Psychedelic Toronto

January 20, 2013

Psychedelic Toronto

When one thinks of cities with a
psychedelic musical past, certainly San Francisco will spring to mind
immediately, with perhaps London or Austin a close second… but Toronto is a
place that shouldn’t be left out, and is a location with strong ties to the
history of psychedelic culture in general. Bill Graham’s productions in San
Francisco, and the posters that advertised them have come to be seen as
defining moments in the birth of American psychedelic culture. In 1967,
Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre would become the only location outside of California
to hold an official Bill Graham Presents event, complete with a James Gardner
designed poster (with photography by Herb Greene) bearing text clearly
imitating Wes Wilson’s classic Roller-cum-psych font. Vintage poster experts
are all too well aware of Toronto’s link to the SF sound, as the BG-74 poster
(many of which were confiscated at the border), remains one of the most sought
after of the entire series of almost 300, and the very first to occur outside
of the Fillmore.
I’m referring here to the now legendary
week-long run of Jefferson Airplane / Grateful Dead shows at the O’Keefe
Centre, with locals Luke and the Apostles opening. Graham was the Airplane’s
manager at the time, and had the group perform a free show at Nathan Phillips
Square a week before the run (July 23rd, 1967) to garner interest and build
momentum. But why Toronto? Why was no other tour stop made part of the original
San Francisco series, or an extended stay? The Jefferson Airplane and The
Grateful Dead went on to play together in Montreal the very next day as part of
Expo ’67, but the Toronto shows were seen as special, and directly connected to
Graham’s Fillmore concerts, plus his setting up shop for a week says he knew
there was a very real audience, and something was happening here. In his book,
Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s, author Stuart
Henderson states that by the Summer of 1967, “Toronto had found a place on
the map of happening North American hippie scenes”. The daily media
coverage of the happenings in Yorkville at the time certainly put the city on
the map for many. Nicholas Jennings considers Yorkville in the 1960s as having
been a “vibrant artistic community of international renown”.
However, another part of the answer to the
“why Toronto?” question surely lies in the “local” opening
act.  Luke and the Apostles had been
signed to Elektra Records in 1965 by producer/A&R man Paul Rothchild (known
best for his work with The Doors), who discovered them at the Purple Onion in
Toronto. Before “hippie culture” took over, Yorkville had been centre
for Toronto’s Beat/Folk scenes, and the fact that anyone from a record company
was sniffing around is a serious sign that Toronto was on the US radar – after
all, A & R guys were usually the last to arrive at any happening locale,
and subsequently launch it into the mainstream. As another example of the
city’s profile, a Yorkville watering hole, The Riverboat, was a well known club
that was part of what Jennings describes as “a prestigious North American
circuit that included Detroit’s Chess Mate and New York’s Bitter End”.
Toronto was not a backwater location with an also-ran nightlife – it was a
player on the North American hip frontier. 
So, Graham knew this opening band already quite well, as a matter of
fact, according to DeadBase.com, they played with The Grateful Dead at the Cafe
au Go Go in NYC’s Greenwich Village from June 6th to the 11th in 1967, and
during this run, both Bill Graham and Albert Grossman offered them a management
deal (a decision that led, along with inner tensions, to their implosion), and
Graham likely recognized a musical compatibility with The Dead – both even
covered the same blues standards. He was likely showing what he could do for
them when he asked them to be the opener for these Toronto shows, as well as
opening for The Jefferson Airplane at Nathan Phillips Square – a show attended
by (reports vary) 20 to 50 thousand! The decision to recruit Luke and theApostles as the opener is also a clear indicator that Graham was aware of what
was going on in Toronto’s Yorkville scene, and was a deliberate means of
linking his production to this crowd – a promoter’s version of an ‘invitation’.
The sense that the Yorkville scene was a
Haight-Ashbury North was possibly underscored and encouraged by the presence of
The Diggers, an activist group that was formed by David DePoe, based on a San
Francisco-based “humanitarian” organization of the same name. The San
Francisco Diggers were located in Haight Ashbury, and operated a Free Store
that gave out food, clothing and other necessities to those in need, with stock
donated from various businesses in the community. The Diggers were also
activists and believed in political and social change more than partying, and
they put more into action than their humanitarian efforts at The Free Store:
demonstrations, and direct engagement with tourists happened regularly.  Author Richard Brautigan was closely
associated with them, and a large part of the Digger population was made up of
members of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, an organization that Bill Graham
managed in 1965, before realizing he wanted to be a concert promoter when
putting on a benefit to raise funds for the troupe. On Victoria Day, 1967, a
Love-In was held in Toronto, organized by the TO Diggers, with five thousand
participants, various celebrities including Leonard Cohen and Buffy Saint-Marie
giving the cause a nod with performances, and onlookers galore. Things went
down beautifully without any altercations, and the word went out via the media
nationally. For anyone waiting for a sign that Toronto had a “scene”,
this was it.
Graham’s bold move of a week of days
(matinees) and nights of SF psychedelia paid off big time: people came from all
over the province and well beyond to check it out. Interviews from the time
with members of The Airplane reveal they were impressed and surprised by how
enthusiastic and engaged the audience was here. Phil Lesh couldn’t avoid
mentioning this week in Toronto in his autobiography, either. This was truly a
peak in Toronto’s music history, and remains preserved in audio format, and via
Toronto’s presence in the concert series that symbolizes this era.
Thank you, Bill Graham, and Luke & The
Apostles, for putting Toronto forever on the “psychedelic” map.

Article made by Jason Steidman / 2013
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com
/ 2013
One Comment
  1. Anonymous

    Hello! Psychedelic Baby Magazine.

    How are you?
    I grow - up listen to Jefferson Airplane. When I was in high school I jam with my friends, we did cover songs by Jefferson Airplane. We all move away. I like video on this page of Jefferson Airplane. I think this website is great.

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