The Cramps Play a Mental Health Hospital in Napa, California in 1978: The Punkest of Punk Concerts

“We’re The Cramps, and we’re from New York City, and we drove 3,000 miles to play for you peo­ple.” So begins one of the odd­est but also the punk­est of punk rock con­certs in his­to­ry, as The Cramps play for a crowd at a state men­tal hos­pi­tal in Napa, Cal­i­for­nia. The date was June 13, 1978, a time when Napa was more known for the hos­pi­tal than for its bur­geon­ing wine indus­try.

Lead vocal­ist Lux Inte­ri­or made this intro­duc­tion after the first num­ber, “Mys­tery Plane.” The band played on a patio, sev­er­al steps above the court­yard at the insti­tu­tion, while the band’s friends hung out with the 100 or so patients in atten­dance.

“And some­body told me you peo­ple are crazy, but I’m not so sure about that,” Lux con­tin­ues in the video. “You seem to be all right to me.” Indeed, most every­body seems to be hav­ing a hell of a time, some danc­ing as if they’re at a sock hop, oth­ers just com­plete­ly thrash­ing about.

This wasn’t the first band to have played at the insti­tu­tion, as the hospital’s Bart Swain, who invit­ed The Cramps to Napa, often brought in musi­cians to expand the patients’ hori­zons. But on that night a video cam­era was also brought along to record the set. (Swain wor­ried about pre­serv­ing the anonymi­ty of the res­i­dents.)

Anoth­er band on the bill, The Mutants, did­n’t get video­taped, pos­si­bly because the sun had gone down around this time. Either way, it is a very rare slice of punk his­to­ry, with few com­par­isons apart from the Sex Pis­tols play­ing Chelms­ford prison and when a lit­tle known thrash met­al band called Gob­stop­per played a Christ­mas par­ty at a home for devel­op­men­tal­ly dis­abled kids and adults.

Accord­ing to this arti­cle on the event, Napa State still stands but the chances of such a con­cert hap­pen­ing again are slim. The major­i­ty of its ten­ants are now both vio­lent offend­ers and men­tal­ly unsta­ble, too dan­ger­ous a venue for any­body to play, no mat­ter how punk.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sex Pis­tols Do Dal­las: A Strange Con­cert from the Strangest Tour in His­to­ry (Jan­u­ary 10, 1978)

The Talk­ing Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club that Shaped Their Sound (1975)

The Ramones Play New Year’s Eve Con­cert in Lon­don, 1977

Posters Pro­mot­ing the 1970s L.A. Punk Scene: Black Flag, The Plim­souls, The Run­aways & More

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (9)
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  • JVc says:

    I watch this clip a few times a year, it’s my favorite music per­for­mance of all time. For some rea­son it reaf­firms my belief in human­i­ty.

  • JV says:

    Also, this:

    “The major­i­ty of its ten­ants are now both vio­lent offend­ers and men­tal­ly unsta­ble, too dan­ger­ous a venue for any­body to play, no mat­ter how punk.”

    This con­cert was pre-Rea­gan, when peo­ple with real men­tal issues but who were non-vio­lent had a place to go. Rea­gan made damn sure these peo­ple were put out into this street.

  • Alexandra says:

    Sub­vert nor­mal­i­ty!

  • Spidvod says:

    I like to watch this too and I know I would have enjoyed being there. Just great.

  • Carl Russo says:

    “The date was June 13, 1978, a time when Napa was more known for the hos­pi­tal than for its bur­geon­ing wine indus­try.”

    Strange but true. Grow­ing up in Sono­ma Val­ley, across the coun­ty line, the play­ground taunt was some­thing like, “You live in Napa State.”

  • Spidvod says:

    Hey I’m back to watch it again!! It would be great to hear from a mem­ber of the audi­ence. Is there any­one out there who was there? Are you on the video? Respect.

  • Dawn C. says:

    Hard to believe that in in 2020 you would refer to it as a “Men­tal Hos­pi­tal”… Men­tal Health, per­haps. How old are you? Men­tal Hos­pi­tal died in the 60’s.

  • Dawn C. says:

    The term Men­tal Hos­pi­tal is out­dat­ed and offen­sive. I find it hard to fath­om that one of your writ­ers would­n’t know this fact…

  • Spidvod says:

    The ulti­mate dogs bol­locks.
    That guy in a dress is in Con­gress now.

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