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OVERGROUND: The Dead celebrated their 50th Anniversary this summer at Levi's Stadium.

The Pranksters had set up
a film projector and were showing sequences from the footage accumulated on their cross-country bus trip. Music was blasting, there was a light show—and there was LSD (which, it should be noted, was legal at the time). In Dennis McNally's landmark history of the Dead, A Long Strange Trip, he notes that Phil Lesh "would always recall the capsules they took that night, completely transparent except for the tiniest of scratches on the inner surface that marked the LSD that was their transport to another world. He spent much of the evening staring at the stars."

Some people remember the Warlocks setting up in the living room. Others are not so sure. Garcia would tell Blair Jackson that he and the other Warlocks "plugged all our stuff in [at the Spread] and played for about a minute. Then we all freaked out. But we made a good impression on everybody in that minute, so we were invited to the next one."

It hadn't really been a fully public event—far from it, as Wolfe noted. "It didn't really reach out into the world"—it had been contained and not all that different from similar parties thrown by the Pranksters and Warlocks in La Honda, but the happening in Soquel would serve as a test run, a prototype, for the event a week later in San Jose.

Saturday, Dec. 4, 1965, would be a momentous night in San Jose. The Rolling Stones—in the middle of their second American tour promoting their latest album Out of Our Heads, that saw them performing back-to-back shows in Vancouver, Seattle, Sacramento—played two shows that evening at what was then known as the San Jose Civic Auditorium (today it's the City National Civic) on West San Carlos Street.

Waiting outside were members of the Pranksters and various members of their cohort with fliers asking "Can You Pass the Acid Test?" with an address on it at South Fifth Street, roughly seven blocks away from the exits of the Stones' concert. As in Santa Cruz, the Pranksters had tried to find a formal hall to stage their event but once more couldn't close the deal. Instead, the event, which by various accounts drew 300-400 people, was staged in the home or garage of a biker who has been recorded by history with the politically incorrect appellation "Big Nig." He eventually tried to shake down Garcia for some money, some cash.

According to Wolfe, the big guy whose real name no one seems to remember told Garcia, "I didn't charge Kesey nothing to use this place. Like free, you know? And the procedure now is that every cat here contributes, man, to help out with the rent," because the Dead's electrical equipment had blown through something like a half-dozen fuses in the poorly wired 1895 Victorian (moved by Redevelopment, apparently, to 635 St. James St., where it sits today behind a bougainvillea-wrapped fence and a sprawling pepper tree).

Phil Lesh would remember it this way:

Unfortunately the room was very small, so all the attendees were crammed into the same space as the band, and the crush of bodies together with the wind-tunnel sound and flashing projections turned the Test into a mind-numbing blur of noise, light and heat. There was no way any one individual could be aware of everything going on in the place. It was a free-for-all, with untold amounts of input quanta streaming into one's sensory cortex all at the same time. The band was set up in one corner, with speaker columns so large one could crawl into the subwoofers and lie there. Across the room was Prankster Central, where the supplemental sound and some lights resided. The tape-loop master control was in Prankster hands; this ran a series of very long delays through the Mobius strip speaker setup, with speakers in all corners of the room, receiving input from microphones and other mixers scattered everywhere.

TESTING: Ken Kesey (center-left, shirt off) and Ken Babbs (holding microphone), at an early Acid Test, 1965-1966. Courtesy Ken Babbs.

Mountain Girl—who wasn't sure whether or not she was at the event in Soquel—recalled the event in San Jose triumphantly. "It was a complete blowout —a manic bash. Nobody forgot it. It was cataclysmic! The band played, everybody got high, weird and strange. People were taking high doses [of LSD]. Some people took their clothes off and it spilled out into the street."

Eventually, San Jose's finest had enough of the Pranksters' social experiment and closed down the party. Ram Dass would later recall it being referred to in the pages of the Mercury News as "a drug orgy."

But the concept—the ritus—was launched.

The San Jose Acid Test was followed in quick succession by similar events at Muir Beach, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Portland and then, in mid-January, by a three-day "Trips Festival" at the Longshoreman's Hall in San Francisco that had been organized and promoted by Stewart Brand, later of Whole Earth Catalog fame.

There was one hitch to the Trips Festival. On the "Acid Test" day of the event, Kesey had to come incognito—he wore a spacesuit and helmet, while his voice blasted over the sound system—because he and Mountain Girl had been busted a second time for pot a few days earlier on a rooftop in San Francisco (he had just been sentenced to six months in county jail for his first offense, promising the judge that he was moving permanently to Santa Cruz). Now, he was being threatened with up to five years in prison. By January 1966, Ken Kesey was viewed by the United States government to be a very dangerous man.

Shortly thereafter, Kesey faked his suicide and headed for Mexico. Many of the Pranksters followed Kesey down to Mazatlan. Mountain Girl, who gave birth to Kesey's daughter Sunshine in mexico, was placed on two years probation. Eventually, Kesey served out a plea-bargained jail sentence to lesser charges in San Mateo County and moved back to his home base in Oregon.

And on Oct. 24, 1968—a week before Richard Nixon was elected president—LSD was made illegal by the federal government. The party was over. Sort of.

Legend has it that the Grateful Dead played a few more gigs. Those early acid tests had set the stage, literally and figuratively, for the long strange trip that was to come.