Monday, December 13, 2010

Summer of Love Revue Pier 39

Most locals avoid the Fisherman’s Wharf area in San Francisco. Pier 39 has been around for almost forty years. It’s a bit plastic, but it draws a lot of tourists. There are a few good restaurants, but most of it is tourist schlock. Is it just another mall with a great view? It’s one of my guilty pleasures that I still like going there.

My wife Kathy did it again! She won free tickets from TV station KRON for “The Summer of Love Revue.” It would be at “Theater 39 on Pier 39.” Yes, there is a theater on Pier 39. It was used for a long time for an Earthquake simulation ride. It’s up the stairs from The Hard Rock Cafe. The Hard Rock is a sponsor of the show tonight.

It was a nice night. Lights reflected off the water in the Bay. It was about seven, getting late for the Wharf area. Pier 39 has a wide entrance off Bay Street. A Black man played saxophone there. He was accompanied by a tape machine. There were still some tips to be made. This guy had the best spot at Pier 39.

We wondered what kind of event this would be. I expected it to be a lecture with film clips. We were a bit surprised when we showed up and there were ten people waiting in the ticket line. Most of us in line had either “won” tickets from KRON or were guests. We did see some people who had actually bought tickets. There was a sign:“$28.50 or $32.50.”

A woman behind the box office window struggled with guest lists and tickets. A guy in a long platinum wig came up to the waiting line, “ARE YOU READY TO ROCK!” Yes! We are ready! He posed for a picture with the three ladies in front of us. We later learned he was “Hippie Dude.” People in Sixties clothes were going in and out of the theater. The show would be: “A Live, Fully Costumed Music Revue.”

In recent wanderings around town I saw that there are still tourists and visitors coming to San Francisco and spending some money. Would they pay for a Sixties “Summer of Love” experience? Yes, now you can live, or relive, the glory days of The Summer of Love in the friendly surroundings of Pier 39! This could become another Beach Blanket Babylon, the long running comedy revue. Beach Blanket Babylon had become a San Francisco institution. Could the Summer of Love Revue become another Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 attraction? Maybe it would be a Ripley’s Believe It or Not of the Sixties San Francisco Rock scene. This could work, even in these economic times. Tourists have certainly been ripped off by worse things.

The doorman was a Black man wearing a black beret, a black leather jacket and an armband. It was the Black Panther uniform. The lobby was a large room with some psychedelic decorations, posters and a big peace flag for photo opportunities. There were plenty of postcard ads offering a ten dollar discount on future shows.

The theater held 250. People found their seats while vintage footage of the Sixties played. Most of it was familiar footage to me. There were clips from the Monterey Pop Festival. A tape of Sixties music played. They played some more obscure songs from the Sixties: Status Quo: “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” Kenny Rogers and the First Edition: “Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In.”

Some of the actors and musicians wandered around in period garb. They wore big wigs and leather fringe jackets. They did look a bit corny. They were trying to spread the spirit of the Sixties. The Sixties were becoming a distant part of the past. It really was a long time ago now.

Andrew Hernandez greeted the crowd. He looked familiar. Later I figured out he was the same guy who produced the Monterey Summer of Love event in 2007. (Another event Kathy won tickets for!) He thanked us for coming out. He said they were “still working things out” and asked for patience. “We didn’t sell tickets in the first rows so it could be a dance area.” If you felt inspired you could dance in the aisles, or “just go ahead and dance at your seat.”

There would be much more live music than I had expected. Show time was near and we were shown a clip of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Hippie Dude came onstage. He would be our first MC. “I was there, man... thirteen years old.” Well, he saw The Beatles on TV. Uh Dude, if you saw it on TV, were you “really there?” Besides, if you remember The Sixties, you weren’t there, right?

He talked about the last Beatles show at Candlestick: “The media said The Beatles changed San Francisco, but we know it was San Francisco that changed The Beatles.” He spewed some Sixties cliches, “Don’t take the brown acid!” I started to find him a bit irritating. Maybe he was stalling for time. He announced the first act, “One of the first San Francisco bands, The Mamas and the Papas!” I thought the Mamas and Papas were considered a Los Angeles band.

“The Mamas and the Papas” came out and sang “Monday Monday.” They did sound like The Mamas and the Papas. One guy wore the John Phillips trademark beaver hat. It was a good song to start with. People were starting to get into that Sixties spirit. I saw heads bobbing. They did a great “California Dreaming.”

A spirited “Jefferson Airplane” was up next. The musicians and singers rocked! A Liquid Light show started on a big screen behind the band. Groovy! Boudeeka, a tribute band veteran, was Grace Slick. “Patrick” did a pretty good Marty Balin. It wasn’t the real Jefferson Airplane, but that didn’t matter right? You’ve got to get into it, man. Do your own thing. Don’t be uptight. They did sound like the Airplane.

The slow intro to “White Rabbit” started and the fog smoke machine made its first appearance of the night. They did a Rocking “Somebody to Love.” “Marty Balin” started to leave the stage. “One more, Patrick.” There was revolutionary nostalgia with “Volunteers.”

During the break the “Michelle Phillips” from “The Mamas and the Papas” came out in a different character. She was a young Hippie chick, full of altruism and Love for her fellow humans. She told us about The Haight Asbury Free Clinic. “If you’re having a bad trip, there’s always someone there to talk you down. For free!” She warned us to use condoms. “There a bad strain of gonorrhea going around.” She was the wide eyed innocent of the Sixties. “We’re starting to find out that heroin is a very addictive drug.” They were also discovering that speed was a “bad drug.”

Next was “The Santana Blues Band.” The crowd suspended belief and got into it. They had a Hammond B3 organ. We could see the fan rotating and cooling the organ. A synthesizer was perched on top. Hippie Dude played some great keyboards.

There were more dancers. Some were musicians waiting their turn onstage. Members of the crowd joined and danced to the Santana rhythms. There was “I Ain’t Got Nobody ... To Depend On,” and the big Woodstock hit, “Soul Sacrifice.”

Backstage was painted black, and you could see the pipes. The background was spare, but even this was authentic. Most Rock halls back then were dingy old theaters or clubs.

The “Santana” bass player went up to the mike. “I want a beer. The guy who hired me said I would get beer.” The “Marty Balin” guy from “Jefferson Airplane” delivered a couple of bottled waters.

“I’m serious. I want a beer.” He picked up a bottled water and gave it a disgusting look. He tossed it over his shoulder. Not everything was peace and love back then. Some beer was finally delivered.

“John Fogerty” joined Santana for a song. A future event by the Summer of Love Revue will feature The Creedence Clearwater Revival.

It was a good show. Most of the musicians were young. They looked to be in their twenties. There were some tribute band veterans. Sure, I would rather see the original musicians from the Sixties, no matter how gray and hoary they are getting, but that hasn’t been happening too often lately. Musicians from the Sixties are getting pretty old. Most of them haven’t been interested in the music of that era for a long time now. They’ve got their own music to do. (“We’ve got a new CD out!”) There’s also my favorite: They can’t remember anything from the Sixties anyway.

Maybe it’s time for younger musicians to take over playing the music of the Sixties. These young musicians were not only playing great, but they were really into the music. I think the older musicians are embarrassed that they still play music from forty years ago.

The musicians rotated and would pop up in different bands through the night. Some struggled with the oversized wigs. They also changed Sixties clothes from band to band. It was a bit comic, but it really was a “full costumed revue.” There were technical problems, especially with the sound. I guess that was authentic too. Was there any big Rock show back then that didn’t have problems with cords, mikes or amps?

After “Santana” there was an intermission. Amateurs behind the bar struggled to keep up with drink orders. There was a jar of free earplugs, just in case.

Across the wooden walkways of Pier 39 was The Eagle Cafe. In its original location, it was a watering hole and social center for longshoreman, dock workers and members of the Merchant Marine. It became a union hall during the labor troubles that hit the waterfront.

When Pier 39 was being planned in the early Seventies The Eagle Cafe was the last business to hold out. The owner wouldn’t sell until he was assured that the bar would be taken apart and reconstructed as part of Pier 39. It was taken apart piece by piece and reassembled at Pier 39. It even had the same wood. The walls were covered with photos of the old days in the bar. It looked a bit out of place on Pier 39, but it was a relic of the past.

A couple of years ago new owners renovated it. They took out most of the old photos and mementoes of a lost time in San Francisco. It was now another “nice” restaurant on Pier 39. At least it was still there. The iconic Cliff House had removed one of the best rooms in San Francisco when they moved the bar away from the windows that looked out on Ocean Beach. You don’t know what you had until it’s gone. I’ll get off my twisted soap box and return to The Sixties.

“Janis” and “Big Brother and The Holding Company” opened the second half of the show. “Janis” was Boudeeka. She was one of the “Janises” in a recent stage play here: “Janis.” The play rotated three women in the Janis role. It’s hard to be Janis three or four nights a week. Boudeeka sounded and acted like Joplin during “Piece of My Heart” and “Down On Me.” She finished with “Bobby McGee,” a popular choice with the crowd.

I’ve seen Janis and Hendrix tribute bands before, but I don’t remember ever seeing a Steppenwolf tribute band. It was different. “John Kaye” had big guitar problems in the beginning. A middle aged guy in a tee shirt rushed around trying to plug him back in. It was just like the old days. In one of the few casting mistakes, the roadie looked too old. “Steppenwolf” had a more Heavy Metal sound to them, especially compared to the positive vibration Sixties sounds of the other bands. They opened with a great “Magic Carpet Ride.” How often do you hear “Sookie Sookie” anymore?

They played the inevitable “Born to Be Wild” and the Baby Boomer crowd loved it. There was more dancing. It was like being in a bar in the old days. Maybe the band wasn’t a big name, but people had a good time. “Heavy Metal Thunder!”

There was a long wait while they got everything ready for “Jimi Hendrix.”

Carleton Powell was “Jimi Hendrix.” His opening stage patter sounded like Hendrix. He opened with “Voodoo Child.” He had the Hendrix moves. He humped the amplifiers with his guitar. He thrashed around, knocking over mike stands. He wasn’t Hendrix but he put on a great show. The Black Panther doorman came in to check out “Hendrix.” “Janis” joined him for the second number: “Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire.” “Jimi” and “Janis” onstage at the same time! It was loud enough that some were using the free ear plugs that were available.

During “Hey Joe” “Hendrix’” guitar strap broke. A middle aged guy came out and struggled to fix it while “Hendrix” played on. It was a bit comic. The older roadie scurried around picking up mike stands. The big finish was “All Along the Watchtower.”

Singers and musicians from the earlier bands danced in front of the stage. More people in the audience were dancing, shaking it. No, it wasn’t the original Rock icons onstage, but this crowd was having fun. With seven acts, the show was long. It was getting late. This was definitely an older Baby Boomer crowd. Some of the crowd had drifted out. I don’t think it was because they were bored. We just don’t stay out that late anymore, but we had to stay to see Shred Zeppelin.

Hernandez came back onstage: “How about Carleton Powell?” Applause. “He really paid his dues.” Hernandez told us the drummer for most of the other bands that night was sixteen years old!

We had been promised a special treat, an encore bonus: Shred Zeppelin! They belted out “Good Times Bad Times.” The singer did sound like Plant! The band rocked. An older drummer was Bonzo, playing the drums.

About half the crowd stayed for Shred Zeppelin. It was a bit bizarre. We found ourselves laughing. “You’re not supposed to laugh.” “Communication Breakdown” Then the big finale: “Whole Lot of Love.”

Would enough tourists pay to see this? There were people in the audience tonight reliving their past. The show could be changed every night. Not only can they do different songs, they can do different bands. Past shows had a Doors segment, which they didn’t do tonight. There will be a “Woodstock Night” in November and a New Year’s Eve Show. If they could get somebody from the Sixties to make a cameo appearance, it would be huge. It was a fun night for us, especially with free tickets.