Take a trip with The Grateful Dead to Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests, 1966
Whether you remember the sixties or you don’t, chances are that the legendary counter-culture that spawned out of San Francisco in the mid-to-late sixties has touched your life in some way. If music was your bag and you happened to be knocking around the Haight Ashbury neighbourhood, chances are you found your kindred spirits in The Grateful Dead.
The band were the archetypal hippies back in 1966. The group had not become master of the subverted hippie sound, they were born in it. In fact, they helped shape most of it. Below, we take a listen back to one of the band’s most iconic gigs, the Acid Tests.
A few things that we need to get straight about Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests—they were the distillation of the entire movement both good and bad and they gave The Grateful Dead their chance to connect, perhaps on a higher plane, with a new group which would become their devout audience, their Deadheads.
The Acid Test weren’t all about music though. Kesey was also keen to invite the brightest of the literary world to the shows too and often welcomed the bastion of the Beat movement to perform poetry or readings. As well as the weird and wonderful people currently trying to tear up the rulebooks on literature and rock and roll there was also the heavy use of LSD.
It probably goes without saying considering The Grateful Dead’s reputation for the drug and, you know, the name of the event itself. But LSD played a pivotal role in the growth of this scene and much of it hit the bloodstream of San Francisco from these first tests.
While it would be very easy to cast a stereotype over all of the crowd as lay-about hippies, the reality is that Deadheads are some of the most diligent fans around. The truth of which enables us to still listen to these perfectly preserved bootlegs on the internet.
The collection of bootlegs below are taken from a few shows, one at the Fillmore in San Francisco on January 8th, 1966, one at 363 6th Street in the city, another at the Danish Center in Los Angeles in March of that year and a final show in October of 1966 at San Francisco’s Winterland—each one bringing its own distinctive vibe.
As well as being able to listen back to the band’s rambunctious set, Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests also allow us an insight into the bubbling scene from which they overboiled. It makes for an incredibly engaging listen which puts The Grateful Dead in the thick of it all.
Listen below to The Grateful Dead’s appearance at Ken Kesey’s Acid Test, below.