Terminal City Confidential: A look back at Vancouver’s first festivals

By Susanne Tabata
Jerry Kruz. Photo: Susanne Tabata

Jerry Kruz.
Photo: Susanne Tabata

VANCOUVER — It’s not easy to get a reading on the flash points of early outdoor music festival history in Vancouver when a lot of its earliest participants faintly remember the hazy events, or worse, they aren’t alive to talk about it. So many moments in the ‘60s were free concerts, be-ins and pleasure faires. Festivals belonged to unified communities like Steveston, where the Salmon Festival has been running since July 1, 1946. In contrast, Vancouver was a protest town, with no singular voice, and that left plenty of room to experiment. 

Grateful Dead in English Bay

In the early ’60s, a Kitsilano high school dropout from Winnipeg, Jerry Kruz watched his older brother play a big part in the beatnik movement. Terry Kruz (RIP) and his friends opened three coffee houses in the city – The Question Mark on Broadway, The Bunk House on Davie and the Inquisition on Seymour. Chilled poetry readings, music and open mic were standard fare. Kruz watched. “Those owners became mentors of mine. I saw the beatnik movement morph into the hippie movement.” At 17, Kruz wanted to have a venue and opened the Afterthought, first in the basement of St. John’s Anglican Church in Shaughnessy and then at the Pender Auditorium (399 West Pender). It was Vancouver’s first psychedelic dancehall with a trippy light show. He wanted to be a successful promoter and saw others organize the Trips Festival at the PNE Gardens (July ’66), an indoor show with Janis Joplin, the Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and others. He asked Jerry Garcia to stay around for a week and play at the Afterthought. On August 3, 1966, Kruz drove his yellow mustang convertible along Beach Drive with Garcia in the passenger seat. “Jerry said, ‘Pull over, I want to play.’ I questioned him but didn’t want to argue. He pointed to the gazebo in First Beach Park. The band were driving behind us and we were on our way to West Van to rehearse at a house where the parents were away.” They pulled over, set up and played the first FREE Grateful Dead Concert. It was the beginning of a long list of historic Dead shows and the start of free rock concerts and be-ins in Vancouver.

Photo: Bruce Stewart

Photo: Bruce Stewart

The First Stanley Park Be-In

Kruz then went to San Francisco: “I had gone to California and the whole hippie movement was just starting. Vancouver and San Francisco were in sync with their hippie movements. I went and saw the be-in (now called the Summer of Love) and became friends with Joe McDonald and Janis Joplin. Back in Vancouver, the hippies asked me to do the first be-in at Stanley Park. I invited Country Joe and the Fish. It was a multi-day fest with the band headlining the first be-in in Stanley Park, Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967. I had support from one radio DJ, Pam Burge, and that’s it.” This was before Woodstock. Things changed dramatically for Kruz, whose club had moved to the Russian Community Centre in Kits, known as the Kits Theatre (2114 West Fourth). The narcs were tailing him. “The police wanted to close the dancehall because I was corrupting the youth of Vancouver. Sgt. Snidanko the narc was out to get me. I got busted twice for pot possession and went to jail for six months. My life came to an abrupt halt.” Cheech and Chong later parodied Snidanko as Sgt. Stadanko in their popular stoner films. Annual be-ins continued into the ‘70s but that was the end of Kruz as a promoter.

Strawberry Mountain Music Festival

By 1970, organizers of the Strawberry Mountain Music Festival made the first ticketed multi-day music event East of Mission. “I was covering it for the radio. It was 10 dollars for the whole thing. Seals and Crofts, The Small Faces, Country Joe and the Fish, and more,” recalls the famed DJ John Tanner. “There was also one in Squamish at Paradise Valley,” now the site of the Squamish Music Fest. The Vietnam War had sent many Americans north to Canada, heading to the Kootenays and the Slocan Valley area, parts of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Jimmy Bundschuh, founder of the very core electronic Shambhala Music Fest in Salmo, now in its 17th year, has acknowledged that Kootenay history as an important part of what makes their location unique.

Pleasure Faires

Pleasure Faires in the early ’70s were like mini be-ins but took place on farms and fields and other squats throughout the lower mainland, another idea adopted from California, where Faires continue today. “Greenpeace was just starting, there was the anti-nuclear movement, politics had pushed draft dodgers into Canada. There was so much going on. It was impossible to ignore it,” says Bruce Stewart, who photographed many Faires in Canada and the US. “The music was mainly acoustic and folk. The one I photographed in Dollarton North Van took place late August to just after Labour Day, 1972.”

It was a time when reporters and journalists wielded power in the city. “The Faires were organized by Al Clapp (RIP) through his company Deluxe Brothers. He worked at BCTV as a journalist and had the media muscle in the community,” says Lindsay Brown, who is writing a book about Al Clapp and Habitat. “He later became a key player in promoting Greenpeace and the Habitat Forum.”

Al Clapp. Photo: Bruce Stewart

Al Clapp filming.
Photo: Bruce Stewart

Habitat Forum

By 1976, the ’60s was a thing of the past and many of its idealists were in power, including then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, whose Vancouverite wife Maggie was a big supporter of the environmental movement. It was then when the first UN Habitat Conference on sustainable urban living took place at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

Across the water at Jericho (Jericho Sailing Centre) was the alternative event, the Habitat Forum, a grassroots circus of people who modeled sustainable living.

Photo: Al Clapp

Photo: Al Clapp

“Al Clapp went from Pleasure Faires to promoting the Greenpeace rally in ’75 and got his way putting the forum at the Jericho location in ‘76. He rallied workers from all over the city,” says Brown. It was an ecology festival. There was a Hopi teepee camp, a 200-foot wooden bar, Tibetan Buddhists, Japanese Zen Buddhists, Mother Teresa, Bill Reid, Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic dome, and of course Greenpeace. On the Forum’s last day, Greenpeace had a benefit concert and then set sail on their second voyage to Save the Whales. Music was not the focus but this event ushered in organized and funded festivals in the city.

Time for a Change

By 1978, the Folk Festival kicked off at the Habitat site and Gay Pride began to organize in the West End. The punks, tired of the hippie hangover, would kick those doors down with their own yippie-organized “Anti-Canada Day” in Stanley Park, with the Subhumans and D.O.A. In less than 10 years the lyrics had gone from Country Joe’s “1, 2, 3, what are we fighting for,” to Gerry Hannah’s “we don’t care what you say, fuck you,” and it signaled the dawn of a new era.

Check out the Bruce Stewart photography exhibit at the Presentation House Gallery in North Vancouver. Curated by Bill Jeffries, the show runs now through August 3.

Jerry Kruz is getting ready to release his book, Afterthought, this fall, which is his own account of his life with the dancehall, free shows and be-ins. The book will also feature posters of his shows. Lindsay Brown will have the Habitat book ready for 2015.

Special thanks to Lindsay Brown, Pam Burge, Jerry Kruz, Bruce Stewart and Takeo Yamashiro.

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