Human Be-In: 50th Anniversary Celebration Slated For January 2017

On December 15, San Francisco Bay Area music promoter Steve Keyser ended Facebook speculation as to where and when –or even if– the fabled Summer of Love would celebrate its semi-centennial on any sort of grand scale in The City next year. Keyser’s revelation of a Human Be-In 50th anniversary bash comes as welcome news to former flower children as well as a new generation of neo-hippies who wish they’d been there the first time around.

Slated for January 14, 2017, the Human Be-In 50th anniversary party will be held in the Gray Area Grand Theater at 2665 Mission Street. Nostalgic yet timely musical acts scheduled to perform include Roy Blumenfeld of Blues Project, Nick Gravenites of Electric Flag, Terry Haggerty from Sons of Champlin, and Barry “The Fish” Melton of Country Joe & The Fish fame. Drummer Peter Albin of Big Brother and the Holding Company is also on the bill, as are Annie Sampson of Stoneground and Lowell “Banana” Levinger of the Youngbloods. Wavy Gravy — the philanthropic clown who fed breakfast in bed to a quarter million muddy merrymakers at Woodstock– will emcee the event.

How the first Human Be-In happened: a very concise history

The first Human Be-In that kicked off 1967 and led directly to the fabled — and ofttimes misremembered — “Summer of Love” was organized by two notable intellectual visionaries: Allen Cohen, who published the seminal underground newspaper The Oracle, and uncompromising artist and rabble-rouser Michael Bowen. The Be-In wasn’t the spark that lit the fast-fading fireworks that so briefly illuminated the 1960s, however. That credit goes to The Love Pageant Rally.

By the first moon of 1967, “love-ins” in Golden Gate Park were more prevalent than Beatnik poetry readings in North Beach. Cohen and Bowen provided a philosophical bridge between the two. The first span was laid on October 6, 1966 — the day that a controversial chemical called LSD 25 became illegal in California. Until that time, lysergic acid diethylamide was lawful to use for recreational, spiritual, and research reasons, and a preponderance of Haight Ashbury residents may have at least dabbled in the stuff.

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With a stroke of his pen, California Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown turned thousands of San Francisco residents into criminals. In response, The Oracle published an open invitation for trippers and others to attend a “Love Pageant Rally” in the Golden Gate Park panhandle on October 6, 1966. Cohen’s stated objective was to create a celebration of innocence without confrontation.

“We were not guilty of using illegal substances. We were celebrating transcendental consciousness. The beauty of the universe. The beauty of being.”

Cohen, Bowen, The Psychedelic Shop owners Ron and Jay Thelin, and other happy instigators pulled together an event in the Panhandle and dubbed it the Love Pageant Rally. Posters peppered the Haight, imploring attendees to bring various objects and a good attitude to the public party.

“Bring the color gold. Bring photos of personal saints and gurus and heroes of the underground. Bring children, flowers, flutes, drums, feathers, bands, beads, banners, flags, incense, chimes, gongs, cymbals, symbols, costumes, joy.”

A couple thousand people attended the Love Pageant Rally where legend has it that Michael Bowen coined the moniker “Be-In.” Three months later, attendees at the first Human Be-In numbered in the tens of thousands.

The scene at the first Human Be-In is described at The Allen Ginsberg Project:

“There were some old rugs and inexpensive Indian cloth prints laid out on a flatbed truck along with some pillows. The well-known spiritual, intellectual, and writer friends that Michael Bowen had talked into coming to the event from all over America, sat on those pillows and on those rugs in a human-tableau designed as a piece of living art. They included Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Gary Snyder, Jack Weinberg, Michael McClure, Richard Alpert, Lenore Kandel, Suzuki Roshi from the local Zen Center, and Jerry Rubin, along with Bowen’s good friends, the drummers with their drums from the mountains of Big Sur, California. The people who were arriving could see that those “famous” individuals, whose work they had read directly, or read about in the media, had also journeyed to the Be-In to simply sit and be with them as equals.”

Years later, Michael McClure recalled the enormity of the first Human Be-In:

“The Be-In was a spiritual occasion, culminating from the countless preceding events, dances, thoughts, breaths, lovemakings, illuminations. The Be-In was a blossom, it was a flower. It was out in the weather. It didn’t have all its petals. There were worms in the rose. It was perfect in its imperfections. It was what it was and there had never been anything like it before.”

There might not be anything like it again, but next month’s 50th anniversary celebration includes a hopeful Rededication Ceremony to the Values of the 1960s – Peace, Love, Community and Activism. Further info and tickets to the Human Be-In 50th Anniversary celebration are available at the Gray Area/Grand Theater website.

[Featured Image by Somchai2015/ThinkStock/Getty Images]