Saturday, November 29, 2014

Whatever It Is

A partially successful attempt at a three-day multi-media event 48 years ago was also the last of the Acid Tests (albeit a subsequent “Graduation” was held).  The campus of San Francisco State College became hosts to the Merry Pranksters, the Grateful Dead and a number of other performers that weekend. Without going in to any great detail here, the likely most significant point about the following list is the demystification of what the Grateful Dead were doing that weekend. There are three separate confirmed performances not properly documented elsewhere (as far as I know).

30 September 1966

Sculpture Yard: Demon Lover, Anonymous Artists of America, The Infinite Painting & The Universal Structure

International Room:  Grateful Dead, The Only Alternative and His Other Possibilities with Mimi Farina, The Light Castle

Gallery Lounge: Don Garrett, Chloe Schott, Poetry Reading , Paul Robertson Jazz Band, Congress of Wonders, Ron Boise Musical Sculpture and Artwork of Dion Wright, Bob Branaman, Bruce Connor and Karen Koslow

Women's Gym: Bill Ham Light Show, Wildflower, Blue House Basement, J Baldwin's Tensed Membrane Screen, Rock Workshop

Men's Gym: Bernie Gunther (of the Esalen Foundation) Sensory Awakening, Robert Baker Cosmic Comic, The Merry Pranksters, Don Buchla

Women's Gym 125: Bob Beck Light Show

Education 117: Film Guild Movies

01 October 1966

Men's Pool: Water Polo, Light Show and Open Swimming

Common's Lawn: Wildflower, Anonymous Artists of America, Blue House Basement, The Committee, Robert Baker, San Francisco Mimi Troupe perform "Olive Pips"

Lowell High School Field: SF State v Santa Clara (Football - The Little Big Game)

Sculpture Yard: The Final Solution, Demon Lover, The Infinate Painting & The Universal Structure

Gallery Lounge: Don Garrett, Ron Boise Musical Sculpture and Artwork of Dion Wright, Bob Branaman, Bruce Connor and Karen Koslow.

Women's Gym: San Andreas Fault Finders, Dino Valenti, Universal Parking Lot, Congress Of Wonders (John Lennon Readings), Ken Kesey (with Freewheelin' Frank on harmonica and Kesey's cousin Dale on violin), Bill Ham Lightshow, Grateful Dead

Men's Gym: The Merry Pranksters, Don Buchla. A planned Jefferson Airplane and Paul Butterfield Blues Band after midnight performance in the Men’s Gym was never held due to Police intervention.

Education 117: Film Guild Movies

02 October 1966

Common's Lawn: Grateful Dead, The Only Alternative and His Other Possibilities with Mimi Farina, The Committee, Congress Of Wonders

Women's Gym 125: Bob Beck Light Show

Education 117: Film Guild Movies



  1. There is video of this event, including an interview with Steward Brand in the KRON archives;

  2. For those not familiar with the timeline, LSD was outlawed in California on Thursday, October 6, so this was the last legal acid test.

  3. Note that the Grateful Dead play twice (Saturday night and Sunday afternoon). Wasn't there a proposed Friday midnight event in one of the Gyms, with the Dead and Butterfield Blues Band (then playing Fillmore)? Scuttled because police were concerned about rioting in the FIllmore district (because SF cops had shot an unarmed African American--as if things ever change)?

  4. The Dead played all three days and it was the BBB and the Airplane that were due to jam Corry.

  5. Sadly the Dead weren't recorded that we know of, though Kesey & the Pranksters did record some of their own shenanigans, supposedly aided by Garcia:

    Nick Meriwether wrote a lengthy account of this event in the Taping Compendium, p.101-110.
    A few memories are also here:

    Pigpen was dosed at one of these shows, one of the few times he had acid. He did not like it; he told the others, "I don't feel well, I'm going home;" and left. So the Dead played without Pigpen that night.

    It's worth noting that the Anonymous Artists of America, who also played a couple days here, were a group of Stanford students that included Garcia's wife Sara, who'd separated from him. She recalled, "Our music and presentation were psychedelic in the extreme."
    As it turned out, ironically Sara and the AAA would play the actual Acid Test Graduation on October 31, while the Dead backed out to play a regular show.

  6. I would be interested to read Nick Meriwether account. Having spoken with several of the performers a common theme is the lack of preparation for the musicians.

  7. Doing due diligence before screening OFFON at the Exploratorium Feb 3 2016. Whatever It Was had a unique three screen island in the Cafeteria, one for each light show. Scott Bartlett designed the island. He and I (Tom DeWitt) illuminated one side. Gary Ewing did the next facet over, and the Whitney Brothers from LA projected their films on the third screen. Bands played under the screens and could be seen in the round. This was an innovative way to do a light show. We borrowed every 16 mm projector from the A/V section of the SF State library and powered them with an external generator. We almost blew them up until John Whitney, Jr. figured out how to interpret the reed tachometer on the rented generator truck and kicked us to 60 Hz from 30 Hz. The Bartlett/DeWitt light show was shown again at the Fillmore's Edwardian Ball a few weeks later. Kesey & Company threw their Graduation in our studio on Harriet Alley, remembered in Wolfe's book as "The Warehouse." As Whatever It Was wound down, the Pranksters amused themselves by tearing down our screen island. Scott was so upset when he saw the destruction, that he disappeared for days. I collected the remnants and assembled them into rooms inside our bay of "The Warehouse." The single strip film coming out of our light show is called OFFON. It was collected by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry and can be found in hundreds of museums. I remember showing it to Mountain Girl when she came by for a visit in my editing room in Poughkeepsie, NY a few years later. "I've got to tell Garcia about this." she said. I hope she did.

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