The Trips Festival was a transformative event that helped mark the beginning of the hippie counterculture movement in San Francisco. Organized by Stewart Brand, Ramon Sender, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and Bill Graham at the Longshoremen’s Hall for January 21-23, 1966, the event brought together the city’s diverse underground arts scene, including rock music groups, experimental theater performers, dance companies, light show artists and film producers.
Over 10,000 people, many taking LSD, attended the three-day event. Although the event included music, it was not billed as a concert per se. Rather, it was promoted as an immersive and participatory multi-media experience. Virtually the entire Bay Area’s avant-garde arts scene was involved, including the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Open Theater, the Dancer’s Workshop and the San Francisco Tape Music Center. Yet it was the performances by emerging rock music groups the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company which captured the attention of attendees. It was the first major performance by the Dead in San Francisco, and the combination of the band’s music, the hall’s sound system and the visually captivating light shows over the three days that created a format that would soon dominate the city’s music halls. Bill Graham took over the Fillmore Auditorium for good just two week later, and his first weekend was advertised as the “sights and sounds of the Trips Festival.” As Tom Wolfe says in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, “the Haight-Ashbury era began that weekend.” The world would never be the same.