(if you want to go straight to the pictures click
(if you want to see a partial list of the bands click here)
About every three years, a local promoter would hold a "festival" at the Fair Grounds. He'd advertise that everyone under the sun would be playing and ticket prices would be high due to the number and quality of the bands that were to perform. Unfortunately, most of the "name bands" never played because they'd never been booked. The promoter would make a bundle and the people who bought tickets would be disappointed to put it mildly.
So when the radio ads for another "Festival" began airing on local radio stations, a lot of people who'd been burned before got a little "up tight". But unlike before, something changed. It started with someone noting that Jimi Hendrix had been busted in Canada and couldn't leave the country and yet he was the featured performer mentioned prominently in the "festivals" radio ads. A few long distance phone calls confirmed that The Jimi Hendrix Experience had not been booked for the event in San Jose. A few more calls confirmed that several other name bands mentioned in the ads had never heard of the promoter and hadn't been booked to play his festival.
The conversation in the "community" changed from anger to alternatives. There were a lot of great bands in the area, all looking for an audience. Someone proposed doing an "alternative festival" and then things started happening.
If you're going to put on a show for 10,000 (we underestimated by about 70,000) or more people you need a large space. So George, of the Free University, approached the San Jose State College administration, requesting the San Jose State practice field opposite Kelly Park for a Free University "activity" - a small three day outdoor "class" on community organizing. The request was granted and that provided two key ingredients for the "alternative festival" - getting the place was important - but more important was that the San Jose State Practice Field was off limits to local police departments except by written invitation of the president of San Jose State! It was not a coincidence that the president would be out of town the weekend of the "alternative festival". Imagine throwing a party that the police couldn't attend or end. As I recall there was only one "uniform" present during the three days the party went on. It was a different time - the sixties. Doing this type of thing today without police would be insane - too many lawyers, too many guns, too many short fuses.
Now we had to deal with a lot of logistics - contact and schedule bands, get a stage and power, find portable toilets, get water and food for a bunch of people, make posters, get some radio time, find security people, get MCs who knew how to handle large audiences, coordinate with Drug Crisis Intervention folks, and on and on and on.
The Throckmorton people took on the stage project. This was one talented group of people. Not only were they talented musicians, but they were pretty damn good at construction projects. When the saw dust settled they'd built a five feet high, 20 feet deep and 40 foot long, bolt together stage that was to withstand some unusual loads. It would survive a Hells Angels birthday party! (more about that later).
Dirt Cheap Productions, a loose affiliation of folks who'd been organizing benefit concerts, started working on getting bands. Several local FM station djs started making calls to bands. Just about anyone who knew anyone in a band started making calls. Teddy Bear and the 13th Tribe in San Francisco, with their experience putting on large free concerts in Golden Gate Park , got involved. And the list of performers began to grow.
Sanitation was going to be a problem. Seems the "other promoter" became aware of the free festival being put together and reserved all the portable toilets in the valley. Fortunately a guy named Brady took care of the problem and somehow found and rented 30 or so portable johns. He paid for them out of his own pocket. Thank you Brady. If we ever do this again can we borrow your motor home?
Meanwhile - another group of people began approaching local supermarkets, hustling them for food - chili beans and vegetables primarily. Luckys aand Safeway donated materials. Cooking chili for 10,000 takes a while and then storing it 'til it's needed poses another problem. Believe it not, it was the local 7-11s that solved the storage problem. They let us use their freezers for a week or so for FREE! One guy made and gave away 10,000 donuts!
Rich Charter, a talented artist and community activist, created some great posters and got his one man silk screen factory cranked up to put out lots of posters. Rich was also good at crowd psychology and knew folks who were very good at it. Having people who knew how to deal with large groups of free spirits would become extremely important once the Aquarian Family Festival, as it was being called, got going.
KSJO was the first FM "alternative" radio station in the area. "Alternative" meant an alternative to Top 40 AM radio stations like KLIV (one of KLIV djs is now a TV star - Ross McGowen out of SF). Top 40 radio was characterized by 3 minute songs, lots of ads, fast talking DJs with names like Squeaky Martin and a very short "play list". The FM stations (KSJO and KOME) were known for playing entire albums, by groups TOP 40 RADIO had never heard of, uninterrupted - for hours at a time! In fact, the early morning show KSJO guy used to put on a Moody Blues album 20 minutes before sunrise and go out and sit on the hill with 20 or 30 others - many on acid - and watch the sun come up.
KSJO initially had their studio up in the east foothills and hired some pretty crazy "disc jockeys". These guys were given free reign as to what they'd play. They weren't paid much and the management was pretty loose since the initial audience was relatively small. But these guys did have an audience of "long haired communist weirdo creeps" - just the people we were looking for. So thanks to KSJO, the word got out pretty quickly on a "need to know" basis. Norman was most helpful, both before the "event" and during the "event"
The San Jose chapter of the Angel's sponsored several local bands - which is how they came to be the "security people" for the event. Spaghetti Joe, the president at the time, liked music, especially if it was hassle free music and volunteered his people to keep things calm, well sort of calm. They did have a very physical happy birthday party for a member during the event and part of the festivities did involve first throwing non-Angels off the stage (into the waiting hands of the crowd) and later throwing everyone and everything off the stage as well. But nothing got broken and no one got hurt though some hurlees did get an adrenaline rush while in the air!
Somewhere in here the "promoter" of the "other pay per view festival" saw some heavy duty competition and didn't like people hearing that many of his top billing performers probably wouldn't actually play at his event. "Libel", "injunctions" and "law suits" were threatened. But these legal methods only work against people who have "tangible assets" that can be forfeited. None of us had anything worth "seizing". Freedom's just another word for nothng left to lose.
So after a great deal of posturing, the Aquarian Family Festival got under way on a Friday afternoon, just as the generator - the sole source of electricity, arrived. Mark F and Generator Jerry ( a red haired, frekcle faced 16 year old) would keep this key piece of equipment running for three days and two nights.
The stage crew worked out the power lines bugs, the basic PA system got cranked up and adjusted, the sound mixers got to work on dialing in theVoice of the Theatre with Horns sound system, announcers practiced their raps, the Angels settled in and musicians started to play. And just like in a later movie, if you build it, they will come, "they" came. By 5 p.m. we had about 80 people working and 5,000 enjoying. By sunset there were a few more people - maybe 25,000! And then someone noticed that there were no lights anywhere. Getting four "clip to the chain link fence behind the stage lights" took some scrambling. But lighting up an area the size of three football fields was impossible!
Short of mixing alcohol and handguns, putting 25,000 people in a relatively small space and then having the lights go off is the last thing you want to do - even if you've got some great entertainment and start with a relaxed atmosphere. When people lose eye contact things can get pretty weird. And that's where Norman and the other MCs used their gift. When the tension level reached a certain point these guys would go into an audience participation things - that "everyone light a match on three" thing brought the energy level down fast. Anything that fostered "look at all of us" and discouraged "me and them" is what you try to do. It got a little strange at times but rolling chants, huge circle dances and "say hello to the person on your left" worked!
By 1:30 am the Drug Crisis people were busy with people on Reds and folks who shouldn't have dropped acid. A lot of cold orange juice was consumed, more than a few people were introduced to Epicac (causes vomiting - just the thing if you've taken 4 or more Reds and drank too much) and some very skillful people kept "bad trips" at bay. Thank you John and Michelle B, "Mom" and "Pop" and the rest of that crew. I never want to have to hold up another 16 year old as he or she barfs his or her guts out between large gulps of water ever again.
When the sun came up Saturday morning a huge Teepee had materialized in the middle of the crowd of sleepy folks. It would be one of many unusual structures that would appear and disappear in the next few days. And small communities began forming. Off in a back corner, the Buffalo Riders - a group of black motorcyclists, had set up camp. Scattered around were circles of old school buses that were no longer "school bus yellow". The Angels had set up to the left of the stage. Bands set up camps around their vans and converted bread trucks over in the "staging area".
By noon we had a medium size town on our hands. We had business everywhere, selling shirts, posters, drugs, food and one guy, a real opportunist was selling toilet paper! And as word of the "event" spread, by the local newspaper, radio and even area TV stations , the crowd got bigger - and bigger - and bigger. A lot of the people who'd come from all over the western united states for the "pay per view festival" got fed up with "assigned seating" and "tight assed security" and left that event and came to the "free one". Grace Slick metnioned the "free festival" during the Airplane perfomance at the "other festival" and that helped swell the crowd a bit more.
Once a very diverse group assembles, odd things start happening. Several people wearing only sandals or sneakers were seen walking through residential areas nearby. When some of the "attendees" discovered the Koi Ponds at the adjacent Japanese Friendship Garden, skinny dipping in groups of 200 became popular. The eskimo "people flinging" thing was tried (get a large hide, a big piece of canvas will also works - have fifteen or twenty people grab onto the edges - put one person in the middle of the "hide" - have everyone holding onto the edge pull the "hide" taut suddenly - with luck, the "flingee", after suddenly rising 10 or 15 feet, will land in the "hide" and the process is repeated until a) the flingee misses the hide on the way down or throws up or b) one or more of the "flingors" gets tired and quits). Several people showed up on horse back and gave "pony rides". I won't swear to it but I think we had a fire eater do his thing somewhere in there.
The other thing that happens is that any and all "crimes" within 20 miles of the "event" are immediately attributed to "those people". Since one of my roles in all this was to act as the liaison person with the local police, I got a very different story from the police I spoke with. They were happy as hell that all those "outsiders" who'd come for the "other festival" were concentrated in one place. They also noted that downtown was extremely quiet since most of the "cruisers" were also at our event. What surprised them the most was how peaceful and friendly people were. They weren't accustomed to "young people" smiling and waiving to them, offering a cold unopened soft drink or a popsicle! The fact that they were ordered to "observe" and only act if life or property were endangered made their life much easier so they only had to watch and wonder and enjoy.
Now I won't say it was a utopia. Three people were beaten up severely.
One, a biker who stole a pair of sunglasses from another "member", was beaten senseless by his "organization" for stealing then had his rib cage modified by another group of bikers "for being so f--king stupid".
Another "gentleman", an "older" guy in his late thirties, had had a lot too much to drink and began trying to stab people with a broken beer bottle. The Angel's "pledge", who had remained seated at the foot of the stage for 30 hours, clutching a two by four, rose for that occasion - thumped the transgressor "upside the head" and returned to his place on the stairs, where he remained until the stage was taken down.
The third "casualty "was the victim of his own greed and stupidity. The "town" needed things - toilet paper, outhouse pumping etc. and lacking any taxing powers decided that donations were in order. So tin cans got passed and contributions were made for the "town". Goods and services were purchased and the community benefited. But this guy saw an easy way to make some money so he got his own can and went wandering through the crowd "collecting". Unfortunately, he was seen pocketing the donations. And the people who "seen" him were the Buffalo Riders. After they relieved him of the donations he'd taken ,they relieved him of his wallet, and his clothes and nearly relieved him of his life. By the way, the money he collected and the money he "donated" were turned in at the stage and went for supplies.
By Saturday night the community, later estimated to be around 80,000 to 85,000, had settled in and things weren't nearly as tense as the first night. But there were still people overdosing on Reds and there were still people on acid who needed some orange juice and some calm words. There were also quite a few "broken glass in the bare feet" repairs to do, but accidents will happen.
Oh, I almost forgot the birthday party. It was one of the Angels birthday and the club had a cake for him. They announced the auspicious occasion over the PA and asked that everyone sing Happy Birthday. Not too many people experience having that many people sing you Happy Birthday, accompanied by some pretty loud musicians. As the echo died out, slices of cake were pushed in nearby faces and things got a little rowdy. "All non-Angels off the stage!" and people were hurled into the arms of the waiting crowd. Then it was "Only Angels on the stage!" and equipment went flying - surprisingly with no notable damage. Finally they started throwing each other off the stage.
About an hour earlier, while back stage getting things for the generator crew, an Angel noted my apparent weariness and tried to help. "Close your eyes and open your mouth" - and he put a hit of "window pane " on my tongue, slapped me on the back, smiled and went on his way. For the uninformed, "window pane" was an 1/8 inch square of transparent gelatin with the most unadulterated LSD available at the time - no powdered sugar, speed or powdered milk here. It was only available through the Angels and highly prized.
So while the birthday party was going on, I was making a heroic effort to walk the thousand miles from one end of the stage to the other to take something really important, I forget what it was, to the "generator people". Now here's the setting - it's the middle of the night, the back of the stage is to my left, a ten foot chain link fence to my right and four feet between them. There are now only two 100 watt light bulb providing some pretty strange illumination, people are yelling and laughing everywhere and I'm now "miles" from my destination and things are starting to appear a little "strange". I've given up trusting my senses cause they aren't working reliably anymore. My mission now is to survive the journey.
So when Angels bodies start flying overhead, bouncing off the chain link fence and landing at my feet, I smiled, stepped over each one and continued my journey. I talked with several of those bodies months later about that incident. One remembered it and laughed. "You looked so spaced out we figured we should just leave you the hell alone." God watches out for drunks and fools - and occasionally a poor dumb bastard on acid. Thank you Lord!
For the crew, sleep deprivation was starting to take its toll. When Steve Miller showed up with his band but no equipment, the stage manager went mildly ballistic. But he busted his butt and rounded up some equipment and instruments in record time. He'd made a special effort to get MIller a really nice blonde Les Paul to use. Mr. Miller was less than gracious. "You expect me to play this piece of sh-t?" said he. "Get off my f_cking stage!" exclaimed the stage manager. Calmer heads prevailed, things got worked out and The Steve Miller Blues Band played their assess off.
Now word about this "event" had prompted every person who played an instrument, or owned an instrument, or knew how to spell the word instrument to crowd around the foot of the stairs to the stage, and they all wanted to "play next". So the stage crew got a clipboard and made a schedule and the stage manager started his mantra - "if you aren't up now or scheduled to go on next - go away!" After he'd been through this routine 15 or 20 times he went on auto pilot. Fortunately, Grace Slick was calm and clear -"we're the Airplane and we're scheduled to play now." And that's how people got to greet a glorious Sunday morning sunrise while listening to the Airplane do what they do so well - for close to three hours.
WINDING DOWN . . .
By Sunday afternoon we started shutting things down. We were suppose to be out of there by three p.m.. So at 1:30 the MC started the "anyone who needs a ride south go to the right of the stage. anyone needing a ride north go to the left side of the stage. anyone needing a ride east gather in front of the stage" thing. Cables were being unplugged, microphones being put away, huge speaker cabinets being lugged to who knows where and the clean up crew was out "mopping up" all the abandoned blankets, sleeping bags, bottles, cans, newspaper and all the rest of the aftermath.
The Throckmorton people had half the stage down and the generator was on its way back to where ever it normally resided when around 3 p.m. a new problem arose. Well, not exactly a problem really. Jimi Hendrix stopped by and asked if he could play.
Remember the "other commercial festival"? Recall that they'd billed Hendrix as their top act? Well after all the bad press about advertising Hendrix on the bill and no one had even approached Hendrix, they offered $30,000 for a 30 minute set and somehow it happened. The promoter provided a police escort into and out of the show and Jimi just got warmed up when his allotted time ended, they pulled the plug and whisked him away in his police escort.
Apparently somebody told him about this other free gig and he stopped by to play. Do you have any idea how horrible it is to have Jimi Hendrix asking to play and you've got no stage, no power and no equipment? To her credit, the future first woman mayor of San Jose got on a portable phone and pulled every political string she could think of to try and get a place for Jimi to play - to no avail. Thank you Janet Gray Hayes! You gave it your best but and it just wasn't mean to be. But you pulled off many other "miracles" on behalf of the "young people". You are, and will be remembered.
So Jimi Hendrix hung around for a while, wandered around and talked with people and was gone. Another of life's regrets.
So the 3 Day Be In ended on that note - but oh how the echo lingers.
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