America's only government sanctioned pot festival clothing optional
During the war-hot summer of 1970, thousands of young people began streaming toward Clackamas County's Milo McIver State Park to attend Vortex I, a state-sponsored rock-music festival. Ed Westerdahl, chief of staff to Governor Tom McCall, had selected the 847-acre site, some thirty miles southeast of Portland. The park provided all the advantages that Westerdahl sought?a rural setting, proximity to Portland, and easy driving distance from Interstate 5. The festival was strategically planned to attract young anti-Vietnam war protestors who otherwise might descend on Portland to disrupt the American Legion's annual convention, which would begin on Sunday, August 30.
Even before Vortex I began, 2,000 people had entered the park; and by the time the festival officially opened on Friday, August 28, the population of McIver State Park had reached 5,000. At the close of the concert's second day, some 35,000 young people were jostling for space in the hot afternoon sun. Many of those who attended the festival were curious people from surrounding communities who came to witness the expected?young people smoking marijuana, many of them naked and frolicking in the Clackamas River to keep cool.
Vortex I was a rousing success. Television, radio, and the print media reported rural county roads clogged with vehicles, many of them sporting bright, psychedelic colors. To provide parking space, the state had leased several fields in the vicinity of McIver State Park. Because of the large number of aircraft circling above the park, Portland's Federal Aviation Administration office warned that overhead airspace was unsafe.
The origins of the festival?now shrouded in fading memory and photographs?can be found in the Oregonian's announcement in late May that Portland, still healing from protests against the Vietnam War on Portland's South Park Blocks, would host the American Legion convention in September. To complicate things, the paper reported that President Richard Nixon, a special object of war protestors' loathing, would address the convention. In late June, matters became more worrisome when the FBI informed Governor McCall that 50,000 anti-war radicals?the Peoples' Army Jamboree, an impromptu anti-war group?were organizing to disrupt the Legion convention. Although recent evidence shows that the FBI memo greatly exaggerated the situation, McCall's staff and the governor saw no reason to question the report, especially given the National Guard's killing of four students at Kent State University earlier that spring.
With mixed emotions about recent anti-war riots at Portland State University and the Park Blocks, some activists were eager to avoid further violence. Hindsight also reveals that FBI evidence was based on rumor and deliberately misleading informants. In response to a journalist's question to one of the Jamboree's leaders about the FBI estimate of 50,000 protestors, Peter Fornara replied: "We heard that the Legion expected to bring twenty-five thousand people to Portland, so we just doubled the number, made it up out of thin air. The number meant nothing. It was just talk." McCall biographer Brent Walth concluded: "What truly was at work in the summer of 1970 was not fact but fear."
The governor's office became even more alarmed when newspapers reported that Jamboree leaders were applying to use nearby Washington Park as a base of operations. In the midst of swirling rumors, threat, and counter-threat, a small group of activists calling themselves The Family suggested the idea of a free alternative, a Woodstock-like rock concert that would help defuse the situation. One activist called it "a peaceful coming together," a vortex for peace. When city officials refused to listen to the proposal, four members of The Family traveled to Salem, where they met with McCall staffer Ed Westerdahl, who was frantically trying to resolve the potential for violence in downtown Portland. "An odd scene," writes Walth, "Westerdahl in a crewcut and suit," and his long-haired visitors making their case. Westerdahl liked the idea and thought that McIver State Park was suitable for a rock festival. He then persuaded Governor McCall, who was in the midst of a reelection campaign, to back the plan.
Westerdahl determined that the state should fully sponsor Vortex and that law enforcement officers would keep a low profile, turning a blind eye to any Woodstock-like behavior, including nudity and marijuana use. When Westerdahl and his counter-cultural confederates announced plans for Vortex on August 6, reporters were in disbelief, with conservative Portland City Commissioner Frank Ivancie the most vocal critic. While the governor ordered select Oregon National Guard units to undergo riot training, downtown businesses prepared for the worst.
When the thousands of rock-festival fans began to leave McIver State Park in droves on Sunday, most of them simply returned to their homes. In the end, President Nixon canceled his Portland visit, and only two small marches took place in the city, involving some 1,000 protestors. Other than the shouting of anti-war slogans, Portland remained quiet. With the perspective of time, it is clear that FBI misinformation led to exaggerated predictions, overreaction, and paranoia. and whether Vortex saved Portland from chaos is the subject of ongoing debate. Memory plays still other tricks with those who attended the event. A standard bit of humor shared among those who were in attendance is that no one can recall the names of the musical performers.
Written by:William G. Robbins
Love, Matt. The Far Out Story of Vortex I. Nestucca, Ore.: Nestucca Spit Press, 2004.
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
The festival was held from August 28 through September 3, at the same time as the American Legion convention. Between 30,000 and 100,000 people attended the event, held at Milo McIver State Park, near the city of Estacada. Admission was free of charge, so the gates to the event were not monitored (and an accurate attendance figure is not available). On the busiest day of the festival, a line of automobiles ran 18 miles from the park gates to southeast Portland.
Per agreement with the governor, the police and the Oregon National Guard largely ignored non-violent offenses such as drug use and public nudity, both of which were present at the festival. The festival became known as "The Governor's Pot Party".
The music at the festival was primarily performed by local acts. The media reported that many prominent national acts of the time would appear, including Santana, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead, but none did. This did little to dampen the enthusiasm of attendees.
In order to keep the peace, Oregon governor Tom McCall acted on a suggestion by staffer Ed Westerdahl. He made an agreement with representatives of local anti-war factions to permit a rock festival to be held in a state park at the same time as Nixon's scheduled visit, and to turn a blind eye toward behavior that had been widespread at the Woodstock Festival, like nudity and use of marijuana. McCall has been heard to remark that by making this agreement?less than three months before the upcoming November vote, in which he was running for re-election?he had "committed political suicide."
(Oregonians loved his daring pragmatism and he was easily reelected)
Though no doubt aided by a last-minute cancellation by Nixon, the event had its desired affect. Both the American Legion convention and the anti-war activities of the Jamboree were carried out without any major incident. The concert was considered by many to be an excellent means of preventing violence. Far from committing political suicide, McCall won re-election that November, defeating opponent Robert W. Straub handily.
McCall later told Studs Terkel: "It was the damnedest confrontation you'll ever see. We took a park, 20 miles south of Portland, and turned it into an overnight bivouac and disco party.?There was a lot of pot smoking and skinny dipping but nobody was killed."
One of the biggest parties Oregon ever threw flashes gloriously back to life in the delightful documentary "Vortex I." Written and produced by Eric Cain for Oregon Public Broadcasting, the film re-creates and analyzes the rock festival held Aug. 28-Sept. 3, 1970, in McIver State Park.
Staged largely by the state of Oregon to obviate violent rallies against the American Legion convention in Portland, Vortex I succeeded wildly in luring tens of thousands of (mostly) young people to a vast sylvan enclave on the Clackamas River 30-some safe miles from the visiting legionnaires.
Cain's documentary provides concise context. By late 1970 Oregon had suffered years of relentless dinner-hour news of Vietnam and violent protests, images of the Kent State bloodbath and Portland's own South Park Blocks protesters in May 1970. The American Legion convention supposedly would include President Richard Nixon (but didn't).
Catastrophe seemed inevitable.
But, tradition has it, the magical, last-minute emergence of Vortex saved the day -- and the convention.
Did it? We'll never know what would have happened without it -- and everybody in the film seems tickled pink that we won't
Visionary Gov. Tom McCall is not around to tell his tale to Cain, although recorded statements help. And Cain benefits from on-camera input by McCall's executive assistant Ed Westerdahl, McCall's press aide Doris Penwell, festival co-organizer Lee Meier and historian/publisher Matt Love, author of "The Far Out Story of Vortex I."
View full sizeCameron Bangs
Groovy: a Vortex attendee.
Home movies, news footage, press photos and personal snapshots reveal just what a good time was had by almost all. Those who thought Vortex was a ghastly idea are not heard. Surprisingly, Woodstock is not mentioned.
But Cain's film offers insight and anecdotes demonstrating that what seemed like a pretty good last-minute quick fix at the time probably was a brilliant idea whose genius would reveal itself only over time. Now seems a fine time.
Three personal notes on the subject:
1. As The Oregonian's drama editor in 1970, I reviewed movies, plays and some concerts. I was a guest on a news show on KATU that included American Legion officers. The epochal documentary "Woodstock" had wowed 'em for months at the Hollywood Theatre, and I was asked to discuss the film and speculate on Vortex.
I could say only that I had no real idea, but (as Cain's documentary notes) Vortex-goers had been arriving early and were reported to be (big whew!) perfectly behaved, possibly mellow.
Before the TV show, the host asked an American Legion officer what he thought of the young people assembling. The legionnaire burst forth with florid invective, startling in its fury and vulgarity, calling them traitors in wartime and degenerates. The other legionnaires looked uneasy.
But when asked the same question on camera, the speaker composed himself, perhaps after input from his fellows. He smiled and said that wars were fought for the right to dissent; it made America great, and so on. Then he flashed an aw-shucks Gary Cooper grin and said something like, "But it doesn't mean I have to agree with them." In many years of covering theater, I never saw a better performance.
2. My wife, Dulcy, and I, the antithesis of hippies (she was a 28-year-old U.S. Bank officer) took in Vortex along with hundreds of others who simply wanted to watch history happen. Just as Cain's film indicates, it was both lively and mellow. I don't think we heard any music where we were -- vast park -- but we watched young people grooving, as was said then, on the atmosphere, both meteorological and cultural.
It seemed a clich? hippie dream -- peaceful, blissful and uninhibited. Naked or topless people drifted about -- one statuesque lass eagerly hawked mescaline -- and most seemed to know they had physiques to be proud of and were happy to share.
Anticipating a longer stay, we had brought a large box of take-out chicken from Fryer Tuck's. We had a lovely time, realized we wouldn't be staying too long after all -- and had had enough chicken. We noticed a half-dozen or so neatly dressed lads (who would have been carded in a bar) and offered the friar's fowl. They accepted avidly but politely. They had come to Eden unprepared, and providence had provided.
3. In Cain's film, a guy in a dark suit, glasses and striped tie flashes a V at the camera by the Heathman Hotel on Southwest Broadway -- I'm pretty sure that is me. If so, I was not in the demonstration but was returning from a downtown theater (Fox, Music Box, Orpheum) to The Oregonian. I would have flashed the V as a whimsical greeting to a photographer I recognized.
-- Ted Mahar
comment to article:
I think it is important to remember, since T. Mahar doesn't mention it, that the violence at Kent State and Portland State was entirely perpetrated by "law enforcement", the National Guard in Ohio and the Portland Police at PSU. As was later admitted by the FBI, they had absolutely NO reliable evidence to claim that the PAJ (People's Army Jamboree) or other demonstrators were planning any violent demonstrations in Portland. Only the American Legion and the Portland Police were promising violence if large demonstrations occurred. The violence-prone cops and Legionnaires should have been sent to McIver to get stoned instead of the State infringing the right of citizens to "peaceably assemble".
Friends living within blocks of the Memorial Coliseum were astounded to see tanks and vehicles w/rolls of accordian wire on huge spools moving into the underground there in the dead of night. They boarded up their houses and their downtown shops and went to visit friends out of town. I too respect those who demonstrated BUT the allure of sex-drugs-rock n roll, given the tenor of Nixon's 'Silent Majority' at the time, have averted a bloodbath. The demonstrators DID disarm an 'out of town' continent of probable provocateurs who produced stones and bricks and attempted to trash downtown show windows.
Oregon Governor Tom McCall issued this eight-page press release in early September, 1970, during his successful re-election campaign. This is the first page of that statement. In it, McCall defended his decision to use state money and employees to organize a three-day rock music festival at McIver State Park, in Clackamas County, called Vortex I. McCall and his staff used the festival to avert a potentially violent confrontation between anti-Vietnam War protestors, police, and members of the national American Legion, a veterans? organization. The American Legion had scheduled their national convention in Portland and invited President Richard Nixon to be the keynote speaker.
In the press release, McCall, a former journalist, also listed numerous civil riots and violent events that occurred between 1965 and 1970 in American cities, causing deaths and property damage. As a comparison, he pointed out that the protest during the American Legion convention drew few people, was mostly peaceful, and resulted in only one broken window.
Portland business owners also contributed money for Vortex I, which attracted more than 35,000 people ? including many youth who were allowed to flout laws by using drugs and going naked. The idea for Vortex I was first proposed by ?The Family,? a Portland-based hippie organization that helped run the festival.
While historians have determined that the threat of a riot in Portland was overestimated, McCall had reason to worry. A Portland State University protest group, called the People?s Army Jamboree, planned to demonstrate against the American Legion and President Nixon, who canceled his appearance at the last minute and sent Vice President Spiro Agnew instead. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned McCall that as many as 50,000 protestors were planning a riot in Portland. In the end, as few as one thousand protestors marched peacefully in Portland streets during the weekend of the convention and festival.
Walth, Brent. Fire at Eden?s Gate: Tom McCall and the Oregon Story. Portland, Oreg., 1994.
Written by Kathy Tucker, ? Oregon Historical Society, 2002.
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
where the 60's really that good for some people? Far out man , far out!
Started high School in "60". Catholic School with uniforms below the knee. It was still the "50's". Hit college in "64". It was now another world, mini-skirts, parties and very accommodating young ladies. It was so much fun I stayed to work the clubs where we partied for a few years.
No STD's in sight anywhere. They were out there but far away from my little world. One need for blue ointment but that was a Dublin import.
The sixties were so much fun I never noticed the decade go by.
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost