Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Christmas Happening - Laguna Beach, California - Forgotten Festivals

In 1970, a cargo plane flew over 25,000 hippies and dropped thousands of acid tabs to the cheering revelers below. Postcards like the one below were jettisoned across Laguna Canyon, the catalyst for a crazed acid test held Christmas day. Each card had an insert for a tab of acid, Orange Sunshine to be specific. As shown, printed on the card were various Native American motifs, along with petroglyphs and symbols and the phrase, "May the Great Spirit watch over you as Long as the grass grows and the water flows." By mid-December 1970 word of mouth about the planned festivities had gotten around Orange County, then all over the L.A. area, and soon the rings spread outside California. No one knew exactly what was going to happen, yet in the post-Woodstock daze (and despite Altamont earlier that year), the locale and timing struck a chord among America's youth, who embarked on journeys from remote parts of the U.S. to join the Laguna Christmas party. It's worth noting that this occurred without the draw of any major rock music names; like the early San Francisco gatherings, the Happening wasn't a rock festival, but simply a "happening." This didn’t keep rumors about famous participants from spreading, perhaps fueled by the cunning arrangers. As the buzz became louder, the good towns-people were getting increasingly nervous.
The Acid Postcard I found on eBay Last Week - Hands Off, It's Mine!

The event was described by local police as "heavy on drugs, nudity, fornication and general orgiastic chaos." Contraband was "strewn across the Southern California landscape; booze and acid ran through the gutters for dogs to drink," or so the story goes (AM tends to romanticize hippie culture, while the media despised it). The event was billed as a one-day event of peace, love and music, but after three days it had turned into much more; an estimated 25,000 people gathered in a field of sycamore and eucalyptus trees for what is known today as the Christmas Happening. 

Despite massive traffic jams, freezing night temps and insufficient food, throngs of young people, Vietnam veterans and free spirits descended into the canyon near the intersection of Laguna Canyon and El Toro roads, evoking the scene a couple thousand miles away the year before. For participant Sunny Taylor-Colby, it was the best Christmas of her life. As she wandered amid the happening's So Cal vibe she felt something of an Aquarian spirit in the air: "I was 18 then and I had a wonderful time at that event with my boyfriend Bobby Lee Gregory. "I rode in on a bicycle's handlebars and it was just great. Everybody there was calm and awesome and beautiful and kind and sweet. Seriously, we were all mellow and chill." That is a memory worth its weight (anything in which one arrives on the handlebars of a bicycle is "mellow and chill; can we agree?).

With the help of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, an organization that dubbed itself "the Johnny Appleseeds of hallucinogenics," Orange Sunshine spread throughout the world. The Brotherhood's most dramatic display was there in Laguna that day; the nearly pure LSD25 derivative effectively riding in on a bike's handlebars - even better, littered across the sky, airmail, so to speak.  

Orange Sunshine had become ubiquitous thanks primarily to psychedelic evangelist Tim Scully, who spent hours in the lab creating the drug at the heart of the 1960s counter-culture movement. In the 1960s and 70s, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love made good on its quest to spread LSD to the public. By the time its leading members were arrested in 1972, the psychedelic religion had single-handedly distributed millions of tablets of acid throughout Southern California. A hippie named John Griggs, aka "Farmer John," was the founding father of the movement which aimed to spread the gospel of LSD and psychedelics. That gospel was registered as a legally recognized, tax exempt, religious organization in October of 1966, soon after acid was made illegal in California.

At first, Griggs' following was a small set happy to trip on the weekends and discuss future plans of running a commune together. When John learned of Timothy Leary's plans for the League of Spiritual Discovery, he decided to grow the Brotherhood into something similar. The new psychedelic religion's beliefs would center on spiritual freedom and the spread of LSD. The Brothers bought four white houses near the arts store in Laguna Beach and set about distributing pot and acid. They were soon moving hundreds of kilos of marijuana and acid to the bums, surfers, and hippies in the area. By 1967, the organization was transporting drugs cross country to New York and earning a huge payday while doing it. 

As the Brotherhood's business ventures grew, Tim Scully, a sound equipment engineer for the Grateful Dead and an apprentice to LSD chemist Owsley Stanley, was forming his own ideas about acid. Like the Brotherhood, Scully believed that people became more gentle and more caring after tripping and had an idea that he could make the world a better place by distributing LSD to the masses.Together with chemist Nick Sand, Scully manufactured the Brotherhood's most recognizable brand of acid in a clandestine laboratory in California. In a little farmhouse in rural Sonoma County, the pair would make more than 3.6 million tablets of "Orange Sunshine," using a substance called  ALD-52. The underground cooks soon joined forces with the Brotherhood to distribute the drug.

Distribution Members of the Brotherhood dispersed their trippy goods throughout California at Grateful Dead concerts, communes, love-ins, and the Altamont and Laguna festivals. The little orange tablets were so intertwined with the music scene of the era that Jimi Hendrix appeared in a Brotherhood film and performed a private show for its members. 

On Christmas Day, the "Laguna Greeter" (Eiler Larsen) welcomed the crowd to "Celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ." Local rock bands played and jammed, religious rituals and chants were performed, drugs were everywhere, homemade crafts were sold, and a baby or two was born. A typical rock gathering. Due to the make-shift arrangements, food and water supplies ran low, although the Hare Krishnas provided macrobiotic meals as best they could, and other locals brought turkey and hams in the spirit of the season.

Pressured by the larger than expected freak invasion, police sealed off the roads to and from the entire Laguna Beach district and allowed only emergency traffic and local residents through. Various solutions including off-road adventures up and down the hills with supplies of rice and water were devised by the festival crew. A medical tent had been erected, equipped with two volunteer doctors, some stretchers, and little else. The LA Times reported that "A spokesman for the Laguna Beach Free Clinic said several hundred persons were treated for everything from snake bites to a broken leg and drug overdoses."

There was no Altamont-like violence, although the usual amount of freakouts and bad trips occurred. 
An amusing snapshot was offered when the MC announced from the stage: "
We got to have some Thorazine at the medical tent immediately, some guy drank a whole bottle of acid. I need some Thorazine up here too."

Altamont in many ways signaled the end of the utopian air provided large scale outdoor concerts, but the Christmas Happening proved that the hippie era may have evolved with the advent of the 70s, but it had only just begun.