Jan 14th 2011
by James Sullivan
The event grew out of an urge to protest a new San Francisco law
prohibiting LSD. But on Jan. 14, 1967, the Human Be-In -- the
peaceful gathering that provided a prelude to the Summer of Love and
the era of the rock festival -- unfolded, with none of the authority
clashes that would mark so many major rock concerts of the 1960s.
In fact, there were just two park rangers on horseback to police the
crowd of 25,000 or so stoners who convened in Golden Gate Park.
Officially known as "A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In,"
the event was organized not as a protest but a celebration. "Bring
the color gold, photos of personal saints and gurus ... children ...
flowers ... flutes ... feathers ... banners, flags, incense, chimes,
gongs, cymbals," instructed the organizers.
Performers included the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service,
Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Jefferson Airplane, Sir
Douglas Quintet and jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Allen Ginsberg,
who'd recently called for a "mass emotional nervous breakdown in
these States once and for all," chanted. Acid guru Timothy Leary,
making his first appearance in San Francisco, unveiled his "Turn on,
tune in, drop out" routine. Underground legend Owsley Stanley
delivered thousands of hits of White Lightning, his most potent brand
of LSD to date, along with dozens of turkeys, which provided hundreds
The MC for the day was an ex-Marine drill instructor everyone knew as
Buddha. Even the Hells Angels, later infamous for their violent
behavior at Altamont, played nice, tending to lost kids and guarding
the sound system after generator power was mysteriously cut.
[See URL for video clips.]
Just before the Human Be-In, the Oracle, the underground newspaper
whose founders, Michael Bowen and Allen Cohen, were instrumental in
creating the event, printed a rumor that a flying saucer bearing good
news would soon land in San Francisco. When an unidentified man
parachuted out of a plane, dozens of humans rushed to see who it was.
Many claimed that it was Owsley, according to Charles Perry's
definitive chronicle in his book 'The Haight-Ashbury,' but others
thought the guy looked a lot like a local parachuting instructor.
Other rumors were not so benign. When Ginsberg and fellow poet Gary
Snyder led an early-morning group in a pradakshina, ceremonially
walking around the Polo Field to consecrate the event, word came back
that some Satanists had skewered symbolic pieces of meat on the fences.
Still, almost all involved agreed that the Be-In successfully
promoted the ideas of progressive living and peaceful coexistence.
The Berkeley Barb had predicted that "fear will be washed away" and
"profits and empire will lie drying on deserted beaches."
Well, sort of. Within a year, the Human Be-In had become such an icon
of the era that NBC launched an absurd new variety show called 'Laugh-In.'