Aquarian Family Festival

Aquarian Family Festival

23 – 24 May 1969
San Jose, CA
1969 festival #6
Aquarian Family Festival
poster for Aquarian Family Festival
Aquarian Family Festival

Not just Woodstock

Mention the words festival and 1969 and most people will respond Woodstock. That  is a sensible association as too would be the word Altamont. However, dig around a bit and you’ll find that 1969 is spangled with rock festivals.

May 23 marks the first of them. In fact there were three that occurred that weekend, two of which were less than a mile apart.

On May 18 – 19, 1968 The Northern California Folk-Rock Festival had been held. It was controversial because of the several “announced” bands had not actually been booked and nearly 1,000 attendees experienced PCP drug reactions.

Dennis Jay

The following year when the 1969 Northern California Folk-Rock Festival was announced, Dennis Jay (of the Drug Crisis Intervention group), members of San Jose’s Free University, the Institute for Research and Understanding, and the Druid Corporation (a musicians collective) announced a counter-festival: the Aquarian Family Festival. It was a free concert.

While free concerts were not unheard of, major free concerts were rare. Any actual free concert fed the idea that music should be for free, not something to be paid for. Such an idea doppled forward to that famous August weekend in Bethel, NY.

Another unique facet of the Aquarian Family Festival was that camping was permitted so that attendees could stay on site for the two days. Perhaps Michael Lang read about that, too?

Great line-up

Since the Aquarian Family Festival wasn’t recorded or filmed, it lives in obscurity like most of the many other 1969 festivals. Those facts should not deny its just place in festival history.

Here is the not-too-shabby list of performers for this festival and keep in mind that the  Northern California Folk-Rock Festival was happening simultaneously. Interestingly, Jefferson Airplane appeared at both. Most of the bands were local and there are so many because one of the stipulations was that the music had to be continuous. (*would play at Woodstock)

  • The Ace of Cups
  • All Men Joy
  • Birth
  • Beggars Opera
  • Big Brother and the Holding Company*
  • Boz Scaggs
  • Chocolate Watchband
  • Crabs
  • Crow
  • Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band
  • Devine Madness
  • Denver
  • The Doobie Brothers
  • Elgin Marble
  • Flamin’ Groovies
  • Frumious Bandersnatch
  • Gentle Dance
  • Greater Carmichael Traveling Street Band
  • Glass
  •  Mountain*
  •  High Country
  • Jefferson Airplane*
  • Joy of Cooking
  • Last Mile
  • Libras, Lamb
  • Living Color
  • Linn County


  • Mother Ball
  • Morning Glory
  • Mad River 
  • Mt. Rushmore
  • Nymbus
  • Old Davis
  • Quicksilver Messenger Service
  • Red Grass
  • Green Smoke
  • Rubber Maze
  • Rising Tide
  • Rejoice
  • Sunrise
  • Sable
  • Sons of Champlin
  • Sounds Unlimited Blues Band
  • Sandy Bull
  • The Steve Miller Blues Band
  • Strawberry Alarm Clock
  • Stoned Fox
  • South Bay Experimental Flash
  • Throckmorton
  • Tree of Life
  • Weird Herald, Womb
  • Warren Purcell
  • Zephyr Grove

Amphetamine Gazelle

I hope Mad River played “Amphetamine Gazelle.” And many thanks to Also, the featured image on top is of the Chocolate Watchband. Who knew!

Aquarian Family Festival

Ace of Cups

The first band listed (alphabetically) is the Ace of Cups, an all-female band from the Haight. Here’s a report about them.

Aquarian Family Festival

I always enjoy getting someone’s first-hand account about an event I blog about. I got this email from Roger Desmond who was at the festival:

It was a bunch of us talking. We thought the fairgrounds festival was a rip-off for many reasons. Mainly, the promoter, Bob Blodgett promised that Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin would play but we found out they were booked at another venue at the same time. Soooo we basically contacted the bands and told them we wanted to do a free concert and wham! It was happening. As a San Jose State student I was able to help secure the venue. Ironically, Jimi showed up and checked it out, and would have played but the amps he needed were not present. But the bands that DID play were amazing!

As major organizer Dennis Jay said “Its what we always wanted!”

Aquarian Family Festival

Next 1969 festival: Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

13 thoughts on “Aquarian Family Festival”

  1. Wow, I was a teen, in Aquarian family & participated a bit with the “putting together” tho my most vivid memories of the actual event was “sleeping”under the space of the stage
    while bands played… quite the education – And the druid house band thockmorton’s sound guy Mark. he was a gentleman, genius.

  2. That Gurl can PLAY the Drums !…Wish I knew ’em back in the day…I was a young ”Aspirin” Drummer myself….Thanks for the Video…. AH ! The good ‘ol days….

  3. I was the drummer in Nymbus. We took the stage mid day on the second day. There was a power surge that blew the fuses on our amps. No one had replacement fuses so our manager wrapped aluminum foil around the blown fuses and replaced them. Another power surge happened which, without fuses to blow, blew up our amps, smoke everywhere. Nice effect it the end of a performance but anticlimactic at the beginning. Our friends in the band Mad River were scheduled to perform before Jefferson Airplane, the last act of the concert. They graciously offered to let us use there amps & drum kit for to play after them and before the Airplane performed. A very happy ending and we had a great performance /time. Fantastic audience as well.

  4. My band, Zephyr Grove , was slated to play last. We left and headed up to SF to play at The Blue Unicorn in the Haight Ashbury. We were just high schoolers from San Jose. Our lead singer and guitarist was Randy Stonehill who later. became a renowned Christian Rock performer.

  5. I was there performing as the lead singer for The Sounds Unlimited Blues Band. Most of the band was still in high school at Mission. Myself, Jim Dotson- the drummer & Jorge Santana who played lead guitar, along with my brother Tom & brother-in-law, Fred Pratt on bass. It was the biggest crowd we had ever played in front of. It was very mellow the sound system was very good & the stage crew was top notch, very professional. So many good bands played & we were so jazzed to be a part of the event.

  6. I went (probably the 2nd day) and I distinctly remember seeing the names of bands stenciled on their equipment. Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother, and Quicksilver. Pretty sure I heard Janis. I was 13 and — other than the stencils and people forming human chains and wending through the crowd — my memory is a bit foggy at this point. My sister lived for a while in the Throckmorton house (Druid Corporation?).

  7. I went for part of two days. I was about to graduate from high school in Willow Glen (San Jose). It was a mixed bag. Here are some of the things I remember: lots of drugs – lots. People were taking reds (Seconol) and drinking wine at the same time and many were passed out and some seriously compromised. They kept announcing from the stage not to do that combination. There was a big tepee in the middle of the field. A friend of mine went in there and witnessed what was essentially a gang rape of a young woman. This has been documented. I remember power surges blowing out amps (per the post of a band member above). I went to the big NorCal Festival at the Fairgrounds for part of one day (I had attended two days of it in 1968). Someone calling himself the “Hog Man” threw hundreds of capsules of PCP into the crowd from the stage. A hour or two later, they had lined up the really messed up people up against a chain link fence to be handled by medical personnel. I looked at them and realized that not everything for free was good or safe, a good lesson for a person about to turn 18 years old. Some were taken away in ambulances (as were some at the Aquarian Festival). I do remember the Youngbloods playing as a trio at the big festival. They were down to a trio, as Jerry Corbitt had left the group. The did “Get Together” and a huge crowd of people joined hands and arms and swayed together as we sang along with the band. Little did I know that this was one of the last touchy-feeley good times of the 60’s that I would experience (Altamont was right around the corner).

  8. Do you have my 35 mm negatives of the pictures I took at the three day be in? I have contact prints but don’t remember who I loaned the negatives to. Would sure like to get them digitized. Scans of the contact prints are ok but digitized from the negatives would be so much better.

    Do your remember the street dances by where the Center for the Performing Arts is now. Pretty sure Throckmorton played there. Three bands every Friday night during the summer. Everyone would come over to our place a crossed from the wail for spaghetti and kool aid – occasionally stew or burgers. Skip Spence lived in the other half of that duplex after the guys from Mother Ball left.

    My memory of the ‘95 3 day jonahs wail reunion is fading. Did you make it.

    1. Ron Cook here. I also got contact prints from David Anderson. Don’t know who had the negatives. I have many pics of Gap Instant Park, where the CPA is now. I have photos of Sable (Doors clone), and Mother Ball there. I remember visiting Skip Spence at the duplex. Later, he jammed remarkably well with Throckmorton at one gig in San Jose. At Chateau Liberte, he tried to jam with us when I was in Treehouse. It was hard. Miss the real musician in him.

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