Friday, September 11, 2009

San Jose, CA: Outdoor Rock Festivals 1967-69 (An Overview)

San Jose was the fourth largest city in California in the 1960s (it has since passed San Francisco for third). It had a lively and exciting rock scene as well, but the scene has been unfairly lost in the intense focus on San Francisco music in the 1960s. San Jose and its surrounding suburbs had a vibrant live music scene, helped immeasurably by the fact that the local AM station (KLIV 1590) supported local bands like The Syndicate Of Sound and The Chocolate Watch Band. Besides excellent local bands, San Jose was a regular gig for all of the Fillmore and Avalon bands, so San Jose rock fans not only had their own indigenous scene, but had exceptional opportunities to see the best of San Francisco on a regular basis as well.

In recent years there has been renewed interest in the local San Jose bands, and rightly so--Chocolate Watch Band richly deserved to be considered among the best of 60s Bay Area bands, but never got their due until recently--but the constant presence and influence of San Francisco bands has received scant attention. I was doing research for a different project and realized that the small number of outdoor rock festivals in San Jose between 1967 and 1969 offers a nice microcosm of the history of outdoor rock festivals in general during that period. This post does not try to make a claim to be "exhaustive," in the sense that there may be multi-act outdoor events that I am not aware of, but the six events here are the most important ones, all took place within a short distance of each other, and summarize the arc of rock festivals in San Jose and everywhere else.

The six events are

May 14, 1967  City Park at 10th and Alma Streets, San Jose 
      San Jose Be-In

October 8, 1967 Family Park, Santa Clara County Fairgrounds 
       Haight Ashbury Medical Clinic Benefit

May 18-19, 1968 Family Park, Santa Clara County Fairgrounds 
      Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

May 25, 1968 Family Park, Santa Clara County Fairgrounds
      McCarthy Is Happening

May 23-24-25, 1969 Family Park, Santa Clara County Fairgrounds
      2nd Annual Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

May 23-24-25, 1969 practice field, San Jose State College
      Aquarian Family Festival

May 14, 1967   City Park, 10th and Alma Streets
              San Jose Human Be-In
            Country Joe and The Fish/New Delhi River Band
The park at 10th  Street and Alma was across the street from Kelley Park. South Alma Street was the same Alma that ran through Mountain View (as Central Expressway) and Palo Alto, basically parallel to El Camino Real.

After the famous Human Be-In in San Francisco on January 14, 1967, there were “Be-Ins” all over the country, particularly on the West Coast. Major Be-Ins or similar events were held in Berkeley (Provo Park),  Los Angeles (Griffith Park), Vancouver (Stanley Park) and New York City (Tompkins Square), with many other cities and towns having smaller events put on by local hippies. The San Francisco bands felt it was there duty to play as many of these events as they could. Country Joe and The Fish, for example, played the Stanley Park Be-In in Vancouver on March 26, 1967, and at least some San Francisco bands seemed to have flown down to Los Angeles the same day to play the Griffith Park Love-In.

The New Delhi River Band were Palo Alto’s leading psychedelic band. They had more or less been the “house band” at The Barn in Scotts Valley, and featured future New Riders of The Purple Sage David Nelson and Dave Torbert. Country Joe And The Fish had also regularly played The Barn, and by this time were regular Fillmore headliners so both bands had a following. CJF's first album had been released the month before, and on top of that, local radio was playing "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine," so it was sort of a local Top 40 hit, so the star power at the Be-In was fairly substantial. I'm not certain of the publicity associated with it--one poster (above) was completely critical, and while another gave the bands and the location and time, I do not know how widely they were circulated.

For all the star power of Country Joe and The Fish, and the local notoriety of the hippie scene, I know of no report, even second or third hand of the San Jose Be-In. Was it well attended? Was there trouble with the cops? Did any other bands play? Did it even happen? Even in the 60s, perhaps because of its proximity to San Francisco, events in San Jose seemed to take place in somewhat of a vacuum.

October 8, 1967 Family Park, Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, San Jose
            Haight Ashbury Medical Clinical Benefit
Big Brother and The Holding Company/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Mother Earth/Mad River/Freedom Highway/Ace of Cups/Dr. West’s Medicine Show 

Family Park was inside the gates of the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, but it was somewhat separate from the facilities of the Fairgrounds proper. The formal address of the Fairgrounds is 344 Tully Road, but the entrance to the grounds was 1st Street and Tully Road, about 2 miles from the site of the San Jose Be-In.  The roads and the Fairgrounds have changed considerably since then, but the approximate geography is still correct (although if San Jose sells the Fairgrounds, the very valuable site may turn into housing and offices).

A recent article has the backstory, but briefly, Dr. David Breithaupt, a volunteer physician at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, organized the benefit concert. Initially he wanted to hold the concert at the nearby baseball stadium (home of the minor league San Jose Giants), but after overcoming some resistance he was allowed to use the fairgrounds. Rock concerts at the Fairgrounds had mostly, if not always, been held in one of the Pavilions or Arenas of the Fairground. In any case, if there had been concerts at Family Park (I'm sure there had been) they had not been all day affairs featuring major recording acts. 

Apparently about 7,500 people attended the concert, a friendly Nun took the tickets, Hells Angels watched over the Nun and a good time was had by all. All of the bands had social and management connections, and had played together many times. One remarkable detail of this event was that someone made a listenable audience tape of the entire show--very rare for the 1960s--and for many decades these recordings were the only circulating live tapes of lesser known Bay Area bands like Mad River and The Ace Of Cups. Dr. West's Medicine Show, incidentally, featured Norman Greenbaum, who later hit it big with "Spirit In The Sky."

The San Jose Be-In and subsequent Benefit concert in Family Park five months later mimicked the arc of the San Francisco Be-In and its more commercial successor, the Monterey Pop Festival (held June 16-18, 1967, 5 months after the SF Be-In). Similar to Monterey, while the show was advertised and tickets were sold, the bands played for free (or close to it, perhaps some expenses were paid), and the substantial crowd was still manageable.

May 18-19, 1968 Family Park, Santa Clara County Fairgrounds 
      Northern California Folk-Rock Festival
May 18, 1968  (Saturday)
Jefferson Airplane/Big Brother and The Holding Company/Grateful Dead/Steve Miller Band/Youngbloods/People/Sons of Champlin/Crome Syrcus/Transatlantic Railroad/Indian Head Band/Mourning Reign
May 19, 1968  (Sunday)
The Doors/Country Joe and The Fish/Electric Flag/Youngbloods/Ashish Khan, Shamin Ahmed, Taranoth Rad/Loading Zone/People/Taj Mahal/Mint Tattoo/Elgin Marble/Omar
Listings from schedule (in reverse running order) on the back of a ticket. Note that many of the scheduled bands from the poster did not end up playing the concert, a cautionary tale about trusting 60s posters.            

The Northern California Folk Rock Festival was an attempt to cash in on the Monterey Pop model with a profitable rock concert. The show was held at Family Park over two days, and it certainly featured a truly all-star cast. The show was also extremely well-attended; supposedly as many as 100, 000 attended the show, and while I think that is an exaggeration--the city of San Jose had a stake in overstating the attendance to prevent the show from happening again--clearly there was a much larger crowd over the two days than anyone anticipated.

The principal aftermath of the concert, however, besides the massive crowds, was the numerous drug overdoses. Apparently the Hells Angels were "marketing" (not a term they would have actually used) PCP under the name "Hog", and it caused numerous people to be treated at the show for overdoses. A few surviving audience tapes reveal some excellent music, but the principal memory in San Jose was a concert that overwhelmed its venue and was quite out of control, which is why the City and County forbade future festivals.

Notes On The Bands

The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead had nighttime gigs at The Shrine in Los Angeles, and flew down for the shows. The Airplane only appeared at the late show, because they had headlined the Saturday show in San Jose. 
People, Mourning Reign, and Elgin Marble were San Jose area bands.
Indian Head Band were from Castro Valley, and featured future Its A Beautiful Day guitarist Hal Wagenet.
May 25, 1968 Family Park, Santa Clara County Fairgrounds
      McCarthy Is Happening

Jack Jones and Jill St. John/H.P. Lovecraft/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band/Clear Light/Flaming Groovies/Crystal Syphon/The Womb/Jimmy Nite and The Nite Caps/Phantasmagoria/The Howl/Anonymous Artists of America/Day Blindness/Shango/many others
Of all the events in this brief chronology, this event is the most obscure and the most revealing. I only know the event from the poster--I have never heard of a review, memory or second hand account. However, the poster itself is very revealing. I have analyzed this event at length elsewhere. Briefly it appears that this was an effort to have a sort of "Hippie Fair."

Eugene McCarthy was running for President on an Anti-Vietnam War platform, and the California primary was June 4. The wording of the ad suggests that it is a pro-McCarthy event, but there is no evidence that its really a fundraiser. The peculiar double headline acts of HP Lovecraft, who headlined the Fillmore a few weeks earlier, and Jack Jones and his new wife Jill St. John, Las Vegas lounge headliners, is a truly headscratching combination. My assumption is that the organizers were trying to appeal to actual hippies and people about 10 years older, and that the effort was a failure.

Of all the many obscure local psychedelic bands playing the McCarthy Is Happening event, one of them, Shango, was the successor to the New Delhi River Band. Thus two members of the group (bassist Dave Torbert and drummer Chris Herold) had played the San Jose Be-In in May 1967, and were back playing a commercialized version of the event (of sorts) just a mile away and a year later. 

May 23-24-25, 1969 Family Park, Santa Clara County Fairgrounds
      2nd Annual Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

Jimi Hendrix Experience/Jefferson Airplane/Chambers Brothers/Led Zeppelin/Eric Burdon/Spirit/Canned Heat/Buffy St. Marie/Youngbloods/Steve Miller/Chuck Berry/Muddy Waters/Taj Mahal/Noel Redding (and Fat Mattress)/Lee Micheals/Blues Image/Santana/Aum/Elvin Bishop/Poco/People/Linn County/Loading Zone/Sweet Linda Divine/Cat Mother/Doc Watson/New Lost City Ramblers

After the drug-addled debacle of the previous year, it was surprising that there was an encore. Supposedly the promoters managed to rent the Fairgrounds on false pretenses, and then started advertising Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, even though they had neither under contract. The festival ended up occurring, and was well attended, but the city and county made sure there wasn't any further events.

Some performer notes:

  • The multiple acts were spread out over three days and I do not know the exact running order. Jimi Hendrix closed the festival on Sunday night. 
  • Led Zeppelin: The Concert File (Dave Lewis and Simon Pallett, Omnibus Press 1997) quotes Peter Grant as saying that Led Zeppelin had a gig in Chicago all weekend, so they played Friday afternoon (May 23) and the promoter hired a Lear Jet to fly them to Chicago for their Friday Night show. At this time, their first album had just been released, albeit to enormous acclaim, and Led Zeppelin were still trying to make a name for themselves.  
  • Eric Burdon did not get to play due to time constraints. 
  • At the time of this show, Santana was just another popular local band without an album, although their groundbreaking debut album would be released a few months later. 

May 23-24-25, 1969 practice field, San Jose State College
      Aquarian Family Festival

Ace of Cups/All Men Joy/Birth/Beggars Opera/Boz Skaggs/Crabs/Crow/
Cleanliness & Godliness Skiffle Band/Devine Madness/Denver/Scratch/Elgin Marble/Flaming Groovies/Frumious Bandersnatch/Gentle Dance/Greater Carmichael Traveling Street Band/ Glass Mountain/High Country/Jefferson Airplane/Joy of Cooking/Last Mile/Libras/Lamb/Living Color/Linn County/Mother Ball/ Morning Glory/Mad River/Mt. Rushmore/Nymbus/Old Davis/Red Grass, Green Smoke/Rubber Maze/ Rising Tide/Rejoice/Sunrise/Sable/Sons of Champlin/Sounds Unlimited Blues Band/ Sandy Bull/The Steve Miller Band/ Stoned Fox/South Bay Experimental Flash/Throckmorton/Tree of Life/Weird Herald/Womb/Warren Purcell/Zephyr Grove

The Aquarian Family Festival was a remarkable event in many ways. It was a free rock festival in the spirit of a Be-In, nearby and in contrast to the 1969 Folk Rock Festival, very well attended and largely forgotten. Outdoor rock festivals in San Jose started with the free Be-In in 1967, as they did in many cities. Unlike most areas, which gave up on rock festivals in 1969 or 1970 after too many bad experiences, San Jose ended with an odd duality. The 1969 Folk Rock Festival was a full-on festival with Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and others, and less than a mile away there was a free concert with continuous music for 72 hours and comparable attendance. The net result was the same admittedly--San Jose had had it with rock festivals, but it was a unique ending to the narrative.

The story is almost too complex to tell, but fortunately it is well covered elsewhere. The basic overview is on Wikipedia, reflective websites with photos are here and here, and a modern perspective was published in 2009, and there is still plenty to reflect upon this event. The very short version of the event is as follows.

Various parties who objected to the commercialized Folk Rock Festival got permission from San Jose State College to put on the free concert at a football practice field across from the football stadium (Spartan Stadium). The justification was allowing a place for people to rest on their way to and from the Folk Rock Festival. Although I cannot precisely identify the location, as the land usage seems to have changed, it seems that the practice field was on the same intersection as the San Jose Be-In (10th and Alma) but on an opposite block (if anyone who knows 1960s downtown San Jose geography can illuminate me, I would be very grateful). 

Terms of the agreement with San Jose State said that people could only be present while music was being performed, so the organizers arranged for 72 hours of continuous music. An extra large stage was constructed to allow one band to set up while another performed, thus insuring constant music. The extensive list of performers--which even the organizers admit is hard to be certain about--includes a large percentage of the working bands in the South and East Bay in 1969. All of the bands played for free, and here and there are a few surprises. Jefferson Airplane showed up after their Saturday evening set and played an apparently ripping set, and the Steve Miller band dropped by as well. Most famously, Jimi Hendrix finished his Sunday night show and dropped by to do his thing at the Aquarian Fest, but it was Sunday night and the stage was already being broken down and he was unable to perform (for an extensive discussion of the bands that are known to have played, see here). 

The 3-day campout and Be-In was generally well-reviewed by the local papers, and at least 20,000 people--possibly 4 times that number--attended the Aquarian Family Fair. It wasn't without incident: there were 4 stabbings, 15 attempted rapes and one gang rape (by Hells Angels hired for security, a precursor of Altamont), and there were complaints about the decibel level. 

The double whammy of a giant 3-day rock festival with Jimi Hendrix at The Fairgrounds, while a nonstop 72 hour free concert went on a mile away was too much for San Jose. Future concerts were limited to the Fairgrounds proper or the football stadium, and while some good bands played there in the subsequent years, they played regular shows with typical two or three-band bills. The short, peculiar history of Rock Festivals in San Jose was in fact a microcosm of the arc of Rock Festivals in the United States as a whole, from the free beginnings to the commercial overkill to the anit-commercial reaction. While the subject is ripe for further and extensive study, San Jose's brief history tells the whole story in miniature. 


  1. I was at the Be-in in San Jose in 1967. My friend and I were 14 years old and I remember feeling as though we were all taking part in this big social experiment. I remember blue sky and Country Joe and the Fish playing their hippie jug band music. I remember jugs of Red Mountain and joints being passed around--and my friend and I, being such newbies, abstaining.

    I am glad I was there, and also at the Santa Clara Valley Folk Rock Festival in '68 where I witnessed Jim Morrison fall (not a planned jump) off the stage into the pit.

    Thanks for this blog....

  2. Alyson, thanks for the kind words. I think because you abstained, you actually remember being there...thanks for Commenting. If you have any other sudden recollections about the shows, please add them.

  3. Holy Moly, this brought back a flood (or is that a cloud) ) of memories. I was in high school in Santa Clara at the time. I was at most of those shows. I had to get out my Google Earth and look up all those places. Man, those were some times, whew! I remember the 1st Folk Rock festival The moment the Doors hit the stage it started to rain. Jim Morrison said "wherever we play, it rains baby" I remember that as clear as yesterday but it was 45 years ago. Whew

  4. Thanks for the article. I was at the 2nd NoCAL Folk-Rock Festival on the final day. I was all of 8 years old but already a huge music fan. My older brother and sister took me along, where I got to see "Pogo" (Poco were actually referred to this name at first), Taj Mahal, Lee Michaels, and Hendrix. Would love to say Hendrix was awesome, but the set lacked much spirit from what I remember (and my brother agrees). The show stealer was Lee Michaels, who had the crowd on its feet. Frosty, his drummer, had an amazing solo cut short when he cut his hand while playing without sticks. Chambers Brothers might have played that day - or else they just played "Time Has Come Today" over the PA between acts; can't recall. One other thing - it was LOUD for those days. Many people were taking breaks and getting away from the speakers. My first concert ever and I'm glad I was there.

  5. Thanks for all of this.
    I was trying to recall when I saw the Doors outside in San Jose (w/Ray Manzarek's death today), and what did I find? It looks like it was 45 years ago yesterday. Remarkable.

  6. I was the one who got the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to allow the second festival in 1969. I was the lawyer for Bob Blodgett. Bob worked out of my law office on North First Street and I was amazed at the number of acts who were to appear but who had not been paid...including Jimi Hendrix. Apparently he spent all his money on paying my retainer for me to persuade the County to allow the conference. Bob had some unfortunate health issues about two months before the festival was to begin and had to withdraw and disappear. Since he used my office and my phones all the acts started calling my firm for their money. I took over the promoters role, called Bill Bushnell to help me from ACT, and with only my word that they would be paid, all the acts showed up and were paid just before each one's performance from the gate receipts. All were paid behind the stage...except Hendrix was paid on arrival at San Jose Airport on Sunday afternoon. As to the competing festival, I heard it mentioned, but I had my own problems promoting a successful commercial ordeal for which I was vastly under prepared. Robert Townsend

    1. I might add, that other than Hendrix, Chuck Berry stole the show...and he was ancient and way past his prime at that time. Also, Led Zeppelin was never scheduled to play the 1969 festival, but may have played the 1968 event.

    2. I must note that there were no false pretenses involved in getting the permit. I appeared before the Board of Supervisors and argued that my client would be better prepared to handle the problems that happened in the first festival...and this was true. One of the biggest problems was gate crashers and fighting by the low lifes who did not believe the artists should be paid for their efforts. There was no gate crashing at the second festival. Too much barb wire. Also, a fully staffed emergency facility was set up for the druggies.

  7. I am trying to find information about a concert I attended during the day in San Jose, sitting on the lawn, circa 1970, but it could have been 69 or 71 (or possibly 68 or 72.......hard to remember that far back!). I clearly remember Janis Joplin, and I think she was still part of Big Brother, but they weren't the headliners. I seem to remember it being the band America, but it could have been the Eagles. It's all a blur! But I'm serious about my query......

    1. Islander, it's a little hard to parse the details--America and The Eagles did not exist while Janis was alive--but memory is a tricky thing.

      Other than the events listed here, the other outdoor San Jose show featuring Janis Joplin was on July 12, 1970 at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. Janis and The Full Tilt Boogie Band headlined the show.

  8. What a find!!! I remember some of these events ( I was 5-7 years old at the time) but was not totally sure who played. Sure was a real good time for everyone! We made some serious cash for youngsters collecting all the soda bottles and returning them to King Bee Market for the deposits! Thanks for the memories!

  9. I attended one day of 2nd Folk-Rock Fest. Don't remember the day but remember digging Aum. I do not think this 2nd year was at Family Park but at the Fairground Arena. Remember helicopter landing behind stage area. Handbill design recycled previous year so maybe that is why "Family Park" is still on new handbill.