(EDITOR'S NOTE: This Sunday, June 11, marks the beginning of the sixth summer Free Rock & Roll in the Parks program, with a blast-off concert by the mighty Up, Guardian Angel, and the Mojo Boogie Band featuring Hawg Tate and BUI Lynn. The concerts this year will be held at Otis Spann Memorial Field, the site of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival of years past, from 2-6 p.m. every Sunday afternoon. Otis Spann Memorial Field is located next to Huron High-across from Diana Oughton Memorial Park, where last years concerts were held (go out Fuller Rd. or take the Geddes Rd. exit from U.S. 23 - parking at Huron High.)
The SUN is presenting a two-part "people's history" of the Ann Arbor park program starting in this issue so people who weren't around in the earlier days of the free concert struggle can dig how the program developed and how it got to the point where it is now, with a highly-organized park committee producing the events, full cooperation from the city government (including a $4000.00 budget appropriation for this summer's series), full support from almost every rock and roll band in the whole state, and no prospects of trouble of any kind.
The park program didn't come about by magic: people in this community have struggled over a period of six years to establish the concerts as a people's institution in Ann Arbor, and people continue to struggle and work hard every week to make sure the people get the free music we need in the summertime. Now the struggle is mostly a struggle for production- solving the problems involved in producing the free concerts and making them as good as the people deserve- but it originally involved a struggle for the very survival of the free concert program, and we all should know what a great victory the park program represents for the people of the Ann Arbor rainbow community.
What follows is part one of the history of the Community Parks Program, which takes us into the summer of 1969; part two will follow in the next issue of the SUN.
The free concerts actually began in 1966 with a few spaced-out avant-jazz programs emanating from the bandshell in West Park. People like Charles Moore (now of the incredible CJQ who people might've heard at Hill this spring with Alice Coltrane and Leon Thomas), Joseph Jarman, Ron Brooks, Stanley Cowell and other stellar performers would come together in West Park from time to time and lay out some exhilarating music to the few dozen people in the area who related to digging music like that in the parks on Sunday afternoons. Nothing was amplified, the crowds (if you could call them that) were small, and there was never any trouble with the city authorities to speak of.
In the summer of 1967 the free concerts began to happen with some regularity, as the Prime Movers (the original Ann Arbor Blues Band featuring the dangerous Erlewine Brothers), the Seventh Seal (with Bill Kerchan, now of Commander Cody's team, on lead guitar and vocals), Charles Moore's groups, the Joseph Jarman/Roscoe Mitchell space unit of Chicago, Billy C. and the Sunshine, the Up (making one of their first appearances ever), and other progressive musicians from the local scene took the bandstand each Sunday afternoon to jam out in the sunshine for the two or three hundred freeks in the community.
All that was needed in those days was a permit from the city and a $10.00 electricity fee, along with the bands, to make the concerts happen, and they went on without any hassles until the next-to-the-last concert of the summer, when the Grateful Dead stopped in town to play in the park on their way from a gig at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit. It was a beautiful August afternoon, with lots of heavy sun, plenty of acid charging through the people in the grass, bottles of wine and carloads of watermelon circulating through the crowd, and when the Dead got up to play they had a little trouble at first because the bare concrete stage floor combined with the guitar players' bare feet to produce shocks in the performers' bodies. The band called out for somebody to throw them a blanket or something to stand on while they played, and what they got was an American flag to put under their feet.
While this innocent act drew only applause and laughter from the people assembled there to dig the music, a certain element of John Birchers who lived on the rim of West Park were completely freaked out by it and vowed to wreak revenge on the infidels who were cluttering up their neighborhood with good times, crazed music, laughter and the holy smoke every Sunday afternoon. They didn't say much of anything at the time beyond trying to get the Grateful Dead prosecuted for "desecration of the flag", but they mobilized their forces during the winter months and got the strictly Republican-controlled City Council to pass a new ordinance banning amplified music in any of the city's parks. They thought that would be the end of it, but when springtime rolled around again the up-tight honkies who were sure they had killed the people's concerts ran up against the spirit of the people in its first great blooming, and a two-year struggle to establish the free concerts as a people's institution began in earnest.
It started when two of the people from Love Energies who had just moved to Ann Arbor that May (1968), John Sinclair and Ron Levine, went down to City Hall to pay their $10.00 for a permit to use West Park for rock and roll the first bright day of the year. Not having anticipated any difficulty at all, these two brothers were shocked to discover that there was now a law against free rock and roll in the parks of Ann Arbor, and it turned them around so much that it was well into the summer before an effective strategy for dealing with this outrage began to emerge.
Faced with total arrogance and insensitivity on the part of the city government of the time, Trans-Love determined that the only way to get what was needed was to take the issue to the people so they could decide whether or not there should be free music in West Park all summer. After checking out every legal means to having the concerts and finding them virtually non-existent, the people at Trans-Love took the law into their own hands for the first time and trucked on down to the picnic shelter with the MC-5 to blast out a little free rock and roll for the people.
Trans-Love began its assault on the anti-rock and roll law with the premise that people had to have the music in the parks as long as there were bands willing and ready to play for free on Sunday afternoons, and that it was the city's responsibility not only to allow the concerts to go on, but to aid and abet in any way possible in the production of the free concerts, since they constituted a valuable community service which was not being provided by the city government itself. The point was that a new kind of people was emerging in Ann Arbor, people whose lives were increasingly centered in rock and roll music, and their needs- including their burning need for free music as often as possible- were not only not being dealt with by the established order, but were actually being suppressed and absolutely denied by the agents of the old way of life.
The politics of the free concert movement were simple: self-determination (we will decide what we need and how I we will obtain it for ourselves) and self-reliance (we will provide for our own needs and fight for our right to do so). The city was trying to say that people in our community didn't need the free concerts, that we wouldn't be allowed to have the free concerts, and that we would be arrested for even trying to make our music happen for free in the parks. The concert organizers for Trans-Love, on the other hand, made it clear that a totally different definition of the situation was called for: free music was a need our people have, there were members of the community who were willing and able to provide for that need for free, we had the right to provide for our needs without interference from the state, and we would assert our right in the face of any phony laws the city government might throw up to stop us.
The picnic shelter concert was a bold move, given the political realities of the time, but it was undertaken with the knowledge that the people in our community would support it all the way, and that the will of the people was strong enough (even though there weren't very many of us at that time) to bring the city around to our point of view. The concert organizers weren't out for any kind of confrontation with the authorities for the sake of confrontation-their one desire was that the free concerts go on without any trouble at all, in fact-but they made it clear that they would have the concerts by any means necessary, and that no amount of police or anything else would be enough to kill the people's need for free music in the parks.
What happened at the picnic shelter that first Sunday of the 1968 season was that the police rode down on the scene, high police officials and the Mayor himself, Republican Wendell Helcher, showed up to check it out, the situation was explained to them by Sinclair in the most reasonable terms, the Mayor agreed that such a community service program did have some merit and must be given further consideration by the city government, the police were called off and an agreement was made that the city officials would meet with Trans-Love within the week to discuss how best to deal with the problem. The music continued through to its natural end, the people in the park got down and had a knockout time, and everybody went away from the park that evening with a real good feeling about what had went down.
The city, however, reneged on its promise to meet with the concert organizers, and after the next Sunday passed with no word from Helcher the Love freeks decided it was necessary to raise the issue to a little higher level. On the following Sunday a generator was rented so we could supply our own power at the bandshell, and the Up and the MC-5 made it on down to West Park to kick 'em out from the forbidden stage, again with no permit or other authorization from the city. Word had been passed around town that the free concerts were starting again for real, and the embryonic Ann Arbor rainbow community was out in full force to take off the music under the sun.
The Up opened up the afternoon, and in the middle of their set two uniformed policemen climbed up on the stage trying to stop the show. While they were talking to the band and people started to get pissed off, Lt. Eugene Staudemire walked up from out of the audience where he had been stationed and told the two patrolmen to lighten up. His thing was that the city government was trying to work out an arrangement with the free concert organizers, and that the music could go on if the volume was maybe turned down a little bit so the honkies living around the park wouldn't be so up tight. The bands agreed to turn down and Staudemire agreed to negotiate with John Sinclair and Rob Tyner of the MC-5 while the Up finished their set.
What happened next was characteristic of the time, as the freeks who had been given an inch decided to take a mile right there, with no regard for the consequences. The MC-5 took the stage and, flushed with victory, called on the people to celebrate with them by singing along with one of their popular tunes: "Kick Out the Jams, Motherfucker!" The whole crowd responded by screaming the title out as loud as they could, three times, until it could be heard all the way down on Main Street. Then the 5 kicked out the tunes through the rest of the afternoon, people went away from the park charged with a new spirit, and the shit was left to come down later in the week when the MC-5 were arrested for "disorderly conduct" and "disturbing the peace."
Now the negotiations began in earnest, with the city finally reaching the position that it would supply the community with a park- not West Park, however- and would not interfere with the concerts as long as Trans-Love would work with them in a cooperative fashion. The MC-5 agreed to plead guilty to the charges instead of fighting them in court, and a $125.00 fine was levied on them. Gallup Park was designated as the new park site, and the weekly series began on an uninterrupted basis the last Sunday in July with music by the MC-5, Billy C. & his Killer Blues Band, and the Back & Back Boo Funny Music Band from Detroit.
The 1968 concerts continued into early September with no further trouble, featuring the 5, the Up, Wilson Mower Pursuit, Family Medicine Chest, and other people's bands of the time. The crowds increased every week as the word spread around, and every one went into winter with a heavy glow off of the Gallup Park gigs. During the winter of 1968-69 things got heavier all over with the entry of Nixon into office and the aftermath of the Chicago Convention massacre. Trans-Love Energies became the White Panther Party, the Ann Arbor Argus was started as our community's first people's newspaper, freeks were becoming increasingly militant as hippies began to feel the intense racism and cultural chauvinism of honkiedom directed at them with growing intensity, and a lot of weird shit was happening in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area which impinged directly on the freek community here. A number of sisters were brutally murdered in the spring of 1969, the police were using the situation to intimidate and harass long-hairs all over town, dope busts were coming down harder and faster all the time-it was a heavy time all in all, and when free rock and roll in the park time rolled around this struggle began anew.
People's meetings had been started at the White Panther Trans-Love house to try to figure out ways to deal with the police harassment of freeks- these were the forerunner of the Tribal Council meeting which now take place at the Community Center every Tuesday night-and the park concert question was always on the agenda. People couldn't relate to being kept out of West Park anymore, since it was the best park for music in town, and a massive petition drive was undertaken in the community to demonstrate the demand for West Park as a permanent rock and roll site. Three thousand (3000) signatures were gathered, and more than 50 people's representatives went down to City Council one night in June to present the petitions to the authorities.
Another issue was the repeal of the anti-rock and roll ordinance passed during the winter of 1967-68. The 1968 concerts had gone on under a special suspension of the ordinance, which meant that the city could at any time reinvoke the ordinance and "legally" bring the series to an end. This was completely unsatisfactory to people in 1969, and the City Council was pressured to throw out the anti-rock and roll ordinance altogether. The 3000 petitions, the mass presence of people from the rainbow community at the City Council (somewhere most of us had never been before), and the leadership of people like Skip Taube and Pun & Genie Plamondon of the White Panther Party combined to force the city to change its law and fork over a permit for rock and roll in West Park. The people's stand was simply that the music would go on whether there was a permit or not, there would be hundreds of people in the park ready to defend it against any kind of military invasion, it would take a military invasion to stop the music, we were ready for it, so let's not try to scare us with the police, ok? We need the music and the city is being entirely unreasonable in denying us West Park-we're citizens here too, what we want isn't much, we have a right to use West Park just like anybody else, and we will have it.
Faced with this kind of unity and militancy combined, and following a demonstration of the people's anger over police harassment of freeks (the South University uprising of June 1969), the new Democratic-liberal City Council called a special session the Saturday morning before the first West Park concert was to jump off and quickly passed a new ordinance allowing amplified music in the parks under certain conditions agreed to by the people and the city during their negotiations. It rained the next day so the first concert had to be postponed a week, but the victory had been won and people were really ready for the festivities to begin.
What happened next was primarily a reflection of the exuberance and the political naivete of the people behind the concerts- once again, the freeks took a mile where we were only supposed to have an inch, without regard for the consequences or even for the rights of other sectors of the Ann Arbor community. The permit to use West Park for rock and roll was taken by the White Panthers as a license to run the park as a liberated zone where people could do whatever the fuck they wanted to. The White Panther slogan "rock & roll, dope, and fucking in the streets" was put into action in the middle of the Fifth Ward as the Tate Blues Band, Carnal Kitchen (featuring Steve Mackay), and the truly dangerous MC-5 of the time opened up the 1969 season the last Sunday in June.
The decisive action took place when the Tates mounted the stage to smoke out some killer blues. Hawg Tate on guitar, brother Terry Tate on vocals dressed in a suit made especially for West Park: an American flag suit, harking back to the Grateful Dead incident of 1967. As Terry Tate twisted and moaned through his set the flag material gave out under the force of his gyrations and the seat ripped apart. Tate, in a drug-induced frenzy, grabbed the torn bunting and ripped the whole motherfucking suit apart, right on stage! First the pants, exposing his male genital organ, then the shirt was ripped to shreds and thrown out into the audience along with Tate's boots and every other stitch of clothing he might've had on when he started. Tate stomped around naked hollering and screaming for a minute before somebody dragged him aside and got some clothes on him, but it was already too late by that time. The Birchers flipped out, and given this new ammunition were able to put the douse on West Park rock and roll to this day.
The rest of the concert went on as scheduled, ending with Skip Taube standing on stage pointing out a row of plainclothes narcs in the crowd and then leading a people's charge to chase them out of the park. This incredible incident, coupled with the Tate affair, put the city government in a funny position once again: they had to put the douse on West Park, but as much as they wanted to they knew they couldn't put the douse on the concert series because people simply wouldn't stand for it. So the negotiations began again.
End of part one. Part two next issue.
WE SHARE A COMMON CULTURE. WE DO THE SAME THINGS, WE LIVE THE SAME WAY, WE LISTEN TO THE SAME MUSIC, SMOKE THE SAME SACRAMENTS, WE ARE. UNITED BY OUR AGE, OUR COMMON VALUES, OUR COMMON VISION OF THE FUTURE. WE WANT THE SAME THINGS - FREEDOM, SELF-DETERMINATION, PEACE, JUSTICE, HARMONY, AND EQUALITY FOR ALL PEOPLE. THERE ARE MILLIONS OF US, WE ARE A PEOPLE. SELF-DETERMINATION MUSIC