Saturday, February 6, 2010

Another Excerpt from The Companion Book

Thanks for watching the first episode (and if you missed it, scroll down a bit). Here's another excerpt from my forthcoming book, describing my "covering" the famously canceled Powder Ridge rock festival in July 1970 in Connecticut for Zygote magazine, where I served as an editor.

It was to be held at the Powder Ridge ski area in Connecticut, which the ads said formed “a natural amphitheater.” Even after day one, a Friday, got called off, due to an injunction secured by local residents in Middlefield – the year after Woodstock saw the vast majority of fests killed this way – Lenny told me to go anyway, since thousands were already showing up and some musicians were vowing to arrive to show solidarity with the huddled masses. The New York Times was covering the festival daily as a big local story. Would ticket-holders get stiffed? So off I went on Saturday morning.

Ignoring signs posted on roads leading the site reading “Festival Prohibited—Turn Back,” I arrived to find the parking wasn’t too bad. Scattered across the slopes, looking down at a stage at the bottom, were 20,000 or more people, with the ratio of drug pushers to users about 3:2. (It would take more than an injunction to keep dealers away from longhaired rock fans.) Sellers of acid and mescaline posted signs next to tents advertising their wares—or was it “bewares”? The price of a buck for a tab was hard to pass up. I didn’t see, but heard about, a barrel where everyone was encouraged to toss extra tabs, or god knows what, into a punch that you could then drink. Also: all utilities had been shut off and the food service abandoned.

The schedule for day two, besides Van, included the Allman Brothers, Joe Cocker, Little Richard, Jethro Tull, surely the largest collections of weirdoes to ever perform on a single day in the great state of
Connecticut. No announcements came from the stage so rumors were all we had. I roamed around, taking notes, spotting a nude couple here and there, some serious bad tripping in the woods, and the general order, and odor, of despair. It seemed to feature the “brown acid” from Woodstock without the music or good vibes.

Finally, in late afternoon, I felt I’d done my duty and beat a hasty retreat after finding my car not blocked in. The next day on the radio they reported that one artist did show – folk singer Melanie, who arrived after dark and performed her hit “Candles in the Rain” as hundreds held up candles. She plugged into the only electrical generator near the stage – a Mr. Softee truck. Sweet, but you couldn’t have paid me to stay for that (even if Zygote wasn’t paying me).

Comedian Lewis Black would later recount his drug-soaked days at Powder Ridge after walking off his post as a parking attendant there. He claimed that a Black Panther leader gave a fiery speech just as a thunderstorm broke out, causing many to blame the Panther and freak out even more. It would go down in history as the most famous canceled rock fest. Well, that was something anyway. In any event, my career as a rock journalist could only go up from there.

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