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A Tidal Wave in the Wild West

A new three-day music and arts festival comes to Golden Gate Park

Janis Joplin, Golden Gate Park

Janis Joplin and Big Brother & The Holding Company perform at the New Year's Wail in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on January 1st, 1967

Malcolm Lubliner/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

The Wild West Show, the kind of venture only madmen would attempt to pull off, is being pulled off. And businessmen and bankers and city officials — along with artisans from every sector of San Francisco — are helping them to do it.

Wild West Show is the three-day music and arts festival taking place next month — from August 22nd through the 24th — throughout Golden Gate Park as a celebration of this proud city’s artistic and creative life. The idea is to turn the large, four-mile long park (home of Kezar Stadium, the Japanese Tea Garden, de Young Museum, and various lakes and meadows) into a long-running carnival of free music and arts.

At this point, it appears that everyone wants to get in on the celebration. Inquiries and self-invitations, along with enthusiastic volunteers and just-curious visitors, have been steadily streaming into the Victorian house/headquarters of the organizers of the affair, working under the aegis of The San Francisco Music Council.

The coordinators of the unprecedented event, once no more than a lingering pipe dream of band manager Ron Polte’s, is now a well-oiled, loose-appearing but tightly-structured machine. From their handsome, two-story offices at 3044 Pine Street, festival heads have been holding meetings for bands, artists, craftsmen, light show artists, sound service owners, staging experts, and various other groups. Initial costs of organization — for offices, paid staff, and publicity — are being financed by funds from Polte’s fellow-dreamers and from two well-attended benefits staged two weeks ago.

Both Bill Graham’s Filllmore West and Chet Helm’s Family Dog (the family having moved out to the Playland Beach area) threw benefits, with Jefferson Airplane headlining one show and Joan Baez, the other. Community enterprises make strange bedfellows.

But the rock and roll community, while instigators of and a dominant force in the whole thing, are getting help from all sides.

Wells-Fargo Bank, the United Bank of California, Greyhound, the Pacific Gas and Electric (the utility company, not the band) are among those pitching in. These firms help to indicate the scope, enormity, and tone of the Wild West Show. Wells-Fargo is planning to donate three stagecoaches to carry handicapped children around the different areas of the vast park. (There will be six staging areas, including Speedway Meadows, the polo fields, and the soccer field). The UBC is letting artists use a storehouseful of office furnishings — such as drapes and carpeting — for their staging setups. Greyhound, along with other bus companies, is talking about special runs from various central points around the city and the Bay Area to Golden Gate Park. And PG&E is in charge of wiring up all the ad hoc performance areas.

Also on the technical side, almost all the sound companies are donating their services for the festival, and one firm — Wally Heider’s — is sending a full studio setup from Los Angeles to record the shows. Radio stations, both AM and FM, are chipping in inordinate amounts of air time to the festival, and several plan to broadcast direct from various shows there.

The word on the Wild West Show is also being trumpeted by a dozen or so billboards being donated by Foster and Kleiser. They’ll become canvases for the works of such pioneer poster artists as Wes Wilson and Victor Moscoso.

As for the city itself, Mayor Joseph Alioto gave the planners an OK as soon as her heard about the show, and he has directed the various departments — police, recreation, and park — to cooperate. At this juncture, officials have agreed to close Golden Gate Park to all public traffic for the three days; Kezar Stadium, site for three paid evening music concerts, has been provided at a special rental rate. Medical and lost-kid centers are being set up as well.

The extravaganza is Polte’s brainchild; his major help have been men from the rock scene: Bill Graham, Bill Thompson (Jefferson Airplane’s manager); Rock Scully (Grateful Dead’s manager); Jann Wenner and Ralph J. Gleason of Rolling Stone; and Tom Donahue, godfather of the communal FM radio scene. But Wild West is pointedly avoiding a long-hair/freak image. “It’s something for all generations,” Polte has said. And, as Donahue has added, “It should be something no one will be scared of.” So by music, festival director Barry Olivier is talking about classical music ensembles like Amici della Musica; Ali Akbar Khan (doing six hours of “Indian love-in music”); Chinese gong and opera music units, and representatives from the Mexican community as well as folk, jazz, soul, and rock.

In arts, Wild West will offer drama by Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas as well as by hip-comedy/political-satire revues; Philippine dancers as well as strolling minstrels, and puppet shows and jugglers for the little ones as well as poetry and light shows for the heads.

And it will be a time for exhibiting and experimenting. The city’s painters, sculptors, photographers, craftsmen should be out in full array, while Glenn McKay is hoping to fuse his Head Lights with Japanese dance music at de Young. Everywhere you turn, there will be something to see and hear — for free. And, two days before the Festival, the coming of the Wild West will be heralded by artist Paul Crowley. He’s putting together what may well be the world’s farthest-out light show: Beamed into the sky by a bank of searchlights lined on one level of Twin Peaks, banked by a row of cars and their headlights topped by Moog synthesizers controlling the lights and horns, while pulsar wires connect the mountain to various large office buildings around the city. On signal from the Moogs, they too, will light up, some of them becoming light shows. And radio stations will wire the entire city into the mammoth display.

Since the most driving force behind San Francisco’s creative renaissance has been the rock and roll scene, most of the stages will be dominated by rock bands — all of them San Francisco-based or otherwise identified with the city.

Among those invited: Ace of Cups, Aum, Big Brother, Charlatans, Cleveland Wrecking Company, Country Joe, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grateful Dead, It’s a Beautiful Day, Janis Joplin, Linn Country, Mad River, Mother Earth, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana, Sir Douglas Quintet, Sly and the Family Stone, Sons of Champlin, and West. Some, like the Airplane, Creedence, and the Dead, will be booked elsewhere those days but plan to fly into town between shows to appear in Wild West.

All together, an amazing scene: Room and entertainment enough for 200,000 persons a day — that’s what the Council expects to host. But San Francisco could hardly expect anything else. The city was, after all, the site of the first Human Be-in, in 1967, and of numerous free rock concerts in Golden Gate Park. Even a silly “earthquake commemoration” called by Mayor Alioto in April drew 5000 citizens to a 5 AM party at Civic Plaza. And last month, when the Navy’s fleet of midshipmen and training squadrons made its annual stop into town as part of its training cruise, they were greeted with a Family Dog-produced rock show, featuring Sir Douglas Quintet and Shades of Joy, with the Optical Illusion light show. In previous years, the sailors sat numbly on their hands while a municipal band played on. This year they wailed.

As Tom Donohue told band members at one meeting, “Wild West can make a statement: that San Francisco is a beginning for so many groovy things and attitudes.”

And if it won’t be an artistic earthquake, “We want the biggest tidal wave we can have,” Donohue said — “the super experience of all time.”

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