Austin Psych Fest Made Me Think About Changes From the 1960s
Back when I was in elementary school, we were in a unit learning about the tumultuous events of the 1960s, which included everything from Vietnam to the Civil Rights movement. It was going slowly.
In frustration, my teacher exclaimed that the events of the 60s were both monumental and very recent in historical terms. She may even have sighed in frustration at not being able to make us see this.
Sitting in a classroom in a Houston suburb years after these events had taken place, they seemed as far away as Washington crossing the Delaware.
I suspect part of my inability to think of the 60s as recent is that back when I was in school, studying the era often meant perusing grainy black and white pictures of people in outdated outfits. Looking at those vintage styles meant it was easy to dismiss events like the March on Washington or the sit-in’s at lunch counters in the deep South as part of the distant past.
I might be a slow learner, because it has only been in the last few years that I’ve realized how great the changes that happened in the 1960s were, and how recent they are from a historical perspective.
Over the last year we’ve noted the 50th anniversaries of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We’ve also seen pop culture milestones like the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan’s television show and of the first broadcast of the Doctor Who science-fiction television program. The recent piling up of these milestones makes it clear how close together these events occurred.
It’s hard to fault my childhood indifference to the events of the 1960s, as I grew up in a conservative family that stayed far away from the Civil Rights movement and the Youth-quake. My father spent the 1960s and 70s on a college campus, but he was sporting shined shoes and short hair.
Growing up I frequently held down pews in Baptist churches, but I never listened to a protest song or anything even vaguely hippie until long after I left home. There was no Bob Dylan or Joan Baez on the family stereo, especially since our middle-class family didn’t have a stereo! Thus apart from a few radio hits and songs used in television commercials, I didn’t have much familiarly with the music that accompanied the protest era.
Part of my realization of how recent the events of the 60s are has been triggered by both politics and music. I read a lot about the Civil Rights Summit that took place at the LBJ Presidential Library in early April. This was followed by listening to the bands from 50 years ago at Austin Psych Fest earlier this May.
While I missed seeing the four living Presidents who attended the Civil Rights Summit, that kind of distance wasn’t the case at the music festival. At the Austin Psych Fest opening night party at the Red 7 club just off of Red River, I said hello to 1960s band the Flamin’ Groovies. Later in the weekend I saw the British early 60s band The Zombies playing on the main stage at the festival. Later that weekend, I saw The Golden Dawn, an Austin psychedelic band from the 1960s.
While the static photos of the 60s make everything look dated and frozen in a moment of hopeless hairstyles and oddly shaped cars, listening to live bands from the 1960s make everything feel supple and alive, like you could reach right back through the melody and discuss the events of the day with the people who were making the decisions.
Surprisingly some of the bands at Austin Psych Fest even used the old school food-coloring-floating-on-oil method of providing a visual interest to the shows. It was a technique I’d heard of being used in the 1960s, but had never seen with my own eyes.
Hearing these bands of a bygone era and seeing these stunning visuals done with an analog technique was mind-expanding for me, even though I spent the weekend hepped up on nothing more than some really good brussels sprouts from a food trailer.
I wasn’t expecting it, but after hearing these 60s bands at Austin Psych Fest, I now have an interest in seeing the “Sixty From the 60s” exhibit at the LBJ Library, something I had zero interest in going to before I spent a weekend at Austin Psych Fest.
While I missed attending the historic Civil Rights Summit, I’m now motivated to take steps to correct my ignorance about an important time in our history.
I guess my elementary school teacher did get through to me after all, even if what she said took a few decades to sink in.