Lake Berryessa History: Summer of Love (1967) vs The Summers of Chaos (1998-1999)

Those of us who lived through the Summer of Love know how wild it was. Although many thought the time was a history changing event (and in some ways it was), it really turned out to be a long party. We were the generation that took a vacation.

San Francisco is going all out for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 "Summer of Love," the cultural revolution that brought the hippie experience to the American mainstream, when throngs of American youth descended on San Francisco to join a cultural revolution.

Thinking back on 1967, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead recalls a creative explosion that sprouted from fissures in American society. That summer marked a pivot point in rock-and-roll history, he says, but it was about much more than the music.

“There was a spirit in the air,” said Weir, who dropped out of high school and then helped form the Grateful Dead in 1965. “We figured that if enough of us got together and put our hearts and minds to it, we could make anything happen.”

During those years, the Grateful Dead shared a spacious Victorian on Ashbury Street. Janis Joplin lived down the street. Across from her was Joe McDonald, of the psychedelic rock band Country Joe and the Fish. Jefferson Airplane eventually bought a house a few blocks away on Fulton Street, where they hosted legendary, wild parties.

The bands dropped by each other’s houses and played music nearby, often in free outdoor concerts at Golden Gate Park and its eastward extension known as the Panhandle.

Their exciting new breed of folk, jazz and blues-inspired electrical music became known as the San Francisco Sound. Several of its most influential local acts — the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, which launched Joplin’s career — shot to fame during the summer’s three-day Monterey Pop Festival .

San Francisco, now a hub of technology and unrecognizable from its grittier, more freewheeling former self, is taking the anniversary seriously. Hoping for another invasion of visitors — this time with tourist dollars — the city is celebrating with museum exhibits, music and film festivals, Summer of Love-inspired dance parties and lecture panels. Hotels are offering discount packages that include “psychedelic cocktails,” ″Love Bus” tours, tie-dyed tote bags and bubble wands.

Even Lake Berryessa became part of “the scene” with the “Lake Berryessa Bowl” which was an outdoor music venue just below Turtle Rock. During the summer months in the second half of the 1960s many local and national groups appeared at the venue. It was large enough to host Alice Cooper and The Grateful Dead.

The Grand Opening was on May 30, 1968 and featured Loading Zone, Overbrook Express, H.P. Lovecraft, Transmatic Experience, The Mojo, and the Spiders. First 50 girls got in free! Hit records given away! Price $2.50. Hours 9 PM- 1 AM.  The few neighbors must have loved it. May have been good for Turtle Rock too.

The Lake Berryessa Bowl

The Lake Berryessa Bowl was an outdoor music venue just below Turtle Rock. During the summer months in the second half of the 1960s many local and national groups appeared at the venue. It was large enough to host Alice Cooper and The Grateful Dead.

The Grand Opening was on May 30, 1968 and featured Loading Zone, Overbrook Express, H.P. Lovecraft, Transmatic Experience, The Mojo, and the Spiders. First 50 girls got in free! Hit records given away! Price $2.50. Hours 9 PM- 1 AM.  The few neighbors must have loved it. May have been good for Turtle Rock too.

Berryessa Bowl grand opening1968good

The poster shows other bands which were coming: Sly and the Family Stone, Sons of Champlin, Roger Collins, and Fever Tree. Alice Cooper played on June 1, 1968. Santana was there on July 20, 1968.

Berryessa Bowl


Lake Berryessa 1998 Rap Concert

What if you threw a party and 8,000 people showed up!

The "Berryessa 3" beach party in 1998 attracted more than 8,000 people who generated tons of trash, a traffic gridlock, several accidents, numerous fights and many irate homeowners. Partygoers flocked to the Oaks Shore Park at Lake Berryessa on July 11, 1998 to party, swim, drink, eat and "make our lives hell," said Berryessa Pines resident Rudy Fehrenkamp, 68.

"We tried to go to the seniors citizens' Casino Night - which had to be canceled - and the traffic was horrendous. People were riding on top and in the beds of pickups, throwing beer and whiskey bottles all over. There was no way we could drive on the road," he said.

"Then, the next day, the area, all the way to Spanish Flat, was one big trashy mess. It took park rangers two and half days to clean up the garbage."

This was the third year the "party” took place. "Lake Berryessa 3" fliers were distributed in the East Bay advertising the event. The posters, which read, "For more information, ask somebody," did not name a sponsor. The fliers tout the party as "The event you've been waiting for! The boat and jet picnic."

The  event  catered  to  the  rap music crowd. The first clue authorities had that the  party was on was Saturday about 5 a.m. when  people started lining up at the gates. There were no legal guidelines covering a no-host event on federal property. The place is a public beach and the highways are public roads. Authorities can't prohibit the public from using public facilities.

More than 8,500 people gathered Saturday at Acorn Beach to party with rap singer Too Short. But it got out of hand and erupted into a series of fights, traffic accidents, and massive gridlock, tying up two-lane traffic for hours.

About 80 Napa County law enforcement officers and backup units from Solano County were called in to control the crowd at the picnic area in Oak Shores Park.

Once the parking lot filled up people parked anywhere, on both sides of the road. They blocked traffic and caused all other kinds of problems. It took a sheriff’s unit about one and half hours to travel three miles. Many store owners close their businesses.

Lake Berryessa 1999 Rap Concert

Lake Berryessa Rap Album Cover 1999 edited-1

Listen to Berryessa: The first cut from the Lake Berryessa Soundtrack album   

What if you threw a party and 8,000 people showed up - again?

Large crowds were drawn to Lake Berryessa Saturday, July 13, 1999, for “Berryessa 4”, another impromptu rap music event. Large crowds gathered at the intersection of Highways 121 and 128 causing major traffic congestion after the road into the lake was closed. People were forced to walk for more than an hour to get to the lake Oak Shores carrying their food and drinks.

The “controlled  chaos” was somewhat squelched by unprecedented police presence and a clamp­down of inbound roads. Wary of previous years' problems where thousands congregated in the small Acorn Beach area, law enforcement this year increased lake staff 20-fold and resolved to cut the problem off at the pass.

People started arriving at Oak Shores parking lot about 1 a.m. By 5:30 a.m. there was between 500 to 600 cars waiting to get in. The lot has 367 parking spots. When the lot was full, at about 7:30  a.m., the CHP closed Berryessa/Knoxville Road in both directions. The crowd began to gather at Moskowite Corners at Highway 121 and 128.

At one point. there was about 1,500 people gathered there. Many people opted to hike to Oak Shores Park but they didn’t know how far it was - about 12 miles.

On a perfect summer day in the low 80s, under clear skies at Acorn Beach, about 3,000 people laid out blankets and set up canopies, tents, and listened to music, barbecued and drank beer.

There was no concert and no central staging area for any events. Police bike patrols and horse teams periodically cruised the area. Sheriff's boats zipped by, and helicopters buzzed overhead.

The  Napa County Board of Supervisors Had banned parking on Knoxvllle-Berryessa Road from Pope Canyon all the way to Highway 128, where parking is prohibited as well. On Saturday, "no parking" signboards with police tape lined the road, including dirt lot pullouts where people normally park on a busy weekend. Several dozen cars risked the $75 fine and parked nearby, though a fleet of 20 tow trucks was said to be at the ready to haul cars away to Capell Valley School.

Some In the predominantly African-American crowd were angry at the road restrictions, and said they believed the motive was racial. "If It was white people, they'd have charter buses bringing people in," one Oakland man who made a 45 minute walk from Spanish Flat to Acorn Beach said. "They're trying to make It as difficult as possible."

Twelve miles down the road, the California Highway Patrol al 11:15 a.m. set up a road block at Moscowite Corners, where Highways 121 and 128 meet. For those who chose to  park and walk to, or toward, the lake, it was a long, hot journey.

Streams of people attempted the 12-mile trek, some carrying coolers, lawn chairs and sun  umbrellas. Some flashed money to passing cars, offering to pay for a ride. Many asked how far the lake was, and said they did not believe it was 12 miles away. Few carried water.

The road was strewn with abandoned busted foam coolers, plastic water bottles and other garbage. Some drivers whose cars were somehow past the Moscowlte roadblock charged $5 to $10 for one-way rides to the Turtle Rock road block.

Several who completed the five­mile walk from Moscowlte to Turtle Rock, rather than continue the next seven mile stretch to Acorn Beach, opted to return to Moscowite on a air-conditioned bus provided by the stale Department of Corrections.

The sheriff’s department had a couple of Napa County Department of Corrections buses on hand in the event of a mass arrest, but authorities ended up using the buses to take people back to their cars. The sheriff’s department also had about 112 law enforcement officers on the scene and CHP had 40 motorcycle cops and 40 patrol officers.

Other than a few driving under the influence arrests and non­injury traffic accidents, the party went off without major incident. Sheriff’s deputies made no major arrests.

The Moskowite roadblock crowd swelled into the thousands as hundreds of cars continued arriving, with no place further to go. Spurned lake-goers set down blankets, lawn chairs and barbecues around the parking lot perimeter, car radios blared music and teens chased each other with large water guns.

By late afternoon perhaps 5,000 people clogged the Moscowite restaurant and gas station area. The general store was packed and a line extended out the door, where a sheriffs deputy stood.

Law enforcement was concerned with traffic, crowd control, and safely, a Napa County sheriff’s deputy said, and not race. "It's not just 8,000 to 10,000 people throughout the lake, but 8,000 to 10,000 people in a place with 367 parking spaces. Our  job is to maintain peace and safety for residents, visitors and businesses."

1998's July's "Berryessa 3" saw an estimated 10,000 people descend on Acorn Beach. In the wake of that event, area residents gathered 1,265 signatures to protest the event's impact and ask for tighter restrictions on parking and attendance. Law enforcement clearly did not want to be caught off guard  this year.

Was law enforcement's strategy simply to make it so difficult to get to the lake that no one will want to come next year? "No. We wanted to provide a safe area for everybody at Lake Benyessa, including the picnickers at Acorn Beach," officers said. "We just wanted to make sure we were covered."

Next year, “Berryessa 5” in 2000?  No - it never happened. Whether a conscious strategy or not, the zero tolerance approach by officials in 1999 ended the Rap Concert Summers of Chaos.

Lake Berryessa Rap Album notes                       © Peter Kilkus 2020