Review by Tatiana Miranda
During the rise of musical artists such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin, San Francisco became a hub of experimentation in all forms. From music to drugs to sexuality, San Francisco in the '60s and '70s defined the hippie movement and a new wave of creative freedom. Compared to its Southern California counterpart, music in San Francisco was often genre-bending and accompanied by drug-induced performances. In MGM+'s San Francisco Sounds: A Place In Time, directors Alison Ellwood and Anoosh Tertzakian go beyond the height of this musical movement, instead chronicling the beginnings and endings of pivotal musicians in the scene.
The two-part docuseries opens as the San Francisco scene starts to develop with strangers connecting via rehearsal spaces and later forming revolutionary bands. Bands such as Sly and the Family Stone, Steve Miller Band, and Big Brother and the Holding Company got their start at local venues like Bill Graham's Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom. At the end of part one of the series, we see these musicians reach new levels of fame at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967.
Part two of San Francisco Sounds begins with hoards of young adults and teenagers flocking to San Francisco to join the hippie, free love movement. As the docuseries points out, the "Summer of Love," in some ways, killed the progress of San Francisco artists as crime spiked and drug use became more prominent.
Mirroring the acclaimed performances at the Monterey festival is the 1969 Altamont Free Concert's outbreak of violence that signaled the decline of San Francisco's musical community. The infamous Altamont festival was then followed by Janis Joplin's untimely death a year later and Jefferson Airplane and Sly and the Family Stone's breakups.
While the docuseries features voiceovers from band members such as Steve Miller, Mickey Hart, and Jack Casady, they are only shown in archival footage from some fifty years ago. Meanwhile, non-musicians and authorities from the scene are seen reminiscing on the rise and fall of San Francisco's creative height. Radio DJ Dusty Street, former San Francisco Mime Troupe actor Peter Coyote, retired Rolling Stone journalist Ben Fong-Torres, and poster artist Victor Moscoso lend their perspectives on the musical and artistic developments in San Francisco in the '60s and '70s.
San Francisco Sounds features plenty of previously unseen footage and exclusive interviews with band members recounting pivotal moments of their careers. One of the docuseries' best features is the choice to go beyond just one band or the widely known "Summer of Love." Instead, the series captures the beginnings and endings of the creative movement in the Bay Area and the interlocking musical community that defined the movement.
While many documentaries have tried to capture the entirety of San Francisco music in the '60s and '70s, none have done so as decisively as San Francisco Sounds: A Place in Time.
San Francisco Sounds: A Place in Time releases on August 20 and 27. Both episodes reviewed.