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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Festival Memories

By Gary Singh

SINCE LOCAL ROCK history keeps rearing its Medusa-like head these days, allow me to throw some more gasoline on the fire. Since 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock as well as the Altamont circus, people in San Jose's neck of the woods are exhuming fond memories of two local festivals that preceded those more legendary get-togethers.

Writing in last week's Metro, Gina Arnold extrapolated some highlights from the two Northern California Folk Rock Festivals, which took place at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds during the month of May in 1968 and 1969, respectively. At that time, a setting aptly called "Family Park" was located inside the gateway arch, to the right.

At the 1968 festival, Jefferson Airplane, plus Big Brother & the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, headlined on Saturday, May 18, and the Doors headlined on Sunday, May 19. The weekend was marred by all sorts of events, including the mass ingestion of a drug in pill form, which landed dozens of folks in the hospital. Everyone seems to have their own account of what happened, but apparently the Hells Angels were the ones who distributed the drug, which they referred to as "Hog." It turned out to be what's now called PCP, and this concert was one of the first documented occasions at which the drug was mass consumed.

This same festival also pops in many conspiracy theories including Mae Brussell's "Operation Chaos: The CIA's War Against the Sixties Counter-Culture." The following festival, in 1969, also featured a star-studded lineup, including Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Chuck Berry. Grace Slick of the Airplane would later say that San Jose rivaled Woodstock in those days.

Those two festivals were not the first ones, however. On Oct. 8, 1967, another event, billed as Dr. Sunday's Medicine Show, took place at Family Park inside the fairgrounds, organized by David Breithaupt, one of the first physicians to volunteer at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, which had opened earlier that year in San Francisco. The gig featured Big Brother & the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service, along with Freedom Highway, Mother Earth, Congress of Wonders and Ace of Cups. The ticket stub declares the address of the fairgrounds as "First Street & Tully," and since Highway 280 didn't exist yet, the directions were, "Take First Street Exit from Bayshore Freeway." Seventy-five hundred people paid the $2 admission price.

Breithaupt himself eventually went on to private practice before founding and directing a drug-treatment program at O'Connor Hospital. For 18 years, he also facilitated a weekly support group for recovering health professionals, the experience of which led to his new medical suspense novel, R.I.C.E., available right now from Mad Dog Publishing. He still lives in the Berryessa area and staged a book release party last month at the San Jose Athletic Club.

Over coffee, he fondly recalled memories of the now-legendary 1967 San Jose gig. Originally, he wanted to stage the show at the Municipal Baseball Stadium, but the city and the team wouldn't let him. According to Breithaupt, Virginia Schaeffer, a San Jose City Council member at the time, told him: "We're not going to provide a city venue for these kids with self-inflicted wounds." However, as soon as one of the county supervisors stepped up, the fairgrounds became a viable venue.

At the show, Janis Joplin was hammered backstage and nearly passed out with a bottle of Southern Comfort in hand. People were concerned that she wouldn't be able to do the gig, but she pulled it together and gave a rousing unforgettable performance.

Other highlights: The money-taker at the gig was a nun from O'Connor Hospital. Priests blew up balloons. The Hells Angels insisted on watching over the money. Another motorcycle gang, the Gypsy Jokers, volunteered to watch over the Hells Angels. There were no police incidents and no serious hard-core drug issues. Volunteers from the clinic, as well as many hippies, gathered at Breithaupt's Eichler home in Willow Glen afterward. In the end, $15,000 was raised, ensuring the survival of the Haight Ashbury Clinic.

Contact Gary Singh or send a letter to the editor about this story.