Last light, Stone Steps © Robert Sommers 2023

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Tribal Stomp


I was going through some things in my files today when I came across this Gilbert Shelton drawn program for a show I had once attended. It was one of the most amazing concert experiences I have ever had. The statute of limitations on past psychonautry must be up by now for god's sake, I think I am safe to spill.

It was the fall of 1978. I was hanging out up in Bluebird Canyon in Laguna Beach with a bunch of kindred souls when one of my psychedelic rat pack at the time mentioned that there was going to be a great concert up in the Bay Area. The Legendary Tribal StopHmmm, should we go? 

We looked in the Laguna underground newspaper at the time and saw an ad for a limousine company, appropriately named Jeff's Starship. Perfect. We called him up and negotiated a price and things fell together seamlessly. Our little hippie family would travel north in style in a black limousine. And we did.

The cast of characters were loosely, as follows, Jack and E and their youngest daughter. They had lived in the Haight Ashbury in the glory years and were known as ma and pa gummy bear for their favored delivery method for the acid sacrament.

Our british expat pal Mina came along, fresh from Kathmandu. I think Lance took up the rear guard, but then again he and C. may have stayed home. In any case, a very seasoned cadre of tripsters. We whipped up a bunch of cubensis smoothies and made our way to the bay.

We got to the show and were warmly greeted by an old friend who was promoting the show, Chet Helms. Chet was a Texas classmate of Janis, a one time partner of Bill Graham and sort of an anti graham in his effusive hippie ethos and his approach to hippie music and promotion. More about the experience than the money. At some point that day, he signed my program. Later in life we met through the art business.

We found a nice place to sit and the show soon started. Chet, the old Family Dog and Avalon promoter welcomed the crowd and the day. The poets came on and did their thing, I remember being particularly taken with Di Prima. I had seen Ginsburg several times with the hand cymbals and all and the whole schtick wasn't really my speed.

Something very strange happened. They started throwing carnations off the stage. We caught a few and lo and behold, someone had secured windowpane acid in the petals. The bus came by and I got on and that's when it all began... Forgive me but my memory starts to get rather well, not mushy, exactly, let's just say I entered a space that is very hard to translate in human speak. But the promoter acting in such a manner, ensuring that everybody was very stoned was a new one on me!

I honestly remember nothing of Congress of Wonders, a local comedy troupe. It is a beautiful day was billed as It was a beautiful day, sort of a requiem, long a favorite or mine, they were simply sublime, eschewing their normal song fare for an extended psychedelic jam. Or it seemed like one, who knows, maybe it only lasted for a minute, how can one be sure? But the leader violinist was definitely brilliant that day.

Wavy was hilarious, the tried and true teeth chattering on the table bit and more. Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, unannounced and un billed, played next, a great set. Always wonderful. Lee Michaels and Canned Heat, both favorites of mine, failed to make an impression that can cut through the mental din four decades later, pardon me. 

The first show I ever went to was Canned Heat at Stonybrook and I saw Lee Michaels playing with Country Joe the night I was introduced to Mr. Orange Sunshine. I do remember that the Chambers Brothers sat in for at least a song or two with the Heat. And perennial presence and hog farmer Woody was wandering around the place playing his banjo.

I was thinking about the Chambers Brothers earlier this week, saw them once with Steppenwolf. I feel very lucky to have heard Time live, I guess many people never had the opportunity and I am glad that I did.

The next performers Dance Spectrum, clearly blew my mind. A dance troupe. I remember two dancers, dancing incredibly close together, seemed like the most holy mating ritual of butterflies or something, it was mesmerizing and I have never seen anything like it before or since. Of course I may have needed to be similarly tuned in to even perceive it, perhaps I missed it on a later occasion? In any case, it was the best dance performance I have ever witnessed.

Big Brother came on next, always fairly perfunctory without Janis and then Country Joe and the Fish. It was starting to get dark and the Bill Ham light show was in fine form, pictures of trains and Indians and koans interspersing with the oil blobs in the most wonderful visual panoply I have ever witnessed. Faster than light and quite conscious. Everything seemed to make sense, if that makes any sense?

The Fish, particularly Barry Melton, were incredible. Another band that you needed to see live, they could throw down with anybody when things got goopy.

Paul Butterfield, with Bloomfield, closed the show. It was wonderful to see Michael but he had clearly lost a lot on his fastball by this point. Still a serious treat.

An incredible day and night, a memory I will treasure forever. The highlights for me were David LaFlamme and Country Joe and the Fish. There was one strange occurrence that my be worth mentioning. There is one in every crowd. alcohol does not mix well with acid, an entirely opposite space. 

A drunk was being a real asshole and would not let up with his obnoxious behavior. One dick in a sea of content. In an act right out of Theodore Sturgeon's Homo Gestalt group mind if I have ever seen one, a bunch of people airlifted him with their minds over a railing and onto the concrete, not to trouble anyone else for the balance of the day. See ya!

To those of you who have never dipped your toe in the psychedelic sea this might sound very far fetched but believe me when I tell you that there is a definite connected group mind in an environment like this when many of the denizens are baking on ergotamine and other hallucinatory substances.

Sure don't have shows like this anymore. It was so warm, so intimate, so connected, clearly a gathering of the tribe.

Strange postscript to the show was that on our return to Laguna Beach we were met and confronted with barricades of yellow tape.

Much of Bluebird Canyon had slid down the mountain while we were off cavorting around.

Almost like a psychic payback for all the fun we were having but Jack and Yvonne's home was spared.

What a weekend!


Linda Wilson said...

Wow, what a great story. How wonderful to be in the place at the right time....
I, on the other hand was stuck in Missouri wishing I was in CA.

Blue Heron said...

Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again? I was lucky. The love hung thick in the air...

Jim E. said...

You are truly blessed brother!

dabluesman53@gmail.com said...

You were and still are blessed!✌🏽❤️🖖🏽