It was a day-long (free) musical tribute to the guy who ran the Family Dog concerts in San Francisco in the ’60s. Bill Graham was a businessman, but Chet Helms was a believer, and his concerts at the Avalon Ballroom were the best. I got into the city late, no way I could handle 8 hours of spectating, parked my truck a mile away from the park and rode my bike to Speedway Meadows, You could hear the music from blocks away. As I got closer I recognized Summertime Blues, being played by Blue Cheer, probably the first heavy metal group (1966), so named, fueled, and inspired by Augustus Stanley Owsley’s LSD-of-the-year of the same name. Sounded pretty much the same.
It was a pretty big crowd, although I doubt it was the 20,000 the SF Chronicle said this morning. A bright beautiful day, I was ready for a knockout event, like the two ’67 classics, the Monterey Pop Fesitival, and The Human Be-in. Well, not exactly. First impression: it was a party, and a lot of these people had been here 40 years before. There’s something touching about the 60-year-olds who are still shakin’ it, even if no longer with the fluidity and grace of youth. The next band up was Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Starship, with two female singers doing the Grace Slick bits. Pretty bad, I’m afraid, and while I’m at it, here are examples of what I thought was sub-standard ’60s music — even though I usually feel like a ’60s cheerleader.
I never really liked the Jefferson Airplane. I didn’t care for — forgive me, folks — the Greatful Dead. B-o-r-i-n-g, for the most part. And this will get me in even more trouble, I never thought much of Janis Joplin as a singer. In fact I liked Big Brother and The Holding Company better before she came along. As the music went on, and people danced, I was a little bummed by the realization that there’s an audience for mediocrity. Wavy Gravy started emceeing, and again pardon the observation, I know his heart’s in the right place, but his shtick is stale and annoying. Is there anyone I haven’t antagonized by now?
So I started shooting pictures. There were great costumes, lots of happy mellow people just glad to be in the park on a beautiful day, surrounded by like-minded. The music went on, a different group every 20 minutes. Then fiddler David LaFlamme and his wife Lynda and their group It’s A Beautiful Day came on and things notched up to a whole different level. A tight great band. Whooo-wee! Maybe this was going to be OK.
Then 90-year-old (!) folksinger Faith Petric with her acoustic guitar charmed everyone. Talk about good vibes. People stopped boogieing, and swayed back and forth, smiling. The remnants of Quicksilver Messenger Service were OK, fronted by Dino Valente’s son, in white suit no less. Canned Heat did a rockin’ version of Amphetamine Annie (“…amphetamine kills…”) Nick Gravenites has still got it, doing Goodnight Irene, very fine. Blues singer Annie Sampson, with a powerhouse voice, did It’s All Over Baby Blue. Oh yes. Good music was making the day. Squid B. Viscous, a bunch of guys from the old Steve Miller Band, were great. The tight band Zero played as the sun went down. When asked how many people were native San Franciscans, half the audience raised their hands. When I left, the grass was just about spotless; people had gone around picking up cigarette butts and trash. Money was collected in white 5-gallon plastic buckets. Rock and roll.