In the summer and fall of 1967, America became aware of a growing movement of young people, based mainly out of California, called the "psychedelic movement." This movement relied on drug use, strange music, and multimedia experiences to transcend reality and bring a higher state of consciousness to those who participated. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is the story of how this movement began: with one person, Ken Kesey, and his band of followers, the Merry Pranksters.
Kesey is a young, talented novelist who has just seen his first book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, published, and who is consequently on the receiving end of a great deal of fame and fortune. While living in Palo Alto and attending Stanford's creative writing program, Kesey signs up to participate in a drug study sponsored by the CIA. The drug they give him is a new experimental drug called LSD.
Under the influence of LSD, Kesey begins to attract a band of followers. They are drawn to the transcendent states they can achieve while on the drug, but they are also drawn to Kesey, who is a charismatic leader. They call themselves the "Merry Pranksters" and begin to participate in wild experiments at Kesey's house in the woods of La Honda, California. These experiments, with lights and noise, are all engineered to create a wild psychedelic experience while on LSD. They paint everything in neon Day-Glo colors, and though the residents and authorities of La Honda are worried, there is little they can do, since LSD is not an illegal substance.
The Pranksters first venture into the wider world by taking a trip east, to New York, for the publication of Kesey's newest novel. They buy a bus, which they paint in Day-Glo and name "Furthur." Along the way they take trips on acid and film the entire thing. This is The Movie, which soon comes to symbolize the great experiment they are all participating in: either you are in The Movie, or you are not.
Back in California, Kesey's profile as a leader of this new counter cultural movement begins to rise. He befriends the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang, and even leads a retreat of Unitarian church leaders. Some begin to think of him as "the Prophet Kesey" - and indeed, much of what the Pranksters are doing does resemble a new religious movement.
To get the word out about the new understanding of life that the Pranksters achieve while high on LSD, they start Acid Tests. Acid Tests are huge parties with multi-media presentations where everyone takes LSD and transcends reality into a state of intersubjectivity. The Acid Tests become wildly popular, and Kesey is the de facto leader of the new movement. Soon, however, Kesey is busted by the authorities for possession of marijuana, and facing jail time, he flees the country to Mexico. The Pranksters join him, but in this desert land they simply cannot recreate the feeling of the Acid Tests that they held back in California. Kesey decides to sneak back into the U.S. and plays a "cops and robbers game" with the authorities, appearing on television and giving interviews in the paper, until he is finally caught by the FBI.
When Kesey goes before a judge, he tells him that in California he had a vision of "moving beyond acid." The judge lets him out to prepare for this great Acid Test Graduation, in which the Pranksters will try and transcend time and space, but without the help of the drug. This Graduation, which draws huge media attention (and much consternation from the huge community of people now taking LSD) ends up being a total failure, and though Kesey and the Pranksters believe they might have graduated from acid, no one follows along this time.
Kesey eventually does his jail time and settles down in Oregon with his wife and family. The Pranksters disperse, though some come back, and the bus, "Furthur," sits beside Kesey's small house in the Oregon woods.