By Eric Christensen
The Trips Festival, held nearly 12 months prior to the Human Be-In in January 1966, was the seminal event that led to Be-Ins, Happenings and the psychedelic dance halls that sprung up in the late sixties. The artists, musicians, and the audience, all began participating equally and creatively. As I point out in my 2007 documentary, “The Trips Festival”, it was the blueprint for the raves that came decades later.
Trips festival organizer Roland Jacopetti commented, “It was a huge extended family that identified itself more and more and it was the first opportunity to get together and see how many of us there were.”
That became more apparent on Saturday January 14,1967. As I walked through Golden Gate Park and made my way to the Polo Fields on the western edge of the park that day, I indeed realized far more of us than anyone knew, far more than the crowd of a few thousand at the Longshoremen’s Hall just a year earlier.
There had been Sit-Ins and Teach-Ins, but Be-In organizer, artist Michael Bowen coined the term Be-In with a nod to these progressive political events.
The underground newspaper The Oracle announced it as “A gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In.”
People did indeed wear flowers in their hair, many were dressed in Victorian or Western gear, and some were even undressed. Banners flew, conga drums played, and people “danced beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free.” It was a true celebration of being part of an emerging counter-culture.
This was another passing of the torch event, as the Beatnik era in San Francisco was fading, and the Hippie era beginning. John Carpenter, editor of L.A. Free Press Music and the manager of Grace Slicks first band The Great Society, had said to me some years earlier, “Everyone’s moving out of North Beach because the rents are getting too high, and they’re moving to the Haight.”
On stage at the Human Be-In, The Beats were represented by Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, and Michael McClure.
They read poetry. Tim Leary and Richard Alpert (soon to be known as Baba Ram Dass) spoke for the psychedelic culture. But it was the rock bands, The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Quicksilver Messenger Service that provided the beat that would get the crowd going. There were speakers like Jerry Rubin who wanted to speak about the Vietnam War, but the crowd wanted to rock.
There was actually a divide between the political leftists of the Berkeley scene and the hedonistic hippies of the Haight. I had a foot in both worlds, with politically left , labor organizing parents and a UC Berkeley education, and my rock and roll background, having worked for Tom Donahue at Autumn Records and tempo Productions. I was knew many of the young entrepreneurs who provided the fuel for the psychedelic revolution. LSD was just declared illegal in 1966. At the Human Be-In many people were openly smoking marijuana, not something that was done back in those days. Many were also high on psychedelics. The Human Be-In was a celebration of a new culture, a culture that would attract thousands of young people to the streets of San Francisco and user in the Summer of Love. Allen Cohen, the publisher of the “Oracle” who helped produce the Human Be-In summed it up best when a year before he died in 2004 told me, “For me, what happened in the Haight Asbury is still going on around the world. It was a Renaissance, it was a Renaissance that’s going to take two or three hundred years to fully manifest in unity of Eastern and Western thought that will produce a new world, just as the Renaissance in Europe in the fourteenth century produced the Modern Age.”
For me, the Human Be-In was indeed a gathering of tribes. The tribal elders, represented by the Beats, who Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti aptly dubbed “Caveman Hippies;” the political tribes, who ran the gamut of working to end the war in Vietnam to all out revolution in the streets; the doper tribes, who thought if everyone turned on the world would change for the better; the sexual freedom tribes who wanted to liberate everyone from a puritanical past; the pagan tribes, who wanted us all to worship mother earth and create an environmental consciousness; and the rock and roll tribes, who changed the way music was written, performed, and listened to. In this gathering of the tribes, many learned from each other and that produced an amalgam of cultural change that in the future, would be embraced more and more by the mainstream.
Eric Christensen, a third generation San Franciscan, worked for legendary radio/music man Tom Donahue at Autumn Records/Tempo Productions while a teenager. That led to a long career in radio and television. At age 21 Eric became the program director at KSFX-FM. That transitioned into a 36 year career at ABC 7 TV as both Arts and Entertainment Producer and Sports Producer. In 1977 Eric Produced and directed “A Day On The Green,” with Peter Frampton, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Since retiring from ABC Eric has gone on to produce and direct “The Trips Festival,” “The Cover Story-Album Art,” and along with John Turner “Korla.”