Haight Ashbury is, of course, the unremarkable intersection of Haight St. and Ashbury St. in the Fillmore district of San Francisco. It designates something of a ground zero for the multiplicities of scenes active in the surrounding environment in the mid-late 60's. It was the epicenter of the American psychedelic rock movement, as well as an emblem of the counterculture itself. The music of the typical Haight Ashbury group was usually folk-based, with varying degrees of blues influence (from none to a whole lot), hints of surf riffs in places, with or without an organ, with long, spacy guitar playing and varying degrees of improvisation onstage. Some groups branched out towards acid rock, some toward country-rock, some towards blues-rock, some towards nostalgia, some towards heavy metal. The roster of well-known players of the era is long and impressive: Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Sly & The Family Stone, Big Brother & The Holding Co. (Janis Joplin), Santana, Steve Miller Band, Hot Tuna, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, New Riders of the Purple Sage. There were also many also-rans, some so loosely knit they survive only as a name on one of the famously beautiful concert posters of the day. The Charlatans, whom history has largely forgotten, were the first Haight Ashbury band to secure a recording contract; Jefferson Airplane was the first to have a hit and gain national exposure.
Books have been written on San Francisco's history in the 1960's, so a brief summary of the place and times will suffice.
As those who were there at the time claim, the real summers of love were 1965-1966, before LSD had been criminalized, and before anyone outside of San Francisco knew what was going on.
When the mainstream media finally got wind, late as usual, they dubbed 1967 "Summer of Love" and dubbed San Francisco's inhabitants "hippies" and "flower children"; catchall terms that really referred to nothing specific that actually existed, but sounded really groovy to bored kids stuck with oppressive parents in the suburbs of America. However, it wasn't just the media; Scott MacKenzie's smash 1967 hit "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)" written by Los Angeleno John Phillips, also put a groovy spin on the city.
Thus, what was good about the original scene; a variety of cultures cohabiting peacefully, an optimistic and exhuberant bent for experimentation, experience, and art, a live-and-let-live philosophy and tolerance, was brutally overrun when the word got out, touching off a migration of teenage runaways, twenty-something drifters, and thirty-something dope dealers, bikers, and ex-cons who grew their hair long to get in on drugs and free love. 33-year-old Charles Manson and a couple of girl-followers were "flower children" on The Haight for a few months in 1967. 1967 rendered the district filthy, overcrowded, crime ridden, STD infested, and full of abused runaways, burnouts, and the mentally unstable. The original inhabitants moved out as the riffraff moved in, for a few years the area was fairly slummy until gentrification set in. A sense of traditional counterculture (an oxymoron in the mid-60's) still exists, although there's very little continuity left. The street remains part of the tourist bus route throughout the city.