Jorma Kaukonen ’64 is paying tribute to the sounds and styles of the late 60s with his newly opened Psylodelic Gallery.
Far from the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco and miles away from Yasgur’s Farm in New York, a small museum opened in July in the rolling hills of Meigs County to pay tribute to a sound and culture that forever changed the societal landscape of a nation. Jorma Kaukonen ’64 and his wife, Vanessa, added Jorma Kaukonen’s Psylodelic Gallery to the grounds of The Fur Peace Center for Art and Culture, drawing visitors from as far away as Maine and California. The opening event was capped off with a performance by Big Brother and the Holding Company, the band who helped launch the career of Janis Joplin.
In the mid-1960s, artists and free-thinkers began to converge on Northern California, mainly in the area of Haight-Ashbury. This assembly of artists is widely considered the birth of the Hippie movement and also spawned many iconic musical acts such as The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Jefferson Airplane.
Kaukonen, who was attending Santa Clara University in 1962 and teaching music in nearby San Jose, was asked to audition for Jefferson Airplane by founding member Paul Kantner. His unique finger-picking guitar style made an impression and Kaukonen was added to the band’s original lineup.
Jefferson Airplane quickly took off on the local music scene, producing such hits as “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.” Seven years later, their success landed the band at the storied Woodstock Music Festival at Yasgur’s Farm in upstate New York.
Jefferson Airplane dissolved in 1972, but Kaukonen and Airplane bassist Jack Casady had already formed the band Hot Tuna as a side project in early 1970. Kaukonen and Casady still tour with Hot Tuna on a limited basis, but along the way, the new museum owner has explored multiple musical ventures and styles.
How does an accomplished musician and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member find himself living in rural southeast Ohio? “It was just something you couldn’t have planned in a million years,” said Kaukonen.
In 1990, he was sitting at his home in upstate New York when he received a call from a friend he hadn’t talked to in more than 25 years. The call was to tell Kaukonen about a piece of property for sale in Meigs County, Ohio.
“So I came down to take a look at it,” he explained. “Once I got here, I just had a good feeling about it, but my wife thought I had lost my mind.”
Long before the Fur Peace Ranch and the Psylodelic Gallery, Kaukonen said he was enamored with the area.
“Before we even got into the building of the ranch, I really liked the area. I really liked the way it felt,” he said.
Kaukonen’s wife, Vanessa, described the move to Meigs County as “the single most amazing thing I could have ever dreamed possible in my life.” She said, at the time, the couple was on “auto-pilot”, and they weren’t really contributing anything to society. Her husband smiled as he sat in his lawn chair listening to his wife’s account of the decision to move to such an out-of-the-way location. Vanessa recounted her first time in Meigs County without her husband. She said she went for a drive on U.S. 33 to acclimate herself with the area.
“I just kept driving and driving,” she said. “I saw puffy white clouds and blue skies. Then I saw all these rolling hills, and they just wrapped around me like a mother’s arms and took me in.”
The Psylodelic Gallery, which is a play on words since the museum is housed inside a small silo only a few feet away from the concert hall, was Vanessa’s dream come to fruition. John Hurlbut, the Fur Peace Ranch guitar camp manager, joked on stage during the opening event, “What a great idea Vanessa had for this museum. Although we might have thought the idea was a little crazy at first, it all turned out for the best.”
“It’s kind of nice for us to be able to provide,” Kaukonen said of the gallery. “I mean, there are other places you can go, too. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which obviously focuses on music, the guys who were members and that kind of stuff, but it’s more than that.”
Kaukonen said some of the items in the museum are on loan and others are part of his personal collection.
“We’re planning on rotating stuff as interest develops,” Kaukonen said as he explained the exhibits in the museum. “I’ve saved a lot of stuff, not that I perceived it might be of value in some way, but I’m just kind of a pack-rat, and I have trouble throwing things away, and thank goodness I didn’t,” he said. “Many of the things, like the jewelry, are things of mine that lay in a drawer for decades. So, in this exhibit, most of the stuff belongs to Vanessa and myself. When I can get my friends, who have a lot of that stuff, to actually take us seriously and know we’re not just going to take the stuff and sit it in our living room and play with it, we hope to get some more interesting exhibits up.”
Exhibits inside the museum include a typewriter, which can be heard in the background during the recording of the “Typewriter Tapes.” The Typewriter Tapes are a rare 1964 recording of Kaukonen and Janis Joplin playing in the living room of Kaukonen’s southern California home. At the time of his recording, his late ex-wife, Margareta, was typing a letter to her mother using the typewriter on display. The acoustic guitar Kaukonen played in the Typewriter Tapes is also featured as one of the many exhibits.
There are several items from the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival included in the museum’s inventory. The shirts Kaukonen and Casady wore while performing with Jefferson Airplane at the festival are proudly displayed.
Another interesting gallery piece is the sleeping bag Wavy Gravy slept in while attending Woodstock. Wavy Gravy, who was born Hugh Nanton Romney, is an entertainer, peace activist, radio show host, author and, notably, the official clown of the Grateful Dead. He was given the nickname “Wavy Gravy” by B. B. King following the 1969 Texas International Pop Festival. After being arrested several times at peace demonstrations in the mid-1960s, Wavy Gravy took to dressing as a clown in hopes police would be more reluctant to arrest him. For the most part, the ploy worked, and he continues entertaining as a clown to this day.
The second floor of the gallery features a video montage of photos from the turbulent times of the 1960s. The video, which is viewed on the ceiling as onlookers sit in multi-colored beanbag chairs, is set to music to enhance the experience. Several viewers on hand during the opening were moved to tears by the end of the video.
Kaukonen said he believes the quotes covering large areas throughout the gallery may be as important as any of the displays. As you enter the gallery, the walls of the foyer are littered with quotes from memorable political, musical, and activist figures from the peace movement. The quotes also line the walls of the spiral staircase leading to the second floor of the museum.
“To me, like a lot of the quotes that are in the foyer when you go in are as important, or maybe more important, as any of the exhibits. The exhibits are to give you a tangible feeling of the atmosphere, but there was a lot of really interesting stuff going on back then. That’s kind of what we’re all about here. We want to let some of the people who weren’t there try to get some of that feeling,“ he explained.
Big Brother and the Holding Company finished off the opening night event with a performance inside the Ranch’s music hall. The band, who is credited with putting the voice of Janis Joplin on the musical map, played before a sold-out crowd and featured songs from their Joplin recordings. The band also mixed in newer recordings performed by the updated lineup. The present version of the band includes two original members, Peter Albin (bass) and Sam Andrews (guitar). Lead vocalist Cathy Richardson, guitarist Ben Nieves, and drummer Dave Getz now round out the current band membership.
Before the band took the stage, Kaukonen and Hurlbut brought out Andrews and Albin for a question and answer session. The Big Brother duo answered questions from Kaukonen about their time with Joplin, how the two band members met, and about the times leading up to and following Big Brother’s rise to fame.
At the end of the day, however, the Psylodelic Gallery is not about any one exhibit or performance. It’s a means of capturing the essence of an era.
“It’s kind of funny. I’m not a nostalgic kind of a guy, generally speaking, I mean some things tweak my nostalgia, but you kind of take it for granted,” Kaukonen said when reflecting on Vanessa’s inspiration for the gallery. “My wife is younger than I am, so I kind of caught her enthusiasm about a time that, when you think about it, was a magical time.”
“There was a perfect sort of a storm,” said Kaukonen. “There was a confluence of things that, I don’t know, it’ll probably happen again, but I don’t see it happening in my lifetime, where the music, the art, the spoken word were so tied in with what was going on.”
The Psylodelic Gallery, located on St. Clair Road in Pomeroy, Ohio, is open to the public Wednesday through Friday from 12 to 6 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For a private tour, call 740-992-2575.