Hiding out in Sacramento

The Summer of Love was centered in San Francisco, but the Central Valley got its share of hippies, trippers and Panthers, too

Legendary KZAP began its free-form FM broadcasts playing long versions of Grateful Dead songs.

Legendary KZAP began its free-form FM broadcasts playing long versions of Grateful Dead songs.

Head to San Francisco this summer and you’ll run smack into a petunia-smelling halo of nostalgia. Forty years ago this month, the hippie nation descended on the city, with flowers in their hair and tie-dyes on their bodies. With the Vietnam War raging, with America’s social fabric fraying at the seams, the flower children were in town to create a psychedelic alter-reality, a Summer of Love.

For a few brief months of 1967, Haight-Ashbury—the home to such musical wonder-groups as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead—became the center of American youth culture, a place of pilgrimage and carnivalesque freedom.

From that deliciously decrepit corner, the hippies tripped and screwed and partied their way into the history books while the wider world debated the implications of China having recently exploded a hydrogen bomb, the Middle East was reconfigured in the aftermath of the ‘67 war between Israel and the Arab states, American policymakers publicly debated the possibility of dropping nuclear bombs on Vietnam, and anti-U.S. riots broke out in many cities around the world.

Now, the flower children are in their late 50s and 60s; come the summer, many will take time out from their grandparenting duties to recreate their day-glo youths. In September, a group called the Council of Light is organizing a 40th anniversary concert in Golden Gate Park. Ceremonies and art exhibits loom, and there’s already been a long PBS documentary. Summer of Love celebrations are even planned as far afield as London.

In Sacramento, however, apart from the recent debut of a local online hippie meet-up group—most of whose members are seemingly too young to have lived through the Summer of Love—the 1967 reminiscence machine has been notably muted.

A mere 80 miles from the Haight, Sacramento in 1967 was, in many ways, a world away. Despite a population of nearly half a million in the city and surrounding county—not much more than a third of today’s figure but a not-insignificant number—it was a small town, and a conservative one at that. Teenagers were more likely to hang out at burger joints such as the Red Top (hamburgers, six for a buck) or after-football-game dances than in artsy-folk cafes. Ronald Reagan had just settled in as California’s newly elected governor and, from his office, was issuing diatribes against the long-hairs invading his state like Mediterranean fruit flies. (At the same time, though, conservatism’s future godhead courted his political opponents. In mid-June, he signed a bill liberalizing the state’s abortion laws, permitting the procedure following rape or incest, or if the mother’s health would be at serious risk were the pregnancy to go full-term.)

Governor Reagan’s stinging jibes aside, the hippies weren’t exactly on mainstream Sacramento’s radar in the run-up to the Summer of Love. Sure, communes sprang up in the foothills around Nevada City; several Bay Area idealists, including the poets Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg, recently had bought a large plot of land. Within a couple years, Ananda Village, a large yoga commune that followed a swami called Kriyananda, would split off from this original group of back-to-the-landers and, on 600 acres of beautiful rolling hills, create one of the country’s largest, and ultimately most durable, experiments in alternative living.

Increasing numbers of artists and tripped-out hippies also were living in Nevada City itself. But the foothills were a long way from downtown Sacramento.

“The 1960s didn’t arrive in Sacramento till very late in that decade,” explains Ron Clement, a political activist who moved to UC Davis as a 20-year-old transfer student in 1967. “There wasn’t a whole lot going on here culturally or politically in terms of what we might think of as 1960s stuff. It was still very much a backwater.”

Other stories dominated the local news that spring: The first was the beginning of construction work on Cal Expo. The second was related to the broader conflicts wracking America. More than 20 gun-toting, beret- and sunglass-wearing members of the Black Panthers occupied part of the state Capitol on May 2 to protest the Mulford Act, a proposed law to ban the carrying of loaded weapons within city limits. Reagan, on the Capitol’s lawn at the time with a crowd of youths known as “future leaders,” was hurried away as police moved in to arrest the armed Panthers. The Sacramento Bee’s full-page headline the next day screamed “Capitol is Invaded,” under which appeared a photograph of intimidating-looking Panthers with their guns.

When the hippies did get press, in the Bee or its then-vibrant rival the Sacramento Union, it was usually unflattering. Take the small, inside-page Bee article in April headlined “Parade-In’ ends in ‘Jail-In’ on Haight-Ashbury Sunday.” And on June 21, there was another brief piece on the jailing of eight hippies in Nevada County. Their high crime? Trespassing, which makes one wonder how many stories involving trespassing charges Bee reporters ignored when the suspects had close-cropped hair.

Speaking of stories no one wrote about—because, at the time, no one had reason to write about them—Sacramento played host to Charles Manson and his followers after the Summer of Love ended and fall had set in. They bought an old yellow school bus and, in mid-October, rode in it to the Stewart E. Miller Standard Chevron gas station, put in a new $39 battery and also purchased two complete sets of tires. They then drove off … to re-emerge in Southern California a couple years later as a cult of deadly psychopaths, the ultimate embodiment of the psychedelic revolution’s dark side.

But back to 1967.

Just because Sacramento wasn’t San Francisco, and just because the big newspapers weren’t covering local hippies, that didn’t mean that behind the scenes its young people weren’t affected by the events percolating in Baghdad by the Bay.

“What was happening here was invisible,” remembers Tower Records founder Russ Solomon, who was in his early 40s during the Summer of Love. “The young people who got into the music scene, they would simply go on weekends to the Fillmore, into San Francisco to hang out in the Haight. There was a lot of dope smoking, no question about that. But it was very much invisible, whereas it was extremely visible in the Bay Area.”

People involved in the local hippie scene recall that only in Plaza Park, which is now known as Cesar Chavez Plaza, did large numbers of long-hairs congregate in public. There, says Gus Kaplanis, a newsletter publisher and former owner of the underground newspaper Aardvark who in 1967 was a history major at Sacramento City College, “you’d see groups of kids and young adults walking around. You know they’re not working and probably not going to school. But they’re having a good time, sitting around, playing guitars. It’s an easy life. You’d see hippie vans converted. You know they were living there.”

Clement’s first impressions that it was a backwater might have been true, but only up to a point. Imbibing the winds of change blowing from the Bay Area, both the local music and art scenes thrived. The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were among the slew of top draws the Memorial Auditorium and other local arenas managed to snag. Tickets cost about $2.50. Like groupies at just about every other tour stop, young Sacramentans followed the bands back to their hotels after shows to party … and often engage in unspeakable acts.

In Davis, a long-haired anti-war activist named Bob Black became student-body president. Student dorms began going co-ed. In October, the City College’s Hughes Stadium hosted a huge rock festival called, simply, Sacramento Pop. “We brought everybody here,” says Solomon, who worked as a concert promoter, as well as a record-store owner. “We played Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Sly Stone. We didn’t get the Beatles. But we had two Rolling Stones concerts here in the ’60s. You could get the Stones for $25,000. It was a different age, a great age.”

By 1967, the Candy Store art gallery was a focal point for the counterculture in Folsom. Tower Records was the epicenter of a burgeoning rock-music scene. An English-born artist named Bill Dalton was exhibiting psychedelic art in a gallery near what is now the Fox & Goose pub. An art salon known as Pilot Hill, east of Folsom and headed by collector John Fitz Gibbon, was bringing pop artists and “happenings” to Sacramento. And many other cutting-edge artists were lured to the region by Wayne Thiebaud’s presence.

“They called it ‘hiding out in Sacramento,’ because nobody paid them attention here,” recalls Maurice Reed, a government-relations consultant and art aficionado who was friends with the top local artists during the 1960s. There was, Reed recollects, a “gathering of the clans” sometime in 1968 in the hills east of Folsom Lake involving many from the local art scene. “Everyone was smoking dope. I recall some guy wandering up and down the hills. He had on a white robe, barefooted, singing at the top of his lungs [the Beatles’ song] ‘Lady Madonna’ over and over again. He must have been LSD’d out of his mind.”

Several head shops set up business around town; Tower Records became famous for its bongs. Thrift stores like the Fashionable Flea, on the corner of Arden and Howe, catered to the hippie aesthetic. And the Anarchoic Chamber, in an old bowling alley on Alhambra Boulevard, was on the brink of opening as a psychedelic rock club and screening venue for locally produced alternative films.

“What was so vibrant and so exciting about that time—there was a great hope about our youth,” recalls Linda Parisi, who now heads the public defender’s homicide division. She was a 17-year-old suburbanite attending El Camino High School in ’67. “As a result of, really, a youth movement, fundamental social changes occurred.”

Sacramento got an earful of Eldridge Cleaver in 1967 and ’68.

“It exposed me to the term ‘Free Love,’” remembers Kaplanis, now a balding, gray-bearded, golf-playing retiree with a shy smile. “Everybody was safe. Everybody was friendly. Free Love was the big deal. I guess it showed rebellion, that you don’t need a piece of paper to like somebody.”

In many ways, Kaplanis, who today drives a convertible white Thunderbird—golf sticks popping up out of a bag on the passenger seat—embodied Sacramento’s counterculture-lite take on the Summer of Love. Not a true hippie, he was, instead, a frat boy. “Gooser,” as everyone called him then, lived in a Sigma Phi Epsilon frat house on the corner of 22nd and T streets. But he imbibed many of the mannerisms and lifestyle choices of Frisco’s hippies, especially after his first visit to the Haight.

“A bunch of us from City College played hooky, went down there, spent all day and some of the evening, and my eyes opened up to the counterculture, to what was going on, the runaways, the people fed up with government, with regular city life. I was impressed. This is really cool.”

While most of Sacramento’s nascent hippies headed west to the Bay Area, others journeyed up to Ananda Village and the other communes of Nevada County. Throughout the county,ashrams, alternative schools, meditation retreats and communes began springing up in the late 1960s, bringing into the foothills the back-to-the-land philosophy of the middle-class urban hippies, as well as the spiritual values of the New Agers, some of them borrowed from Eastern religions, others from a smorgasbord of new ideas and communitarian living arrangements.

Old photos from Ananda Village, the colors faded into the photography paper, show young women with long hair and flowery clothes, men with long hair and beards, all with the skinny, waif-like look that constituted the hippie aesthetic.

“It made people feel like they could do something very different from what their parents did,” remembers longtime Ananda resident Parvati, who like all her fellow villagers adopted a Sanskrit name bequeathed on her by her swami. “A lot of their choices were so radical they couldn’t sustain them. But here, Ananda was creating a real community. It was never a commune, always a spiritual community.” Sitting in the village’s central dining room eating the vegetarian lunch cooked up by the village’s chefs, Parvati mentions between bites that “1967 created an opening, an opportunity, to think differently, do differently, dress differently. But it takes a lot of focus to find that meaning.”

Where the hippies talked of the impending Age of Aquarius, brought about by a procession of the equinoxes, the Anandans talked of moving from an age of matter into an age of energy, of enhanced consciousness. Where the Aquarians used LSD to expand their consciousness, the Anandans used intensive yogic meditation techniques.

Something must have clicked. Now in their 60s, 70s and even 80s, many of today’s residents have remained at the village for the better part of four decades. Some live in the original wooden geodesic domes built shortly after the Summer of Love. In addition to daily meditation rituals, the villagers run many businesses, including a thrift store, a market, a small publishing company and an inspirational products online retailer.

Sparsely toothed, white-goatee-bearded, 83-year-old, one-time merchant marine and ballroom-dance instructor Satya recalls that in 1967, buttloads of hippies descended on the embryonic Ananda community from points west. They urged the swami to use LSD as a way of reaching enlightenment. “You may be right,” Satya remembers the guru retorting. “But once you get the message, hang up the phone.”

Today, Ananda is an alcohol- and drug-free zone.

In the years following the Summer of Love, Sacramento and its environs would, to coin a cliché, never be quite the same again. Some changes were good, others less so.

A year after the hippie summer, the legendary KZAP radio station began its free-form FM broadcasts from an office atop the Elks Building, playing long versions of Grateful Dead songs, running interviews with rock legends such as Frank Zappa and broadcasting bands playing live from the 14th floor of the Elks.

With the counterculture seeping into the mainstream, drug usage—from marijuana to LSD and eventually cocaine, heroin and steroids—became all too commonplace. When that happened, says Solomon, “the whole scene went bad. And that was a shame.”

Free clinics, like those catering to runaways in San Francisco and Berkeley, sprang up in Davis and Sacramento, their expertise essential in tackling a growing drug epidemic. At the same time, and representing a more optimistic outgrowth of the period, the food co-op movement took off, both in Davis and Sacramento. And a number of communes took root in Sacramento and the surrounding counties—especially in the foothills of Nevada County.

“You questioned every assumption you had,” remembers Bill Pounds, who finished high school in 1967 and, a couple years later, started a commune on an old pig farm outside of Roseville. “We experienced communal living, like an extended family. We combined money, purchased food, paid the bills. We just experimented with a lot of things in life, tried alternative lifestyles, to find out what you enjoyed and what you liked to do. We broke the mold and got out of that whole routine and tried to find out what worked for us, not just do what society told us to do. And some things worked and some things didn’t. We were involved in group sex and there were jealousies and problems that didn’t work too well. But we were trying everything.”

Politically, the campuses—or at least a vocal minority on the campuses—drifted leftward, as they did throughout the country. “This was a very freewheeling period when, how shall I put it, student-teacher relationships were very friendly,” reminisces 73-year-old Jerry Fishman, a now-retired English instructor at City College. “We’d walk into a class and say ‘party time.’ And then we’d party with students that night.”

He still recalls the contact high you’d get simply walking down the pot-smoke-filled corridors.

The radical African-American activist Eldridge Cleaver came to CSUS in 1968, a year after he’d participated in the Panthers’ Capitol Invasion, and caused a stir by using the word “fuck” while speaking from the podium. “The students were just like ‘Oh my God!’” Kaplanis recollects. “There were hundreds of them.” City College had a series of bomb scares.

In 1969, a psychology professor at City College named Steve Hansen invited his undergraduates to redecorate the lecture hall. The result was a combination of psychedelia and graffiti-styled slogans daubed over the walls. (see SN&R Arts&Culture, “The more things change” by Donna Lee, December 7, 2006). Hansen also led groups of protesters to the Federal Building on the Capitol Mall to protest the war and the draft. When Nixon decided to invade Cambodia in 1970, large numbers of CSUS and City College students and teachers demonstrated, boycotted classes and organized teach-ins. One of the noisier protests involved a student who rode his motorcycle right through the ground floor of City College’s administration building. Others clogged the library with a mass return of books they dubbed a “Book-In.” An anti-draft group known as “the Resistance” emerged in Davis; several members refused to be inducted into the armed forces. Also in Davis, Diogenes House opened to house runaways, many of whom were deeply involved in the burgeoning drug scene. Within a few years, it was running 15 programs in five counties.

Underground publications such as Hoof and Mouth, Scope, Suttertown News, the New Patriot and later the Aardvark began being distributed in high schools and colleges throughout the city. Like Rolling Stone magazine, which had begun in San Francisco in 1967, the pubs generally focused on politics, war, music, drugs and sex … the usual countercultural suspects.

Some years serve as fundamental before/after dividing lines. In America, 1967’s Summer of Love transformed youth culture, and 1968’s street clashes and political upheavals fundamentally altered the country’s political equilibrium. For many who grew up in those years, there’s a period in history before 1967-68, and then there’s the aftermath.

“One cannot underestimate at all what came out of the Summer of Love as it spread around the country,” says Clements. “It was a social-cultural phenomenon.”

For Parisi “in some ways it was life without consequences. Liberation. Tie dyes coming in. Women without bras. An open sense of self. You weren’t constrained by styles or method of music or anything.

“I would say that was really a time of freedom,” Pounds recalls nostalgically. “And also a time of stupidity that came along with that. There was a real freedom and opportunity to examine life. We were the first generation that had everything taken care of for us, and we were somewhat spoiled. We were very fortunate. Of course, we probably squandered a lot of time and did a lot of foolish things—but that’s how you learn.”