Summer of Love: The History of San Francisco Music in the ’60s and its Influence Today

A look back at the festivals of the ’60s whose influence can still be felt in the music and festivals of today.

The year was 1967 and the place was San Francisco. It was the Summer of Love; a season of creative expression, free society, cultural revolution and arguably the beginning of what we now enjoy as modern music festivals.

I hit the road for Outside Lands this week and I can’t help but reflect (or slightly obsess) over the rich musical history that once graced the Bay Area. It was a time like no other — it was pure, quick-moving, and psychedelic — the Summer of Love irreversibly changed our culture forever. I grew up in Northern California, an hour outside of San Francisco, with my dad’s vinyl collection on continual rotation. The likes of David Crosby, the Doors, and the Who were constant companions of mine and I was captivated by an early age. I was in. But, alas, two decades too late… so this year I wanted to make a point to research this beautiful history and experience “today’s” San Francisco music festival with this knowledge in my back pocket. To feel the energy of the past, to respect the history and the people who pushed an artistic and creative generation forward.

In the late 1960s, nearly 100,000 young people from across the country poured into the Haight and Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco in search of personal freedom and cultural and political rebellion. This unexplored counterculture hippie movement was focused around “free society.” The freedom to dress the way you wanted, free creative expression, free to dance, free music shows, rent-free housing. It was the Summer of Love — sharing ruled. It all came into public focus the year of 1967 and it took over San Francisco like a hurricane.

One of the strongest exports during this time was the music. New “acid rock” music came into play, pop and rock gained popularity, and the majority of shows took the form of day-long community hangs in Golden Gate Park — friends bonding over music and personal expression. Of those people, you may have found Janis Joplin, the members of Jefferson Airplane, Grace Slick, and the Summer of Love personified, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

San Francisco was a hotbed for music in the late sixties — there was the Trips Festival of ’66, the San Francisco Pop Fest of ’68 and too many unbelievable shows to count at the legendary Avalon and Fillmore venues. However, there were two particular music festivals in 1967 that played a massive part in what music festivals are today: the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival and the Monterey Pop Music Festival of Northern California. Coincidentally the two events happened within a week of each other. 


Photos by Dennis L. Maness for Summer of Love Collection. San Francisco History Center. San Francisco Public Library.

The first was held on June 10 & 11, 1967 on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County just miles north of the city. Over 36,000 people came out for the two-day festival. Many folks have argued that Fantasy Fair was the official start to the Summer of Love and consequently the prototype for large-scale outdoor music festivals… lest we forget, this was two years prior to Woodstock. Tickets were $2 and all of the proceeds went to local child care centers. Over 30 bands performed including the Doors, local favorite Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds, and Dionne Warwick. This was the first music festival to play a mixture of genres and mainstream and underground acts, much like lineups today. There were two stages, one main and one smaller stage that hosted the up and comers. Art installations were placed about the grounds, jewelry and food vendors lined the paths, and there was an array of family-friendly activities. Festival goers were from all walks of life — the original San Francicsco Chronical reviews noted they had seen, “teeny-boppers with their inevitable flowers, bizarre hippies from Haight and Ashbury and tee-shirted fraternity boys from Cal.” For any of you who have attended a recent music festival: sounds familiar, right? Though this echoes the festivals of today, what stands out most from the weekend was the calm vibe and peaceful community feeling. The weekend was about bonding and sharing in this beautiful thing called live music and existential expression… it was the Summer of Love, for pete’s sake! There wasn’t a backstage area and musicians would be seen mingling with fans after shows, eating lunch under a tree with new friends, or watching each other perform from the crowd. It was a time in history, a magical blip of fate, that would never be repeated.

The following week, on the opposite side of the bay and less than a few hours away, the first and last Monterey Pop Festival took place. The three day long fest was organized by John Phillips and LA producer of the Mamas and Papas, Lou Adler, and had a very similar set up to Fantasy Fair. The idea of Monterey Pop was to give rock, soul, and pop music the recognition and respect that jazz had at the time. Big stars like Mick Jagger, Smokey Robinson, and Paul McCartney sat on the Board of Governors and worked to get the 30 acts to perform. However, many San Francisco bands questioned the highly-produced and “commercial” festival. They held onto their “hippie integrity” and thought there should be no profit, no stardom, and no personal gain by playing — everyone should be equal. Eventually the bands and the producers came to an agreement and some of the most powerful live performances were born here. Show-stopping acts included Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and Jimi Hendrix (this is where the famous guitar burning took place), among many others.

So this week, in honor of the Summer of Love and the impending Outside Lands Festival, I’ll be spinning my favorite records of the late 60s and imagining that magical time when the youth was leading the way and creative expression ruled. Social media and instant access didn’t exist then — the entire movement was about the experience. Music was freely shared and deeply appreciated — I’ll be remembering that as I walk around Golden Gate Park this weekend.

+ Are you heading there too? Let me know and we can share a hello!

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  1. I’ll be going to Outside Lands! I was hoping that FP Blog would share some insightful knowledge about it! I will definitely keep in mind the influence of culture and history of music had on the city itself as I go through the festival.

  2. I wish i could have experienced the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Even though a lot of bad came with all the people migrating to the city, there were surely some wonderful and memorable times to be had. There is no other time in history as interesting as this time to me. Everything was changing and no one knew where it was heading. How exciting to experience!

  3. I’ll be there – in fact, I work for Superfly, the co-producers of the festival! Hope to run into you guys and thanks for all the great coverage of both of our festivals over the years.


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