of local music venues such as the Fillmore Auditorium, by promoting the bands that played there and creating a following for both the bands and the venues.
Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company also performed an electrifying set at the Monterey Pop Festival. Janis was a dynamic live performer screaming and dancing and singing her heart out, and the band rocked the blues so well that you felt a part of the music. She had a way of storytelling through her wild performing that was both enthralling and volatile. The audiences ate it up. The Greatful Dead were easy going, country hippie guys, playing their brand of joyous rock and roll around the Bay Area, and gaining a following that went with them on the road. Their fans became known as Deadheads, and are still following the solo acts of the remaining members today. Jimi Hendrix moved around from Seattle to Nashville, Tennessee, recording different material, but finally found a home and sound within the magic of the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. The performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival is legendary. After playing through all of his hit songs he preceded to light his guitar on fire, taunting the flames to go higher. This is one of the most iconic moments in Rock and Roll history.
A large number of people had been experimenting with hard drugs, having lost the original idea of a greater awareness of self and the universe, and moving into addiction and dependence. Heroin replaced LSD and brought with it poverty and death. This hard living took a toll quickly, as many of the people who had migrated to the Haight Ashbury including some of these notable performers found themselves with drug addictions that became insurmountable. The message of love and freedom had been stretched too thin, and without rules of any kind there were casualties of war. After the Summer of Love in 1967, the Haight Ashbury became a ghost town of what it was. In later years the neighborhood was cleaned back up and the feeling of the 1960’s hippie culture was still there to be found. To this day there are still headshops selling glass pipes and artwork, and stores with beads and tie dye. People will offer you marijuana and LSD, and bands play live music on the sidewalk. Time keep spinning by, but the energy remains the same…
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