Clackamas County's Vortex I lives on in Portland stage play
Hopefully someday it'll make the stage, because the story behind the Vortex I music festival of 1970 should continue to be told to enlighten and educate people, especially given our current political and cultural climate.
Pres. Richard M. Nixon was scheduled to speak at an American Legion gathering in downtown Portland, shortly after several protesters had been injured in an event at Portland State University.
Gov. Tom McCall, a Republican, wanted to avoid the violence another clash would bring. So, he allowed organizers to plan and stage a Woodstock-style music festival at Milo McIver State Park in Estacada — far away from downtown — with booze, pot and drugs and nudity permitted. It was called Vortex I: A Biodegradable Festival of Life.
Nixon canceled, but Vice President Spiro Agnew appeared, and nothing happened because protesters had been essentially distracted (happily). Estimates of 30,000-100,000 people attended Vortex I, which ended up being a one-year festival.
Governing worked. What a concept, huh?
"When you think about what happened in Portland in summer 2020, when the feds came in and stuff happened downtown, that's what (McCall) was trying to prevent. And, he did," said playwright Sue Mach, whose "Vortex I" play takes another step toward full-length production when a staged reading takes place May 11 at Lincoln Hall.
"McCall was a Republican, for crying out loud, and they threw this thing together in three months — for getting permits and insurance, imagine having rock festival with drugs and alcohol by a river. Rather than partisan politics and game playing, they said, 'Let's give it a go.' McCall thought it could be political suicide, but he said, 'Let's give it a try.'"
The ambitious "Vortex I" play involves Mach, composer Bill Wadhams, director Allen Nause and musical director Gene Ehbar, and 12 actors, including Leif Norby, Malia Tippets and Nathan Dunkin. Original music was developed by Wadhams, who famously performs along with Astrid Plane in Animotion (hit song "Obsession"). It also includes works by Tom Grant and others. Mach and Wadhams have collaborated on lyrics.
There had been two, pre-pandemic readings of "Vortex I," and now a third will take place with 12 actors and a five-piece band — all with the intent and goal of landing a production at a Portland-area theater. Several theaters have shown interest, said Mach, who's an instructor at Clackamas Community College.
"We've been preparing to present it to theaters and hope someone will pick it up," Wadhams said. "That's the best we can do."
Mach and Wadhams had wanted to stage the play in 2020, the 50th anniversary of Vortex I (Aug. 28-Sept. 3). But, a certain world event got in the way.
Added Mach: "The pandemic set us back, as it did everyone. I did some rewrites, discovered some new material, and I did go through that dark phase, 'Maybe this is as far as it goes,' nothing was happening anywhere. But, things are opening up, so we're back at it. A lot of actors and musicians are still involved in it, we're just waiting for somebody to say yes. … These things take time and patience."
The day of the stage reading, May 11, is the 52nd anniversary of a student strike ("occupation") over the Vietnam War at Portland State University, which resulted in a police-protester clash that sent several people to the hospital. That's why it was important to do the stage reading at Lincoln Hall recital hall (located at PSU) on May 11, Mach said.
"(The protest) is the first scene in the play," she said.
It's a musical about a music festival, but it doesn't include music from the musicians who played there — Lloyd Jones and Brown Sugar, Jacob's Ladder and Tutu Band.
"We list the names of the bands and sing out a list of the names and there is one song that sings about the concert," Wadhams said.
"Allen (Nause) and I are hoping that the whole play itself will have a festival feel," Mach added.
For more, and tickets to the staged reading, see Vortex1Musical.com.
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