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The Untold and Deeply Stoned Story of the First U.S. Rock Festival

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Buses at Magic Mountain Music Festival.
Henry Diltz

CLIMBING MOUNT TAM

"Country" Joe McDonald (Country Joe and the Fish): We worked the day before and the day after in Seattle. There was a heliport on the seashore in Berkeley off the freeway and the other end was in Sausalito. I remember [Country Joe and the Fish guitarist] Barry Melton in the helicopter taking LSD and then we landed there and we had to get up to Mount Tam.

McGuinn: You could either take a bike with a Hells Angel or a bus and the bike sounded like more fun. I remember riding up the hill on the back of a Harley with one of the Hells Angels. I took my guitar out of the case and put the strap over my shoulder. 

McDonald: The LSD was starting to work and the Hells Angel guy who took Barry up on the back of his motorcycle introduced himself as Broke Dick. He said his name was Broke Dick because he was always falling off his motorcycle and breaking his dick. 

Barry "The Fish" Melton (Country Joe and the Fish): Broke Dick! That's right! It was scarier than all get out. There were school buses going up and down the mountainside. There's nothing like driving down the center line on a motorcycle with a bus going one way and a bus going the other way and a foot of clearance on either side.

Penny Nichols (Singer-songwriter): I used to open shows for Janis Joplin and she invited me to come to the festival with her. She was going up there with the Hells Angels and they were going to ride up to Mount Tam on their bikes. I was intimidated by the whole Hells Angels thing and I had just signed a record deal, so instead I went up with my manager in a black limo, stoned.

Kaukonen: I had my guitar in my hand and there was no way to drive up to the stage. So I'm walking and walking and going, "If I planned on going on a hike, I probably would've worn different shoes." I walked all the way up. 

Radley Hirsch (Attendee): You could hear the bikes coming up the hill when they brought Jefferson Airplane up.

Kaukonen: My bandmates got rides and I'm still jealous [Laughs]. I'm going to write a letter now to the local [Hells Angels] chapter. 

After scaling the mountain, the festival's attendees were welcomed by a giant inflatable Buddha balloon and two stages. On the main stage, six 14-foot-tall banners, each displaying a different astrological sign, were set up in a row at the back of the stage. One hundred yards away, the Valley of Dancing provided a smaller stage where forgotten local bands like Joint Heads of Staff and Harbinger Complex could perform. Akin to Bonnaroo and Coachella, the festival offered artistic installations and family-friendly activities alongside the music. Attendees could swing on giant tires and slide on strips of cardboard down a toboggan slope made of wet straw. Vendor booths with names like the Weed Patch and Hocking Valley Trading Co. —  transplants from their regular locations in Haight-Ashbury — sold beaded necklaces, anti-Nixon buttons and water pipes, while food was provided by outlets such as Good Karma Health Food.

Lawrence: Since it was going to be a festival, we felt it should have a festive attitude towards it and have art and booths where people can buy things.

Rejected Magic Mountain Festival Poster.
Stanley Mouse

Stanley Mouse (Poster designer): Because it was Magic Mountain, I felt the image I used was magical, but it ended up being heavy-handed. It scared people and was rejected. I thought it was a cool picture and think it was some kind of Babylonian myth. It was pretty standard for festivals to use those kind of pictures on posters as a central image and then build the poster around it.

Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane): The fair part was based on the Renaissance Fairs where people dressed up in costumes for period pieces and they had jugglers, acrobats and people reciting old poetry. It was part of the whole attraction of the festival; of having various talented people in their community able to express their talent in so many different ways. 

Terry Costales (Attendee): I was working for a company called Sticky Wicket Candle Company. The owner got a booth for the festival and I was supposed to make and sell candles. As soon as we touched down, okay, I'm at the booth, bye — there's music and sunshine and dope. The candle owner fired my friend and I after the weekend, but it was worth it.

Rounds: The Fantasy Fair part was so participatory because people went to get involved. It wasn't a bunch of people sitting in stadium chairs in an indoor environment. It was outside and became the theme that we were looking for; just to get everybody really involved in the trippiness of the whole thing.

Lawrence: There was this guy called the Hawk. I get this call at the station. "I'm The Hawk and I parachute into places and I want to parachute into that show." And I said, "Oh wow, okay," and I talked to Tom and we didn't want to tell any authorities or anything about it, but I said, "You're on and you should be on when the 5th Dimension perform 'Up, Up and Away.' He just parachuted right into the place." 

THE FANTASY BEGINS

The lineup reflected the era, a time when AM and FM existed in a bizarre confluence, with KFRC airing underground groups alongside more popular artists. Similarly, at the festival, mainstream acts like Dionne Warwick shared a bill with underground psych rock groups like the Chocolate Watch Band, and the folk of Tim Buckley and the Lamp of Childhood (fronted by future Byrds member John York) mingled with the blues-rock of Canned Heat and the Sparrows (whose members would change their name to Steppenwolf and record "Born to Be Wild" a few months later). It was a quasi-accidental mish-mash that foretold the intentionally disparate lineups of future festivals.

500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Steppenwolf, "Born to be Wild"

David Mahler (Attendee): There were a lot of people like me going out and having their first hippie rock and roll experience. There was a lot of long hair and girls with flowers in their hair.

Casady: You could have sunny days on Mount Tam but it could just as easily be engulfed in fog. They got lucky with a perfect day.

Kaukonen: It was one of those magical days that made you say, "I have to move to the Bay Area" before you realize there's only like 14 of those days a year.

Bill Champlin (Sons of Champlin): Just about everyone in the Bay Area, at some point, had something to do with the show. We had the 8 a.m. slot, but you're talking about musicians, so 8 a.m. is still last night.

Kaukonen: The musical community in San Francisco was different than today. There was a real artistic community that existed. To get together at a local festival was really like a big block party. I did Bonnaroo once and I didn't get that feeling. Almost everyone knew each other and at that time, so early in the Summer of Love, a lot of outsiders hadn't really started to come in from around the country. We all just went to each other's shows.

Casady: This was the first time we realized that this many people would come to hear this kind of music.

Rodger Collins (Artist): When they told me all the rock stars that were going to be there, I said, "Oh man, I want to be right in the middle of that!" It turned out to be San Francisco's version of Woodstock, just a lot smaller. Still, there was people as far as I could see.

P.F. Sloan (Singer-songwriter): That weekend was fascinating musically because the Doors were still considered second-rate Rolling Stones. The Byrds, as big as they were, were just beginning to break out of being second-rate Beatles.

Kaukonen: I heard the Byrds open for the Stones before the Airplane got together, so I'd been a fan for years. So for me, it was like, "Wow, man, we're playing with the Byrds." That was a big deal.

McGuinn: That was a weird time for the Byrds. Unfortunately, [Byrds member] David [Crosby] was having trouble getting his songs on the album. He was discontent with the band and he'd been hanging out with Stephen Stills. It was just a matter of time before it all exploded. Even during the beginning of recording [the group's 1968 album] Notorious Byrd Brothers, there was a lot of friction. For Magic Mountain, it was like, "Let's just do this gig and do as good a job as we can."

York: We didn't have a drummer, so one of the guys who was working on the stage crew came up to us minutes before we were about to play and said, "Do you guys need a drummer?" and we said, "Oh man, that would be cool." He had no idea who we were; he just recognized that we were four guys on stage with guitars and a bass but no drummer. We said, "Yeah, you can play, do you have any sticks?" "No." "Well, why don't you go back to the dressing rooms and see if someone will loan you some sticks?" There were no drummers in the dressing room so he cut the legs off a coffee table and played with these huge sticks. He didn't know the songs. He just listened to the music and played. And no one was upset with what he sounded like.

McDonald: We hadn't been at it long enough for this to be "just another gig." The whole scene was still brand new. There were a lot of local bands on the bill that didn't become famous, but it shows you how viable the scene was that it could produce all of those acts within a small time period.

Creed Bratton (The Grass Roots, The Office): We weren't that thrilled to go to San Francisco. We were looked down upon because we weren't the original Grass Roots [lineup]. We did a Love-In right before the festival and [producer] Kim Fowley was the MC and I remember him saying, "Here they are, these aren't the original Grass Roots. They're like a bogus cover band. This is bullshit, guys, but if you want to listen to them, go ahead. I'll be back later." Thanks, Kim. Such a sweet man. So we played Magic Mountain, but we had that stigma of being "L.A. musicians" who usurped the San Francisco band that had that name.

Sloan: I was a songwriter and my record label really didn't want me out there in the public. The label thought if I knew how popular I was, I'd want more money. I was literally destroyed three months later. The label told me to sign away everything I'll ever earn and earned and sent out word that I was persona non grata. They wanted to destroy me and this kind of music. They thought Bob Dylan was an idiot and a communist.

No act was more impacted by the festival than Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band. The group was still three months away from the release of their debut album Safe as Milk, but they were already fixtures in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Magic Mountain was supposed to be a simple warm-up show ahead of Monterey Pop. It ended up memorable for all the wrong reasons. 

John "Drumbo" French (Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band): We were right on the verge of a big breakthrough. Bob Krasnow, our manager, said, "Just to make sure you're ready [for Monterey Pop], a week before, we'll fly you to San Francisco to play Fantasy Fair." We'd rehearse every day and the band was sounding really good. Don [Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart] was doing what he usually did, which was not rehearsing and trying to write new songs. Don had taken a lot of LSD six months earlier and because of all that, he started thinking about his body all the time and became a horrible hypochondriac. He kept thinking he was having heart attacks and driving to UCLA Medical Center. He liked his car too much to let anybody else drive, so he'd drive it himself while "having a heart attack." As we're taking the bus up [to Mount Tamalpais], Don decided to open up [the band's set] with a jam that nobody knew called "Maybe That'll Teach Ya." I had to explain to [guitarist] Ry [Cooder] that we're going to do a song we've never done before and he looks at me like I'm out of my mind. We got through the first song but when it came to the second song, Don completely froze. I see Don turn around, panicked, and walk off the back of the stage like there was no drop and fall off. We finished the song and left and I saw Ry pack up his guitar saying, "I got better things to do." He couldn't put up with this nonsense. 

Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane and David Crosby of the Byrds.
Henry Diltz

French: Don turned to me after the show and said, "I had an anxiety attack. I was looking down at this girl [from the stage] and her face turned into a fish and bubbles came out of her mouth." He was having an acid reoccurrence.

Jerry Handley (Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band): It was a shame that that happened because it would've changed the course of the band. With Ry gone, we had to reorganize and we just couldn't find another combination of Ry and [guitarist] Alex [St. Clair Snouffer]. There was never a better combination than those two. We would've killed them at Monterey. It was real disappointing. Don was a hard guy to get organized and when you bought into Don being your singer, you bought into Don's idiosyncrasies. And he had plenty of them.

100 Greatest Guitarists: Ry Cooder

French: I was only 18 at the time and later on, it dawned on me: That was really the end of my music career. After that, it was all a struggle. Don blamed Ry for ruining his career, but I don't think Don ever really realized that he ruined his own career that day.

UNDULATING LOVE JELLO

Lawrence: We also thought about how we were going to handle people that freak out on acid. You had to either have doctors or a "Freak Out tent" like we had at Woodstock. So we brought in Dr. Bill.

Rolling Stone's Essential Woodstock Coverage

Rounds: [Dr. Bill] was a resident at Mount Zion hospital and led a group of four or five other doctors who were set up in a tent. They had Thorazine ready, because that was what you injected into people who were having a bad trip. 

Champlin: When they call it Magic Mountain, it's not just a joke. All of us in Marin County who ever took LSD took it on that hill.

Art Reznick (Salvation): Everybody was doing acid, if nothing else. It was San Francisco in the Summer of Love, for Christ's sake. After all the drugs and shit, man, I don't even remember playing.

Teddy Stewart (Salvation): It was drugs, sex and rock & roll. That's what it was all about. I remember I had really bad asthma that day, so I probably just took a bunch of drugs.

Sloan: Before you got on stage, there's Owsley, the Purple Pope, and he asks you, "Do you want the sacrament?" So you stick out your tongue and BOOM! And he says, "Give it about seven minutes." He was a loving chemist. I was told that I started a song that I had written called, "Karma (A Study of Divinations)" and apparently, that song went on for 24 minutes, including a six-minute bass solo. I remember none of this. I do remember the entire audience turning into this undulating love jello. 

Bratton: Because of marijuana and LSD, mostly, we felt like we were on the cutting edge of this paradigm shift in human consciousness. You could feel that. It was obvious that everyone was going to see the hypocrisy that was out there and see through all the bullshit like we did and make it all fair and equitable for the citizens of the planet. That still hasn't happened. 

Brown: I don't call it Fantasy Fair. To me, it was the Magic Mountain festival. I had already had enough LSD and smoked enough pot to already have the fantasy. They didn't need to advertise that.

(Below: Footage of the Crowd at Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival)

Footage courtesy of Steve Brown

FUNKY SUN GROPES

The hippie lifestyle was still a few years from becoming a mass movement, and the Fantasy Fair crowd was a mix of numerous cliques. The original San Francisco Chronicle reviews noted the appearance of "teeny-boppers with their inevitable flowers" alongside "bizarre hippies from the Haight-Ashbury and T-shirted fraternity boys from Cal."

Michael Collins Morton (Attendee): I was 13, so it was my first experience with the whole "counterculture" thing. One of the things that I was aware of at the time was that it was all young people. When I saw the Beatles or the Beach Boys, the audience was young but you were aware that [the show] was put on by middle-aged adults who didn't care about the music. But this event felt different; it was by young people for young people. You could really make a case that that weekend was the beginning of the Summer of Love.

Sloan: For me, it was like Wizard of Oz. All of a sudden, the world is in color. 30,000 people? Stoned out of their minds? Enjoying music? Loving one another? And you get to play for them?

Muldaur: People would twirl around and all the chicks in their bedspread dresses were doing what we called the "funky sun grope." It was a real vibe of peace and love. All was well, and all was joyous. 

Stephan Miramon (Attendee): It was a community feeling that was absolutely perfect.

Selvin: It was high school kids who were playing at being hippies. 

Marsanne Mazza (Attendee): We saw people fucking in sleeping bags. I was young, so I didn't know, but I remember my mom pointing and laughing at the couple.

Marilyn McCoo (The 5th Dimension): People were playing R&B on the R&B stations and pop on the pop stations, but this was a festival where there was a mixture of artists, which was unusual. It was exciting to be in the middle of that type of energy that we had been hearing about. 

Sloan: I remember [Fifth Dimension singer] Florence [LaRue] telling me, "What are we doing here with all these white people?" 

Davis, Jr.: That was our first time performing for hippies. I didn't have much experience with hippies at the time. I got caught up with the hippies and the flower people and they were passing joints around. And all of a sudden, one hit my hand. How did that get in my hand? I started feeling really good.

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