Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The San Francisco Pop Festival, Searsville Lake, San Mateo County, CA October 5-6, 1968 (rescheduled)

A brief but intriguing listing in the September 7, 1968 ‘Teen Age’ section of the Oakland Tribune (left) indicates plans for a San Francisco Pop Festival at Searsville Lake. Searsville Lake was near Palo Alto, though several miles West of Stanford University. It was apparently to feature Traffic, Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer, Country Joe and The Fish and the Steve Miller Band. Needless to say, this event didn’t happen.

A San Francisco Pop Festival was held in October (on the 27th and 28th), but the venue was the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, and none of the above named groups were present (Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon, Canned Heat and Procol Harum were among the acts).

I would have been 10 years old, and although I would not have been interested in the event at the time, it would have been a big event in Palo Alto. I recall Searsville Lake quite clearly, and I doubt it could have taken on a big rock festival. The lake had been formed by the damming of San Francisquito Creek in 1889, inundating the little town of Searsville. Stanford University had taken over the dam and the land in 1919, promptly leasing the area to a series of recreational operators. The little lake was a pleasant swimming area with a little beach and hiking trails. While the operators were presumably free to run their business, Stanford had been suspicious of rock shows since 1966 and must have had ways to block the event.

Searsville Lake had been a regular site of Stanford Fraternity parties, and an early 60s Palo Alto band called The Zodiacs had played them regularly, sometimes with stand-in bassist Jerry Garcia. Bill Kreutzmann’s group The Legends probably played there as well.

Searsville Lake is now part of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. Searsville Dam had never worked properly, and Searsville Lake had silted up significantly throughout its existence, and will eventually disappear. Stanford bought out Searsville Lake in 1976, closing the recreational area and making it part of the preserve.


  1. An article in the September 28, 1968 Billboard Magazine sheds more light on the matter. The promoters were Bill Quarry (of "Teens and Twenties") and Ron Roupe (manager of the Chocolate Watch Band), promoters in the East and South Bay respectively. According to Billboard, they had a signed contract, and agreements for police and fire support, and had already sold 2000 tickets (for $5, big money at the time), when Stanford University unilaterally canceled the show.

    According to Billboard, permission for the event was withdrawn when, reportedly, University officials objected to getting involved in the type of problems caused by this type of event. The article goes on to explain that the show was rescheduled with different acts for later in October.


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  3. What’s really sad is San Francisco’s reputation for being hip and cool was strictly by accident.Nothing happened here with permission.( I’m talking about the 60’s)Ask for permission and get a big fat NO!Its too bad the straight folks were afraid of having fun or of rock music, dancing and getting high.Bill Graham was arrested for letting people dance and allowing minors in his Fillmore Auditorium.Ironically instead of the “situation” getting better it’s what it is today.I guess the John Lennon line, “ The dream is over, what can I say?” is all too true. I could go on but why bother.....?