|Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters, at the Acid Test Graduation, circa 1969|
“No, by “this” I suspect Jeffrey means the whole mandala, the ineffable shitshow unfolding on the grounds of a dilapidated hotel in Northern California that some 700 of us have commandeered for a weekend of psychedelic art, theater, music, and hijinx. It’s one of a handful of secret parties thrown each year by an event production company I cannot name. The parties, let’s call them Clambakes, have earned a reputation as some of the most insane and creative in the Bay Area’s thriving psychedelic underground. Clambakes last anywhere from a single night to four days, and have taken place at museums, hotels, theaters, mansions, and warehouses. The crown jewel goes down each summer in a hidden valley in the Northern California woods.”
- Ahmed Kabil
Excerpts from: "Naming the Unspoken Thing - Inside the Bay Area’s craziest secret underground parties." - by Ahmed Kabil, Multimedia Storyteller. Editor, The @LongNow Foundation.
With all the talk of the cultural decline of the Bay Area, here are happenings where disparate tribes gather in something resembling harmony: Oakland artists and polyamorous co-op dwellers priced out of San Francisco break bread with engineers employed by tech giants; libertarians who reminisce about the days when you could shoot guns at Burning Man find common cause with LGBTQ activists and starry-eyed socialists looking to tear down the system; doyens of the psychedelic sixties hold forth with cryptocurrency nerds who got rich off bitcoin before the bust.
It’s something I’ve been trying to figure out since attending my first Clambake four years ago. The scuttlebutt at the time was that there was a new band in town, who saw themselves as heirs to the Bay Area underground prankster lineage of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, the Suicide Club, and the Cacophony Society. As the rumors went, everyone dosed at the same time, and pranks and theater figured prominently in the proceedings.
I was intrigued. At the time, psychedelics were starting to gain mainstream acceptance, but in a narrow context as psychotherapeutic aids to personal transformation. The psychedelic science community, in its bid to turn psychedelics into legal medicines, disavowed anything that smacked of recreational use. And Burning Man, which had long carried the prankster flame, had lately lost touch with its origins, as its bureaucratic apparatus grew to meet the needs of a 70,000-person city of increasingly wealthy and pampered attendees. Yet, here was a group whose antics hearkened back to the crazy days that both communities would just as soon forget. This struck me as irresponsible, dangerous, and a potential PR disaster. It also sounded like a hell of a good time.
Each Clambake has a theme. This narrative plays out over the days of the event, and ultimately demands resolution. Members of the community contribute art projects that speak to the theme, crafting an immersive and artfully-consistent sensory world, or container. When it’s humming, the container, coupled with the boundary dissolution of the psychedelic experience, allows Clambakers to suspend their disbelief and become characters in the play. There is no fourth wall. But the curious can’t simply show up to a Clambake. For all intents and purposes, Clambakes do not exist. Newcomers have to be invited by a member of the community who’s been through the ringer and can vouch for the virgin’s capacity to keep cool.
Clambakes are examples of an emerging artistic discipline called immersive experience design. Participants in experience-driven events are encouraged to find unique solutions to the challenges they encounter while interacting with the narrative, writes Freddie Nelson, Clambake’s Creative Director, in a manifesto on the subject. In this way, each individual can contribute to a shared story of the experience, as every action carries a meaning...
While there’s no alcohol, psychedelics of every kind, from the usual suspects to a veritable alphabet soup of research chemicals, are readily consumed. The Clambake organizers don’t provide the drugs, but they do provide anonymous on-site substance testing, following the pioneering examples of DanceSafe and the Boom Festival in Portugal, where drugs are decriminalized.
The presence of the opioid crisis, and especially the contamination of counterfeit pharmaceuticals in street drugs with powerful opioids like fentanyl, has created an ethical imperative to provide this kind of testing,” Duke says, “and reduce the possibility of accidental poisoning or overdose due to adulterated or misidentified substances.
I’d say that there are deeper dimensions of the profane, if you will. You could see it in the Merry Pranksters, you could see it in Burning Man, at least for a while, and you can see it at [Clambake]. But it’s hard to figure out what to do to, because it’s a paradox. If you state it as a value: ‘We’re gathering not just to party and press buttons and goof around and get silly and sexy, but we have these deeper goals, we believe that in drawing people together or not knowing what’s happening that there’s a kind of magic of spontaneity that’s actually very sacred’ — The minute you do that, the minute you say anything, you destroy it. It’s what you don’t say, but can experience — that’s where the juice lies. And as soon as you say it, or make it a protocol, or a value, or idea, then it becomes religion and it’s bullshit.