Straight on the Haight:
In 1994, I was invited by Bill Ham and Wes Wilson to join the light show at the Rockart Ball kicking off the RockArt Expo. During the weekend while I worked “The Straight on the Haight” table, many people asked me about the Straight and its posters.
After hearing Alpert and Leary talk about a Sensoriurn or Trip Center and then being at the Trips Festival, I became attracted to the potential of the Light Show. After an introduction by Luther Green to Tony Martin I was soon apprenticing in his light show at the Fillmore Auditorium.
Tony could create beautifully coloured light dishes as vivid as any art in any form could be. He knew the various levels of consciousness from the white light energy dance to the swimming molecular paisley we referred to by the various Bardo names we had borrowed from the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” via Tim & Dick.
As the weeks progressed Bill tapered off on Tony’s pay. The money for movie productions went first, a process that led quickly to Tony manning the machines like a factory worker putting in a shift, even eating a brown bag lunch while monitoring the equipment.
I had elbowed my way down front moving from stage lights to strobes and finally manipulating the liquids over the stage playing every weekend with the Quick, Country Joe, The Dead, Big Brother and the Airplane, all the great local bands.
At the end of March when the first big out-of-town headliner, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, came to the Fillmore from Chicago it was the last show Bill and Chet Helms produced as partners. Ironically the band was breaking up as well.
At the afterglow party Greg and Gary of Quicksilver said it was a great psychedelic light show. Their manager Ron Poulte began booking me for road shows with all the bands. (Incidentally, I am seeking any posters or handbills from any of these mostly Northern California shows, especially the Quick and Dead in Atascadero, the Big Brother or Country Joe Shows at the Golden Sheaf in Berkeley, Dead in Modesto, Quick in San Jose, or any Hayward or Pauly ballroom shows.)
By Spring 1966 my vision was to find a “Trip Center” to have non restricted multi media events with light shows that would allow a unified field of consciousness to happen with the participating audience and performers.
“The Straight on the Haight” is the story of the poets, musicians, artists, artisans, intellectuals and dealers who interacted with the Straight Theater and helped create one of the most colourful generations of the century.
This article is focused on the work of the graphic artists of the Straight as my records can verify. Any omitted material is not overlooked on purpose and I would appreciate it being brought to my attention. Please cite the pertinent information and hopefully include a photocopy of any missing handbills or posters and send it to me.
STRAIGHT THEATER ENTERPRISES’ STRAIGHT GRAPHICS: THE POSTERS AND HANDBILLS
Between Spring 1966 when I began co-managing, with Bill Resner, the Haight Theater’s renovation and rebirth as the Straight Theater and then presenting hundreds of musical, dramatic, poetic, dance, film and mixed media events until the Summer of 1969, my partners and I had the opportunity to work first hand with both the famous and many under appreciated graphic artists of the 60’s by publishing much outstanding and important art.
From George Jacobs, the ill fated genius who created the first Straight poster, a wildly vibrating electric print in blue and red done for the Grateful Dead,
The Straight Theater’s pictorial themes of astrology, tarot, numerology, ancient mysteries, anti- war, free love, freedom to choose cannabis, and to explore self, all issues still with us today, reoccur frequently from 1966—1969 throughout all the Straight Theater’s enterprises.
The Straight Ashbury Viewing Society and Straight Theater School of the Performing Arts began producing many fine works of graphic arts in poster, handbill, and brochure formats beginning in May of 1966.
The Straight Ashbury Viewing Society coupled Albert Neiman and Woody Haut to the Straight Theater Enterprises family in order to show movies each Friday in the Armenian Hall on Page Street while we brought the theater up to code.
One and two colour handbills printed on coloured stock by various artists, ranging from fine art to very primitive, appeared weekly under the Straight Ashbury Viewing Society single eye logo, to advertise the underground experimental scene.
The Straight Theater Performing Arts Workshops for the acting and film company (held in the old Masonic Hall next to the Theater) issued handbills like a Straight Film School line drawing of film projectors, reel and LSD & STP in prominent lettering.
Caitlin Huggin,s a Benington Collage Graduate moved to the Haight and rented a historic Shrader and Wailer corner house, sharing it with Bobby Collins and the earliest Oracle people.
The first handbill printed for Dance workshop was the black and red dancing Krishna by DEY(?). An 8 x 14 all-copy handbill/brochure, done in purple, came out in the Fall of ’66. Artist Terre, an Art Nouveau era throw- back in pea coat, black sideburns, and van dike, penned lightly dressed, classical women in head and bust poses, for the next three dance brochures.
STRAIGHT THEATER POSTERS AND STRAIGHT GRAPHICS
Under the leadership of Hillel Resner, the main thrust of Straight Graphics was to advertise presentations of major and minor performing and musical artists in the theater. The Dead, Janis and Big Brother, Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver, Charlatans, Mother Earth, Santana, & It’s a Beautiful Day, Steve Miller, Blue Cheer were just a few of the names featured on our posters and handbills. The Dead, the Quick, Janis and Big Bro were all close friends who rehearsed in the closed theater and hung out, creating a strong bond to the neighbourhood and what it stood for.
The Poster procession began with the Dead-McClure Multi Media Show with lights by Reginald at the Avalon.
The hand bill ( AOR # 2.15) for the Avalon Event was created by Linda Nimmer.
In June, Chester Helms needed some backing for his Bo Diddley three venue weekend debacle. Jim Obliged with a $1000 and every weekend for the next year I was at the Avalon collecting what was possible and enjoying the scene especially Bill Hams Light show.
On March 5 1967 the benefit for Newstage and the Straight held at the Avalon produced the next major poster; an eight colour abstract face by B Kliban, before he became world famous for his cats', starring Moby Grape, Big Brother, Country Joe and Fish, the Sparrow, lights by North American Ibis Alchemical Co.
In June the approaching opening of the Theater resulted in an outpouring of poster art. Jack Digovia’s 23 x 17.5 Purple, White and Yellow portrayal of a naked mother giving birth to a snake and a baby advertised” the Dossier” a play presented by the Straight Theater Company Friday’s and Saturdays before the evenings concert.
An artist and poet named only, Ama did a handbill in pastels of a sun head man
A red and green handbill by C. (Anderson ?) featuring a wreath browed Roman advertising Julius Caesar’s run at the theater also appeared at this time.
Frank Melton a poet and pilgrim later proprietor of a coffee house in the Avenues created a large Mayan stone god in red, green, purple, and black for the poster listing Quicksilver, Country Joe, Big Brother and the Dead among others for the opening weekend July 21-23. It appears as AOR * 2.220
Reginald and Straight Lighting which opening weekend included Calliopes Company’s Bill Tara, Nancy Parker and Stephen White showered the stage and dance floor in psychedelic lights as the people danced in wild abandon.
By that Summer 1967 my partners and I had raised and spent over a hundred thousand dollars to renovate and bring up to code, the long abandoned building. We made a 5000 sq. ft parquet dance floor where the first twenty six rows of seat had been, leaving the proscenium stage at one end and the seats under the balcony with giant 40 foot high light show screens covering all the walls surrounding the dance floor. Owlsey’s temporarily donated sound system was hidden behind the walls.
The city had been forced, step by step, to issue permits and pass us in our inspections, solely because of the perseverance and precise hard work we demonstrated. Finally we had the health, the building, electrical, plumbing, and public assembly permits; all except the dance permit.
Randy Salas arguably one of the most talented Straight Theater artists, gave birth to the Straight logo Moxieman, which was reproduced as a large poster by Berkeley Bonaparte and financed by the well known dealer, Goldfinger. Randy created a memorable Big Brother poster in a zigzagging red, blue, and black Indian motif for Sept 1—3 (AOR # 2.228).
The Sept 17 misfired Little Richard concert was also advertised with a split font red and black soul style cardboard stock poster picturing Little Richard and listing eight other soul acts. The unsigned lettering work was probably done at the printers.
Randy’s use of Egyptian figures in his large, subtly coloured “Equinox of the Gods”, a Kenneth Anger presentation in the theater on Sept 21, is a standalone work of art. Pictured in AOR #2.226 the knave faced naked lyre player kneels before the hawk faced potent. Headlining was the ill-fated Bobby Beausoleil’s Magick Powerhouse of Oz, The SF Mime Troupe, Charlatans, Congress of Wonders and Straight Dancers and Lights by North American Ibis. Bobby “ Snowfox “ Beausoleil had been portraying Lucifer in Kennth Anger’s work in progress “Lucifer Rising” which was projected as part of the “show”.
Kenneth returned to the theater office the next day and accused us of stealing the now-missing film. We said that we had not and as I rose to show him the way out, he accused me of towering over him and threatening him. We cleansed ourselves of the situation by performing a ceremony at the public trash basket to rid ourselves of two bad elements on Haight Street and felt we were protected from both situations at once.
Kenneth soon decided that Bobby had the missing film. Bobby split for LA and looking for stardom, joined Charlie Manson’s gang, murdered Gary Hinman and has spent the rest of his life in jail.
The following Sunday, Sept 24, the Straight co-hosted with the Dead a free “Welcome to American Indian Equinox Celebration “ and the Pow-Wow certainly cleansed any lingering bad vibes from the former participants.
In October, Chris Braga, an intense Asian American artist, created the yellow and blue work featuring an Indian head with Libra symbol necklace and the “Go Straight” man and the imperative “In God we Trust” for the Kaleidoscope performance and dance class with Caitlin Huggins, Head Instructress and sound by Dangerfield.
Next was Chris’s predominately red flying Dead in a mandala (AOR # 2.224) promoting the dance class concert as the Dead’s first in months, with lights by Reginald. Chris also created the black and white Poster for the “ Lady Aoi” and “ Kantan”, two modern Japanese Noh plays presented by the Straight Theater Players seven days a week during the end of October and beginning of November 1967.
Luther Greene’s b/w photo collage for the Charlatans, C.O.W., Soft Pretzel, Ann Halprin Kinetic Catalyst Workitout, was for Oct 20-21. Luther did a handbill for the Movies showing “face of war” and “How I Won The War” and the premiere of “You are What you eat” Dec 5-18. Luther’s hand bill, “the Straight theater gets you on” for Sons of Champlin, AllMen Joy, nude doesn’t have a date, just Fri- Sun shows the roof coming off the theater and a submarine going down the street.
Terre, just to be different, innovated an orange cut-out puppet poster for the next Kinetic event which featured Charlie Musselwhite, and Wildflower Oct 27 & 28, (AOR # 2.222).
Next was LULU’s shocking yellow and purple o- art submarine world of amorous mermaids, for the November 3 & 4 Incredible Fish, pH Factor Jug band, COW, kinetic dance happening. Country Joe had just split from the group for a solo career and this was Barry Melton and the rest of the original Fish’s premiere.
On Nov 5 the Theater presented a free event co-sponsored by the Diggers. •It produced the blue and red “End of the War” poster of Ho and LBJ hugging. (AOR # 2.219) for the poster, but no number for the slightly different accompanying two colour handbills with condensed text. Neither is signed.
The Straight was persuaded to begin radio advertising to reach our audience and had great success. For a very reasonable weekly expenditure of $150-500 we could reach 10-20,000 hip listeners. As the competition with Bill Graham and Chet increased, the budget squeeze forced a choice between posters ($ 350 for art and $500 for printing ) or radio instead of using both as we had been doing.
At the end of 1967 KMPX and the Psychic Research Foundation, who were the same group of original Family Doggers and Virginia City folks, AKA The Psychedelic Cattlemen’s Association, presented the “2nd annual GROPE FOR PEACE” at the Straight on December 26.
The handbills for 1967 following the June 16th Christening (the night Goldfinger was manning the door when Jimi Hendrix showed up) include those for the opening, for Julius Caesar, a frankly phallic work signed with the initial R. for the Second Coming & Wildflower August 4-6th, and maxed out for the first Straight Theater Dance (class,) a Dead Concert on Sept 29 & 30 and Oct 1st.
Luther Greene’s nude handbill was done for the Charlatans “Soft Pretzel” Oct 20-21. The booking and graphics chairman, Hillel Resner, did an astrology chart for the Nov 17th weekend as the handbill for the Appearance of QuickSilver Messenger Service and John Fahey.
Chris Braga’s stoned cat and hooka advertising Santana as second on the bill is AOR * 2.218. The group was still called the Santana Blues Band and was fresh off the road where they had been following Caesar Chavez and playing at the Grape Striker’s camps.
Terre finished ‘67 With a handbill of a galloping female centaur being chased by a Sagittarius figure for Mt Rushmore, Clover, with Michael Mc Clures’s play “The Blossom”, Dec 18—21 also advertising the Dec 22-23 Clover & Black Swan concert.
Stoned New Years 1968 used an invitation format for the Charlatans, Salvation & Clover 9- dawn party. Terre began the year with a naked mermaid for “Notes from the Underground”, Jan 9-1,1 on the same handbill with Allmen Joy and Womb. Jan 12-13, and then a nude bust advertising Antonionni’s Red Desert, the Charlatans , Sons of Champlin for Jan 23-25.
Posters for 1968 include Tad Hunter AKA San Andreas Fault’s 14 1/4” x 21 3/4” black and white spiral lettered Kaleidoscope, James Cotton and It’s a Beautiful Day concerts March 19-24.
Malachi: Holy music event, April 21, a 17” wide x 11” high B&W poster, is a portrait of the musician with lettering and three feathers featuring Ashoke Fakir, was unsigned by artist, but financed by Bobby Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, who had brought Ashoke to this country.
The weed dried up, squeezed out by the use of paraquat, coercion, and bribery in Mexico by Nixon’s war on drugs “operation intercept”. Strychnine laced acid came in from all over. The Love Conspiracy turned sour, kidnapping and the murders of Super Spade and Shaub accompanied more meth and heroin flooding the streets.
By this time the wave of barefoot runaways who had come for the Summer of Love were attracting human predators of the worst kind. Beyond individuals, whole groups in the Haight, like Armed Love Commune, the Black Panthers, the Hells Angels, and the cops, were armed and growing more violent every day. It showed in the streets and in the Theater.
Chris Braga’s unsigned handbill “gathering storm on a clear day you can see Aries” was for 2 films and eight bands March 12— 14 & March 15 & 16.
One day after the assassination of Martin Luther King and one day before the murder of Black Panther Bobby Hutton by Oakland Police The Beatles sent a surprise benefit for us to share with KMPX, now besieged by strike and lockout, bringing us the amazing box office of the Northern Hemisphere Premiere of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour”.
Later a second showing, this time a co-benefit with Chet and the Family Dog,
The “Straight Sheet newspaper” a comic strip format handbill for the Charlatans April 7, was drawn by Paul Brown. He used the same strip format for Allmen Joy , Flamin Groovies, and Curly Cooks' Hurdy Gurdy Band and Petrus for the May 17 & 18 shows.
Our friend, SAFs Tad, did a masked crusader whose message:” What are you apes up to? What goes on in your warped brains?” was probably directed at the Straight’s people, advertised the Save the Straight AGAIN with Big Brother and the Holding co April 24.
A color flyer titled” Report on The State of the Straight” featuring the marquee with wording, “Perseverance Brings Success” was put out for a meeting at Grotten School April 2nd, perhaps by the Communications Co.
Two posters were used as a whole and also cut to handbill and poster-ettes size. For May 28—June 1st, Chris Bragas’s red “get yourselves together” headlining Allmen Joy, Indian Headband, Cleveland Wrecking, Notes from UG, Ace of Cups, and Liberty Street, featured a hand-drawn Straight exterior with an overall Gemini theme so the poster worked as a double image connected full size 14’ x 24’ or cut as single 7.5” x 24 “sheets.
Terre’s” Cure All medicine bottle, spoon and a recurring Terre theme, a watch, done for the Charlatans, Cleveland Wrecking co June l4-15, appears in AOR #2.229 as a red, yellow, and blue handbill but was put out primarily six up as a 10” x 21” poster.
Chris’s handbill “ Flashtime” noted the Straight is back in action thanks to J Joplin Big Brother, the groups, all you beautiful people and especially the Mystery host advertised Kaleidoscope May 7-9 and Santana Blues Band headlining May 10-11.
Terre’s turn of the century French post cards advertised the Charlatans, Flamin Groovies, and Room Beyond the Closet” May 12 & 13, Malachai on the 14th, and Mad River & Frumious Bandersnatch the 16th & 17th.
Tad’s Captain America, drawn for Allmen Joy and Curly Cook, features a nice Straight Lighting light bulb logo and was, as always, signed San Andreas Fault.
I did a simple line drawing acid abstract of the Theater and a supernatural space being in a various colours handbill for Salvation , Mt Rushmore and The Tree of Life as well as doing the lights June 5-7.
That summer, Jim Philips, the fabulous artist who did “Dr Moto’s Medicine Show” then created “The Next Supper”, a wonderful five colour piece of print-ready art that freaked out printers and poster publishers alike. After wide rebuke, he sought me out, bringing the 32 x 25 original to my house.
Caitlin Huggins’ silk screen of a large Leo sun face was for the Congress of Wonders, Allmen Joy, Phoenix and a play, “Room beyond the Closet” for Aug 2-4. for a run of 100 on 17” x 32” billboard paper in green on brown , gold, white. I began managing the Congress of Wonders, then Caitlin and I were married in the Straight Theater, surrounded by friends and family.
As the winter came on, Chris Braga drew block letters saying “1/2 off on all dancing this weekend” Nov 24-25 features Freedom Highway, Clover, Psycle, and Doug Williams, with lights by the (Black Shit) Puppy Farm.
Luther Greene’s hand bill for December featured Cartoons, “You are What You eat”, Peter Yarrow's film on the Haight, with AllmenJoy, Clover and Indian Puddin’ Pipe and the New Years billing in the warm, safe, outrageous, Straight Theat(re) As the street got rougher the two boys and a multilith Communications Company moved out of Caitlin’s Dance office, a free to them, space and began more diatribes, inciting street people to take over the Straight on behalf of the community”.
By 1969 New Years, the economy was far from the high rolling era of ‘65-67 and cash was tight. People who risked coming to the district were now regularly assaulted by various groups and individuals.
The ‘69 New Years gold with black ink 13 x 21 poster was another doubled image poster that used single portraits of a bare breasted female beatifically posed.
The people who had been my partners, left after the bleak new year’s show but I continued doggedly on.
The Monday night poetry series had died and in its place had come the former San Francisco State English teacher Steve Gaskin leading a huge extended family eventually to the Farm in Tennessee. Now the 500 or so people got together every Monday night on the large wood floor to listen to the teacher talk about metaphysics, family, and reality.
Another bright spot was the return showing of the “Magical Mystery Tour” with the Congress of Wonders presented by Apple Corps and the Brindle Brothers as a Benefit for Dr David Smith’s National Free Clinic March 5—6 at the Straight then in Portland Or. at the Milwaukee Theater.
Caitlin and her sister Megan had led by example when our daughter Kether’s home birth and that of her cousin Shandi, changed the minds of Dr David Smith and Ina Mae and Steve Gaskin who had expressed fears about the wisdom of home birth and have subsequently led the field, David in public health, and Ina Mae in home births.
Gary Grimshaw was the artist for the last true Straight Theater poster, done for the MC5 March 14-16 found in AOR as number 2.227. The winged white panther sprouting spears of lightning below a pot leaf heralding MC5, the Congress of Wonders, and Clover, over a flag of stars and stripes and two columns of symbols for the events astrology. The stars must have foretold the financial loss, but heavy beneficial gain in cosmic human contact and personal interaction.
John Sinclair the famous poet and pot revolutionary was the MC5’s manager and came to our attic room at the Congress of Wonders Commune where our daughter Kether had been born, to set up the details for the MC5 appearance. we smoked a joint and he told me of the gruesome situation back in Michigan with the narc s hounding poets instead of chasing criminals. One le miserable mutant had hounded John until a freely passed joint turned the poet into outlaw.
Messiah's One World Crusade, a UFO commune sponsored the last event so the large black and white poster and companion handbill might well be the last Straight Theater graphics.
What I consider to be The actual last Straight Theater poster wasn’t printed until years after I closed the Straight’s doors in the summer of 1969.
The final poster printed in 1973 or 4 the depicts the Haight and Cole neighbourhood after years of continued Urban decay in a green and black line drawing.
Peace, Love, Power to the People, and as Brother Tosh sang, "Legalize It".
Reproduced with kind permission. © Reg E Williams
Do you have any memories of Midnight Court?