I remember when the hippie movement first came to Pittsfield. The term “hippie” is most often attributed to the first “Human Be-In”, which was held in San Francisco in January 1967.
However, the popular rock music of the hippie generation really started several years earlier. The hip-swing rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s was replaced by the music of the British invasion in the 1960s. At the same time, the mod fashions of Carnaby Street in London were the introduction of future hippie clothing. .
Locally at the end of 1962, the Pittsfield Boys Club was the scene of the new music movement. The Boys Club built the city’s largest auditorium, with 3,000 seats, and began presenting the community with numerous concerts of renowned folk and rock’n’roll music.
In March 1965, the facility added a 10,000 square foot area called the Lighthouse which had a stage built like a boat. Many teenage rock groups have performed there in weekly dances.
Many young people in Pittsfield had considerable musical experience performing in one of the town’s six junior drum corps. When they became high school students, these teenagers formed rock groups imitating British groups. Soon they switched to the latest hip sounds of the West Coast.
One of these high school students, named David Loehr, was blown away by the new music and became one of the biggest fans of local rock. As a teenager, he strove to be the city’s premier hippie entrepreneur and rock promoter.
Loehr first took a liking to rock music at the age of 13, when he attended dances in 1962 at the old State Armory on Summer Street. These were hosted by popular disc jockeys like Boom Boom Brannigan from neighboring radio stations in the three New York Capitol towns.
When The Beatles and The Rolling Stones made their US debut in the mid-1960s, David attended several of their concerts. He loved music and as a teenager he tried to get music promoters to bring these bands to the Berkshires.
After graduating from Pittsfield High School in 1967, David attended Parson’s School of Design in New York City and enjoyed rock music events in the Big Apple. He met and befriended many musicians and artists he admired, including Andy Warhol.
A summer work injury in Pittsfield held him back in his hometown in 1968. As he recovered, the young music and art lover saw an opportunity to build on the growing hippie culture that was growing in the city.
In November 1968, David opened the first local hippie retail store, at 15½ Melville St., and aptly called it ROCK. The teenager was traveling by bus to New York City to purchase imported clothing, bell stockings and similar clothing, incense, artwork, jewelry, candles, posters, lapel pins, etc. . Rock music was constantly played on a phonograph.
In May 1969, the 19-year-old entrepreneur began booking groups for his friends at a Dalton Avenue teen club called Hullabaloo. His individual productions included designing and distributing flyers, collecting club tickets, and operating a light show to accompany the music. Some of the best-known local bands he booked were The Quarry, Sunny Day People, The Haze, and The Eastre Rebellyon.
After the Woodstock Music Festival in August 1969, David wanted to organize a much smaller version of the event in Pittsfield. He held a one-day music festival in October 1969 in a field of a 160-acre farm on Barker Road, near the airport.
Panicked at the idea that hundreds of thousands of hippies are invading the city, the police roasted the young promoter a few days before the show and chose to assign several dozen police officers to the concert. Despite some efforts by authorities to interfere with the event, it went off without a hitch, with large local groups and a crowd of 2,500 well behaved participants.
In 1970, Loehr partnered with the Music Inn, which now booked concerts of renowned popular music. He decides to close the ROCK store and open a new store, the Magic Rock, in Lenox. The Magic Rock would only be open during the summer season for a few years.
By the mid-1970s, David gradually spent more time in New York and Los Angeles in the arts and music scene. Soon he moved to New York City, where he and a partner operated a spandex t-shirt and clothing factory. However, the interesting life of David Loehr of Pittsfield continued in a surprising direction.
In the early 1970s, David read a book about actor James Dean, who had starred in three award-winning films before being tragically killed in a car crash in 1955 at the age of 24.
Identifying with the star’s life, David has become Dean’s biggest fan. He visited the actor’s hometown of Fairmount, Indiana, north of Indianapolis, and met many of Dean’s family, friends, and even his film co-stars.
For nearly 50 years, Loehr has amassed the largest collection of James Dean memorabilia in the country. In 1986, he bought a huge 1903 Victorian house in Fairmount. Two years later, he opened and still operates the James Dean Gallery there, exhibiting his collections.
More recently, Pittsfield’s first “hippie entrepreneur” wrote a book about his youth in the Berkshires and his love for James Dean. In fact, the book is called “That’s How Strong My Love Is: from Rock-n-Roll to James Dean.” “It’s a beautiful story that I found fascinating.
Jim Shulman, a native of Pittsfield living in Ohio, is the author of “Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield”. If you have a memory of a Berkshire Baby Boomer Landmark, Business or Event that you would like to share or read, please write to Jim at [email protected]