Saturday, September 23, 2017

If You're Going to San Francisco

The Summer of Love got its start at the Human Be-In in January 1967. Held in Golden Gate Park near Haight-Ashbury, this was the first big hippie event (if we discount the Sunset Strip riots of 1966, the catalyst for Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth"). The Human Be-in featured performances and speeches by the big players in the counterculture movement - Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, The Jefferson Airplane, and The Grateful Dead. It was where the 40,000  in attendance tuned-in to the ideals of the Summer of Love.

Fast forward to the approaching summer. Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco" was all over the radio. Although originally meant to promote the Monterey Pop Festival in June, it quickly became the hippie national anthem and the soundtrack to summer (oh, except for that Sgt. Pepper thing). Hundreds of thousands of teens and 20-somethings converged on the Haight. They came in search of peace and love, rebellion, experimentation, but most of all - freedom.

The hippies congregated in Golden Gate Park and lived communally as the gurus and intellectuals preached at the Human Be-In. Golden Gate Park served as the unofficial chamber of hippie commerce for the Summer of Love, where the "freaks" would sing, dance and just be. At night it was all about the bands of the bay cities, known as the San Francisco Sound: Moby Grape, Country Joe and the Fish, Malo, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Santana, and New Riders of the Purple Sage – and of course The Dead and J.A.

By the end of summer came a time where there were just too many people to fit; so many, in fact, that the community organized free health clinics and shelters because the city didn't have the resources. Unfortunately, homelessness, drug addiction, and crime became serious problems, hippie ideals were exploited by clever marketers and the movement was overrun by freeloaders. By October 1967, the Summer of Love was over, and the hippie movement had moved elsewhere, leaving us to reminisce about the good times of that life-changing summer in San Fran. Never was this vibrant little city so vibrant. I’ve done my hippie tourism, seen the Grateful Dead house and the Airplane mansion on Fulton Street, but some day, when someone invents a time machine, Frisco in the Summer of Love is first on my bucket list.