Sky River Rock Festival II, Tenino, Washington 1969

Sky River Rock Festival II, Tenino, Washington 1969
Authored By John Nicholson

The second Sky RiverFestival was held on from Sat Aug 30, 1969 - Mon Sep 01, 1969 at Rainier Hereford Ranch, Tenino, Washington.

The promoters said Sky River II was meant to “combat racism, hatred, violence, and poverty” which sounds cool. Did the locals want such altruism on the doorstep? What do you think?  

Performing at the festival are Anonymous Artists of America, Black Snake, Blue Bird, Cleanliness & Godliness Skiffle Band, Collectors, Congress of Wonders, James Cotton, Country Weather, Country Joe and the Fish, Crome Syrcus, Crow, Dovetail, Floating Bridge, Flying Burrito Brothers, Frumious Bandersnatch, Grapefruit, Guitar Shorty, Buddy Guy, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, Dr. Humbead's New Tranquility String Band, Juggernaut, Kaleidoscope, Los Flamencos de Santa Lucia, Fred McDowell, Steve Miller, New Lost City Ramblers, Pacific Gas & Electric, Peter, Terry Reid, Mike Russo, Sons of Champlin, Mark Spoelstra, Alice Stuart, Yellowstone, Youngbloods, and Elyse Weinberg.

For most of the month preceding the festival, it looked as if the event would never take place. Under intense pressure from a local leader of the John Birch Society, police, conservatives, and the Catholic Archdiocese, virtually every county in the area passed laws prohibiting or severely restricting rock festivals. Specifically, the suit called out the impact of noise on cows (“…it would cause them to lose flesh. They won’t be grazing.”) I dunno man, I think the bovine community likes to swing its udders to acid rock. 

The irony of this is that the first Sky River festival in 1968 was a really successful, peaceful affair. Even so, the good folk of the area still feared sex, drugs and rock n roll and thought there would be naked freaks getting their Communist groove on in their back garden and they did not want to see anybody doing that, thank you very much. 

A site in Enumclaw, 30 miles southeast of Seattle in King County, was offered and then withdrawn, and the producer John Chambless scrambled to find an alternative.

He ended up with a strange locale: the Rainier Hereford Ranch, a stretch of dry grassland dimpled with miniature hillocks near Tenino, south of Olympia. This’ll do for rock n roll, he thought and he was right. 

But the Tenino Chamber of Commerce and several adjacent property owners obtained an injunction blocking a Thurston County permit to host the festival. No freaks allowed was the message. However, as is often the case at this time, a more sympathetic member of straight society said “hey, my kids want to go to this and they’re not bad people, Ok they like music that sounds like noise to me but even so, let them groove, err...baby" so a sympathetic judge required the plaintiffs to post a $25,000 bond against the festival's anticipated losses. They couldn't or wouldn’t - as the cool judge surely knew - and at the last possible second the festival was good to go. Phew. 

An estimated 25,000 people attended over three days, but the festival still lost money, but then, for the Sky River promoters, making money was never their first inspiration. Pamela Davis, who went to the festival remembers going back to the ranch after the festival with a few friends to help clean up. They built picnic tables and a fire pit, then invited the local law enforcement and their families out for a barbecue to thank them for handling the crowd so well. 

Now, see, they were real nice kids after all. We knew that all along, but maybe in 1969 straight America still had a lot to learn about what they were sold as the enemy within. 



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