Harmonyville, Walpack Center, New Jersey, 1970

Harmonyville, Walpack Center, New Jersey, 1970
Authored By John Nicholson

This one can be filed in the ‘great festivals that never happened’ drawer. Promised on the posters to be a bucolic-sounding "6 Days of Harmony, Music, Workshops & Symposiums, Camp Fire Shows & Concerts”' to be held at Wallpack Center, New Jersey, a lovely small town in a very rural farming area.

A year on from Woodstock the counterculture vibe was heavy in the air. The war between The Man and The Freaks was being fought everywhere from Kent State to DC. Vietnam protests were frequent and widespread. Into this frenetic culture and political situation came this 6-day proposition for something which sounded like a counterculture paradise. And that was the point. It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, after all. It was organised by The Spivak brothers, the Electric Factory outfit that had already put on 1st and 2nd Quaker City Rock Festivals in 1968, and the Baltimore Rock Festival in 1969. And they booked a phenomenal roster of bands. 

American Dream, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Catfish, Chicago, Chicken Shack, Eric Burdon & War, Hot Tuna. James Taylor, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, Joe Cocker, John Sebastian, Lighthouse, Little Richard, Miles Davis, Mother Earth, Muddy Waters, Poco, Procol Harum, Richie Havens, Roland Kirk, Savoy Brown, Small Faces, Ten Years After, The James Gang, The Stooges, Van Morrison.

Maybe, having seen the success of the Woodstock movie in promoting bands like Santana and Ten Years After, everyone wanted to be in on this big new adventure. I mean, 6 days is a long time for a festival. And given it was to be held in a lovely rural setting, it had to be a huge party, right? Well, maybe.

The trouble was the site of the Festival was the Radcliff Farm, right along the River and 2 miles North of Flatbrookville, on Old Mine Road and most of the older people in the community were dead set against the Festival. They had all seen pictures of Woodstock, the choked roads, the muddy freaks and the rubbish left behind and didn’t want any part of it. 

However, a poll taken in July 1970 showed that one hundred percent of people under the age of thirty and twenty nine percent of people over the age of thirty were in favour of the festival. The more progressive older residents believed that the youth required outlets for the expression of their own values and customs. This is the land of the free, right? The place where getting your groove on was surely written in the constitution!

Not all older folk were opposed. Johnannes M. Hansen, a father of two children in high school was interviewed by the local press, and he believed the rock concert was a part of the new social change and needed the assistance of the community in order to be safe and fun for everyone. Hansen believed that talk about the end of the world in order to frighten people could not control social change. And he was right about that. Even so, there was no much negativity towards the whole idea. 

According to Jeffrey M. Daly, a local twenty four year old, the outrage at the concert stemmed partially from a “lack of understanding and respect for someone with different musical and social tastes”. And he was right about that, too.

As word of the Festival spread, hippies started showing up early. Townspeople began to complain about naked hippies wandering around and swimming in the river. Oooh, that’s literally the worst thing you could see! Ha. Or not. One man even claimed to have run off a trespasser with his rifle. Yee, and indeed, haw.  Whether they were naked is lost to history.

Eventually, the State got heavy and Superior Court Judge Joseph H. Stamler issued a Court Injunction. This prohibited the Festival from being held. The rationale was that Walpack was an isolated area with minimal public services, no method of crowd control and no way to ensure the health and safety of several hundred thousand festival-goers. Newspapers featured the picture of a Police cruiser parked on the Flatbrookville Bridge, showing that it was only a single lane road, and couldn't possibly handle the volume of traffic the festival was sure to generate.

In fairness, they were right. If hundreds of thousands turned up, it would have paralysed the whole area. Nowhere can accommodate a massive sudden influx. But of course, no-one knew if so many people would come. However, they were not prepared to risk it. 

As part of the Injunction, the promoters had to advertise its cancellation. Signs were posted on all area roads well in advance. On the two weekends leading up to the festival, all roads into Walpack were blocked by State Police - to keep out hippies, naked or otherwise.

The promoters had not done themselves any favours really. If they had got a sense of the local community, organised facilities comprehensively and understood that actually the locals were very sensitive to anything that threatened the area because of the controversial Tocks Island Dam project which would transform most of Walpack into the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, then perhaps they could’ve worked together to put the show on.  According to Mayor Russell Heater of Walpack, many residents rejected the proposed festival in order to “enjoy the last couple of years [they had] here in Walpack in peace.”

So August 4th came and went without fanfare. The much ballyhooed festival never took place.

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