Sunday, May 04, 2008


April 20, San Francisco

The directions were simple:

“Walk into the park and look for the hippies.”

After devoting almost an hour to the Parking Goddess, we did just that. It was only two downhill blocks into the park. As soon as we penetrated the tree-lined perimiter, we found the hippies. A good thirty-five thousand of them, doing what they do best: enjoying a beautiful day in the park.

White peaked tents were arranged at the back of the crowd. We found Dennis manning the Media tent. Hugs and greetings all around. Been a while. Susana introduced me to their friends, Arden and Phil. Then Dennis presented us with Media Credentials, a rare privilege for this humble reporter. Big chartreuse cloth patches with white lettering: Green Apple Festival. Produced in concert with earthdaynetwork. We peeled off the backing and stuck them on our jeans.

Susana headed straight for the stage while I eased my way along the Northern edge of the happy throng of still-happening hippies.

Onstage, Dan Hicks was deeply engrossed in a spacey, jazzy rendition of “I Scare Myself.”

And his Licks were as Hot as ever.

Next up, the Green Apple String Band, featuring Ben Kaufmann from Yonder Mountain String Band and Michael Kang from The String Cheese Incident.

I wandered backstage and ran into Susana. She grabbed my arm and said, “Barlow’s here. I told him you were here... There he is,” pointing toward the backstage lawn at a man with close-cropped gray hair and a vibrant teal scarf.

I hollered out, “Barlow!” He turned and I ran over. He smiled like he remembered me but I re-introduced myself just in case. Then I told him, “I just re-read your last trip with Timothy Leary.” I put my hand on my heart and looked into his baby-blues. He took a stage bow and said, “Just trying to give Death a better name.”

We wandered off in different directions, me wondering how Susana knew I needed to talk to him when I didn't know myself. But there are no coincidences. We're all bozos on this bus.

I ran into Jonathan from Cellspace in full puppet costume as a Little Green Man. I shook his little green hand and gave him a hug. We visited for a minute and then he said he had to go shoot something that was about to come through the back gate. I left him to his mission and walked back towards where he'd pointed, past the band and crew catering tents and a row of pristine porta-potties. There was a bunch of rapper-looking dudes gathered behind the chain link fence. The gate swung open and they walked through. One of them had on a T-Shirt that said “Green: the new black.”

A camera crew walked backwards, filming their entrance. I heard one of them pointedly say “Earth Day.” I kept on walking towards the back of the stage when the director called “cut” and sent the rappers back to the gate for a re-take, this time saying “Green Apple Festival.”

Later, on the media platform, stage right, I was standing near Susana when Phil pointed to a group of badass-looking dudes gathered on the backstage field and said, “There’s Tommy Lee’s entourage.” I asked him about the rapper and he said it was Ludacris.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Tommy Lee walking over to Wavy Gravy and pointed out the scene to Susana: tattooed heavy metal rocker approaching tie-dyed hippy clown. The woman can move. In mere seconds she scrambled off the platform, scooted across the lawn and circumnavigated the growing crowd around the odd couple of cultural icons, into position for a great shot.

Note to reader: click on each photo to see even more great shots by Susana Millman.

Soon Wavy went onstage to entertain the crowd while the main act set up: Mickey Hart's "Mass Drums" with special guest Bob Weir of Grateful Dead and RatDog fame and featuring Motley Crue's Tommy Lee on drums. Indeed, a hoarde of drums was gathering onstage.

Woah. Suddenly I found myself pressed against the platform railing and held in place by a big strapping man. I did an awkward 180 within his grasp to find Ludacris’ crew had assembled behind me while I was trying to get a decent shot of Mickey and Bobby with my cellphone. Somebody pointed to the platform steps and up popped Ludacris in a blue hoody, followed by the rest of his entourage.

I asked my friendly captor who the guy in stripes was. Just somebody in Ludacris’ posse, he said. Pointing down towards the backstage field at the group of skinny white guys in tight jeans and black T-shirts, he added, “You got Tommy Lee’s posse. You gotta have Ludacris’ posse.” "Oh," says me. “I guess that must be Mickey’s posse,” pointing in the general direction of the stage.

“We want to change the world and have fun doing it,” intoned Wavy, sitting in a rocking chair onstage with a giant fish in his lap. “We are all the same person trying to shake hands with ourself.”

Down on the backstage field, Tommy Lee was playing football with a guy in a carrot suit.

Somebody from Ludacris’ posse said, “Keep rollin’ on this,” and the gaggle of rappers moved across the platform to the front, trailed by cameras and crew. It turns out that Ludacris and Tommy Lee are doing a reality TV show about whose posse is greenest.

“Don’t get up in his face,” posse guy tells me when I take a shot of Ludacris with my cellphone.

OK, I grinned, thoroughly enjoying the anomaly.

More drummers clambered onstage. Giant dreds, giant drums. Mickey's posse, en masse.

Suddenly Mickey and Bobby moved to center stage.

Mickey took the mic. “We’re glad to be here – in the place where we started.”

The crowd errupted in a pandemonium of sheer joy.

“Take this feeling home with you and DO something with it,” hollered Mickey.

And with that they launched into a sweet “Blackbird,” followed by “Peggy-O.” From there they swung into “Friend of the Devil” and began to stretch out.

I looked out over the crowd, saw little puffs of smoke here and there, and it dawned on me: The doors of perception are indeed wide open. You don't have to get high to be high. Take this feeling home and do something with it.

A new song began to take shape around a classic Bo Diddley beat. Sounded like “Not Fade Away,” but noodled around for a long time and my mind wandered with it. Joan Baez had materialized onstage. The music was building. The beat was building. The crowd was building. I abandoned all efforts to get a good picture of Mickey and Tommy Lee with my little phone cam. No zoom. Just can’t get the shot. Better to surrender to the music.

Onstage: Mickey, Bobby, Tommy Lee, Ben Kaufmann, Michael Kang, Wavy Gravy and Joan Baez and a thundering mass of drums.

People filled the stage all the way to the back. Musicians, crew, family and friends -- all part of a giant Earth Day drum circle.

The crowd was definitely picking up on the gathering song. Tentatively they began to add their voices to the rhythm of the drums:

Love is love and not fade away...

Love is love and not fade away...

The song solidified and the crowd became more confident.

Love is love and not fade away.

Love is love and not fade away.

Bobby stepped up to the mic and shouted out, “I’m gonna tell ya how it’s gonna be!”

The crowd roared back: YOU’RE GONNA GIVE YOUR LOVE TO ME!

Everybody clapped and sang as one and the song finally came together with full force. Everybody was part of the music. Everybody was part of the feeling.

What a vision: Mickey Hart and Tommy Lee pounding on their big drums, side by side, looking like twins: skinny, wiry, dark, bird-like, cat-like, grinning from ear to ear, pounding their drums in perfect unison. The energy was clean and pure.

Perfect for changing the world and having fun doing it.

Many thanks to Susana Millman and Dennis McNally for a beautiful day in the park. As a parting shot, here is Mickey grinning over at Dennis -- a view from the Media platform, albeit via cellcam. Thank you my friends. I definitely took the feeling home with me.

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Blogger Greg Goodman said...

Great great coverage of the event! The Haight was in rare form on 4/20 this year. The only other time I can think of all year when it's like that is during the Outside Lands festival. You should check out my photo essay on Life in Haight Ashbury, it includes a section with videos from the 4/20 celebration.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Cynthia Johnston said...

Wow! Thanks, Greg. Your comments are much appreciated. I made a little trip to your website and it looks like I am going to have to spend a lot more time there. Love your stuff! I could weep from some of your shots. I look forward to checking out the rest of your site.

11:36 PM  

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