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I will never forget the first time I met Dr. Cameron Bangs, who passed away in September at the age of 78. It was late 2002, at his medical practice in Oregon City, the very town I grew up in and graduated from high school in 1982.


SUBMITTED - The Family had a compound of tepees in another part of the park, removed from the stage and medical center. The Family was the name of the loosely organized group that managed Vortex in cooperation with Oregon State Parks employees.A receptionist ushered me into his office and he greeted me warmly. I had called a few weeks earlier to set up an appointment to talk about his incredible role as the supervising doctor of all medical care at Vortex 1: A Biodegradable Festival of Life, held in late August 1970 in McIver Park outside of Estacada. SUBMITTED - Dr. Cameron Bangs is pictured with an unidentified woman at Vortex.Over 100,000 people attended this free weekend rock festival sponsored, by Republican Gov. Tom McCall to help keep the peace in Portland when President Richard Nixon was scheduled to address the national convention of the American Legion. Law enforcement officials had informed McCall that he could expect violent clashes between anti-war protestors and the Legionnaires in the Rose City. The idea was: stage a rock festival outside of town and draw the young people away. It worked.

I was researching Vortex full time, because I knew it was the greatest untold story of the Vietnam War era in American history and I desperately wanted to tell it.

Prior to meeting Dr. Bangs, I hadn’t written a book, let alone one on such a sprawling psychedelic topic. I had poked around some Vortex archives, transcribed a few primary documents, interviewed several of the festival’s key participants, and collected about 40 photographs, but a format and voice for the book had yet to emerge. Every little step along the way, however, I kept running into stories about Dr. Bangs and his extraordinary work at the festival. Everyone said I had to meet him.

After a three-hour interview with Dr. Bangs, I knew Vortex wasn’t only the greatest untold historical tale of its era, it was also the most far out, and Dr. Bangs herculean role at the festival was one of the principal reasons. As I drove away from his office, I knew I had figured out the book—put everything in, everything. Don’t filter. Let the text play out like a rock festival and turn Dr. Bangs loose in the story.

Turning Dr. Bangs loose meant including his entire 20,000-word in-the-moment diary of Vortex. He apparently dictated it and someone later typed it up. He had the diary ready for me when I visited him. He handed the whole thing over — just like that. No reservations, no preconditions, no questioning my credentials as a writer or historian, no suggestions what to do with the material. He also gave me 50 or so color slides of the festival and then said he’d love a copy of the book when I finished it.

Later that night, I read the diary in one sitting and could not believe its contents. I knew I had just read the greatest eyewitness report to the counterculture in action that exists in American history, and it was written by a doctor who took it upon himself to organize medical care for the festival participants. Until Dr. Bangs stepped up to lead, the state had made no provision for medical care. None. Without him, the festival might have ended up in disaster. As it turned out, not a single person was seriously injured at the festival. A lot of bad acid trips, yes, but Dr. Bangs helped out there, too.

My favorite passage from Dr. Bangs’ diary is below, his observation after the festival’s big Saturday night rock show:

Several of us walked to the bandstand area. Rock music had gone on all night and it was indeed a strange scene the following morning. It was foggy, with visibility limited to about 100 feet. Through the fog, in the still of the morning, with a little dew on the ground, we could hear the loud and somewhat lonely twangs of the guitars on the stage, playing rather erratically, definitely not together, sort of the dying embers of previous nights loud music. As we walked towards the stage, sleeping bags became so thick that you were continually stepping over or around them. With the visibility of about 100 feet, it appeared as if bodies extended forever on into eternity. People were sleeping as if they had obviously been drugged the night before. People huddling on top of sleeping bags shivering rather than getting inside. People sleeping with their heads bent over logs and in obviously uncomfortable positions. Wine bottles were extremely common; it appeared as if there were a thousand of them, mostly the half gallon green variety of the cheap wine being sold in the park. There were many people awake, stirring, a few fires going, people trying to keep warm. It had gotten quite cold during the night. A few small groups were playing guitars by themselves. A few just waking up and sitting up wondering what the hell had gone on the night before. The whole scene reminded us the morning after a battle.

My book about the festival, “The Far Out Story of Vortex I,” came out in the summer of 2004. I published it myself after receiving over 20 rejections from major and minor publishers. Dr. Bangs joined me at several events to promote the book and charmed audiences with his candid and humorous memories from the festival, particularly his assertion that he had set a world record for treating the most sunburned breasts and penises in a single time period. He later appeared in two film documentaries about Vortex and lit up the screen with his smile.

I owe a tremendous debt to Dr. Cameron Bangs for trusting me with his recollections, diary and photographs of Vortex. His faith in me with this priceless material was the genesis of when I became a real writer, the only dream I ever had as a kid and adult. I got to shake his hand a final time this summer at the Exploring Vortex reunion event at McIver Park. He had an admiring crowd around him, several of whom he treated at the festival! All the Vortexers mourned his passing.

My only regret is that I didn’t do a better job with the book so that it might have transported the wild tale of the only state-sponsored rock festival in American history well beyond Oregon and take its rightful place as one the unique stories in this nation’s history. A lot more people should know what Dr. Bangs and many other Oregonians did at McIver Park 45 years ago. It was so much more than just a big party to avert potential violence. And Cameron Bangs was so much more than just a doctor.

Matt Love lives in Astoria. A memorial service for Dr. Cameron Bangs is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14, at the Abernethy Center in Oregon City.

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