1960s counter culture venue brought big names to Vancouver

Music promoter Jerry Kruz brought psychedelic bands like the Grateful Dead to Vancouver in the 1960s.
Jerry Kruz was behind the Grateful Dead's first free show 5:24

Jerry Kruz, the influential music promoter behind Vancouver's psychedelic club, The Afterthought, narrowly avoided a career in the priesthood.

"My mother told me I was supposed to be a priest and that's what I was raised up to be," said Kruz.

But not long after enrolling in seminary, Kruz had dropped out and started a coffee house instead.

In 1965, when folk musicians like Tom Northcott and Don Crawford wanted to transition to rock 'n' roll, Kruz's coffee shop was the perfect venue. In 1966, he even hosted the Grateful Dead when they played their first free concert.

At the time, hippies and drug culture ran counter to the mainstream and attracted the ire of then Vancouver Mayor Tom Campbell.

Even the promotional materials produced for Kruz's shows received criticism. Kruz recalled one poster promoting a Tom Northcott Trio show that depicted flowers around Northcott's head.

"I remember the police [and city officials] coming to me and saying that I was suggesting that people should get high, which was not the intent," he told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's Our Vancouver.

"Of course, everybody did [get high]. But that drove Tom Campbell daffy."

Jerry Kruz says the Grateful Dead's first free concert was in Vancouver, not San Francisco. (CBC)

Could Vancouver become a hotbed for counter cultural music again, like it did in 1967's Summer of Love? 

"We'll never see exactly what we saw then," Kruz said, "There were so many groups in Vancouver. They were all trying to get recognized," he said.

While the music industry has changed dramatically, Kruz still sees hope.

"Everything is about sponsorship now," he said, "But I realize that the whole street [music] thing that is happening just morphed from what we were doing for free in Stanley Park."

To watch Jerry and Julie Kruz's interview with Gloria Macarenko on Our Vancouver, click here.