Muhammad Ali Festival, Hunters Point, San Francisco, 1967

Muhammad Ali Festival, Hunters Point, San Francisco, 1967
Authored By John Nicholson

This is a mysterious festival. Due to be held Sat Jun 10 - Sun Jun 11, 1967, did it actually take place? No-one is quite sure. The only evidence that it was scheduled to happen is the lovely poster made for the event by Joe Gomez. There are no reports of it happening and no reports of it being cancelled. 

This was at the time Ali was becoming a counter culture hero for resisting the draft as a conscientious objector. It was due to be held at Hunters Point in SF at a time when most such benefit gigs were held in Golden Gate Park, perhaps because it was a largely black area.

The bands on the bill are all the classic new San Fran hippie groups who played so many shows in the area from 66 - 69.

The excellent Rock Prosopography blog says

“Ali crystallized opposition to the War, reflecting a man so principled that he gave up money and fame to do it.

Thus an event 10 days before Ali's trial ( for formally refusing his draft notice) that says "Muhammad Ali Festival" is self-evidently intended as a celebration of racial solidarity and opposition to the Vietnam War. Of course, that would be the hippie interpretation--whether the local community perceived it as supportive or patronizing is unclear. Some of the fine print says "Free Bar B-Q", which in California was effectively code for African Americans, although how black people might have felt out about it was completely unclear. There is also a small map of Hunters Point but I cannot discern the actual place where the festival was held.

"No specific organizer or affiliations are identifiable for this event, so it makes me wonder how carefully it was organized. A lot of hippie events were thrown together kind of casually, and they did not always fall together gracefully: bands didn't show up, generators ran out of power, the cops hassled about permits, neighbours complained, and so on. Its impossible to say if this well-intentioned event had a chance of succeeding, much less whether it actually did.

“As to the mystery of this event, it happened to take place on a particularly busy rock weekend in the Bay Area. A huge rock festival that was scheduled the previous weekend at Mt. Tamalpais in Marin had been delayed and rescheduled to the weekend of June 10-11. 

"This all day event, featuring groups like The Doors, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and The Fish and a couple of dozen others, would have sucked away numerous people who might have considered journeying to Hunters Point. Numerous other people may have been saving up time or money to go to the Monterey Pop Festival the next weekend.

"Meanwhile, The Doors were at the Fillmore Friday and Saturday night (June 9-10), Big Brother and Canned Heat were at The Avalon all weekend (June 8-11) and Steve Miller Band was headlining California Hall on Friday and Saturday night as well.

"The listed performers for this concert were not well known at the time, even if some of them have grown in stature since. The acts listed are:

"Steve Miller Blues Band: a great group, but a year shy of their first album, and only known locally. Curley Cook was still on rhythm guitar, as Boz Scaggs would not join until later in the Summer.

"Orkustra: A Haight Ashbury band that played all instrumental music, featuring future Manson Family member Bobby Beausoleil on guitar and David LaFlamme, later of Its A Beautiful Day.

"The Loading Zone: an Oakland band that played both rock and soul clubs, they too were a year shy of their debut album.

"The Charlatans: though Haight Ashbury legends, these pioneers were never actually that popular, and their first album did not come out until much later."

"Ulysses Crockett and The Afro Blue Persuasion: Crockett was a Berkeley vibraphonist whose modern jazz sextet played a lot on Haight Street.

"Phoenix: A San Francisco group that was still a year shy of their performing peak, although they never got the breaks they needed either.

"Anonymous Artists of America: A Santa Cruz Mountains band who lived in a commune

"SF Mime Troupe: Popular political theater group in the City

"The Committee: Improvisational theater troupe, based on Broadway in North Beach.”

For all students of those now sadly long gone warm San Franciscan nights, the hope of the counterculture and the great music born out of the time is essential reading.

Whether this festival happened or not, it is a good indication of how the counterculture of the city and the wider political situation in relation to the war and civil rights, were intermingling and in doing so, probably putting down the first roots of what would become the more overtly political Yippie movement, a movement that in so many ways was the forerunner for pretty much every progressive cause that has come to pass since.  

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