At the beginning of last summer, I went to a clandestine cannabis dinner in Los Angeles. It featured a musician painted completely purple, a wandering mime, and a joint pairing with each course. It was held outside and the setting and design all referenced the famed Garden of Earthly Delights triptych, by Hieronymus Bosch.
As culty and weird as that all sounds, the event was also buttoned up. Nico Ava, who cooked and designed each course, was an Executive Chef at Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. As we ate, Guitarist Adam Road introduced the crowd to his new-school brand of flamenco. The assembled diners sat in stunned, stoned silence as his fingers raced across the frets, thin ribbons of smoke curling above our tables.
After the meal, there was a musical showcase — spontaneous and loose, but curated with tremendous care. The aforementioned purple songstress, MishCatt, played a moody set that would have fit nicely at the Mos Eisley Cantina. The Vista Kicks — LA’s “it” band of the moment — rattled off a handful of songs unplugged while sitting in plush antique chairs. The evening felt both spontaneous and comfortable.
At The Garden of Earthly Delights, people made friends. They vibed. They chatted in the property’s tree fort and shared languorous conversation while sprawled on throw pillows. It felt very 2018. But it was also very 1967. A night straight out of the Summer of Love, remixed by the Instagram generation. I left sensing that I’d glimpsed a slice of the “next big thing.” A return to the famed “Happenings” of the 60s. People coming together for real-life connection and paradigm-shifting experiences. And I was thrilled to witness it.
The most famous Happening of the 1960s was “The Great Human Be-In” at Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967 — where the “father of acid” Timothy Leary famously told a generation to “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.” Thus began “The Summer of Love,” the most radical, new wave incarnation of a generation’s attempt to tear down societal strictures, fight for social justice, oppose an out of touch government, and awaken spiritually in a world where western religions felt increasingly irrelevant. It was led by artists, philosophers, and radicals and existed to give hell to “the man” — a force that the youth found oppressive, regressive, and oblivious to the issues that mattered to them.
In 2018, the young people are once again sick of the system — eager to smash it to pieces and rebuild it from scratch. We see them in the streets, on TV, and across social media. Their discontent is news and anyone who resists the movement ends up seeming older than sarcophagus dust. Just like in the 60s, the change being called for is political, social, societal, and spiritual all at once. From Kaepernick to Parkland to Black Lives Matter to #MeToo to the widespread rejection of Abrahamic religions, this upheaval has had massive, sweeping effects on our culture.
So where do modern Happenings fit into any of these progressive movements? Historically speaking, every massive cultural shift — no matter how lofty its aim — is accompanied by partying (the 60s are a fairly on-the-nose example, but the brewery and tavern scene that emerged during the American Revolution also works). And since being legalized in states around the nation, cannabis has helped push that conversation away from binge drinking and toward something more… genuine.
“I hate to sound too hippy dippy,” says Erin Erin Granat of Six Veils Social Club, who co-produced the event I attended [Granat has occasionally written for Uproxx about non-weed matters], “but the aggression and sloppiness of alcohol aren’t what people are looking for right now. People want to come together and feel a sense of connection.”
That connection was the overarching takeaway from The Garden of Earthly Delights. And the door for these sorts of events is currently being thrown open. States around the country are racing to legalize cannabis, a drug that was still completely counterculture in the 60s and provided a gateway to the psychedelic wave that powered most of the iconography we remember from that time. Psychedelics themselves are having a moment, too — as MDMA, acid, mushrooms, and mescaline are all being studied in therapeutic applications.
Of course, not all conditions are the same in this new wave of 60s-style happenings. Partiers in 2018 have to fight through an economic malaise connected to jobs, job security, finances, and debt that’s been hovering over our nation since 2007. Back in the 60s, Baby Boomers (particularly white male Boomers) had the promise of future security to look forward to. When they crashed in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury flophouses, the did so with an instinctual sense that they’d eventually be able to find work that would pay them well and give them solid pensions.
But rather than extend their largesse to the minorities and women whose music they adored and whose rights they claimed to stand for, white male Boomers went off and created an incredible amount of wealth for themselves in the 80s (when they cut regulations drastically) and into the late 90s (when they aggressively fought the estate tax, as their parents began to die). The wage gap they vowed to fix persists to this day.
Coming of age during or after the 2007 financial crisis, 20-somethings in the current era have to worry constantly about making a living, while living a life. The party I went to wasn’t just “show up and bring drugs” like in the Summer of Love. It cost good money ($150pp) and there was an upsell aspect evident everywhere — from the gift bag (loaded with CBD lube and pre-rolled joints) to the bespoke napkins created by a hemp textile company to the gold joint clips. These party favors all helped promote businesses run by young people.
“The way our event came together was a merging of bohemian ‘happenings’ and millennial ‘events,’” says Granat. “In this case, it was led by four socially-minded female entrepreneurs, which feels very fitting.”
The be-ins, group demonstrations, and “radical inclusion” of the 1960s helped move bigger ideological conversations forward in a way that’s impossible to ignore. The hippie happenings aided in the larger quest for progress. It took complicated, nuanced topics of the day and centered them on big-picture values. That’s a quality that party scene legend and famed happening host Lee Reynolds wants to see return.
“We’re trying to create a forum where people feel loved,” he says, speaking of the Desert Hearts parties he and his partners throw. “We want to encourage people to be themselves, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. I think people are disenfranchised and their desire to party is a statement that there’s more to life than lining the pockets of rich people who don’t care about us.”
Reynolds words can easily be labeled “pop psychology” (or hypocritical since both Desert Hearts and The Garden of Earthly Delights are cost prohibitive for many, revealing the clay feet of a scene that is often sold as egalitarian), but perhaps he’s hitting the missing element in our current social discourse. If a new wave of happenings led to a greater sense of compassion between well-meaning individuals — more love — it would most certainly be a good thing for all. In fact, it just might be the missing ingredient in our current recipe for societal progress.
Regardless of how hard you roll your eyes about Reynolds tie-dye drenched vision of the world, it’s clear that social media, the internet, and the absolute dissolution of “work-life balance” for most Americans has led to mass loneliness. The New York Times recently wondered if it was an epidemic, while the UK named a “minister of loneliness” to deal with the matter head-on. The idea of building community in light of that isolation is what’s driving the next iteration of our culture. You see it everywhere — from young people coming together to hike and run on weekends, to the massive festival scene taking over the music and travel worlds, to the fact that America’s hottest hotel properties are racing to bring back hostel lifestyle and focusing on open communal spaces.
“I’ve increasingly had this feeling that the more ‘followers’ I have on social media, the lonelier I feel,” Granat says. “Our society is in danger of being isolated by technology, but we’re also seeing a counter-movement pushing against that trend.”
If the political frustrations, civil unrest, social upheaval, and the eternal quest for meaning of our current moment in history does ignite a new era of Happenings, it will surely be different than those from ’67. The speakers who took the stage at the Human Be-In in San Francisco 51 years ago were almost exclusively male and white. In 2018, diversity and a baseline understanding of the cross-sectional concerns of marginalized people are embedded in the awareness of anyone in tune with progressive movements. The power balance is shifting and the change is welcome.
“One of our goals was to build community through a female-focused event,” Sarah Harf, founder of Mooncloth and a co-planner of The Garden of Earthly Delights explains. “Five women planned it together and tried to create an evening that would feel welcoming for anyone. Diversity was embedded in everything.”
The message is clear and spreading rapidly. Restaurants, concerts, and vacation properties are insisting we put down our phones and connect in real time. Happenings — whether weed focused or not — are the return of a commitment to human connection in the midst of a seismic resistance movement. As such, nights like the one I experienced at The Garden of Earthly Delights are a testament to our desire to be together, all of us, in physical space. They’re a reminder that we need real connection now more than ever.