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In the first half of 1970, plans were afoot for a festival in Middlefield, Connecticut. So here's a quiz question: what was so special about the festival at Powder Ridge Ski Area, which was attended by around 30,000 people?
Answer: it never happened. Or rather, it did. But no bands played. Even so, everyone got real high, which is the important thing.
The establishment got pretty wise, pretty quickly after Woodstock and all the festival fun of 1969. Local communities mobilised to prevent 30 of 48 planned festivals in 1970. Boo. Festivals were seen as political events, which sometimes they were and sometimes they weren't. That was not a distinction the straight world could get its head around though. To them, they were all long-haired freaks who would ruin all things holy and American with their alfalfa sprouts, headbands and Blue Cheer records.
One such that could not get its legal injunction lifted was Powder Ridge, which had booked Allman Brothers, Mountain, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Sly Stone, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, Chuck Berry and many others. But the mere fact that the event wasn't going ahead didn't stop the promoters from promoting it. Oh no. Perhaps they thought that if everyone showed up, it would have to happen anyway. Or maybe they just wanted to create hell for The Man for stopping the festival from happening - a festival that was in advance was touted as a major cultural event.
These were fierce times for the counterculture. If the authorities had stopped a fest, they were damn well going to show up anyway. Yeah. Don't let the ungroovy win, man. 30,000 souls were not going to let a cancelled festival spoil their weekend and soi turned up en masse, leading to one of the most heroic displays of mass public drug-taking the continental US had ever seen. Yeah, let's get it on, baby!
Without the distractions of bands to see - with the exception of a few local outfits and Melanie, who could always be relied on to turn up with an acoustic guitar - there was little else to do but get very, very loaded. There was no food, no facilities, no toilets. Nada. But at least there were an estimated 70 drug dealers hawking their wares untroubled by the law. "Buy a tab of acid and get a shot of heroin free", they shouted. You don't get that in your local pharmacy, dude.
Festival medic William Abruzzi was treating at least 50 freaking out trippers an hour amid scenes of considerable wigging out. Connecticut - not exactly known as a party state - hadn't seen anything like these sorts of scenes of hedonism and outright getting-it-on. It scared them.
The locals had banned the festival because they feared exactly this sort of thing would happen. Naked hippies, often strangers to each other, were pleasuring each other in the most primal of ways, even as the rain fell. "
"Oh Martha, this is shocking, but I just can't look away. Look at what she's doing to him. You never do that to me, Martha."
People started dumping drugs into the barrels of drinking water. Now, that's gonna make your tea taste a bit weird. Plots were being lost left, right and dude-I-can't-feel-my-face centre. Everyone was high, everyone was out of it.
The Black Panthers turned up and made speeches just as a thunderstorm broke. Some trippers felt the Panthers had, like, made it rain, man. I'm tellin' ya, man, those dudes are powerful, nature is on their side!
The organisers had disappeared without trace and there was nothing the authorities could really do except wait for the scene to burn itself out, which is duly did as everyone sobered up and realised they had to get to work on Monday or go to college.
Even though no music was played, this non-festival scared The Good Folk witless and stories of the ambitious and especially vigorous public sex acts being carried out in the open air for all to see, along with all the wasted hippies and freaked out trippers littering the site, spread all across the country, leading to many more festivals being canned. We don't want that sort of thing around here, was the order of the day.
Powder Ridge Ski Area was potentially a really cool place to hold a festival but the manner of it's failure both in business and political terms began to make the case, much for strongly, for festivals, if they were to happen at all, had to be run professionally and profitably. They had to be controlled. Of course, that was not what the scene was about. It was, to a degree, about getting away from the stiff collar society wanted you to wear. There's also no doubt some couldn't handle the freedom they offered and instead of getting together to shape a better way to run the world, just got very loaded and passed out. Shame.
The road to the 21st century festival corporate-sponsored by The Man and his minions, had already begun to be walked and Powder Ridge was, inadvertently, one of the driving forces in that journey.