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Groove not approved: permit denied for Summer of Love 50th anniversary party

The Human Be-In rally that touched off the Summer of Love in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on 14 January 1967 may have been a psychedelic, hippy-dippy, drug-addled, free-love, damn-the-man love-fest, but it did have one thing going for it: a permit.

Fifty years later, San Franciscans can order delivery of a joint with an app and marry a same-sex partner at city hall, but bureaucratic approval for a concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love is out of reach.

On 7 February, the San Francisco recreation and parks department denied a permit to the anniversary concert in a harsh letter to concert organizer Boots Hughston, citing his “numerous ‘misrepresentations of material fact’” in his dealings with the department.

“The Summer of Love was an incredible moment in our city’s history and its message of peace and love is more important than ever,” the department wrote, citing concerns over safety before adding: “We cannot put the public at risk and grant a permit for your proposed event.”

The denial is a major setback for Hughston, who had been planning to host a free day-long concert featuring, among others, Eric Burdon and War, Country Joe McDonald, and the remaining members of Jefferson Airplane. Hughston, who previously organized a 40th anniversary Summer of Love concert, had hoped to secure an appearance by the Dalai Lama to this year’s celebration but, he said, “his holiness was booked in LA”.

“The whole thing about the 50th anniversary is that we are marking our generation and what our generation accomplished,” Hughston said. “We impeached presidents. We started all these movements: the environmental movement, the free speech movement, the feminist movement.”

“It’s because the whole generation woke up and realized that there was more to life than just working everyday and spending your whole life sitting at a desk,” he added.

Visitors to San Francisco throughout 2017 will have no dearth of events to which to wear flowers in their hair. Museums around the Bay Area will host Summer of Love-themed exhibits, and annual street festivals will likely see a boost in flower-power accessories. One tour company will even take visitors around town in an authentic Volkswagen “love bus” complete with beaded curtains, shag carpet, and neon blue seats.

Hughston blamed the city for “dragging its feet” throughout the permit process, which he said he had been working on for nine months. He also accused the city of favoring large, corporate events that can pay millions of dollars in fees.

He plans to appeal the permit denial at a hearing on Thursday. More than 1,300 people have signed an online petition asking the mayor to allow the concert to go forward.

Hughston did take some comfort in the fact that it took the original Human Be-In did two attempts to get a permit as well. After being denied on his first attempt, organizer Michael Bowen asked his friend, Melvin Belli, for help. In 2004 Bowen told the the San Francisco Bay Guardian how Belli, a famous attorney, “sent his secretary downtown and asked and received in five minutes a permit for his birthday party at the Polo Field. Jan 14 was not even his birthday.”

Representatives of the city and the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to queries from the Guardian.

Hearkening back to the Summer of Love may seem incongruous to American’s experiencing a Trump-induced winter of discontent. But to Hughston, young people in 2017 can learn lessons from the hippies of the 60s.

“You have power in your own individual thinking,” he said. “If you say to yourself, ‘I’m not going to eat that GMO food and I’m not going to put up with Donald Trump,’ you can do it.”

Hughston also advised that young people seek out the spirit of the Summer of Love at events like Burning Man.

Country Joe McDonald, who was part of the Summer of Love scene and played Woodstock with Country Joe and the Fish, had a more modest view of the anniversary.

“To me, it’s not really important to mark the anniversary of the Summer of Love, but I like to play free music in the park,” he said. McDonald will play at the anniversary concert, if it is allowed to go forward.

But he said he was unsure whether the celebrating the Summer of Love five decades later has much relevance.

“It is the past,” he said. “It holds meaning to people who are old.”

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