Peace, Love and insert some sort of a noun.  That three word combination has been a mantra, a statement and maybe even a way of life synonymous with the hippy culture and San Francisco for a long time.  Peace and love, two ideals that are at the core of the very interpretable word, hippy; a word I have always had problems with, as its meaning seems to mean something different for everyone and no one can really pinpoint what a hippy is. I mean, I knew some “hippies” who migrated here from Ohio to trim weed, and one of those drifting sons a guns stole my bike and robbed my friends house.  Not very peaceful bro.

I don’t personally prescribe to any label and usually think twice before labeling someone.  Spending money on expensive designer tie-dye from Haight Street or smoking a lot of weed doesn’t make anyone a hippie, or maybe it does, I don’t know.  It is the same with punk rock.  People find more conviction in style than they do ideals and attitude.  If I had to define either of those cultures, I would put their ideals on very similar levels, yet their stereotyped modes of dress and behavior differ greatly.  For me, it comes down to what is on the inside, not how you dress.  But for the sake of this synopsis, hippies are people who like to go to free music festivals in the park.

Anyway, the hippies were out in force this last weekend at the 12th annual Power to the Peaceful Festival on Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park.  The Festival, which started out in Dolores Park 12 years ago with around 6,000 attendees, reached what I heard by word of mouth to be a staggering 70,000 eager concert goers.  The Festival headliner and mainstay of the event, Michael Franti and Spearhead were there as usual to issue their dose of reggae/rock/pop that just oozes unconditional and all inclusive peace and love.

It never seems to fail (well, that’s actually not true, last year it had rained the night before and that morning) that the clouds part and the power of Jah sun shines through strong when folks decide to congregate on the historic fields of Golden Gate Park for free music.  Perhaps it seems this way to me now, because when ever the weather is crap I skip the events and stay home; but the point is that this last Saturday was beautiful.

It is a great feeling arriving at Speedway Meadow, free music from the stage already blaring, the sounds of drums beating from all corners, slack rope walkers suspended a few feet in the air, acrobatics and other performances taking place, the smell of bbq and weed in the air, excited faces, colorful flags in the air and a sea of people peacefully gathering to enjoy music and humanity.  It always puts a smile on my face and reminds me that we are all truly lucky to live in such a wonderful city where the third place, community, culture and the great inheritance of live music is such a rock and a deeply rooted seed of our city’s society.

As a real fan of Grateful Dead music and the legacy they have paved, it is hard to imagine a music festival where Jerry Garcia is not all but alive and present.  I wonder what the day will be like when no one alive can remember him or have had seen him perform.  Because even 15 years after his death, his face is everywhere.  T-shirts, tapestries, stickers, patches, pins, you name it; Jerry is on it.  And not to stray from the point, but I truly do believe that these festivals would have found their own way had it not been for the Grateful dead, but they would not be what they are without them.  The Dead are the foundation and the support for which the scene has been built on, and Power to the Peaceful is no exception.  I feel every festival in the park should have a mandatory Grateful Dead cover, but what ever, no one did it.  I’ll live.

The socially and eco-conscious festival housed dozens of booths pushing both knowledge and paraphernalia in support of peace and a greener environment.  Many vendors boasted all or some proceeds going to charitable organizations, and for the sake of the event and a little faith in humanity I’m gonna go ahead and believe them all.  I did not feel there were any evil or greedy endeavors capitalizing on people’s desire to sport peace and love; maybe a little pricy, as festival swag tends to be, but certainly not evil.  I’m sure good old Michael Franti made sure of that.  There were of course plenty of pirated T-shirts being sold out of backpacks, as at any festival or concert, but I like to chalk that up to an ingrained portion of the festival lifestyle.  Those shirts tend to have cooler logos on them anyway.

The place was peaceful, and crowded.  Upon arriving just before noon, my friends and I set up our blankets a far, far cry from the main stage.  And as the day progressed we realized that even we were early and had comparatively good seats on the lawn.  Toward the end of the day, the walk ways on either side of the human filling might as well have been at a dead stop.  Confused faces arriving late meandered amongst the blankets and groups of people, filling in every last square inch of real estate until walking anywhere was done only on a need-to basis.  The bathroom lines became out of control and if you were lucky enough to be anatomically equipped, a little urination in the eucalyptus was certainly not out of the question.  As it is when you pack an estimated 70,000 people onto a field on a sunny day with free music.

One issue I take with not only at this festival, but all festivals in the park, is the overwhelming amount of glossy, non-recyclable flyers people pass out for upcoming concerts and events.  Within a community that generally takes a stand on being green or earth conscious, I have always thought that someone would put a stop to this mass littering operation.  Volunteers are given several hundred of these flyers and assigned the task to hand out as many as possible, in trade for a free ticket to the advertised event.  At the end of the day you see literaly thousands of these pieces of paper strewn all about the grass and walkways through out the park, because nobody really wants them.  They are glanced at and then tossed to the ground, simple as that.

The Green Apple Festival, which used to take place in the park as well, took notice that their festival which was to raise awareness for nature was nothing but another park trashing party.  They changed their tune and switched to a format where they would give volunteers (this took place across the country) of either beach or creek cleanups free tickets to a show later that night.  One year ago my girl friend and I did a creek clean up in Half Moon Bay and got free tickets for a show at Slims later that night.  It was a good alternative to what a festival in the park does.

But, it was not a festival in the park.  Nothing else is a festival in the park, in my opinion they are a great comuntiy experience that cannot be rivaled.  Aside from my gripe over the flyers, there is nothing almost nothing better.

The performances were varied and entertaining through out the day.  I will have to admit ignorance on the performer’s names up until the head liner, but all were good and added their own dose of flavor to the day.  A few sleepy acts endangered the crowd of nodding off in the midday sun, but they were not too many to ruin the momentum of the day.  Michael Franti and Spearhead did their ususal thing.  An upbeat mix of reggae, rock and pop; they had the field on their feet and dancing the day to a close as the fog bank finally rolled in from the ocean and told the crowd “you dont have to go home but you can’t stay here.”  I am not really a big Franti fan, but I will admit he has a knack for uniting people, not only through his catchy music but through this well established festival which I would imagine will continue as an annual San Francisco tradition.

For more information on musicians, vendors and the festival in general, visit: