Everyone knows that the hippies forever changed America. By 1967, when masses of youth were dropping out of mainstream culture - many of them flocking to San Francisco for the "Human Be-In" and the legendary "Summer of Love" - the word "hippie" was already in common parlance. But San Francisco did more than just host and nurture this movement that would soon sweep the world and continues to influence just about everything deemed "alternative". San Francisco is actually the seed-bed where this still flowering anti-establishment break from the mainstream was born.
The Beat Generation and the Roots of the Hippie MovementIn the 1950s a group of New York city writers and intellectuals headed west and joined together with the San Francisco Rennaisance literary scene, which was based primarily in the North Beach neighborhood, to form the Beat Generation - America's first Counter-cultural movement.
The Beats were made up of young people who were disgusted by the violence of WWII and were actively exploring alternatives to the American culture of the 1950s - especially McCarthyism and the growth of suburban culture. They delved into other traditions wholeheartedly: Asian spirituality, African-American speaking and musical styles and Native-American rituals - including mind-altering substances like peyote - were all major influences.
Mostly writers and poets, the Beats influenced American society through their controversial works, including Howl and Naked Lunch, both of which faced obscenity charges in court. The beat legacy lives on in San Francisco, at both the iconic City Lights Bookstore - the major publisher of Beat works, and at the new Beat Museum, both located in North Beach.
Hippies and the Haight-Ashbury
As the beat scene morphed in the hippie movement, its headquarters moved from North Beach to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, which borders Golden Gate Park - a feature that would prove massively important. The movement also changed from a primarily literary and academic one to a primarily musical and folk inspired one. Early iconic hippie bands like the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company - which launched the career of Janis Joplin - took San Francisco's bohemian and anti-establishment message and spread it out over the airwaves of America, set to groovy psychedelic inspired melodies.
By 1965, the Haight-Ashbury area is estimated to have been home to nearly 15,000 hippies - many of them living communaly in the large and ornate Victorians that typify the Haight area. By the end of the year large concerts were taking place at major San Francisco venues like the Longshoreman's Hall and the California Hall, and the future of the festivals that came to define the movement was in the making.
The first of these, the "Love Pageant Rally" was actually both a celebration and a protest, a key feature that would continue to define the hippie movement. In early October 1966, the State of California illigalized LSD, a substance that was widely used in hippie circles and that many claimed was an aid to meditation. The "Love Pageant Rally" was held in the panhandle of Golden Gate Park, attended by nearly a 1,000 people and was set to the tunes of the Grateful Dead, but it was merely a foreshadow of what was yet to come.
The Summer of LoveBy 1967, the hippie movement - which also became defined by its opposition to the Vietnam War - had not only taken over the city of San Francisco but had spread across the United States and around the world as well. In January of 1967, an estimated 30,000 people gathered in Golden Gate Park for the "Human Be-In" which was a follow-up protest to the "Love Pageant". A bonanza of live entertainment which included bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Dead as well as poets, comedians and speakers such as Dick Gregory, Ram Dass and Allen Ginsberg, the "Human Be-in" was both a massive political protest and a downright party - both on a scale that the United States had never seen before.
By the summer of that same year as many as 100,000 hippies from across America converged in San Francisco, with the epicenter of the movement remaining in the Haight and Golden Gate Park. This impromtu gathering solidified the movement into a full-on culture: a new and alternative American lifestyle - which may prove to outlast the former one - was born.
The Legacy of the HippiesFrom Vegetarian restaurants to Yoga retreat centers, the hippie movement that was born in San Francisco and congealed in the Summer of Love soon sent ripples across the face of America that changed it forever. A renewed interest in natural healing and health foods, social and value systems that emphasized co-operation over competition and politaclly charged creative efforts from rebellious rock music to activist theater all are derived directly from the San Francisco hippies.
Where are the Hippies Now?Although many of the original hippies stayed in San Francisco, especially in the Haight-Ashbury area, the 1970s and 80s also saw a strong back-to-the-land movement among the hippies that lead to them settling in rural areas all over the west from New Mexico up to Oregon and Montana. From this the still booming organic farming movement was born.
Berkeley, just across the bay, also became a hippie bastion as the students of that city's large University caught the hippie vibe and sparked the student protest movement that also changed and challenged mainstream America. Other hippies, who opted out of the system completely, started growing marijuana in the forests of northern California - an industry that dominates the economy of counties like Humboldt and Mendocino.