Strangely enough, Jerry Kruz has no memories of the fabled golden period of hippiedom, the 1967 “Summer of Love” in Vancouver.
Kruz was the then-teenaged promoter who brought the biggest names in psychedelic rock music and light shows to Vancouver in the mid-’60s, including the first free concert by the Grateful Dead at Vancouver’s Kits Beach in 1966, along with concerts by the likes of Country Joe and The Fish and The Steve Miller Blues Band, among others.
Kruz had established the city’s first psychedelic dance hall, The Afterthought, in 1965 and for the best part of two years had nurtured and featured the local musicians who would go on to make big names for themselves.
Tom Northcott started out as a folkie performing at the Afterthought, which initially started out as a coffeehouse at a church basement before Kruz took it to the next level at the Pender Ballroom and ultimately at the still-standing Russian Community Hall. Winter’s Green, later known as Trooper, played at the Afterthought first. The Collectors, later known as Chilliwack, were one of Kruz’s first hires at the Afterthought, opening for Steve Miller Band. The Seeds of Time, which later evolved into Prism, were Vancouver’s answer to The Rolling Stones with a high-energy rock-blues sound that was popular among the Afterthought’s denizens.
Many other local bands were part of this brief history of the Afterthought, some of which were featured on the 1983 compilation LP produced by the Vancouver Record Collectors Association, called The History of Vancouver’s Rock + Roll. The bands on that recording included the artists listed above along with Spring, The Painted Ship, The Self-Portrait, The United Empire Loyalists, Northwest Company and Orville Dorp.
Kruz fostered the new graphic artists of the period, among them Frank Lewis, Bruce Dowad, Bob Masse and Doug Matheson, who created the free-hand drawings and lettering style that is a hallmark of the era. Kruz also hired the pioneering light shows of the time, which went under such names as Trans-Euphoric Light Show.
Kruz has captured his memories of those days along with superb posters from the Afterthought in his 2014 memoirs, “The Afterthought: West Coast Rock Posters & Recollections.” The 250-page book is published by Rocky Mountain Books (www.rmbooks.com). To this day, Kruz also maintains a poster reproduction business, selling copies of the ‘60s posters in shops across Canada and the USA.
It was a heady time, and as a pioneering rock promoter Kruz was making a name for himself as well as a solid income from the ever-growing popularity of the dances. He was driving his flashy new Mustang convertible down to San Francisco, making deals, and hobnobbing, with the big stars like Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. He was Vancouver’s answer to legendary American producer Bill Graham, but then in late 1966 it all came crashing down when he came up on the radar of Vancouver Mayor Tom Campbell and the head of Vancouver City Police’s drug squad, Abe Snidanko. Kruz was busted for possession of a few marijuana joints, and the jail and prison experiences were brief but traumatizing, Kruz says.
But through the turmoil of those days, Kruz still trekked down to northern California in early 1967 to see for himself what was happening in the hippie haven.
“I had gone to California and the whole hippie movement was just starting,” Kruz told BeatRoute magazine. “Vancouver and San Francisco were in sync with their hippie movements. I went and saw the [Human] Be-In…and became friends with Joe McDonald and Janis Joplin.”
He returned to B.C. with his head filled with ideas, and soon after hosted his own “spontaneous celebration” at Stanley Park in March 1967. About a thousand aspiring freaks – and bands like Country Joe and the Fish – showed up for an anti-Vietnam rally holding placards that read “Burn pot, not people”, leading many to dub the west coast city the “hippie capital of Canada.”
However, filled with paranoia, Kruz was unable to attend the Vancouver Be-In, and later that year before summer came he set off for a few months in Montreal to get away from Vancouver.
Kruz, who now resides in Aldergrove with his wife of almost 50 years, Julie, says he left out of fear of being busted again, as he believes he was targeted due to the popularity of his dance hall. Conviction of a minor drug offence was sufficient for Vancouver City to revoke Kruz’s business licence.
While Kruz missed out on the so-called Summer of Love in Vancouver that he had helped start, he hopes the spirit of those times return.
“As my old friend Country Joe McDonald says, ‘it’s the summer of money now’ and today everybody’s opening line is ‘how much money is there in it for me?’ But nobody cared about that back then, it was all about the joy of doing it, being happy with what you’re doing,” said Kruz.
“I think parts of it are coming back, people are starting to think about love and caring for mankind. We’ve screwed up the planet so much we have to come back or we won’t have a planet.”
While Kruz remains idealistic to this day, he has no fond memories about the drug use rampant at the time, aside from marijuana which he considers a medicinal herb. Kruz has no use for narcotics or chemical drugs, which he says have ruined lives and become the domain of gangs.
Until their recent relocation to Aldergrove, the Kruz couple had lived for decades on Vancouver Island in Courtenay, where Jerry had helped establish an alternative sentencing program. Working with downtown churches — in his youth Jerry had initially aimed to become a priest — “an offshoot was reaching out to help people face their fears. That program is still going and I’m still passionate about it.”
However, it led to him taking a job at the Wilkinson Road prison, where Jerry was one of the staff taken hostage by a gun-wielding prisoner. While this ended without anyone getting hurt, Jerry quit that job shortly after, and he says he’s still troubled by the trauma to this day.
However, sitting in their Aldergrove residence Jerry is nothing but upbeat about retired life today in the country, far enough from the big city, and playing the role of grandparents to seven grandchildren. He’s living central to pretty well everything, from trade shows and events he attends in Vancouver to the upcoming concert by The Steve Miller Band at Abbotsford Centre.
“We have a nice place that we can afford in our retirement, and everything is close at hand. Most of our family lives close by and we can just hop down to Bellingham to fly to San Francisco to visit our daughter and her family down there.
“And when I step out my back door I am right next to a field and forest. What more could I ask for?” says Jerry.