Promoter Mischa Ballard talks about Shakedown Street Festival, Grateful Dead, Wavy Gravy and San Francisco

"The Dead has a huge impact on the young people of the time, and part of the impact was socio-cultural. These people have gone on to be major players in the world and have even influenced governmental policy based on their experiences back in the 1960’s."

Mischa Ballard: Shakin' On The Street

Mischa ‘MoonDog’ Ballard is co-owner/promoter of Nomad Presents, a music and event cooperative, currently producing the Shakedown Street Festival in Berkeley, California. Mischa says: “We started this festival last year with the idea of creating a free music festival celebrating the Grateful Dead, the music they shared, and the community it created. The cost of doing a music festival is huge! Even more so if it is a free festival. We have committed to keeping the festival free so we need your help in doing so. There are so many things to pay for, but we are very lucky to have the sponsors we have, but like everyone else, they can only give so much. This is where the fans come in. The more we raise, the better the festival will be for everyone involved. We have met out goal...but the actual costs are much higher! Please keep the ball rolling by donating or sharing this page!! Thank you to all our amazing fans! Thank you very much for considering us...and come on down and shake your bones!!

Mischa Ballard & Wavy Gravy, Shakedown Street Festival 2015, Photo by Dayna Smith Guberman

Shakedown Street Festival is in the heart of Berkeley, surrounded by a vibrant community of artists and free thinkers. A short walk from the beautiful UC Berkeley Campus, Downtown Berkeley BART, Telegraph Avenue and The Gourmet Ghetto - The Berkeley Shakedown Street Festival is a weekend destination and an experience not to be missed! Berkeley Shakedown Street Festival is a FREE family friendly event for all ages and benefits The SEVA Foundation, who works tirelessly fighting blindness around the world. With the support of our friends and sponsors - The SEVA Foundation, Lagunitas Brewery, CBCB Berkeley, the bands, the crew, the volunteers, and (most importantly) our Deadhead family, we are privileged to bring this event to beautiful Downtown Berkeley for the second year, and we hope to see a lot of new faces next year!”

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Acid Roll counterculture and what does ‘Deadheads’ mean to you?

The most important lesson I learned from the counterculture was acceptance. The counterculture was born from the social oppression of the 1950s where who you are was dictated and not found. The music of the 60’s was the catalyst for major change that happened alongside the civil rights movement and the free speech movement. This music, and the culture that spawned it, changed the world. It changed the way humans look, treat, and think about each other and the world around them.

The word ‘Deadhead’ is just a word and I don’t really put much thought into it. I am a fan of the culture that was created by the people and the music. I don’t like to put ‘brands’ or ‘categories’ on people. That being said, being a ‘Deadhead’ is something different than, say, being a Led Zeppelin Fan. A ‘Deadhead’ is part of something that is entirely different than just a music fan…there are NO other bands that have such a dedicated (pun fully intended) fan base. Not only that, but that fan base has only grown in the 50 years of the bands life. Not many, if any, bands can say this.

How started the thought of Berkeley Shakedown Street festival?

The festival came about when a lifelong friend, Chandran, and I where brainstorming about festivals. He has been doing festivals for 10+ years, but never a music festival. We are both fans of the Grateful Dead, and have been since we were in our late teens. We had met at 16 and we have been to many Dead shows together before Jerry Garcia died. I feel very lucky to have seen Jerry before he passed. There has been a full generation of kids (almost two generations) who will not experience Jerry. The idea of the festival was born out of a desire to bring back the feel of a Dead show, as we experienced it. One of my favorite parts of a Dead show was the Shakedown. The Shakedown was/is the area outside the venue where Head set up and sell their wares. It is not ‘official’ and at some venues would be broken up. We wanted to bring that part of the shows into the rest of the shows. Make them one thing. “Shakedown Street” is a Grateful Dead album and song…and seemed to fit well with the theme and feel we were going for. (1st Shakedown Street Festival poster, by Frank Wiedemann)

What characterize fest philosophy and mission?

The main goal of the Shakedown is the further the music, culture, and the message of the counterculture in a way that is accessible to everyone. We are also dedicated to helping the SEVA Foundation and their mission of curing preventable blindness. We wanted this festival to represent all that is good about what happened in the 1960’s and continuing that change that our parents started. If we can bring this culture to the next generation of children, then we have achieved our goal.

What were the reasons that made California in the 60s to be the center of Psychedelic researches & experiments?

The San Francisco Bay Area has always been innovative since the 1840’s, because of the gold rush. It went from a back woods nowhere to the fastest growing city in US history, almost overnight. The gold rush brought hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. This means they also brought their own cultures and music with them. Nowhere else in the nation had such a mix of cultures and people then in San Francisco. When the 1960 rolled around, there was already a large Jazz culture in place from the 1930’s-50’s. The Jazz brought the Beatniks and poets from the east coast and with them came Cannabis and LSD. People like Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Dr. Timothy Leary, Abby Hoffman, Bill Graham and Owsley Stanley all came to the SF Bay Area and brought their form of the counterculture with them. Neal Cassady was particularly and majorly responsible for bridging the gap between the Beats and the Hippies when him, Kesey, Ginsberg and Leary teamed up and drove the ‘Furthur’ bus, with the “Mary Band of Pranksters”, across the USA in a drug induced “Acid Tests’. This is the time when Dr. Timothy Leary’s counterculture message of “Turn on, Tune in, and Drop out” came out of. The message was about turning on to the new way of thinking (the counterculture), tuning out the past (the 1950’s social oppression) and dropping out of a culture that created said oppression, thus ending it. They made a film of the adventure and it was recently recreated by Kesey’s son, Zane, for the 50th anniversary.

There is an old saying in California that rings true in any time period…”As California goes, so goes the nation…”.

Why did you think that the Grateful Dead music and Wavy Gravy continues to generate such a devoted following?     (Photo: Mischa's daughter, Viola & Wavy Gravy)

Because it/they are real and genuine. No fronts or fakeness. The Grateful Dead’s music is about life, love, friendship, loss, and fun…all universal themes that anyone can get behind. The music is truly American and is based in Appalachian mountain music, Southern Blues, and improvisational jazz. The Dead are classified as a ‘Rock ‘n Roll’ band or a classic Rock band, but they are way more than that. If anything, they are a Jazz band that messes around with rock, blues, and traditional Americana. They are a Jazz band, in that they improvise every live song they play. To date, no Grateful Dead song has been play the same way twice by the members of the Dead. Not one. This makes them more of a jazz band then anything else, in my opinion.

Now, Wavy Gravy is just about the most kind, honest, forthright, and genuine human beings to ever walk the earth. There is not a mean bone in his body. As Bob Weir stated, ‘He is a saint in a clown suit’…

I would say more about him, but that sums it up for me.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice has given you?

I have met some very famous people and the one thing that I have taken from meeting these people is that they are just people and like being treated as such. They are not gods or heroes, in their eyes. They are just people who have a talent to make music and that is what they love. This love and passion, and the ability to convey them both, is what has made them famous.

The one person that I was star struck by was Neal Cassady’s daughter, Jami Cassady Ratto. Neal has been a major influence on my life, so to meet his daughter was a major experience for me. It was a direct connection to the time and culture that I cherish so much. A very humbling experience, to say the least.

As far as the best piece of advice…it was not from a person…it was from the community. Be yourself…be authentically yourself.

Are there any memories from Berkeley Shakedown Street festival which you’d like to share with us?

The best memory I have are the smiles from the fans. So many smiles.

"The counterculture was born from the social oppression of the 1950s where who you are was dictated and not found. The music of the 60’s was the catalyst for major change that happened alongside the civil rights movement and the free speech movement." (Photo by Paige Clem)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

What I miss most is the talent that these people had. This level of talent is very hard to find in modern music. These are people that LOVED to play and would play at any given opportunity that came there way. They would play for free, if the cause was just. My hope for future music is that this level of dedication and talent is brought back into music…and it is happening already. There are quite a few very talented and amazing bands and musicians that are drawing inspiration from the past talent…and that is very heart warming. As far as fears goes…I am not one to dwell on fear, so I will leave that one unanswered.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from Grateful Dead and Wavy Gravy?

I laughed the hardest (and was touched the most) when Wavy met my 4 year old daughter. She did not know what to think about him until he put his red foam clown nose on. She had no issues with him after that. He is AMAZING with kids…truly amazing. The thing that has touched me the most about the Dead and Wavy is, like I stated before, the genuineness of them. The lack of fakeness or bullshit, to be crude.

What is the impact of Grateful Dead and Deadheads culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

That is a big question…and one I don’t think I am that qualified to answer…but I will try.

Being that the Grateful Dead came into being at the same time as the civil rights movement, they did play a role in it. All be it a small role. It was about acceptance…of yourself and of others. I think that, at least in part, was a component of the civil rights movement. The Dead has a huge impact on the young people of the time, and part of the impact was socio-cultural. These people have gone on to be major players in the world and have even influenced governmental policy based on their experiences back in the 1960’s. In my opinion, the counterculture changed the world for the better…and will continue to change it.

How important is underground comix and psychedelic poster in your life? How does affect your inspiration? (Shakedown Street 2015 poster by Frank Wiedemann)

The underground comix of the 60’s hold a special place in my heart. When I was young, (12 or 13, in 1985 or so) I found a copy of “The Fabulous Freak Brothers” and it changed my life. R. Crumb was another comic artist I love. He was a master of social commentary that was not gilded or jaded by the culture of the 1950’s. He broke down walls for many people, including myself.

The poster art of the time is just amazing and is a clear representation of what was going on at the time. Pure psychedelic at its finest. My father actually designed some of his own, back in the early 60’s, as he was an artist in residence at the original psychedelic shop in 1966.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

The answer to this will be not what you expected. I would want to go back to the moment when man discovered music. I want to know how and when it happened. I find myself thinking about this quite a bit, actually. Music is the truest form of self-expression and it would be very interesting to know the reason it was created. I would think that it would have been created for some ‘religious’ reason…a way to worship whatever god was worshiped at the time. That being said…I bet music was most likely created after a cave man got his heart broken. That seems to be the running theme for quite a bit of music. Haha!

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