8 Summers Of Free Music In A2
One Sunday in 1969 Terry Tate wore a beautiful costume made from an Amerikan Flag. During his unusually high energy performance his costume started falling apart, leaving his beautiful self "exposed" for a minute before he could put on a new pair of pants. Undercover police spies were present among the audience and recorded the whole incident on 8mm film. Terry was arrested the next day, charged with "indecent exposure," a misdemeanor, had his long hair shorn down to a quarter-inch stubble in Harvey's Hotel, the Washtenaw County Jail, and had bond set at $5000!
The MC5 played the next set. During their fantastic performance of "Black to Comm" Rob Tyner pointed out some of the undercover narks in the crowd to the audience who chased them out of the park. That was the last rock and roll concert ever held in West Park. (Reprinted from Leni Sinclair 's history of Ann Arbor's Free Concerts, "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay!" Ann Arbor SUN, May 7,1971, Issue No. 2.)
The new marijuana laws that went into effect in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti this May 1 have just about made "bust paranoia" a thing of the past for weed and hashish smokers in this area. But there has been one place in Ann Arbor where people have freely smoked the sacrament in public without fear of the police for almost eight straight years now - at the free rock and roll concerts presented every summer by the Ann Arbor Community Parks Program.
Weed has been "free and legal" on the grounds of the summer rock and roll concerts thanks to Ann Arbor's unique Psychedelic Ranger security force and the Community Parks Program collective, which each year has demanded (or rather, reasoned) that the only police that can be allowed at the concert itself are the "people's police" - the Psychedelic Rangers. And the city government has had to go along because they know Parks Program people are right - there's no telling what might happen to uniformed police showed up inside a park concert with all that weed, and all those weed smokers around. . .
The "off limits" policy for Ann Arbor police at the parks concerts is just one example of how real community control takes action through the agency of the Parks Program. Besides the Psychedelic Rangers community security service, there are services like free child care, provided by the Children's Community Center; low cost organic foods; first aid facilities; drug information and crisis treatment;a community information service; emergency citizen's-band radio communications facilities; and traffic direction (provided by none other than the Ann Arbor Police Department) - all regular features of the weekly summer concerts.
Although most people may know little of the behind-the-scenes activities that go into the production of the free concert series, the results of the community's efforts are obvious enough. Some of the best music available in Michigan can be heard for free at these concerts, and the vibes are almost totally positive, reflecting the community/cooperative spirit of the whole Program. Problems usually associated with "pop festivals" and "rock concerts" are almost non-existent - there are very few drug OD's, almost a complete absence of downers and other sense-deadening dope, rip-offs are most infrequent, and there is always plenty of bomb weed and hashish.
But getting the Parks Program established, and keeping it going despite the City government and its police has not always been so easy.
FLASH! MC5 ARRESTED IN ANN ARBOR FOR PLAYING FREE MUSIC IN THE PARKS-CHARGED WITH DISTURBING THE PEACE!
Rob Tyner, Wayne Kramer, Fred Smith, Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson - the MC5 - were arrested by Ann Arbor police Friday, July 26th, 1968, and charged with "disturbing the peace" and "disorderly person" as a result of a free concert they played in West Park last Sunday (July 21, 1968). The band posted $125 apiece in bond money and will face the charges in Ann Arbor Municipal Court next Monday.
The warrants stem from complaints by neighbors of the park about the alleged "noise" created by the band last Sunday. The principal complainant, Johannah Lemble, whose name appears on the warrant, charges the brothers individually with "creating an unreasonable and disturbing noise" and with "disturbing the peace" by being "loud and boisterous" in violation of city ordinances. Mrs. Lemble and her husband are active in the local chapter of the John Birch Society.
What went down is this: Last summer free rock and roll concerts were held in West Park every Sunday through the middle of September. Ron Miller, bassist for the now-defunct Seventh Seal, would pay the city the $10.00 permit fee every week, and the Seal as well as bands like the Prime Movers, Charles Moore's avant jazz group, Billy C. and the Sunshine, the Up, the Roscoe Mitchell Unit from Chicago, and the Grateful Dead when they were in town, took the stand every Sunday afternoon to play for the people in the sun.
Ron Levine and I applied for a permit to use the West Park band shell some weeks ago and received a flat refusal. Apparently a new ordinance was passed during the winter months outlawing amplified music in the parks so there couldn't be any more concerts, but we knew the people had to have the music. So after giving the matter some serious consideration, including consultations with attorneys and local heads, we decided to just go down to the park and set up and kick out the jams, since the parks belong to the people anyway. Two Sundays ago (July 14, Bastille Day) the MC5 set up in the picnic shelter in the park and played for about an hour for a great audience of freeks and black people from the neighborhood. The police showed up to douse it out, but the mayor was on the set and held them off until he could talk to us and see what the deal was. I told him that these were important community functions and that we were donating our time and energy to the people so they could have some of the free music they need to survive, and he said he could dig it. He promised to get in touch with us during the week, but two weeks went by with no word from the city, so we decided to make it on down to the park again and rent our own generator so we could play in the band shell this time. Word of mouth spread the news, and a large grooving audience was there on Sunday ready for it.
The Up played the first set and smoked all the way through, with a short interruption when two uniformed patrolmen mounted the stage in an attempted suppression scene. Lt. Staudemire emerged from out of the audience where he had been digging the proceedings and cooled out the lowly patrolmen. He explained to us that the neighbors around the park were complaining about the noise and could we turn down a little to see if that would work out? Sure. The Up did the rest of their set, and the 5 followed them for an hour. When it came time for the magic moment Tyner got the whole crowd to scream "KICK OUT THE JAMS MOTHERFUCKER!" with him, three times, and you could hear it all over town. This brought down the self-righteous wrath of the Birchers in the neighborhood, however, and led to the arrests of Friday.
There was no music in the park this weekend, but one interesting development has taken place: city officials have expressed a further desire to meet with the Trans-Love freeks this next week to see what can be worked out in terms of free outdoor concerts somewhere else around town. Meanwhile petitions are being circulated among Ann Arbor's hip community to demonstrate the need and support for such concerts.
(The above originally appeared in the mimeographed "Ann Arbor Sun "- "free newspaper of rock and roll, dope, and fucking in the streets " - July 17, 1968. It currently can be found in "Guitar Army " by John Sinclair.)
"The earliest concerts," writes Leni Sinclair in Issue No. 2 of the SUN, "were in the summer of 1966. The music then was mostly unamplified avant-guarde jazz by such outstanding musicians as Charles Moore and his band, the Detroit Contemporary 5 (now the CJQ), Stanley Cowell, Joseph Jarman (now with the Art Ensemble of Chicago), and many others."
But as more and more rock and roll came out to the parks, more folds came to boogie down, and the conservative forces in town got themselves more and more uptight. After their ban on music didn't work they finally let the free concerts have their way at different, temporary sites around the city, hoping the free concert movement would die out.
In 1969 the concerts were shifted from Gallup Park (out next to a swamp on the Huron River) to the windswept "Fuller Flatlands" and on back to West Park (where Terry Tate took off his clothes). By the next summer the city had decided to allow construction of an "old folks home" overlooking the stage at West Park, thereby abolishing loud rock and roll from the vicinity forevermore.
Rather than dying out, however, in 1970 the free concert movement got more firmly established than ever before. Peter Andrews (a young rock and roll promoter who managed a local power band called the SRC), got deep into the program, helped set it up as a legal entity, and encouraged the participation of more and more people, especially those involved in the alternative community service organizations who were just then getting started in Ann Arbor.
In a letter to Park Program workers last year (reprinted in Issue of the Ann Arbor SUN, June 5, 1973) Andrews ran down his theory of the musical/political importance of the events:
"As we have seen in recent years of the Park Program, our society has culturally deteriorated considerably . . . The entire music business has gone on a capitalistic spiral where, in almost a joint manner, promoters, agencies, and record companies have all conspired, in many respects. in creating a bigger and bigger emphasis on sales appeal, not musicianship. This has meant more dollars for fewer and fewer in the industry and, as a result, less and less jobs for a growing number of musicians.
Locally the effect has been to disintegrate what was once the healthiest local music scene in the country. Indeed, our culture has lost thousands of musicians who have had to seek other forms of work because there is just no money in the business to support them or their growth as future acknowledged musicians.
A tremendous amount of what we are doing with this Park Program is trying to secure a future for our culture, for our musical culture. And, certainly, musicians are not going to have any future on two cents a week.
We are trying to give those musicians that are most talented locally, that are not in the big band scene, a chance to expose their music as adequately and as effectively as possible. Just like any program, you want to start with a basis, a nucleus, strengthen our local scene, strengthen the appreciation for local musicians all the more.
We are trying to provide a stage for musicians so they can be appreciated, the audience can learn what good musicians there are locally, and can support them throughout the summer. fall and winter months."
The concerts got more and more organized throughout 1970 and '71, the music got better and better, and more people came out to dig it. But the city kept hoping it would all go away somehow and kept shifting the concert sites, from the Gallup Park swamplands (which the Park Program renamed Diana Oughton Memorial Park) to the recently-filled City Dump (later renamed Otis Spann Memorial Field).
Since the beginning of the free concerts the money necessary to put them on has been supplied by people contributing through "bucket drives" at the events, and contributions from merchants and community organizations around town. In 1971, the Park Program finally demanded enough attention to merit city funding. The same government that had banned the concerts outright in 1968 was giving money to support them in 1971! Money was allocated again in 1972, and in 1973 a total of $6,700 was supplied to the Program as part of the "Revenue Sharing" funds given to the city by the Nixon government. (It should be noted, however,) that $4,100 of this money was spent on Ann Arbor police working outside the concerts, as required by the city.)
As the Community Parks Program sets out to present the eighth year of free concerts in the parks it is faced with a Republican controlled city government, a government badly in debt, a government that would like to eliminate almost all of Ann Arbor's community service programs and a government totally committed to the honk. As reported in the last issue of the SUN. the talk around city hall is that funding for the Park Program will be slashed by at least 50% - but it remains to be seen exactly what money, if any, will be forthcoming from the city.
Two weeks ago, representatives of the Community Parks Program met with city administrator Cy Murray, his assistant Michael Rogers, and Parks an Recreation Department representative George Owers to discuss the future of the Program. Parks Program people told the city that a permanent site for the concerts is what is needed - a real "People's Park" that can be custom-tailored to the needs of the Program, its services and its participants.
The city government representatives indicated that they wanted to help find a site and build such a park. After eight years the city is finally being forced to recognize the need for on-going free/musical events for Ann Arbor's rainbow community.
The city administrator's proposal for insuring the future of the Parks Program is that it be integrated into the "non-controversial" Parks and Recreation Department, thereby making it much easier to procure funds around budget-making time. It won't be till 1975 when this can be accomplished, however, which means that the Parks Program will have to spend at least one more year at a temporary site, with funding from the city that could easily be much less than it was last year.
Presently the city has agreed to find at least three possible sites for the Parks Program's consideration. Watch the next SUN and attend Parks Program meetings (held at 208 W. Liberty, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm) for further developments as they happen. -- Frank Bach
P.S. Bands and individual musicians who wish to play in the Park Program can contact Suzanne at 769-5850 and leave their phone numbers. Their names will be added to the list from which the concert bills are put together, and they will be contacted to set specific playing days whenever possible.
Photos: Leni Sinclair
Top left: Terry Tate, 1969, West Park Top right: Otis Spann Memorial Field, 1973 Foreground: Lt. Staudemier, Rob Tyner of the MC5 and John Sinclair, 1968, Gallup Park