Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Early rock fests tested media

The Grateful Dead headlined Wisconsin's first
outdoor rock festival, held near Poynette in 1970.


In the year after the wildly successful Woodstock Music Festival, promoters worked to establish similar events in the midwest.

Michigan had Goose Lake, Illinois featured Kickapoo Creek and Wisconsin hosted Steven's Point and Poynette.

I didn't attend any of these music gatherings, but as editor of Bay College's student newspaper I was fully aware they were newsworthy.

When we were putting together the issue dated Oct. 9, 1970 staff writer Bernie LaPlaunt pitched an idea for a story on the festivals from a young person's point of view.

His subsequent article ran on the front page of the Bay Beacon under the headline "News Media Neglect Truth About Rock Fests."

LaPlaunt wrote that rock festivals were the "most interesting and controversial happenings of the past summer."

He suggested that the "establishment" news media were quick to condemn Goose Lake and Steven's Point without giving them fair treatment.

Kickapoo Creek and the Poynette, meanwhile, were largely ignored in the media because "although there were some small incidents nothing went really wrong," LaPlaunt contended.

The Associated Press did issue reports with datelines from Poynette and Steven's Point, although it wasn't anywhere near the volume of publicity generated by Michigan's Goose Lake.

Kickapoo Creek also received a limited amount of coverage.

Held April 24-26, 1970, Poynette was actually a significant story since it was Wisconsin's first outdoor rock festival.

Hearing promoters were looking to hold a festival, Mrs. Irene York leased her 800-acre farm, with Rowan Creek rolling through it, as the location for the event.

When Columbia County officials caught wind of the festival they quickly sought an injunction against it, but were turned down by a Circuit Court judge two days before the festival started, the AP wire service reported.

A poster advertising the event referred to the area west of the small community of Poynette as Mt. York.

Dubbed "Sound Storm," the event was just half an hour north of Madison, home to the populous University of Wisconsin.

The festival was organized by Peter Obranovich, Sandy Nelson and Bob Pulling under the name Golden Freak Enterprises.

Obranovich had worked as a roadie with the Grateful Dead on the west coast, and consequently was able to book the popular San Francisco psychedelic band to headline Sound Storm.

While the Grateful Dead gave some hip credibility to the festival, Obranovich signed 35 other acts to provide around the clock entertainment.

Many were local or regional musical acts and a few of their names draw blank stares when mentioned today.

Tickets to Sound Storm were offered through a location at 114 N. Carroll St. in Madison. A three-day pass cost $15, while a ducat for Saturday and Sunday went for $12. A ticket for the final day only was $7.

If the music wasn't enough, a flyer for the weekend promised "all sand, woods, grass, water, clean air." Free hayrides were also offered.

The Minneapolis-based blues-rock band Crow, famous for "Evil Woman Don't Play Your Games With Me," was second-billed, while Illinois Speed Press was also featured.

Other groups highlighted on the poster included Rotary Connection with Minnie Riperton, Mason Profitt and Baby Huey.

Menominie, Wisconsin based Tongue, noted for their single "Keep On Truckin,'" and Appleton's Soup, led by Doug Yankus, also offered their original rock 'n' roll at the festival.

Blues guitarist Luther Allison performed at Sound Storm although the Delmark recording artist's name didn't appear on the poster.

The AP wire service said county and municipal law enforcement, told to expect 25,000 to 30,000 music fans, contributed patrols under a mutual assistance agreement.

By Friday night, an estimated 6,000 young people, many apparently from out-of-state, found their way to the festival.

Sponsors said "a portable hospital, 100 private security officers and a dozen physicians were enlisted" for the event.

The news report quoted a law enforcement official as saying "Both the promoters and the fans have been very cooperative."

Numerous vendors offered food including "hippies" from Madison's Mifflin St. Co-op who operated a free-lunch stand stocked with brown rice, oatmeal and apples.

The Grateful Dead, with "Uncle John's Band" and "Casey Jones" freshly added to their constantly changing setlist, brought Sound Storm to a climax Sunday night with a five-hour show.

Although fans had been following the band around for years and taping their shows, apparently no one recorded the show on tape or paper, although the classic "Dark Star" was definitely performed.

The group's onstage jamming triggered customary free-form dancing by scores of Deadheads.

You might say the festival ended on a "high" note considering many in the crowd engaged in the use of marijuana or other illicit substances.

During the weekend, some bathers in Rowan Creek forgot to wear their clothes, another activity frowned upon by law enforcement.

While Sound Storm offered an idyllic setting for a rock concert, reality crept in at the end when a suitcase containing the weekend's proceeds was stolen, turning the event into a financial nightmare for promoters.

Still from a fan's perspective, the weekend went off without a hitch.

Like Woodstock, no violence occurred at Sound Storm. There were few arrests. Peace and love prevailed.

Examined by the news media, Wisconsin's first rock festival passed the audition.

Other festivals of the era were judged more harshly. In Michigan, steps were taken to ban them.

Should the news media of the day have criticized or hailed the behavior of festival participants?

The question is still being argued today.

That debate made rock festivals one of the "most interesting and controversial happenings of the past summer" just as writer Bernie LaPlaunt suggested in his Bay Beacon article nearly four decades ago.

No comments: