Northern California Folk-Rock Festival 1968

Northern California Folk-Rock Festival 1968
Authored By John Nicholson

This was held at Family Park in the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, 344 Tully Road, San Jose, California, on May 18–19, 1968. This was the first of two festivals here promoted by a dude called Bob Blodgett.

I discussed the 1969 show here It got caught up with a lot of local politics and heavy vibes, with a competing show elsewhere in town. But a year earlier, things were not necessarily any smoother. 

The festival featured Country Joe and the Fish, The Animals, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Big Brother and the Holding Company feat. Janis Joplin, The Youngbloods, The Electric Flag, Kaleidoscope, Taj Mahal, and Ravi Shankar and the Grateful Dead. Some played, some didn't and there was a lot of unlisted local bands that also strummed some tunes. In other words, it was the usual semi-chaotic festival situation. This was the line-up in the programme.

It was an usual 2-day show because it was held during the day, not in the evening and finished at 5.30pm. I don’t think there is another show that made this decision. 

The Airplane headlined the first day, The Doors closing the event on the second. There is footage of Jim - with a new short haircut - and the band arriving and playing on what looks like a small improvised stage, with the audience just right by them. Some of this was used in Feast of Friends, I think. It looks rather bucolic and pretty much the exact opposite of a festival these days, entirely free from sponsorship and corporate BS.

There were some local bands to open proceedings each day such as Morning Reign (see what they did there?) Indian Headband (hippie alert!), Transatlantic Railroad, Mint Tattoo (can you tattoo mint?) and People.

Saturday’s meaty part of the show featuring the Youngbloods, Steve Miller Band, Grateful Dead, Big Brother and Jefferson Airplane. That is quite some run of bands. However, there were some bad vibes going around. Hells Angels, as they often were at this time, were ‘security’ and as per usual, this involved some breaking of heads. It didn’t help that the ground was cold and wet after some chilly damp weather, and unpleasant to sit on. Then the sun came out and was so hot it fried people.

Oh and did I mention that half the crowd were out of their mind on industrial strength PCP? People were freaking out and getting weird and losing their minds. And with nearly 30,000 people there, there was a lot of melons getting bent out of shape, baby.

As the medical tents got packed out with freaks who had gone to the wrong side of gonzo, the press picked up on the story, gleefully running another 'kids gone wild on drugs' story about the corrupting nature of all things long-haired and groovy, as opposed to the corrupting nature of fighting a nice war. The City Fathers shook their heads ruefully and promised this would never happen in their sweet little town again. Or at least, not for a year, as it turned out.   

The second day was apparently just as tonto. The Doors headline performance was reported as not being one of their best. The feeling being that the crowd preferred SF bands and The Doors also liked the drama playing in the dark to conjur the magic. Indeed, they were often unhappy with their festival performances. Leather pants are also gonna be sweaty on a hot May afternoon!

There were a couple of reviews of Steve MIller's set saying how tight and hard they were in contrast to the SF bands more typical rambling style. Some didn't like this and preferred the more Dead-style extemporisations. I remember Steve saying later in an interview that they were so well rehearsed and all such good players that they really stood out at the time as being professional and a reliably excellent band. 

This two-dayer went down in local freak Northern California folklore for it’s stellar bill but also because it scored high on the ‘out of our box’ scale of freakoutedness.

Scroll To Top