The Acid Test Reels: Ken Kesey & The Grateful Dead’s Soundtrack for the 1960s Famous LSD Parties

“If you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t there.” The quote was supposedly uttered by Grace Slick. Or Paul Kantner. Or Dennis Hopper. The truth is no one really remembers who said it first.

Of course, the “60s” was not simply the decade that came between the ‘50s and the ‘70s but a shorthand for a generational revolt fueled in part by one stupid war and a general disillusionment with consumer capitalism. The ground zero for the “60s,” at least in the United States, was in San Francisco and, at the center of the scene, there was Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters and their legendary counterculture bacchanalias called Acid Tests. These happenings featured groovy flashing lights, live music from the likes of The Grateful Dead, and copious amounts of LSD. Up top, Kesey explains the meaning of the Acid Tests for you:

Thanks to the internet, you can experience a bit of what these original hippie fests were like. Above is audio from two shows in January 1966 which had Kesey and longtime Merry Prankster Ken Babbs cracking jokes and dropping truth bombs in between songs from the Grateful Dead. Below is the set list of that show along with the audio of two more shows with Kesey and the Dead. Some of the track listings might be incomplete probably because everyone was having too much fun to take notes. So crank it up and turn on, tune in and drop out.

The Fillmore Acid Test

Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA
January 8, 1966
1. Stage Chaos/More Power Rap
2. King Bee
3. I’m A Hog For You Baby
4. Caution: Do Not Step On Tracks >
5. Death Don’t Have No Mercy
6. Star Spangled Banner / closing remarks

The Sound City Acid Test
363 6th Street, San Francisco, CA
January 29, 1966
7. Ken Kesey interviewed by Frank Fey
8. Ken Babbs and harmonica
9. Take Two: Ken Kesey
10. Bull
11. Peggy The Pistol
12. One-way Ticket
13. Bells And Fairies
14. Levitation
15. Trip X
16. The End

The Pico Acid Test
Danish Center, Los Angeles, CA
March 12, 1966
1. Viola Lee Blues
2. You See A Broken Heart
3. In The Midnight Hour
[mis-dated, according to David Lemieux, and not corresponding to the vault copy’s setlist; these are probably from 3/19/1966]

The San Francisco State Acid Test
Whatever It Is Festival
San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA
Stereo Control Room Master (rec. 4:00AM – 6:00AM)
October 2, 1966
4. The Head Has Become Fat Rap
5. A Mexican Story: 25 Bennies
6. A Tarnished Galahad
7. Get It Off The Ground Rap >
8. It’s Good To Be God Rap >
9. Nirvana Army Rap >
10. The Butcher Is Back
11. Acid Test Graduation Announcement
12. Send Me To The Moon >Closing Rap
Credits on 10/2/66:
Voices: Ken Kesey and Hugh Romney
Guitar: Ken Kesey
Violin: Dale Kesey
Organ: Jerry Garcia
Engineering: Steve Newman, Ken Kesey, Mountain Girl

The San Francisco State Acid Test
Whatever It Is Festival
San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA
October 2, 1966
1. Ken Kesey’s dialogue (isolated remix)

Merry Prankster Sound Collage Sequences
October 2, 1966
2. Prankster Music/Sound Collage #1(sequence 1)
3. Kesey Rap > Prankster Music/Sound Collage #2 (sequence 2)
4. Prankster Sound Collage #3 > Prankster Raga(sequence 3)
Prankster Recordings broadcast over the P.A.

End of Whatever It Is Festival
October 2, 1966
5. Closing Jam
6. Prankster Electronics

Acid Test Graduation Jam
Winterland, San Francisco, CA
October 31, 1966
7. Jam Session (musicians unknown)
from The World Of Acid film soundtrack

Related Content:

Ken Kesey Talks About the Meaning of the Acid Tests in a Classic Interview

UC Santa Cruz Opens a Deadhead’s Delight: The Grateful Dead Archive is Now Online

The Grateful Dead Rock the National Anthem at Candlestick Park: Opening Day, 1993

Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead Rehearse Together in Summer 1987. Listen to 74 Tracks.

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

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