By Ted Liebler from Scram #16
While the highly documented Monterey International Pop festival continues to be remembered as the crowning and turning point event of the 1967 Summer of Love, another pivotal festival took place just two weeks before the John Phillips/ Lou Adler/ Andrew Oldham-directed affair. On June 2nd and 3rd, the celebrated summer kicked off with the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival at the summit of Mount Tamalpais in Marin. The festival presented a line-up teeming with pop gems, starring many bands simultaneity floating on the then open-ended AM and FM airwaves of the time. Every Mother’s Son, the Merry-Go-Round, the Mojo Men, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Seeds, the Blues Magoos and the Byrds were just a few of the acts which shared the stage with icons like the Jefferson Airplane, Doors and Captain Beefheart.
The charity festival, benefiting the Hunters Point Child Care Center, is also fascinating because it was assembled by a commercial AM radio station, just as the FM free-form cadre were gearing up for their eventual coup. KFRC 610, being the big RKO-Bill Drake “Boss” Top 40 AM radio station in San Francisco, had the universal clout to pull in counter-culture bands/ heads, commercial bands /casual listeners, and all those in-between. (Incidentally, the festival seemed to be sort of an adult playground with its concentric domes display and a giant Buddha balloon greeting the attendees when they were dropped off at the summit by “Trans-Love” buses. In darker foreshadowing contrast, it’s also rumored to be the first festival to use the Hell’s Angels as security.)
Alec Palao wrote of the fair in Cream Puff War #1: “The dichotomy in Bay Area music was never so evident, as the self-proclaimed “adult” scene separated itself from the “teen/pop” scenes.” Paradoxically, Greg Shaw recalls that there was not really a large gap splitting the radio preferences of the teens and the hip until Tom Donohue’s free-form KMPX fully flowered in the fall of ‘67. “Being a KFRC event, it probably attracted some younger fans who wouldn’t have minded [Every Mother’s Son], with the older hippies coming for their own reasons, if only a groovy day out in the sun.”
Besides being one the first radio station sponsored “be-ins,” it was also one of the last great Top 40 radio events until the Wango Tango era. Initially, it seems startling that an AM outlet would sponsor a huge outdoors “love-in,” when their usual jurisdictions were record hops and teen fairs. However, conventional history seems to overlook the power and influence that Bill Drake had during this transitional time. In 1965, Drake introduced Los Angeles to the “Boss Radio” format with its action-packed, bright and tight playlist at KHJ. With legendary Boss Jocks Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele on board, it took just five months for the streamlined station to dominate the L.A. market. After conquering, L.A., RKO gave Drake free reign to program and consult other vital markets including San Francisco (KFRC), Detroit (CKLW) and Boston (WRKO).
In fact, the supposedly polarized pre-Monterey Bay Area scene seems to have actually encompassed everything from perky pop to raga rock. Shaw ruminates further on the vague demarcations between the pop and rock scenes. “As I recall it KFRC did not have an anti-hippie stance at all. It’s true that Bill Drake developed his Top 40 philosophy there, but in late ‘66 I attended a meeting with him (together with my co-editors) urging the station to get behind the “new music” more and offering some suggestions (the Blues Magoos was one that I recall). He then patiently explained that he loved all this new music, but had to deliver the numbers. However he welcomed our input. And the station did play the Airplane, and some other popular local sounds (possibly even the Great Society? I’m hazy). It was only after KMPX started that there was any real line drawn, and even then KFRC supported as much local talent as they could.” Shaw concludes, “That of course is only my own recollection of a tiny fraction of how and why things were the way they were. And I’m not really a primary source. All I’m saying is that there is a very complex social tapestry to what was going on, musically and otherwise, in SF between 1966 and 1970. This event, I’d guess, encapsulates some of the curious paradoxes.”