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Vancouver’s flower children blossom out at a 1967

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Show during the Summer of Love attracted 1,300 people and spawned a legendary psychedelic poster

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The Vancouver Sun wasn’t exactly hip to rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s and 1960s.

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When Elvis Presley appeared at Empire Stadium on Aug. 31, 1957, Sun reviewer John Kirkwood was mortified.

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“It was like watching a demented army swarm down the hillside to do battle in the plain when those frenzied teenagers stormed the field,” wrote Kirkwood, a news reporter.

“Elvis and his music played a small part in the dizzy circus. The big show was provided by Vancouver teenagers, transformed into writhing, frenzied idiots of delight by the savage jungle-beat music.

“A hard, bitter core of teenage troublemakers turned Elvis Presley’s one-night stand at Empire Stadium into the most disgusting exhibition of mass hysteria and lunacy this city has ever witnessed.”

Fast forward seven years to Aug. 22, 1964, and William Littler’s review of The Beatles at Empire Stadium.

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“Seldom in Vancouver’s entertainment history have so many (20,000) paid so much ($5.25 top price) for so little (27 minutes) as did the audience which screamed at the Beatles in Empire Stadium Saturday night,” wrote Littler, who normally covered classical music.

“As music critic, I have had to subject my eardrums to more than a little of the cacophony which currently dominates the hit parade, but the stuff shouted by these Liverpudlian tonsorial horrors left me particularly unimpressed.”

But there was one landmark 1960s rock show where The Sun was sympathetic: Alf Strand’s story on a Grateful Dead concert at the PNE Agrodome on July 13, 1967.

“At that time, we didn’t have music critics and that kind of stuff,” said Strand, 85. “So general assignment people would go out and (do a) review. I had no idea who the Grateful Dead even were — I’m not kidding. It was all a mystery to me.”

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A master of the bad pun, he opened his story “Is the rock ’n’ roll riot going the way of bathtub gin and the early Elvis Presley? Is it, gratefully, dead?”

Dead Masse
Bob Masse’s psychedelic poster for the Grateful Dead at the Agrodome and Dante’s Inferno on Davie Street in July, 1967. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

The rowdiness or rock ‘n’ roll audiences was a big deal at the time. He noted a “frenzied concert” by the Rolling Stones in 1966 had resulted in “36 screaming, hysterical teenagers carried bodily from the PNE Forum.”

But there was nothing like that at the Grateful Dead.

“Give some credit to the hirsute hippies and the psychedelic revolution which is toppling ‘straight’ rock ’n’ roll from its musical throne,” he said.

“Love rock, or acid rock, is taking over in the psychedelic sixties. And the scene is peaceful, man, following the hippies’ scripture of total non-violence.”

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The Dead attracted a crowd of 1,300 “hippies, ersatz hippies, teeny-boppers and straight (ordinary) people.” But Strand noted “there wasn’t a single incident amid the wafts of incense. When the flower children blossom out, the only assault is on the ears.”

He didn’t write much about the music, concentrating on the crowd.

“At Thursday night’s psychedelic ‘love-in,’ the teeny-boppers did not scream, screech, or tear their hair,” he reported.

“Despite the music’s wild, soaring crescendos, they sat silently, as rapt as meditative monks. A few activists among them let their hair down by engaging in isolated ‘love dances.’

“Explained one 15-year-old teeny-bopper and would be hippy: ‘We don’t have to scream out loud anymore. We don’t believe in screaming, because then you can’t hear the song. We still get emotionally aroused, but now we scream inside.’”

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Police inspector Bud Errington monitored the show with a 25-man force, but noted “it was one of the most orderly crowds we have had.”

He didn’t like the Dead’s music, though, stating “it’s perhaps the most gruelling four hours I have ever spent.”

Artist Bob Masse did a poster for the Agrodome show, which he misspelled “Agradome.” It was followed by gigs at Dante’s Inferno nightclub on Davie, which were also on the poster.

Masse’s image of a beautiful young blond-haired hippie goddess posing topless in a long, flowing dress is renowned among psychedelic poster collectors. In 2021, a mint copy sold for US$12,534 ($15,185 Cdn) at a poster auction in Florida.

The Dead’s first local shows were on July 29, 30 and 31, 1966 at the Agrodome, when they were part of The Trips festival. They also did a free show at Alexandria Park in the West End. They also played here in 1973 and ‘74.

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jmackie@postmedia.com

Dead pic
An early photo of The Grateful Dead. Photo by ™™´™™™´™™™´ /Suplied photo
Dead San Fran
1967 handout photo of the Grateful Dead. Vancouver Sun
f=deas 66 poster
Aug. 5, 1966 poster for the Grateful Dead at the Afterthought, one of Vancouver’s most legendary clubs. The poster was done by Bruce Dowad, and is reproduced in The Afterthought. West Coast Rock Posters & Recollections from the ’60s by Jerry Kruz (Rocky Mountain Books, 2014). Vancouver Sun
Grateful Alf
Alf Strand’s review of the Grateful Dead in the July 14, 1967 Vancouver Sun.

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