It’s been more than year since we’ve experienced summer festivals filled with live music, face paint, and muddy boots. Now there’s hope that festivals such as TRNSMT could return in September 2021. Some are anticipating that the return of nationwide festivals will create a Third Summer of Love. So, I wonder, could the return of outdoor festivals after more than a year of social restrictions feel as significant as the Summer of Love in 1967?
1967: Make Love Not War
Of course, the world today feels completely different to 1967. In April of that year, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “Beyond Vietnam” speech in New York, denouncing the conflict of the Vietnam War, which lasted from 1955 to 1975. Viet Thanh Nguyen explained that the war was close to its peak in 1967, with around 15,000 American soldiers in Vietnam at the time. Nguyen explained that the US dropped explosives on Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, resulting in an estimated 2,000,000 civilian deaths to both sides. In his speech, King called the US the “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
April 14th 1967 saw demonstrations in New York, and around 10,000 people marched in protest of the Vietnam war in San Francisco. “Make Love Not War”, was one of the slogans and anti-war messages which captured aspirations of world peace and travelled across the globe. Rosemont et al highlight that “Make Love Not War” travelled from Chicago – were it was printed onto buttons for the first time in a bookshop in 1965 – to Vietnam in 1967, where a marine corporal scribbled it onto his helmet with a marker.
At the same time, the hippy movement in San Francisco was gaining momentum. They opposed the violence of the Vietnam war. The hippie movement was a counterculture all about promoting idealistic visions of a world, one without racial or sexual oppression or capitalistic ideas of ownership. The idea of ‘Hippy Privilege’, however, clouded outsider perspectives of the counterculture. Maldono highlights that the majority of hippies were young, white and from privileged backgrounds, which meant that for them, ‘dropping out’ of the system was a choice. Furthermore, Maldonado notes that hippies romanticised eastern culture by adopting a ‘bohemian’ lifestyle, while glossing over the poverty that marginalised peoples faced.
The Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury
“If you’re going to San Francisco/ Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair/ If you’re going to San Francisco/ You’re gonna meet some gentle people there,
For those who come to San Francisco/ Summertime will be a love-in there/ In the streets of San Francisco/ Gentle people with flowers in their hair,
All across the nation/ Such a strange vibration/ People in motion/ There’s a whole generation/ With a new explanation/ People in motion/ People in motion,
For those who come to San Francisco/ Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair/ If you come to San Francisco/ Summertime will be a love-in there”.
For many, Scott McKenzie’s ‘San Francisco’, released in May 1967, captured the feeling of the Summer of Love. Online comments highlight the song’s social significance: “No song better sums up the great haight ashbury days than this song”, “1967 was definitely the turning point in rock and roll music and this song led the way to the hippy movement, psychedelia, peace, and love”, “Many young (and some not-so-young) adults interpreted this as a call to join a growing movement of peace, love, being and creativity, centered in San Francisco”.
The song called around 100,000 young music-lovers and hippies to travel to the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco in 1967 for the “Summer of Love” festival-style event. It was “happening” in Haight Ashbury, the focal point of the hippy movement. Savage explains that the hippie counterculture had been growing in Haight-Ashbury since 1965, which was manifested in psychedelic shops, the increasing popularity of LSD, and young activists and idealists in the district promoting peace. By 1967, Haight-Ashbury attracted thousands of Americans who wanted to “drop-out”, explore and find freedom, LSD and music in San Francisco.
William Hedgepeth remembers experiencing the summer while he was living in Haight-Ashbury for 3 weeks on assignment. He described men with shoulder length hair, which at the time was a statement against conformity. Women in flowing dresses gave him LSD in Golden Gate Park, and he had joined a commune within 2 days of his stay.
‘Psychedelia’ and the effects of LSD inspired music, fashion, and art in 1967, and significantly influenced the vibe of the ‘Summer of Love’. Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and The Doors’ Eponymous debut album were some of the psychedelic albums released in 1967. In addition, The Beatles’ album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released on June 1st 1967, was one of the sounds of the summer – which some remember for it’s references to drugs. For example, Lennon illustrates an acid trip in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”: “Picture yourself in a boat on a river/ With tangerine trees and marmalade skies/ Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly/ A girl with kaleidoscope eyes/ Cellophane flowers of yellow and green/ Towering over your head/ Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes”. The Beatles also released “All You Need is Love” on July 7th 1967, which became another iconic song that reflected the feel and aspirations of the summer.
Across the Atlantic – The Technicolour Dream and the Non-stop Happening
The Summer of Love and the hippie movement spread across the Atlantic to the UK, which was home to Swinging London. The “14-hour-Technicolour Dream” (the poster reads: Alexandra Place N.22/ 8pm Saturday/ 29 April-Sun30/ tickets £1) was held in London on April 29th 1967. Psychedelic band ‘Tomorrow’ played, along with Pink Floyd. Around 10,000 people attended. Newspaper clippings from the time describes the scene:
“14-Hour Technicolour Dream which will include innovations such as an indoor ferris-wheel, a festival of light machines on a scale that will never before scene in this country, and an environmental atmosphere that has never been attempted before with such a great number of people”
John Crosby wrote down conversations he overheard at 14-Hour in an article:
“the fragments of conversation were delicious: ‘I like Tom Leary all right, but I can’t stand the people around him. But you’re all supposed to love each other.’ ‘ Yes, but we don’t have to like each other.’
‘I’m told in the seventies we all get to be serious’ ‘Really, we get turned off in the seventies? Whatever for?’
Sandie recalls her own experience at the 14-Hour:
“it was definitely BEFORE hippie culture hit the world. I remember seeing young men with long hair wearing cowbells – one woke another up in the morning by ringing it in his ear. I remember Pink Floyd’s light show – truly amazing. I remember there being two stages – one at each end of the venue.”– Sandie.
A more low-key festival, the “3 day Non-Stop Happening Festival of the Flower Children”, was held in Woburn Abbey in England between the 26th and the 28th of August 1967. By this time the hippie counterculture was probably more widespread in the UK than it was back in April 1967. Black and white photos of the festivals show crowds with flowers in their hair wearing kaftans, headbands, and beaded necklaces. Flowers were painted on their cheeks, and many held small spinning fireworks. An online blog (ukrockfestivals.com) archived the stories and memories of some Woburn festival goers:
“We were sort of hippy-ish, (Art students in Oxford) so we borrowed my Mum’s Triumph Herald convertible … borrowed some of her cheap beads because we were a bit short on beads –Jerry
I remember sleeping under a tree and waking up several times during the night to hear the Doors (record) “Light my Fire” – Jerry
I went there with a couple of my mates -we had an old Bedford van and was picking up hitch hikers on the way. I remember a lady refusing to serve us in the village pub because we were ” beatniks”. – Dicky
“I was a student at the time but also worked in Tiles Club in Oxford Street (the first gig the Bee Gees played in the UK). One of the DJs – chas – offered to take me to the festival … aged 17 in my Biba frock and some turquoise beads from Indiacrafts… It was really warm and sociable. I certainly don’t remember heaving crowds – it wasn’t the way it is these days. People just wandered around, danced, laughed and talked and watched the line-up… Looking back it was all so tame and safe. I still have no idea how I got home to London”. – Lindsay
Like all good things, the Summer of Love had to come to an end. Savage highlights that the number of “drug-dazed, homeless teens” who were left hanging around Haight Ashbury at the end of the event were “unmanageable”. Local residents couldn’t wait for the visitors to leave, and they were tired of the “buses full of gawking tourists [that] clogged Haight Street”. The Summer of Love ended with a symbolic funeral called the “death of the hippie”, which symbolised the end of summer’s event on October 6th 1967. Kasper, one of the organisers of the symbolic funeral said: “We wanted to signal that this was the end of it, to stay where you are, bring the revolution to where you live, and don’t come here because it’s over and done with.” Some used the moment to leave the hippie counterculture behind in Haight Ashbury. Photos show a group of “freebies” (the term for the those who had been ‘freed’ of the hippie label) with recently cut hair and peace signs carrying a casket filled with beads, pot, flowers and locks of long hair. Bill Niekerken explained that these objects represented hippie lifestyle, and carrying the casket through Haight-Ashbury to its resting spot symbolically marked the end of the movement in Haight Ashbury (even though hippies were still around until the mid 70s).
The Next Summer of Love
Today, there is a nostalgia for the hippie counterculture, decorated in public memory with freedom, “Make Love Not War”, flower power, and peace signs. Or maybe we just yearn to experience the feeling of large open-air festivals the way we used to. One rejected online petition called for the UK government to allow another “Summer of Love” for young people across the UK:
“allow the youth of the UK to have a summer of love as a thank you for abiding to the lockdown rules… these are very hard times for young people, with them having no work, being restrained from living a free life and being ordered not to socialize… the youth are not being given a chance to release all the inner frustrations.”
Freedom from social restraints and releasing “frustrations” underlies the motivation for the “free summer of love 2021”. It echoes the image of the 60s ‘hippy’ ideal, ‘dropping out’ of the system and travelling to an outdoor festival where everyone can ‘let go’ and dance. Maybe the return of crowds at a summer music festival could do just that and create a form of escapism from our socially distanced towns and cities.
Liverpool held “The First Dance”, a trail club event which ran from April 30th until May 1st, where 6,000 people returned to the dancefloor without masks for the first time in over a year. People’s reactions to the night could give us an insight into the effect the return of outdoor festivals could have. Sam Newson, the producer of the event said: “I’m not going to lie, it is very emotional.” He added: “Any event is special but with the amount of work that has gone into this and to be the first in the country in over 12 months, it is very special.” Lauren Losung, described the buzz of the music and the feeling of being back in a club: “when I got to play that first track, it hit me like a ton of bricks… You could just feel the energy in the room.”
There’s no doubt that the return of outdoor festivals will feel “special” and maybe a little historic after the past year. Those aspiring for a third Summer of Love are holding out for a summer of freedom, good music, dancing, and travel (which we will get back to) – which is what many imagine that the Summer of Love was all about. That being said, nothing can quite replicate the “Summer of Love” in 1967, mobilised at the peak of hippie counterculture, psychedelia, and against the backdrop of protests against the Vietnam War.