Then and now on Bull Frog Lake near Oregon City
"We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion-year-old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden."
- Joni Mitchell, "Woodstock"
Picture this: It's July 5th, 1969. In the rural area east of Oregon City, during the Summer of Love, on tiny Bullfrog Lake, 25,000 people are picnicking, dancing, hanging out in beads and tie-dyed bell-bottoms drinking Blitz beer and apple wine. Jefferson Airplane is onstage blasting out the hits from their 1967 album, "Surrealistic Pillow." Portland bands Electric Zoo, Son of Champlin, Ace of Cups, Mixed Blood and Family Tree take their turn groovin' in three days of partying down.
It was a month before the peace and love fest at Woodstock. When most of us think of big outdoor rock concerts, we think of Woodstock. We have images from digitized film and a documentary movie. There are live recordings so smokin' you can almost smell the weed.
In the years preceding Woodstock, there was an electric surge of powerful art and expression that generated a series of massive concerts across the U.S. from Texas to the Midwest, from the Bay Area to Seattle. A parachutist fell out of the sky during the Fifth Dimension's "Up, Up and Away," helicopters delivered pianos, and Hell's Angels were in charge of security and lost children. Young people were uniting around music, and stadium seats were too small to contain the exuberance. The outdoors provided a place where people could fly together on a magical, spiritual plane delivered by drugs and rock and roll. It's debatable which was the first big outdoor rock concert but Woodstock was clearly the pinnacle. Joni Mitchell called it when she said, "Woodstock was a spark of beauty where half a million (people) saw they were part of a greater organism."
A few years after Woodstock, the surge died down. Fearful neighbors dealing with traffic, drugs and security issues exerted pressure. The sociopolitical recalcitrant mass toned down and mostly disappeared. Rock concerts went back to stadium seating and now there's nothing particularly rebellious about 100,000 people listening to music.
The memories still hold steady for people who were there, who wanted to be there and for the people, young and old, who have made the music of the '60s into living classics. The wild gardens of musical and personal freedom may have been tamed but they have not been forgotten.
Fifty years later, on July 5, 2019, there was another party on the lake. Bull Frog Lake Fest II was an anniversary commemoration of the 1969 Bull Frog Lake Festival of rock and roll. It was quite a party! It was hosted by Linda Macpherson, Bill Gaffi, and Peter and Laurie Clark who usually live much more serenely on the quiet lake.
The spirit of the original party was captured by the fabulous music of Denver's up-and-coming band, Pennies on the Track, and Portland's own Island Trio + 2 and Kris Deelane & The Hurt. Children raced battery-powered frogs, a reminder that Clarence Hitchman, the original property owner and festival organizer, brought bullfrogs all the way from Louisiana to populate the lake. Their descendants were probably singing along or at least tapping their toes.
Neighbors, friends and family came together, listened to the music in the companionable spirit of another time. More subdued surely, but no less a celebration of people coming together to enjoy an afternoon and evening outside with big yellow balloons against the backdrop of the lake, to dance waving glow sticks, and perhaps to contemplate Kris Deelane's cover of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit."
And the white knight is talking backwards
And the red queen's off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head, feed your head..."
Yes, feeding ourselves with hugs, reunions with old friends, good food from Koi Fusion, enlivening conversations, something special to drink and ice cream from Fifty Licks, while great music is bouncing off Bullfrog Lake is in the spirit of all the times when music is a true "happening." It's where we recognize our capacity for connection and enjoyment and maybe even the wistful realization of our part in the larger organism of our humanity.
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