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Easter Be-In

Page history last edited by PBworks 18 years, 1 month ago

Vancouver Easter Be-In (By Dave Watson)


Originally published in the Georgia Straight on May 8, 1997




The Burner Boys playing the 1971 Stanley Park Be-In



From 1967 through to the mid-1970s, the Easter Be-in was one of the most visible expressions of Vancouver’s counterculture. At its peak, thousands of the young, the hip, and the merely curious would assemble in Stanley Park to listen to bands, speakers, and poets, socialize, become inebriated, and occasionally throw up. The Be-in arrived each year with spring, a time when it is either very foolish or merely optimistic to schedule a regular outdoor event in Vancouver, a time when the monotony of rain and cold is often interrupted only by long periods of cold rain.


The Be-ins were more than just free concerts. They served as an opportunity to gather as a community, a means of keeping in touch, an annual general meeting for people who felt they were onto something that mainstream society wouldn’t give them credit for. The rest of the year, you might be a freak, some weirdo with long hair, the subject of derisive jokes, but at least at the Be-in you knew you weren’t alone. At the beginning, there was no industry to design, package, and market some form of channelled rebellion for you and your peers. That came later.


The Be-in also offered the safety of being in a crowd too big to be easily arrested. Prison time and even banishment (in the form of a sentence that included a year or two out of the province as a condition of release) were all very possible outcomes of making an alternative lifestyle choice. The be-ins and other public demonstrations of that era were a way of daring society to object.


The first Be-in didn’t just happen, although part of its charm is the way it seems like it did. Recalls psychedelic-poster artist Bob Masse: “There may be a certain amount of romance, but I remember a lot of mud and fog and generally being cold and wet. We were always tripping around Stanley Park. Sometimes there was a band.” Still, that’s a bit disingenuous. Although the second, and subsequent, Be-ins were organized by several people over the years (including Blaine Culling, currently developing a diverse group of clubs and bars on Granville, Jim Allen of the Granville Book Company, and the late Roger Schiffer, who established the Retinal Circus nightclub), the first one came about because of Jerry Kruz, a young concert promoter whose club, the Afterthought, is credited with providing the first regular nucleus for the countercultural scene in Vancouver.


Now 49 years old and a grandfather, Kruz is more willing to discuss his involvement with this aspect of Vancouver’s past than he once was. He lost his business licence in 1967 in a state of disgrace. Suffice it to say that what he was convicted of 30 years ago is now treated as a misdemeanour, but back then Mayor Tom Campbell and the Vancouver police were on a concerted drive to wipe the counterculture off the streets of Vancouver by any means, and he was a target. Somewhat sooner than many of his contemporaries, he was jolted back into what passes for normal society. While only in his early 20s, he found himself married, a father, and studying to become a social worker. He says he has only granted two interviews about the old days until now, only one of which was ever published (in Victoria’s Times-Colonist).


Of the Be-in, he says: “I’d like to think I actually started it. But not for the purposes of the Be-in, because there was all the idealists of the time and I was driven to make money. Believe it or not! In the ’60s.”


The story actually began in a church.


“When I actually started the Afterthought,” Kruz says, “it really was an afterthought. There was a minister who was a friend of my brother’s, who was a folksinger, and he became the Anglican priest at the same church that Julia, who is now my wife and who thought of the name the Afterthought, went to in Shaughnessy: St. John’s Anglican Church at Granville and 32nd. He thought I was my brother, because we looked alike, and asked me to put on a coffeehouse. I booked Tom Northcott, who was a good friend. It was successful, and I was only 16 or 17. This was back in ’65.”


Vancouver already had a minor countercultural scene then—the beatniks, folkies, and art students who hung around on Robson Street, which had a strong European heritage. Back then, Robson looked like Commercial Drive, or the Italian section of Hastings Street, and the West End was relatively free of apartment towers. “That’s where I’d wander around,” Kruz says, adding that the local ’60s scene emerged from the coffeehouses.


Among the people Kruz remembers is Allan Garr, who has been a Province columnist, CBC reporter, and CKNW radio host in the years since. “He dropped out as an accountant and went back to Simon Fraser and decided he could be a folksinger, too. He came to live at my mother’s house with my brother.” He credits Garr with helping to shape the scene. “We did the coffeehouses, and then the elders of the church were getting concerned about it. I said ‘This is good, lots of people are coming’—at this point it was to make money for the youth group—‘and I can make it bigger, let’s make it into a dance.’ So we had the Night Train Revue, that was the first band, and people were coming out of the windows. Then the elders said, ‘That’s it, can’t have this any more,’ and shut me down.


“I realized this was an opportunity to make money, so I rented a hall on Fir. I got a group in there, the Centurians.” He didn’t have any money, so he paid for everything with cheques dated for the next day. “It was a success! Lots of people came.”


Of course, there was no real touring-concert industry back then. The Centurians were a local band Kruz contacted by calling Jaguar Agencies, the one rock ’n’ roll agency then listed in the phone book. As he recalls, the junior partner in that agency was Douglas Miller, now more familiar as a TV weatherman and MC for hire. Later, Kruz remembers, there were people like Bruce Allen around. “My memory of Bruce Allen at that time was a rock ’n’ roll promoter who would phone me persistently, always wanting me to book his groups. I would give in, just because of his persistence. I think he worked out of his mother’s house.


“I went to look for another place and rented the Pender Auditorium. Tom Northcott had just put together the Tom Northcott Trio. Anton ‘Tom’ Kostlee was another friend, and he was the lead guitarist for the United Empire Loyalists, but they were originally called the Molesters. Who would want to come to see the Molesters? I said, ‘Tom, I really want you to play with Tom Northcott, but you’ve really got to come up with a better name.’ So he went through his schoolbooks and said ‘I’ve got it: the United Empire Loyalists.’ That was really the birth of that group, which was really a way to have a backup band for the Tom Northcott Trio. At that time, everything was rhythm and blues and rock. There wasn’t anything ‘psychedelic’.


“So, that’s how it happened; I put a concert on at the Pender Auditorium with Tom Northcott and the United Empire Loyalists. It was successful and I started doing it every week.” Kruz says people like Roger Schiffer, Dennis Vance, and John York then came along, saying that they wanted to be partners. “From my end, I was just a young kid and these were adults to me—adults probably seeing an opportunity because I had already had something going and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes...you reflect back, ‘Was it the right place at the right time?’ But nevertheless, that’s how other individuals came to be involved with the Afterthought.


“Frank Lewis did the first posters. Frank Lewis was a well-known artist in the coffeehouse era, and he did a poster of Tom Northcott with the top of his head coming off and flowers coming out of it like a fireworks display. Everybody was going, ‘Oh, God, how can I put something like that up?’ because, of course, what was being inferred was that somebody was high. Flowers coming out of his head might have meant that. At the time, that was considered really risqué. Boy, I remember the controversy over that one. “How Bob Masse came onto the scene is he came to the Pender Auditorium and said, ‘I want to do a poster for you for free.’ I said, ‘Well, okay,’ being the opportunist that I was. But then I paid him every time after that, because everybody liked his work.” Eventually, somebody suggested to Kruz that he should be licensed, because at the time you had to be 18 just to go into a dance hall. His first trip to get a licence was when he started wearing the suits that some people remember him for. “I was so nervous that they were going to ask me my age. And they didn’t! I just prayed—my birthday was in May—that I wouldn’t get caught. After that I always wore three-piece suits while everybody else was in their flower garb.”


The Pender Auditorium location did well, becoming a pretty regular venue on Friday and Saturday nights. Kruz operated without real competition until June 1966, when a group of locals (including Doug Hawthorne, who established the Psychedelic Shop on 4th Avenue) brought the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company up from San Francisco to do something called a Trips Festival at the PNE Gardens (with local musician Al Neil). Bill Henderson claims this was actually the first public performance by Janis Joplin with this band, not to mention the local debut of an odd new type of music and light show transplanted from the San Francisco scene.


“I remember having my nose really out of joint because I just couldn’t comprehend the idea of having competition,” Kruz says. “But of course I went. I thought that Janis Joplin wouldn’t make it, after meeting her backstage, but I thought the Grateful Dead had some potential and got to know them. I said ‘Would you like to play for me? I have a club in town.’ They said ‘Sure,’ and I said, ‘Great, I’ll put you up in a motel and you can play for me next Friday and Saturday.’ They stayed that whole week in Vancouver on Kingsway. I thought it was a nice motel, but as I look back at it, maybe it wasn’t the best. It was really the basement of the motel, a huge room that had six beds.


“They the Dead wanted the concert to be successful for me and for themselves, and so they said, ‘We’ve got to do something outrageous.’ I said, ‘Okay, what do you want to do?’ ” They saw the Heywood Bandstand on Beach Avenue going into Stanley Park and said, “We want to play there.”


“They got all their equipment, set up in this gazebo, and played a concert. So, you want to talk about really the first true outdoor site for a psychedelic concert, that was the one. Traffic stopped, it hit the papers, it was quite an event.” Kruz speculates that this was the seed that got the heads of the time from 4th Avenue thinking that it would be neat to have a local Trips Festival.


The Pender Auditorium show with the Dead was successful, but it was supposed to stop at midnight. “I remember the police coming in and saying, ‘You have to shut this down.’ The hall was packed. You couldn’t move. It was elbow to elbow. They were playing “In the Midnight Hour”—at midnight, coincidentally. And I said to the police, ‘You want to stop it? You go in there.’ And they said no, and so the Grateful Dead continued to jam into the wee hours of the morning.”


Also during that week, Doug Cruickshank, the original drummer for the United Empire Loyalists, offered the Dead a place to practise. “Being a young kid, younger than myself, he said, ‘Well, they can practise at my parents’ house.’ So they came and they practised. And that turned into quite an eventful party for the people that can remember being there. It was finally shut down by the police. Most people who were there probably weren’t even aware it was the Grateful Dead.


“Eventually, I had to move from the Pender Auditorium, because I couldn’t have it every Friday and Saturday.” He found the Kitsilano Theatre, a facility still on 4th Avenue near Arbutus, and rented it from the Russian community association. “Then I wanted another big group, like the Grateful Dead. That’s what brought me to San Francisco; I went down there to look for groups.”


Kruz recruited talent such as Country Joe and the Fish and the Steve Miller Blues Band. While there, he smoked his first banana skin, an early victim of a prank later promoted by Donovan in the song “Mellow Yellow”, which implied that banana skins contain a psychoactive drug.


Country Joe MacDonald started it. I know that because I sat in Joe MacDonald’s house when he walked in with a bunch of bananas and proceeded to say that I would get really high if I tried this. Then, at the end of the night, he told me it was a prank that he was going to get going, and everyone would think you’d get high on bananas.”


Kruz brought MacDonald and his band to Vancouver a couple of times. “The whole head thing was happening in a big way, but I was still in my three-piece suit, taking the money.” Kruz recalls that a bunch of heads came to him and said they wanted to do something in Stanley Park with Country Joe and the Fish. “I have to confess, all I saw was the same thing that happened with the Grateful Dead, and I thought, ‘This is a good way to get them known.’ That was the birth of the first Be-in and why it really happened. I guess the point that never gets brought out is that there was a definite, serious, commercial aspect to it, as a promotion, so that I could make money with Country Joe and the Fish.”


The poster that declares “Country Joe and the Fish bring music, bells, song, dance for six days” (which included the Easter Be-in show) also says “Jerry Kruz presents” in the top left-hand corner. “I always kept my name off everything, because I was shy. Country Joe knew that and so they had that poster printed in San Francisco. When they got off the plane and I met them, Joe MacDonald handed me this box of posters, with my name proudly sitting in the left-hand corner, and Joe said, ‘Everybody’s going to know now.’ ”


That’s how the Be-in happened, and why it happened when it did. “It’s because that’s when Country Joe was here. It was chance. They volunteered to play, and the other bands came out to play, and nobody asked permission to use Stanley Park. I never paid any attention to that stuff. It never made any sense to me. It’s a public park. It’s enough that I had to have a dance licence.”


Current city councillor George Puil was then a commissioner at the park board, and he recalls that someone did in fact ask for official approval. “My staff told me someone had requested permission to hold something called a be-in,” Puil says. “It was turned down, but they held it anyway. I don’t think there was any damage done to the park.”


Fortunately, it did not rain the first year. If it had, given the casual nature of the arrangements, there might not have been a tradition to follow. In the words of Tom Northcott, who performed: “It was a blessing it didn’t rain. My main concern was about getting my band there, what time we went on, and where we were getting power from. For me, it was mostly about turning out the finest performance I could.”


Kruz remembers the dance hall going on for a couple more years. He also remembers more problems with the police. “I got busted and they took my dance licence away.” Kruz still has a very low opinion of legendary drug squad cop Abe Snidanko. “I remember one time when he stopped the traffic on 4th Avenue. Police stopped traffic on both ends and they had everybody up against the wall. My mother was selling tickets in the front booth. Abe Snidanko walked in and my mother started talking to him in Ukrainian, telling him he should be ashamed of what he was doing.”


Apparently, Snidanko had no shame, and he arrested Kruz. “That’s how I got out of the business.” After getting out of jail, Kruz briefly returned to business with a club in Gastown, Gassy Jack’s, then went back to school. “At that point, I thought I was going to save the world.” Instead, he concentrated mostly on raising his kids. “They’re doing fine. They made it through their adolescence without getting into trouble. That’s the part I’m most proud of. Ironically, my eldest has applied to the University of Berkeley. Talk about a full circle.”


Today he volunteers as a fund-raiser at Greater Victoria’s Pearson College and manages a Victoria rhythm-and-blues band called Soul Station. He hopes to convince Pearson to launch a tour of One World, the concert series presented by its multi-ethnic students. “I’m getting the promotion bug again.”


The first Be-in only became significant in retrospect. Its timing was just perfect. For Vancouver, it kicked off what would be called the Summer of Love, although nobody could know that at the time. Nor was anyone operating on some kind of secret agenda: “Let’s hold some be-ins, make the Beatles record a great psychedelic LP, do something big at Woodstock, get rid of Nixon, and by the 1990s, have the top two elected officials in the USA admit to being former marijuana users.”


Maybe a U.S. Secretary of Defense named Robert McNamara will even admit that the Vietnam War was a mistake. Yeah, right. And Prime Minister Trudeau will marry a hippie chick from West Vancouver.


Fill the bong again.

Comments (1)

Anonymous said

at 9:07 pm on May 19, 2006

I loved Burner Boys, the lead singer with his sneakers and suits. I was hanging around with the Raggers, warm up band at Seylynn Hall, I passed by my future husband that night at Seylynn, we were both there, the Be In too. I will send out feelers on some extra info from friends.

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