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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