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Reliving the Summer of Love

LiveMint logoLiveMint 05-05-2017 Rishad Saam Mehta

I am in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood, looking at a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream shop that stands at the famous corner where artists, writers and musicians had gathered during the “Summer of Love”, in 1967.

This gathering of about 100,000 people was the crescendo of an anti-establishment movement that had begun as a response to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. It rapidly grew to questioning everything that was considered the established norm, in fields as varied as lifestyle, literature, fashion and music. They showed up wearing psychedelic shirts, bell-bottom pants, and flowers in their hair. And words like karma, kama sutra and free love were used liberally in discussions on spirituality and sex. Besides the chants of “make love not war”, there were also the first mentions of local and organic produce, attributes that largely define California’s culinary landscape today.

Though the famous corner of Haight-Ashbury might be taken, there’s still plenty in the neighbourhood that harks back to the Summer of Love. There are numerous striking murals: One features Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead, another an ecstatic Jimi Hendrix with his guitar. There are murals of women with flowers in their hair, goddess Kali and assorted bits of pop art. And as I walk down the streets, I spot the houses once occupied by Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. There are still plenty of shops that pay homage to the period, with names like The Love of Ganesha and Amoeba Music (Wild San Francisco Walking tours has a great guided pay-as-you-like walk of the neighbourhood; Wildsftours.com).

A candid photo of the Summer of Love, 1967, displayed at the Sunset Marquis hotel in West Hollywood.

You can join the revelry as California celebrates 50 years of the Summer of Love with a series of events, exhibitions and experiences. Soaking in the revival nostalgia on a recent road trip through the sunshine state, I made a list of events, many of which are already on:

In San Francisco

Magic Bus tour

At San Francisco’s Union Square, hop on to this retro-fitted bus for a 2-hour trip. The bus tour uses music, drop-down screens over its windows and skilled guides to help visitors explore the visionary mix of music, art, politics and culture which came together in Haight-Ashbury in 1967. With bubbles floating through the air and flowers to put in your hair, this is one bus you shouldn’t miss.

Magicbussf.com/tour/anniversary-summer-of-love; on till 15 September.

The Summer of Love Experience–Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll, de Young Museum

This exhibition explores the visual and material cultures of a generation searching for personal fulfilment through social change. It does it through a wide array of iconic rock posters, interactive music and light shows, flamboyant clothing and photographs. Some of the posters featured were designed by artists like Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse and Wes Wilson. There are also handcrafted, one-of-a-kind garments created by such designers as Birgitta Bjerke, K. Lee Manuel and Jeanne Rose. Don’t miss the rock poster featuring the Taj Mahal.

Deyoung.famsf.org/summer-love-art-fashion-and-rock-roll; on till 20 August.

The Beat Museum

This unique museum features books from the 1950s that were considered subversive or counterculture, and came to be known as Beat Literature. It is widely believed that beatniks such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady fanned the anti-establishment sentiments of the period with their writing. Memorabilia at the museum includes first editions, letters and personal effects.

Kerouac.com.

Hippie Modernism—The Struggle For Utopia, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

This exhibition at the beautifully designed and spacious Berkeley Art Museum explores how art, architecture and design intersected with the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s. It charts the evolution of one of the most fertile periods of recent cultural history, one that witnessed a variety of radical experiments that challenged tradition and convention, overturned customary hierarchies, explored new media and materials and formed alternative communities.

Bampfa.berkeley.edu/program/hippie-modernism-struggle-utopia; on till 21 May.

A shop on Haight Street that sells spirituality paraphernalia.

In Monterey

Monterey International Pop Festival

Taking place at the height of the Summer of Love, from 16-18 June, the Monterey International Pop Festival is recognized globally as an important event in the history of rock ‘n’ roll music. The festival captured the spirit of the time, ushering in a new era of rock ‘n’ roll. It launched the careers of Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, The Who, and Janis Joplin.

Fun fact: Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar also played at this festival. Interestingly, his daughter Norah Jones will perform at the forthcoming Monterey International Pop Festival, taking place at the same venue, the Monterey County Fairgrounds, on the same dates.

During my road trip, I was shown around the venue by photographer Tom Gundelfinger O’Neal, who was present at the 1967 festival. Among the many stories he had to tell, the most fascinating was about a carpenter who was hired to extend the stage and did a neat job of it. That carpenter was none other than actor Harrison Ford. He also vividly described how Jimi Hendrix went down on his knees and set fire to his guitar, as if sacrificing it at the altar of music. So stunning and impactful was the act that the bands that followed Jimi Hendrix’s set were completely overshadowed. One of those bands was The Mamas & the Papas, who were at the very height of their popularity at the time. Montereypopfestival50.com.

In Los Angeles

Jim Marshall’s 1967, The Grammy Museum

The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles is holding the Jim Marshall’s 1967 exhibition, showcasing 60 of the thousands of images music photographer Jim Marshall captured during the summer of 1967. Marshall had extended access to many of the musicians through the 1960s and 1970s, and was the official photographer at Woodstock. He shot the iconic photo of Jimi Hendrix with his guitar on fire that is on display on the second floor, special exhibits gallery of The Grammy Museum at LA Live, Los Angeles.

Grammymuseum.org/exhibits/jimmarshall; on till 14 May. This exhibition is also on display at the San Francisco City Hall; on till 23 June.

The complete list of events is available at Sftravel.com/summer-love-2017.

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