Whatever It Is Festival, San Francisco State College 1966

Whatever It Is Festival, San Francisco State College 1966
Authored By John Nicholson

Held between Fri Sep 30, 1966 and Sun Oct 02 this was a three-day event which featured the last legal Acid Test (shortly before LSD was criminalized) with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, the Grateful Dead, Mimi Farina, The Only Alternative, The Committee, Wildflower, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and many others. The handbill was designed by Stewart Brand (of the legendary Whole Earth Catalog fame) and features his handwriting. 

It was organised by something called ‘the Experimental College’ which sounds like a far out sort of college to go to, man.

A local TV station sent out a reporter called Art Brown to find out about the groovy goings on and as the nascent hippies got their buzz on he intoned to camera “What you’re looking at now is a sunshine grass dance. Anyone knows what that is?” 

He interviews a couple of people who are clearly in the early stages of being psychedelicized. It’s wonderful footage and in the reaching for a New Age and A Different Way To Be, very modern; a journey many of us are still on. 

I can imagine it cutting to a year hence and Art has got into dope and acid, grown his hair, dropped out and left the TV station to work in a wholefood collective out in Marin County. 

The closing night of the weekend featured an Acid Test, with a disguised Ken Kesey (just back from fugitive adventures in Mexico), the Grateful Dead, Wavy Gravy, and other scene makers. Memories of the evening from various participants suggest a chaotic, fun, avant-garde continuation of the Acid Test energies first unleashed in the fall of 1965. 

For all these look like period pieces now, 57 years on, in another way they seem very modern. The exploration of inner space in order to change the world is still something we’re on a quest to achieve.

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