This was a momentous moment in the history of rock music. Held at the Sidney B. Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, on the south side of Mount Tamalpais, Marin County, California on June 10 & June 11 1967, it was the first authentic rock festival, held six months after the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park.
In historical terms it was soon overshadowed by the Monterey Pop Festival which happened a week afterwards but it was nonetheless an historic event.
It was produced and sponsored by Tom Rounds and his partner Ed Mitchell. Rounds was program director at KRFC, a Bay Area radio station. It was a community project, profits from which would go to the Economic Opportunity Council that operated in the black ghetto area of Hunter’s Point. Rounds is an interesting bloke and central to much development of rock and roll radio. He also was part of a set-up which did promo films for bands and the following year would put on the second Miami Pop Festival.
Magic Mountain was two events at once – an arts and craft fair for local arty types and artisans. The music happened in an adjoining amphitheatre.
After enjoying a scenic ride up the mountain from embarkation points at the Marin County Civic Center, Mill Valley and other locations, a giant Buddha balloon greeted attendees when they arrived at the amphitheater. On the main stage, six 14-foot-tall banners, each displaying a different astrological sign, were set up in a row at the back of the stage.
Transportation was provided by the tongue-in-cheek-named “Trans-Love Bus Lines”, a variation of the line “Fly Trans Love Airways, get you there on time” from the lyrics to Donovan’s song “Fat Angel”.
The event had an ‘acid doctor’ present to help treat anyone suffering from a bad trip. This was a first and became a consistent thing in the following years. Mind you, Owsley Stanley III, the LSD alchemist, actually flew over the crowd and dropped acid onto them. Free drugs. Yum yum.
Performances were on a main stage and a smaller second stage.
Jorma Kaukonen said of the festival. ‘There’s never any thought of making money off of it. It’s just what we did.’ Larry Taylor of Canned Heat said ‘People would get together in a big park and listen to music and hang out. I played music in the Fifties and I remember wearing cummerbunds, plaid jackets and uniforms. All of a sudden, that was trash. I got into American Indian beads and pants with hand-painted psychedelic stuff on it. I haven’t really worn a suit since. It came together out of nowhere. All of a sudden it just became this…thing.’
Various art-fair type vendors sold posters, crafts and refreshments from booths scattered in the woods around the amphitheater. The festival included a large geodesic dome of pipes and fittings covered with white plastic that contained a light and sound show. Far out, baby.
At the time, a lot of people saw this as the first full flowering of the new hippie music scene. The cultural divide between pop music fans and rock music fans, had opened up a popular culture schism that hadn’t really existed. It’s hard to fully grasp this fact at such a distance but getting into psychedelic bands was a kid of political statement. It was all so new and so different. Yet here, there were bands like 5th Dimension, who seemed to somehow have a foot in both camps.
These are the bands that played
Saturday, June 10
The Fifth Dimension
Jim Kweskin Jug Band
13th Floor Elevators
Spanky and Our Gang
Blackburn & Snow
Every Mother’s Son
The Chocolate Watchband
The Mojo Men
Sunday, June 11
The Grass Roots
The Loading Zone
Every Mother’s Son
Steve Miller Blues Band
Country Joe & the Fish
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band
The Sons of Champlin
The Lamp of Childhood
The Mystery Trend
New Salvation Army Band
It’s thought this was actually The Doors first big show as Light My Fire was burning up the charts. Morrison was reportedly ‘shit-faced’ drunk.
But it looks like an incredible bill on both days, doesn’t it? And all for just $2.00! No wonder then that 36,000 turned up.
The Byrds were a huge band at the time, probably bigger than anyone else, with a couple of years hits behind them.
The attempt to appeal to local rock fans and top 40 pop-pickers as well was unusual and wouldn’t happen to many times in the future as the cultural chasm between those worlds opened up.. By all accounts it was a groovy day out in the sun for everyone. It passed off peacefully and all litter was picked up and binned at the end of it all, leaving the lovely Mount Tamalpais as they found it. This was a trend sadly not followed in the next years.
Both these events set the precedent for what could be achieved before Monterey, a week later, set them into legend.
Rolling Stone have a great feature on the festival with interviews with all the major players