In 1967 when the Summer of Love was happening up in San Francisco, I was 15 and living 50 miles south in San Jose, so I was just a bit too young to drive up there. But I was close enough to watch it on the local news from the San Francisco TV stations, and I knew that all sorts of stuff was happening up there. I was fascinated by it all but I was usually a good kid, and maybe a bit afraid of going too wild, so I didn’t do anything crazy to get up there.
I turned 16 and got my driver’s license at the end of 1967. At that point in my life, it was just me and my mother at home. She was working graveyard shifts Monday through Friday at Memorex, quality testing computer tape all night. She left for work before my bedtime those nights. On weekdays she didn’t get home until I had left for school, which meant I could play music really LOUD as I was getting ready for school. Any curfew I had on a Friday night was purely on the honor system since she was off to work before I had to be home. Sometimes I could even have the car for the evening and she would get a ride to work from a friend. Like I said, I was usually a good kid and didn’t take excessive advantage of all of this.
Until that is, the time that Andy Garcia (no, not THAT Andy Garcia) talked me into driving to San Francisco so he and a friend could go to a Cream concert at Winterland. Andy Garcia was a friend of a friend. He went to a different high school than me. He was also quite a bit wilder than me. I wouldn’t remember the exact date of this event on my own, but according to the classic Stanley Mouse psychedelic poster for the concert, it must have been Friday the 8th of March, 1968.
I can’t recall Andy’s friend’s name, but when we picked him up, I was struck by the resemblance to Art Garfunkel. He was tall, willowy, and topped with sort of a pale afro. He had a girlfriend with him whose name I don’t recall either, but I’m pretty sure she was also willowy and had long blonde hair. So with the four of us in my mother’s 1967 Ford Fairlane, I set off on my first ever 50-mile drive to San Francisco. All this without telling my mother, without getting permission to drive that far. I wasn’t being my usual good kid.
Garfunkel said he had been to Winterland before, so he knew the way. Being a trusting young soul, I believed that a 16-year-old with no access to a car could successfully navigate us from San Jose to Winterland. The San Francisco part was easy, there were plenty of signs, however, where to go once we got there was not. But it turned out Garfunkel really had been to Winterland a few times. His older sister was a full-fledged hippie living not far from the Haight-Ashbury, global center of hippiedom. Garfunkel was navigating from the back seat. He got me off the freeway and driving across San Francisco in the right general direction, but the longer it took to find Winterland, the harder he found it to give directions. It turned out that Garfunkel and girlfriend had dropped LSD as we approached San Francisco, hoping to time it for the concert. The LSD was coming on a little sooner than they had planned, making navigation somewhat difficult. Luckily he recognized enough street names that we eventually saw the marquee at Post and Steiner and the people milling around out front.
It might seem like we were all set for now, but this was not only my first attempt to drive to San Francisco, it was also my first attempt to find a parking space in San Francisco. This was not easy in the vicinity of Winterland when a big concert was going on. We eventually convinced ourselves that a particular parking space would do and got out of the car. It was exciting to actually be at Winterland. The concert had already started so there weren’t too many people out front. The box office was still selling tickets. Winterland was big and it took a lot to sell out. The problem was that tripping Garfunkel and girlfriend didn’t have enough money for tickets, which, thanks to the modern collectibles market, I know were priced at $3. We split up and all four started panhandling everyone walking by, yet another first for me, the only time in my life I’ve stood on a street asking strangers for “spare change”. But at $3 a ticket it didn’t take that much change, so we all got in.
Inside, Winterland wasn’t a great place. It had been a large ice rink, formerly hostings ice shows like the Ice Capades. Bill Graham had just barely converted it to a music concert venue. It was large and kind of seedy. We found some seats up in a steep balcony and heard the last couple of songs played by the original Blood, Sweat, & Tears led by Al Kooper. They were one of the first rock bands to add a horn section and were fun to listen to. I don’t hold a grudge against Art Garfunkel for making me late, causing me to miss most of the set. The memory doesn’t cloud my ability to appreciate “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or anything. But still, I wish I had heard their whole set. Maybe it would have been better if Bill Graham had seen fit to place them second in the line up instead of the opener.
Blood, Sweat, & Tears were followed by Jeremy and the Satyrs, led by jazz flutist Jeremy Steig. They were probably good, but a bit slow and contemplative, which wasn’t the best thing to follow what came before. I also had not had much exposure to modern jazz at that point in my life so it was a bit lost on me. I would not have been as sorry to have missed most of their set instead of Blood, Sweat, & Tears. Bill Graham was very good at challenging the tastes of rock music devotees by mixing up the bill with jazz, blues, R&B. This particular insertion of a jazz act wasn’t my favorite instance of that, but I later came to appreciate it.
And not much later at all because the next band up was The James Cotton Blues Band. Led by blues harmonica great James Cotton, they really cooked. This was a 16-year-old white kid from the suburb’s first-ever exposure to a live performance by an authentic original blues act. I finally got a glimpse of the culture that so many rock bands had been borrowing songs from. I could barely remember what Jeremy Steig had sounded like by the time James Cotton was done rockin’ me with his Rocket ‘88.
Then came the headliner, the act we had driven 50 miles for, Cream. I don’t have to trust my memory because due to modern excessive documenters, Cream’s setlist for that evening is on line. I had heard most of the songs before on their albums, Disraeli Gears and Fresh Cream, but there were some new songs, or at least new for Cream. Cream’s later album Wheels of Fire even has one whole disc recorded live at that engagement in San Francisco, including one song recorded the night I was there. Their song Sunshine of Your Love was probably the biggest crowd-pleaser. By the end, we were quite satisfied that we had seen the band we came to see.
After the concert, we found our way out to the street and went to the car, or at least to the place we had left the car. It was gone. The parking space we had convinced ourselves would be fine, wasn’t. The tail end of the car had jutted into a driveway enough that the car had been towed away. After a few moments of confusion, we dashed back to the front of Winterland, which was where any kind of aid we needed would most likely be found. My companions all managed to find rides home to San Jose amazingly quickly. I was pretty sure I would need to be in San Francisco in the morning to find out about getting the car back so I needed to stay somewhere. Garfunkel made up for any earlier inconveniences by spotting his hippie sister leaving the concert and arranging for me to sleep on her living room floor for the night. I guess hippies didn’t necessarily have couches. Garfunkel’s sister was nice to me. I got a restless night's sleep on the hard floor, then in the morning, she directed me to the police station where I could check on the car. She gave me some change to make a phone call to my mom, which was only fair since I had helped panhandle her kid brother into the concert the night before.
The rest is pretty standard: the embarrassing phone call to my mother who was already alarmed when she found neither the car nor me at home in the morning, waiting for her to get a ride from a friend up to San Francisco to pick up me and the car, the uncomfortable 50-mile ride home. I didn’t drive to San Francisco again until I had my own car. The next time I went to San Francisco I told my mother some fib that I would be staying with my friend George for the weekend. It was sort of true, I did spend the weekend with him, but we hitchhiked to San Francisco and stayed the night with an acquaintance of George’s. This time I got to sleep on a couch, and there were no parking problems.