Saturday, July 11, 2020

October 5-6, 1968 San Francisco International Pop Festival, Searsville Lake, Palo Alto, CA: Traffic/Iron Butterfly/Blue Cheer/Country Joe and The Fish/Steve Miller Band (canceled)

A clip from the TeenAge section of the Oakland Tribune of September 7, 1968, announces the forthcoming two-day San Franciso International Pop Festival at Searsville Lake, near the Stanford campus. It was to be a 2-day event on October 5-6, headlined by Traffic, Country Joe and The Fish. Blue Cheer and the Steve Miller Band

October 5-6, 1968 San Francisco International Pop Festival, Searsville Lake, Palo Alto, CA:
Traffic/Iron Butterfly/Blue Cheer/Country Joe and The Fish/Steve Miller Band

In 1968, the rock music business was at a critical crossroads, going from local entertainment to big business. This divide was particularly acute in big cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Palo Alto, as a hip satellite of San Francisco, was feeling the pressure. Free concerts in the park had gotten bigger and bigger, and the local rock nightclub was drawing out-of-town bands. University Avenue, the main downtown street, had become a sort of hippie hangout on weekends.

One of the crucial dynamics of the late 60s rock concert business was the rise of festivals. Rock festivals, with seemingly unlimited attendance, appeared to offer a chance to cash in on the young audience in a big way. 1968 was full of stories of exciting rock festivals of different types, often incredibly fun and very often financial debacles. Palo Alto came oh-so-close to having a rock festival debacle of its own, but I'm the only person who ever seems to have noticed.    

A brief but intriguing listing in the September 7, 1968 ‘Teen Age’ section of the Oakland Tribune (above) indicates plans for a San Francisco Pop Festival at Searsville Lake. Searsville Lake was between Palo Alto and Woodside, on Stanford land, though several miles West of the University campus. The Festival would have featured Traffic, Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer, Country Joe and The Fish and the Steve Miller Band. Needless to say, this event didn’t happen.

A San Francisco Pop Festival was indeed held in October (on the 26th and 27th), but the venue was the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, and none of the above named groups were present (Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon, Canned Heat and Procol Harum were among the acts).

A postcard, probably from the late 1950s, shows the Searsville Lake recreation area. How would they have fit a rock festival crowd in there?
I would have been 10 years old, and although I would not have been interested in the event at the time, it would have been a big event in Palo Alto. I recall Searsville Lake quite clearly, and I doubt it could have taken on a big rock festival. The lake had been formed by the damming of San Francisquito Creek in 1889, inundating the little town of Searsville. Stanford University had taken over the dam and the land in 1919, promptly leasing the area to a series of recreational operators. The little lake was a pleasant swimming area with a little beach and hiking trails. While the operators were presumably free to run their business, Stanford had been suspicious of rock shows since 1966 and certainly had ways to block the event.

Searsville Lake had been a regular site of Stanford Fraternity parties, and an early 60s Palo Alto band called The Zodiacs had played them regularly, sometimes with stand-in bassist Jerry Garcia. Bill Kreutzmann’s group The Legends probably played there as well.

Searsville Lake is now part of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. Searsville Dam had never worked properly, and Searsville Lake had silted up significantly throughout its existence, and will eventually disappear. Stanford bought out Searsville Lake in 1976, closing the recreational area and making it part of the preserve.

An article in the September 28, 1968 Billboard Magazine sheds more light on the matter. The promoters were Bill Quarry (of "Teens and Twenties") and Ron Roupe (manager of the Chocolate Watch Band), promoters in the East and South Bay respectively. According to Billboard, they had a signed contract, and agreements for police and fire support, and had already sold 2000 tickets (for $5, big money at the time), when Stanford University unilaterally canceled the show.

A September 27, 1968 ad in the Stanford Daily for Cream at the Oakland Coliseum on October 4 shows Traffic as the opening act. In fact, Traffic was replaced by Delaney& Bonnie, but the booking fit with the plan for Traffic to play Palo Alto on October 5

According to Billboard, permission for the event was withdrawn when, reportedly, University officials objected to getting involved in the type of problems caused by this type of event. The article goes on to explain that the show was rescheduled with different acts for later in October, which was the event held in Pleasanton.

In the end, the SF International Pop Festival was held at the Alameda County Fairgounds in suburban Pleasanton, on Saturday and Sunday, October 26 and 27, 1968. Headliners were Johnny Rivers, Jose Feliciano and Eric Burdon (Sat/26), with the Chambers Brothers/Canned Heat and Procol Harum (Sun/27). Deep Purple and Creedence were also booked on Sunday.
Had the San Francisco International Pop Festival occurred at Searsville Lake, it would have drawn a huge crowd. It would have been a disaster--Palo Alto roads, particularly around Searsville Lake, would not have been able to handle the heavy traffic. Palo Alto and Stanford would have put a sharp end to any flexibility about rock concerts. Frost Amphitheatre was only used intermittently throughout the 70s, but at least Stanford would consider it. If there had been a disastrous festival at Searsville Lake, it would.not have gone well (as well as no doubt being an ecological disaster for the relatively fragile Jasper Ridge).

On the other hand, Traffic would have played my town.


  1. 'gypsum heaps' were a horn type band and had out one single on 'onyx 2003' would you love/movin' on 1967 the one constant was chris guiver who gives a run down on this band and the three that came before 'the banshees/ariel & kensington forest' who all had singles out and all can be heard at 'sf scene' check it all out on 'garagehangover'....

  2. Corry there's an article about the festival, with other acts announced, that appeared on Berkeley Barb dated August 25, 1968

    You can find it in my Steve Miller story here: