Marin County Fair’s new psychedelic light show reflects ’60s
Jim Baldocchi likes reminiscing about the Sixties and the Summer of Love.
They remind him of being up to his liquid psychedelic eyeballs in what those times symbolized:
Sex. Drugs. And, of course, rock ‘n’ roll.
The 67-year-old retiree will soon get another chance to relive that analog era with his work partner, Dennis Keefe, when they put on five light shows in five days at the Marin County Fair.
Jim’s been retired four years.
But he’s enjoying life — and blissed-out, non-drug days — as much as working for Bill Graham creating shows at the Fillmore, Avalon and Winterland.
Having retired from a job I loved, I reinvented myself as a columnist/writer — and relish what I do now more than what I did.
Jim still breathes what he loves best.
As an Oakland resident who recalls spending “lots of time in Marin in the Sixties ‘cause I had friends there.”
But his June 30-July 4 Showcase Theatre fair gigs will mark the duo’s Marin light show debut.
The pair has, however, “done everything from balloons to sides of buildings,” Jim tells me in an extended phone interview.
For the fair, “we’re doing analog, similar to the old days but with a lot of new material and new effects. We’re also going to be visible to the audience, so they can get an education on how some of this works. Back then, we were always out of sight.”
What’ll also be different is the lack of mind-altering substances.
“I don’t do any of these things anymore,” Jim says, underscoring the assertion with an anecdote:
“We recently did the 50th anniversary of the Human Be-In in the Mission District. Somebody came up, told us our light show was beautiful and handed me a vial with 30 Pez pieces laced with LSD. I said ‘no,’ then went to the bar and ordered a gin and tonic.”
Jim and Dennis’ new psychedelic liquid light show will feature overhead projection displaying liquid from little bottles squeezed onto glass clock faces.
The liquid’s “made up of alcohol, mineral oil, water, anniline dyes and Dr. P.H. Martin watercolors,” Jim explains. “The trick is to not have audience see us put our hands into the projectors.”
Each fair performance will run 30 minutes and cover eight songs. Music will include tunes by the Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, Sons of Chaplain, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — surely a tug backward in time.
But not everyone wants to remember.
“We did the first two opening nights for the de Young Museum’s ‘Summer of Love’ exhibit,” Jim tells me. “We did the high-end donors party and high-end members party and during intermission were accessible to the audience. A couple of women dressed in gowns came up and talked about doing LSD. But their husbands dragged them off because they didn’t want them talking about their drug experiences.”
Jim’s history contains much more than light shows.
After graduating from S.F. State, he joined the de Young as theater manager, then the War Memorial & Performing Arts Center (Davies Hall, Opera House and Veterans Building) as director of operations — doing “all the unromantic parts of performing arts, mostly behind the scenes.”
But with Graham, he worked — in addition to most of the bands he’ll play at the fair — with Santana, Iron Butterfly, Kenny Rogers, Lightning Hopkins, Linda Tillery and the Pointer Sisters.
He fondly remembers, too, his first day at the Opera House: “I ate my bag lunch in a box seat watching [Mikhail] Baryshnikov dance on stage in rehearsal with no one else there but his pianist.”
When Jim retired, Dennis, with whom he’d done countless Sixties light shows, asked if he’d work on a new one.
Jim leapt at the possibility.
They’ve since played regularly at a 60-seat Berkeley “throwback to hippie times with lava lights and black-light posters on the wall, where we perform with many artists who live in Marin.”
Nowadays, they do “projection art. Back in the day, we were called Optic Illusion.”
Whatever it’s called, their work fits into the fair theme, “Let the Funshine In: Summer of Love,” which also will feature a tie-dye contest and photo flashbacks to the Sixties.
Most of the fair, in fact, could become a wayback wagon.
The Marin County Fair runs at the Fairgrounds, 10 Avenue of the Flags in San Rafael, 6 p.m. June 30 through July 4. Tickets: $12 to $20. Information: 415-473-6400 or http://marinfair.org.