Tuesday, April 27, 2021

January 24, 1970 Live Oak Park, Berkeley, CA: Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company (Lost Horizons 1970 I)

A flyer for a performance of Walls Of Blood, by the Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company, at John Hinkel Park in Berkeley, ca. 1968

Recently I have been focusing my research on rock shows in the Bay Area in the early 1970s, focusing particularly on the lower tiers. With patience, I have done good research on the Matrix, the Keystone Berkeley, the Long Branch and a few other clubs. Yet I consistently come across tantalizing details of other venues, different untold stories and an insight into the unexplained. Without further information, I am often stuck with just the hint, not anything like the actual story.

My research method focuses on finding dates and venues where bands have performed, and constructing a narrative based on available sources. It sounds simple, but it reaps many benefits. Rather than assume what the motives and goals of different bands or promoters might be, I can let the evidence of actual performances tell me what is desired and what has resulted. The limits of this method, ultimately, are constrained by the limits of my available sources. From the 1960s and '70s, we don't always have that much evidence, so it can be hard to figure out the story. Not all old sources have been digitized, and in many cases a lot of shows were not advertised in any paper. If no local flyers were preserved, or there aren't other sources we can be left with very little. 

Lost Horizons, 1970
The Lost Horizons posts are a series of posts that I can't complete. In some cases I wish someone else would write the post, in other cases I'm hoping someone else has already written it, and in some others I am hoping for more information so I can try and take them on. There's no real connection between any of these topics, save for the device that there was a live performance in 1970 that intrigued my interest. My blogs have an explicitly rock and roll orientation, but my methodological approach veers off in different directions. Fernand Braudel, Reynar Banham, Marcy (emptywheel) Wheeler--it's still rock and roll to me. I'm hoping that the magic of the Internet and eternal Comment Threads will yield up information hitherto unknown to me. If you have any insights, corrections or entertaining speculation, please Comment.

The Berkeley Barb
The Berkeley Barb had been founded by Max Scherr in 1965. The weekly paper made a point of documenting the local counterculture. The readership was distinct from anyone subscribing to the local daily papers (the San Fransisco Chronicle or Examiner, the Oakland Tribune or the Berkeley Gazette). The Barb reported on protests, pot busts, sexual freedom and local rock shows. The ads were for organic foods, head shops or local crafts. The Barb was an alternative paper for an alternative audience. It was sold by hippies to other hippies for a dime or a quarter.  I don't know if the Berkeley Barb was the first such "underground" paper, but it was one of them, and it was a model for such papers all over the country.

By 1970, the Barb was being read well beyond Berkeley. I don't know the exact details, but I believe that even outside of Berkeley the paper was available in Head Shops, espresso joints and other hip places throughout the Bay Area. At the back of every issue of the Barb was "Scenedrome," a summary of upcoming and ongoing events in the next week that might be of interest to its readers. While that would always include shows at Fillmore West, for example, it also included performers at Telegraph Avenue coffee shops, foreign movies, political meetings, self-help groups and all sorts of other gatherings. Getting listed in Scenedrome any week was free--someone just had to call the Barb by Tuesday at noon. So for hippie events that were on a shoestring, or just free, calling the Scenedrome was the cheapest way to get publicity. 

While Berkeley events had always been posted in Scenedrome every week since 1965, by 1970 it was plain that the rest of the Bay Area was paying attention as well. The Friday and Saturday listings in Scenedrome went well beyond Berkeley, a clear indicator that the Barb had a broader readership beyond central Berkeley. So we get tantalizing hints of what was going on around the Bay Area, without really knowing exactly what it was. Most of my notices below come from little more than the barest of listings in the appropriate issue of the Berkeley Barb, with occasional supplements from other sources.

A photo from the Floating Lotus Magic Opera "Bliss Apocalypse"

January 24, 1970 Live Oak Park, Berkeley, CA: Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company
(Saturday-1 pm)
The Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company is one of those only-in-Berkeley stories, all but unbelievable to to people who never lived in Berkeley, yet hardly even a standard deviation for those who have. Berkeley was some place in the late 60s: demonstrations on campus, riots on Telegraph Avenue, psychedelic rock bands for free in Provo Park or at night at the New Orleans House, blues at Mandrake's, Serious Folk at the Freight And Salvage. Oh yeah--and every Saturday, at John Hinkel Park, at 41 Somerset Place, near Arlington Circle, The Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company performing a really-hard-to-explain theater show with ritual chanting, costumes and music.

Unlike some lost events, there are plenty of descriptions of the Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company, from inside and from the outside. There's a script of one of the "Operas" (called Walls Of Blood). Around late '68, Floating Lotus even got a good write-up in Rolling Stone magazine.

The above listing for January 24, 1970 seems to be just about the last gasp of the Floating Lotus. Founder Daniel Moore had been putting shows on at the Amphitheater in John Hinkel Park since 1968, but I don't know if they were weekly, monthly, seasonal or what. John Hinkel Park is in the lower Berkeley Hills, off Arlington Avenue, near Marin Avenue (and "The Circle," for those who know Berkeley), but not all the way up to Tilden Park (the actual address is 41 Somerset Place). 

Berkeley Barb (Jan 23 edition) listing the Floating Lotus Magic Opera Co at Berkeley's Live Oak Park on Saturday, January 24, 1970

At least in late 1969, the Opera also performed at the Family Dog on The Great Highway, so they were definitely associating themselves with the hippie rock scene, even if the Opera itself had nothing musically to do with rock. At the very end, they switched to the larger Live Oak Park, further down the hill and closer to campus, at 1301 Shattuck (between Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street). I learned about the Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company from a regular participant (flautist Susan Graubard, formerly with the group New Age), and I have been trying to figure it out ever since, but I still can't. 

I do know that the Floating Lotus Opera Company was not without resonance. Among other things, there were numerous people involved, and costumes and stage sets. I know that around 1970, many of the sets and costumes made their way over to San Francisco and became part of The Cockettes stage show. Now, even I know that the Cockettes were important, but I'm not knowledgeable enough to say how, really, much less whether the Floating Lotus was influential or just a source of stage gear. 

I'm really good at some kinds of rabbit holes, like psychedelic rock and roll, minor league baseball or World War 2. But I'm really no good at trans-cultural, reflective performing arts. So I've never gotten a handle on it. Someone has to write a post about it, but it can't be me. But there's a longer, better post here somewhere--I hope someone writes it. 

60s and 70s Rock Nightclub Navigation and Tracker

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