Reportedly during the mid-to-late 60s, if you visited The Barn in Scotts Valley on a Friday or a Saturday evening, you could hear, not the mooing of cows, but the raucous sounds of rock music. The Barn, which advertised many big-name musicians, featured in Tom Wolfe's Merry Pranksters saga The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, was the go-to place for the hippie community seeking an evening’s entertainment. It was, as Wallace Baine wrote in his 2009 Santa Cruz Sentinel article, “the epicenter of the flower-power movement.” A grandiose description perhaps for a cow barn standing in a field in a quiet, conservative community.
There are differences of opinion, or versions shall we say, as to who actually performed at The Barn and who attended. Here are some of the versions. According to several 60s blogs and Scotts Valley residents I’ve talked to, entertainers included Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage, New Delhi River Band, and Led Zeppelin before they officially formed. There are posters floating around online advertising Country Joe, although the print, with its swirly, bulbous, lava-lamp like lettering, is quite hard to read. There are no posters for attendees like hippie culture icon Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. But there are accounts and pictures of Further, the 1939 school bus with the psychedelic designs that Kesey, Neal Cassady, and other Pranksters rode during their historic cross-country trek to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. There are accounts that after they left Kesey’s home in La Honda they stopped off at Scotts Valley and parked Further at The Barn for about a month before proceeding on. There are rumors that the Rolling Stones did sound checks at The Barn. It is said the album cover photographs for Country Joe’s "Electric Music for the Mind and Body" album, which many consider to be the greatest psychedelic album of all time, were taken at The Barn.
Why all the uncertainty about The Barn? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that recollections of those haze-filled days more than 50 years ago seem even hazier now. As ex-hippies are wont to say about those times, if you remember what was going on, you weren’t there. The faded memories and the versions, nevertheless, sparked my imagination and my curiosity to dig further.
In the 1960s, the Santa Cruz Mountains and the neighboring City of Santa Cruz began to wake from its slumber. The University of California at Santa Cruz opened, along with the Hip Pocket Bookstore and the Catalyst Coffee Shop in downtown Santa Cruz, transforming that sleepy beach resort into something more interesting, and hip. Highway 17, snaking its way through the mountains and down to the coast, offered a number of offbeat attractions to ensnare visitors. Santa’s Village, The Mystery Spot, and Axel Erlandson’s “Tree Circus” (later to become known as The Lost World because of the added 25-foot tall steel dinosaurs) beckoned bored children riding in the backseats of their cars to beg their parents to stop. The Barn, with its psychedelic murals and light shows, joined the list of curiosities that would beckon a different kind of visitor: the fledgling number of hippies, some of whom were living in nearby communes that were springing up.
The Barn, according to information from the Scotts Valley Historical Society, originally operated as the Frapwell Dairy Barn from 1914 to 1948. After that, it was remodeled as a sort of community center/gymnasium/theater. In the mid-60s, Eric Nord, known as Eric "Big Daddy" Nord, a Beat Generation-era nightclub owner who founded the hungry i in San Francisco, and a poet, actor, and hipster as well, who newspaper columnist Herb Caen called the "king of the Beat Generation," converted the barn into The Barn. But it was a Santa Cruz clinical psychologist named Leon Tabory who took over its operation and later bought it who turned it into the happening place it became for a few short years in the late 60s.
With these stories and pictures buzzing in my brain, I set off for Scotts Valley. I didn’t expect to find The Barn because I learned from news clips and from Jay Topping of the Scotts Valley Historical Society that it was torn down in 1991. But I wanted to find the spot where it once stood, to soak up as best I could a few of the vibes of its bygone days that I hoped might still be blowing in the wind, so to speak. The quiet, pastoral Scotts Valley of the 60s is today an affluent suburb, a springboard to a string of smaller communities up and down Highway 9, the other route to the coast that offers a long, mountainous drive through pine-scented redwood forests.
The Barn stood, it seems, at the corner of Granite Creek Road and Santa's Village Drive, just off Highway 17. For some reason, I expected the area still to be a pastoral, remote expanse, but it isn’t. It is now a busy intersection (well, busy for the area). A church, a self-storage building, and a small strip shopping center stand where cows once munched on grass and hippies later flocked in their retreat to the land, hoping to recapture a simpler time while getting high to the accompaniment of sophisticated, big-city sounds. The Barn of bygone days housed a larger upstairs area that accommodated basketball games (hard to imagine) and theater performances and a smaller downstairs area that served as a coffee house. Psychedelic murals and strobe lights enhanced the happening space. As I stood at that intersection, I tried to imagine the eclectic blues-folk-country-rock sound of Country Joe, or the frenzied wailing of Janis, or the starkly different, simple folksy tunes of The Dead, but the whoosh of the traffic and the lack of a grassy plain prevented that.
Much of the reputation of The Barn is wrapped up in the persona of Taboury, who, according to Blaine’s article, “first brought the full-blown hippie aesthetic to the county.”
Part II next month explores how Leon Taboury, a fascinating figure in his own right, transformed The Barn but in the process also sowed the seeds of its demise.