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November 30, 2016

The Time San Francisco Launched A Rock Music Revolution

There was no more iconic year for San Francisco than 1967, dubbed by historians the “Summer of Love.” It helped cement the city’s reputation for embracing creativity, individuality, and change, no matter how radical. During those summer months, thousands of travelers swept into the city’s hippie enclaves to find themselves and create a better world for everyone. Dropping by Golden Gate Park at the end of Haight Street that year, you might have bumped into a young Janis Joplin or Jerry Garcia. Harvey Milk had not yet moved to the city, but gay men and lesbians were already establishing a beachhead. Stonewall was still two years away, but gay liberation got a major boost in ’67. Love meant love, no matter the gender expression.

Throughout the 60s, San Francisco played host to countless music festivals and concerts that gave life to the ideals of the Summer of Love. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in 2017, we’ve come up with a list of some of the most notable music festivals of the era, including a few that continue to this very day (with tickets available for intrepid music lovers).

  1. Trips Festival, 1966

    Gene Anthony/Wolfgang’s Vault / California Historical Society

    Can you guess what the “trips” in the name referred to? Held over three days by Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters, this fest boasted a new sound system invented specifically for the event, allowing organizers to turn up the music higher than ever without creating distortion.

    Ten thousand people showed up to see the Grateful Dead and to drink LSD-spiked punch. This was the first appearance of Big Brother and the Holding Company, which featured Janis Joplin as lead singer. They would soon release the groundbreaking album Cheap Thrills.
  2. San Francisco Pop Festival, 1968

    Technically, it was at the Alameda County fairgrounds, but it was all San Francisco in spirit. On the playlist: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, Iron Butterfly, the Chambers Brothers, and many more. The spirit of this continues this day with San Francisco Popfest, a four-day Indie rock extravaganza.
  3. Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival, 1967

    This was the big one. It was mid-June, and 36,000 people flocked to Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, with admission a very comfortable $2. The lineup was incredible: Dionne Warwick, Steve Miller, Captain Beefheart, The Loading Zone, Jefferson Airplane — oh, and have you ever heard of this little group called The Doors? This concert is often cited as the world’s first rock festival.
  4. Monterey Pop Festival, 1967

    This was another groundbreaking event, just a week after Fantasy Fair. It was a bit more commercial, a bit less hippie, and with better funding came a slickness that to the counterculture seemed a sellout. Nevertheless, attendees who paid between $3 and $6.50 got to see The Who and Ravi Shankar, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and more. The event would inspire an experimental concert a few years later known worldwide simply as “Woodstock.”
  5. San Francisco LovEvolution 2004-2009

    It was one of those “only in San Francisco” parties, like the How Weird festival or Dore Alley. For five years, tens of thousands of youngsters crammed into the usually-windswept wasteland in front of City Hall, filling it with music and dancing and a parade – all free, like a lot of things back in the day. The concert and parade have been on hiatus since 2011. But you never know when its spirit might rise from the ashes.
  6. Outside Lands (ongoing)

    By Moses (M.I.A. 7) / CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Between the 60s and the new millennium, San Francisco kept fiddling with live music and experimenting with venues. The result: one of the most popular festivals in the world, the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, held every summer since 2008. It is massive, drawing tens of thousands to Golden Gate Park, just blocks from where the Summer of Love changed everything. Aside from the music, you can also get some excellent cuisine. Plus, the entire event is eco-friendly.
  7. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (ongoing)

    By Søren Fuglede Jørgensen, User: Pred (Eget billede) / CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    This is a new one — or at least, new-ish. It’s free and noncommercial, thanks to the generosity of one of San Francisco’s many billionaires. Originally Bluegrass focused, it’s since been opened up to a wider range of performers. Stop by the misty stages and you might see Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Conor Oberst or Earl Scruggs.
  8. San Francisco Popfest (ongoing)

    Founded in 1998, Popfest is intimate and adorable. It’s a labor of love for local organizers and musicians, and nobody makes much money. It’s just plain old rock’n’roll. No frills, and more indie than you can possibly consume. Past acts include Dressy Bessy, Rocketship, and Terry Malts.
  9. Treasure Island Music Festival (ongoing)

    By Tyler Love / Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    Founded in 2007, this one feels like a real escape since it takes place on an island in San Francisco Bay. Take a short bus ride out to Treasure Island and you’ll see performances from the likes of Sigur Ros, Ice Cube, deadmau5, Massive Attack, and Beck, all playing while the setting sun casts its golden light over the skyscrapers of the city just across the bay. It’s like being in another, lovelier world. Note: Because of development on the island, location of concert may change in 2017.
  10. Fillmore Street Jazz Festival (ongoing)

    This one rose out of World War II and it’s still going strong. The Fillmore was once the city’s center of jazz, even after urban renewal projects fragmented the community and scattered neighbors. A vibrant network of music lovers thrived here through the 50s and 60s, from Maya Angelou (who worked at a local record shop) to Alan Ginsberg and Duke Ellington. The music festival, which began in the 1980s, helped start the process of knitting the fragmented community back together.

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