When I got wind of the 40th anniversary Summer of Love Free Concert, I thought about the many ways I could torment all the burnouts, grandmas, and reggae fans who I knew would be smoking pot and flashing their titties in Golden Gate Park. My best idea involved dressing like an FBI agent and waiting for old rich dudes to stealthily bust out their hash pipes; I'd let them get a couple of good hits, then jump out of the bushes, flash a fake badge, and demand to know who sold them the stuff. Pretty clever, right?
I had fun daydreaming about that scenario as I waded through the drug-addled, spotty-faced teenagers who had gathered on the trail leading into the heart of the park, where 50,000 other people were grooving to the eclectic and authentic sounds of the '60s.
The random bits of conversation I overheard as I neared Speedway Meadow made me laugh even more. "Don't eat the brown acid!" someone kept joking in his best Tommy Chong voice. "Hey, honey, I gotta go," I heard a man say into his cell phone. "I think Dan Hicks is starting." "Fucking perfect," I thought, and I congratulated myself and my entire generation for being more self-aware, fashionably astute, and cynical than the people gathered here.
But something was wrong: unlike the people at the festivals I normally attend, these folks were actually enjoying themselves, and they seemed to be enjoying one another's company as well.
The music was great. I was having a good time. It was a really good show.
Maybe it was the combination of sun and beer. Maybe it was the smile I saw on everyone's face. Who knows? The truth is, I suddenly realized that the only reason I ever attend music festivals is so I can more accurately think smug thoughts about others.
And as I looked around at all the happy souls, I realized that I, the cynical twentysomething, was seething with jealousy. "What are these people so happy about?" I thought. "Can't they see that the world sucks?"
I began to wonder about the differences between my generation and the one that left its undeniable mark not only on Haight-Ashbury but also on the entire world. For all the problems of the '60s, when these people congregated so long ago, they did it under their own steam and with purpose.
As the afternoon's announcer put it, "Love is still better than hate, right? And isn't peace still better than war?" Isn't that all the hippies were trying to say? And what about my generation? What do we have to say about things? What have we ever done besides bitch and moan and ridicule and purchase? And what are we going to celebrate in 40 years? Bonnaroo, Coachella, Ozzfest, Rock the Bells, JuJu Beats? Are we really going to want to revisit this shit when we're 60?
With the crowd growing rapidly, the sun shining brightly, and no way to escape without risking a DUI, I decided to put my misgivings aside and try to actually enjoy myself. I stuck a flower in my hair and made a beeline for the stage just as the announcer was introducing the New Riders of the Purple Sage. It took me half an hour, but I finally made it in time to catch Ray Manzarek and Rob Wasserman. As I sat and listened to what sounded like the Doors, I thought some more about the differences between the young people of now and then.
The truth is that I have never understood how the hippies did it. How did a bunch of college dropouts, artists, and poets suddenly commit to coming together in one place without having been seduced into doing so by a clever marketing campaign funded by huge corporations? Every gathering I've ever been to has cost me a fortune and lacked both unity and purpose.