2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the famous ‘Summer of Love’. But what was it, how did it happen and why is it still talked about today? One explanation for the 'Summer of Love' is that it was a form of protest, fighting against the world the participants were living in, and a way to escape from it. It came at the time when America were escalating their military involvement in Vietnam, consumerism was also growing and social-conservatism was swiftly becoming the norm. Yet not all people subscribe to this rose tinted image on why it happened, many adopt the cynical notion that the 'Summer of Love' was made up of young people seeking sex, drugs and rock & roll, it is fair to say that all three were available in abundance. Availability of the psychedelic substance was growing through the work of Owsley Stanley,the self titled 'King of Acid'. The LSD Millionaire distributed the drug to thousands of Americans, he even provided the psychoactive substance to The Beatles during the filming of Magical Mystery Tour in 1967. whilst Stanley manufactured,Timothy Leary advocated its use believing it could treat alcoholism and reform criminals.
In the same year some of the greatest music of all time was being released. Five thousands miles away from San Francisco,The Beatles released their eighth studio album,Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band,arguably one of the most experimental albums of all time.Pink Floyd released Piper at the Gates of Dawn and The Rolling Stones released Their Satanic Majesties Request. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic artists such as; The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and The Jimi Hendrix Experience helped soundtrack the 'Summer of Love' with their pioneering and often psychedelic music.
San Francisco was the epicentre of the 'Summer of Love',hosting events such as the 'Human Be-In''that took place in January 1967. This took place in Golden Gate Park, the home of disaffected students participating in the hippy movement. Poets such as Alan Ginsberg and bands such as Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead performed. Huge amounts of “White Lightning” LSD were distributed to the crowd, provided of course by Owsley Stanley. This proved to be a prelude to the summer. Haight-Ashbury had hippy connections throughout the sixties, but this came to a head in the summer of 1967, when 100,000 hippies moved to San Francisco, and residents of Haight-Ashbury included musical artists such as Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. Another event, perhaps the most iconic of the 'Summer of Love' was the Monterey Pop Festival, in California. Organised by John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas, the festival was attended by anywhere between 25,000 and 90,000 people. The festival provided the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who and Ravi Shankar with their first major U.S. appearances. Otis Reading, The Grateful Dead, Eric Burdon & The Animals as well as Jefferson Airplane performed.The Mamas & The Papas held the privilege of closing the festival, which went down in history as being the first major rock festival, laying the foundations for events such as Woodstock and Glastonbury, which began in quick succession after the festival.It also launched the careers of artists such as Steve Miller and Canned Heat. Back in Britain, events such as The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream were held, where artists such as Pink Floyd and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown filled Alexandra Palace.
However, like all great scenes the 'Summer Of Love' couldn’t last forever. When it ended in Autumn 1967, those remaining at Haight-Ashbury organised a funeral for 'The Death of The Hippie' on October 6th 1967, a year to the day after the U.S. government had outlawed the use of LSD. A significant reason for the end were the darker sides of the “Summer of Love”, such as drug addiction, as well as the commercialisation of the movement. Another big factor for the ending of the scene was when participants came to the realisation that Timothy Leary’s mantra,“Turn on, tune in, drop out” wasn’t practical. Many went back to carry on with their lives of studying or working.
So, why are we still talking about the 'Summer of Love' fifty years on? One reason is the continued relevance and cultural importance of the music released at the time, as shown by Sgt. Peppers reaching number one again fifty years after its release. Another reason is the musical influence it continues to have, as can be seen with artists such as The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Tame Impala and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Socially, the 'Summer of Love' is associated with protest for gender equality,LGBT and the protection of the environment. While it's true that not everybody who journeyed to Haight-Ashbury did so to protest, behind the tie-dye and the drugs there was a purpose that the “Summer of Love” served. Rather than seeing it as a scene many treated it as a movement. There is no doubt that they helped improve social rights, which continue to affect our lives today, long after the 'Summer of Love' is over.
Words by:Jake Redmond
Edited by:Josh Crowe