“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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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 tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.