Saturday at Santa Clara Fairgrounds. Hot weather and a good sound system. About 8000 people came to hear the rock bands.
There were a lot of long-haired people there, but the major part of the audience was 15-17 year old white, kids. Lots of short sleeves, some Bermuda shorts. Kids with straight faces held in that anticipation, waiting for themselves, waiting for Stars, waiting to be turned on, waiting to be sent into combat, intent on what was happening but not used to bursting out. Kids who were used to being told, 'Sit up straight and don't make faces.' They had become the nice children their parents had raised them to be, and now they were looking for something beyond that.
Last year they could have eased their changes maybe with a transitional music like Herman's Hermits, the Monkees or even Early Beatles: boys who didn't look like they'd push a girl too far, boys who were willing to come in and meet the parents before a date. Now that kind of act is out, perhaps a victim of the general polarization of attitudes that is going on in America. Now there is a vacuum, a lack of in-betweens. These kids came from Scouts, Sunday School, mowing the lawn for chores and maybe getting a pony for Christmas. And they're going straight out of that toward the world of Pigpen and Janis.
It's a big jump, and they were slow in getting involved in the music that day. They weren't dumb, they just hadn't been anyplace yet, and they rather shyly waited to be shown around. They were like the farmers who gathered in Ottawa, Illinois in 1858 to hear the first Lincoln-Douglas debate:
After their first debate in Ottawa, the New York Evening Post reported: 'All prairiedom has broken loose. It in astonishing how deep an interest in politics these people take."
The bands went through a slow and roundabout courtship with the audience, trying to turn them on. Here were all these hairy gang-bang bands all ready to whoop it up like they'd just driven the herds into Dodge City all the way from the Mexican border, and the crowd was like the school-marm who wonders if kissing with the tongue is ladylike. So ... it took time.
Finally the Youngbloods started to get to them with 'Let's Get Together.' They're a trio now. Jerry Corbett has quit to do some record producing. Jesse said, "He got tired of running around playing rock band gigs." Then Crome Syrcus, a developing band, still not there. Some parts work and some don't. They ended with their ballet score from 'Astarte' which just didn't have anything to say in an outdoor rock concert. Then the Steve Miller Band, the first really hard band of the day, all tight and together. Like watching a good middle-weight contender. They set the crowd UP.
Next came the Grateful Dead. Tom Donahue announced that their new album is out this week and suggested that the Dead might play some numbers from it during their set. Jerry Garcia smiled benignly to himself. He said they'd do 'Alligator' and they did, for about 40 minutes. That was their set and it blew the place wide-open.
Most bands hit a song fast, then stretch out for a while, then end up with a bang. The Dead go Into a song slowly, tentively, and build up an atmosphere until everybody is inside the music. And then they take off, exploring the figures over and over again over that super rhythm section. if you're outside it, it can be boring. But when they get to you, it's incredible and hypnotic as if the music was happening inside you. In Santa Clara it blew everybody's mind. It was as though we were hearing for the first time in our lives and we stood in a kind of trance scarcely knowing that we were listening. The ending was very drawn-out, on purpose. From that incredible middle they trailed off slowly into percussion sounds, then down to just cymbal noise, and from there to silence. When it was over, we didn't clap much, we just stood there open-mouthed. Who was that Masked Man?
Then Big Brother and the Holding Company came on completely out front, pouring everything into just that moment, as though there is no tomorrow, only right now. Raw power and excitement. The most intense band around. And yet they're all so gentle. They look like they'd scare hell out of a waitress at a drive-in (What'll you boys have? she asked. Raw meat, they answered) and yet they'd be great with children.
And they're all so tasteful They make their choices like old-time country musicians. Janis looks like a gramma, and like a little girl, and like she's burning up with a white flame. While she was singing, the wind was blowing the cottonwood trees behind her, and the leaves were turning over, from green to grey-green and back, as though in time with the music. They're presently recording an LP for Columbia in L.A. They're good people and I hope they get home all right.
And top of the bill. Jefferson Airplane. What a complicated bunch! Cassady, Dryden and Jorma laying down their music, and Paul, Grace and Marty Balin out in front doing some weird version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, making little remarks, gestures, giggles and faces at each other like they were passing notes in a schoolroom. Their last number was Do You Want Somebody to Love. They led up to it with and air of mixed boredom and relief, like -0h, not this again," but when they got into it, they really got with it and cheered up and smiled and bopped around.
The crowd reaction began with 0 Wow, the Hit! and then warmed up into: Yes, I do want somebody to love actually. Then the festival producers and monitors started shooing away the fans who were standing on the stage: All right, kids, maybe you want somebody to love, Not right now, run along home. That all happened behind the Airplane, who were having a really good time by then. Then they ended and we all ran along.
Source: SF Express Times 5/23/68