Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast
Season 6, Episode 1
Sunshine Daydream: Veneta, 8/27/72, part 1
- Ken Kesey, KRON, 1/66
The Last Acid Test
JESSE: On August 27th, 1972, two months and one day after the conclusion of the Grateful Dead’s Europe ‘72 tour, the band performed what some Dead freaks consider the most wonderful Dead show of all-time. Billed as a Pot-Luck Picnic to benefit the Springfield Creamery, the Dead performed three scorching sets at the Old Renaissance Fairgrounds in Veneta, Oregon on what is sometimes reported as the hottest day in state history. Rhino released the show as Sunshine Daydream in 2013, along with a proper version of the not-quite-lost but never-officially-released documentary of the same name.
Here at the Deadcast, we’re not generally in the business of unilaterally declaring anything to be the greatest Grateful Dead show of all-time, let alone believing that such a thing even exists. But that’s actually an irrelevant conversation for another day. 8/27/72 is in a category of its own, and the music on tape is only part of the story.
JESSE: Grateful Dead archivist and legacy manager David Lemieux.
DAVID LEMIEUX: If I could go back in time to any moment in Grateful Dead history and see one Grateful Dead show… you’ve got Cornell, you've got the Fillmore West run, the Live/Dead run in ‘69. But the one show, without a doubt, as much as I would like to see a small theater show —maybe at the Lyceum, on 5/26/72—it would be Veneta.
PHIL LESH [8/27/72]: We’d sure like to thank the Springfield Creamery for making it possible for us to play out here in front of all you folks here and God and everybody. This is really where we get off the best.
JESSE: And please welcome to the Grateful Deadcast, a founding editor of both Dupree’s Diamond News and The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium, Johnny Dwork.
JOHNNY DWORK: While Cornell ‘77 or the late show from the Fillmore East on 2/13/70 might garner more votes as the people’s favorite shows, having listened to pretty much every Grateful Dead tape in circulation, I've long held that the August 27th Field Trip is the most historically important, most culturally essential, and most experientially powerful Grateful Dead show in the band's long and deservedly legendary history. Personally, I also feel it's their finest performance. But of course, that's admittedly absurd, a subjective opinion.
BOB WEIR [8/27/72]: This may be the first time I’ve ever been to Oregon and it didn’t rain. Now it’s too damn hot…
DAVID LEMIEUX: And that's partly because of the setting of it as well. The music, first and foremost. But the setting? Unbelievable. So that, to me, is the quintessential Grateful Dead experience.
JOHNNY DWORK: The Field Trip, which was really the last Acid Test collaboration with the Merry Pranksters, happened at a time in which, unlike the original Acid Tests, the band had matured. They were well-practiced, and they were performing at their technical and creative peak — very different than when they first started doing collaborations with the Pranksters. They had, just a few months earlier, come off their incredible tour of Europe ‘72, which had them polishing to a gleaming shine many of those beautiful, powerful, and widely acclaimed songs.
JESSE: The Grateful Dead and the Alembic sound crew returned from Europe in late May 1972 with multi-track recordings of their tour, a topic we delved into just a tiny bit last season. They spent June listening to the tapes, and spent July starting to construct the overdubs for the November release of what would become a triple LP. The band played a half-dozen out-of-town shows, but by the end of the month were back in the Bay Area, working on the live album. And that’s where they were on July 31st, working on vocal overdubs for “Truckin’” and “Cumberland Blues” when emissaries from the distant Prankster territory of Eugene arrived — their friends needed help.
The Springfield Creamery
JESSE: We’re going to take a few detours before we get to the August 1972 show in Veneta, to really explore why a field in rural Oregon is sometimes more than a field in rural Oregon. It’s a cliché to say that the Grateful Dead were somehow more than a rock band, but this show is material proof. The Grateful Dead had musical peers on the rock scene, but they consciously and actively existed on a far broader continuum than just rock bands.
To understand the importance of the music made at Springfield Creamery benefit, it’s necessary to understand not only the history of the Springfield Creamery but how it both grew from and became a transformative institution in the Pacific Northwest that would have an impact on mainstream American culture. And to talk about that, we need to talk about Ken Kesey. You may know Ken Kesey from such powerful novels as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion, or such psychedelic karasses as the Merry Pranksters, who hosted the Acid Tests in 1965 and 1966, where the Dead served as house band.
KEN KESEY [KRON, 1/66, in Interviews]: You only come to this movie once, and if you don't get something rewarding out of every minute you're sitting there, then you're blowing your ticket.
JESSE: Ken’s brother Chuck was a Prankster, too, and we are thrilled beyond delight to welcome to the Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast, from the Springfield Creamery, Chuck and Sue Kesey.
CHUCK KESEY: I was a bad Prankster because I had a full-time job that was pressing me every day. So my ability to get away from my job is really rare.
JESSE: Though the Kesey family name is often associated with Kool-Aid, the more appropriate beverage might actually be… milk.
SUE KESEY: The Creamery happened kind of just organically, even though we didn't know that word in 1960. Chuck's father had been involved in the creamery business all the time, forever, and Chuck grew up in a creamery. That's where we met, at Oregon State University. We had an opportunity when we graduated: Chuck's father's, his creamery was looking for someone to package milk in glass gallon jugs, which was kind of a throwback to the early ‘50s at that point, because all the creameries that were in business in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s had kind of moved on to the modern things of paper cartons and so forth. Glass was not there. So there was this great former creamery building in Springfield that was not occupied. Chuck and his dad worked out a thing where we could set up a little processing plant. We would just package milk in gallon jugs, and we’d sell it to other creameries who wanted this product to distribute.
JESSE: In 1961, just after Ken Kesey sold the manuscript for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but before its publication, he returned to Springfield, Oregon, the town of his youth, and took a summer job at the Springfield Creamery.
SUE KESEY: Ken did work for us while he was writing [Sometimes A] Great Notion and/or Cuckoo's Nest — they were so close together, I can't remember. But it was when they were living in Oregon for a bit, that was in the early 60s: ‘61-’63. He was a great plant man. He was raised in the creamery too, so it worked well.
JESSE: According to Rick Dodgson’s splendid biography, It’s All A Kind of Magic: The Young Ken Kesey, the author also came with a supply of psychedelics liberated from the closet at the Veterans’ hospital where he’d worked nights and written Cuckoo’s Nest. The job didn’t last long, and brother Ken was soon working on Sometimes A Great Notion, inspired by his time back in the Northwest. In the summer of 1964, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters purchased the Harvester bus they named Furthur and drove to New York for the publication party of Sometimes A Great Notion, not to mention the World’s Fair. Brother Chuck turns up in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Did he take the summer off to join the Pranksters?
CHUCK KESEY: Never… never.
SUE KESEY: He was gone maybe two weeks, I think, maybe —
CHUCK KESEY: One of the longest vacations I’ve ever had. [chuckles] It’s the truth! It’s the truth. The Creamery is very pressing.
CHUCK KESEY: The Acid Tests, I went to most of them. I missed one. I went to the first one and took Sheryl, my daughter, who was five at the time. She and I went, she got into it early. She and I were the only ones that had not taken acid. Our job during the concert was to go around and give people ice cubes. So we passed ice cubes out to the hard-dancing hippies.
JESSE: The ‘60s unfolded, and a funny thing happened: yogurt.
LONE STAR/PRINCESS VESPA/DOT MATRIX/BARF [Spaceballs]: Yogurt!
JESSE: You’ve heard of it? I was recently doing some other Dead-related research and came across an otherwise unrelated article that referred to the ethos of the 1960s as “peace, love, and yogurt.” 50 years later, it’s maybe a little easy to forget why yogurt might be thought of as part of the psychedelic revolution. But the connection was due in no small part to the Kesey family.
JESSE: We’ve posted a link to Daniel’s photos of the free Lille show. It’s hard to know where to place the following story. But let’s say it manifested during “The Other One.” Our next guest took perhaps the longest route to Lille of anyone else present, including the band. Please welcome, from Vancouver, Canada, Greenpeace co-founder Rod Marining.
SUE KESEY: Initially, we only packaged gallons and then we eventually started doing some home delivery on our own. We also did milk for the Springfield School District, the little half-pint containers that went to the schools every morning. We ran that all through the ‘60s, all the way up until, for almost 10 years. But gradually we realized… Chuck really wanted to do cultured products. He wanted to do yogurt. This is what they had drilled into him at Oregon State — this was the best of the best, to do culture products.
JESSE: So it was in the late 1960s that the Springfield Creamery got counter-cultural.
CHUCK KESEY: Early in probiotics, before the word had been invented, we put in acidophilus, and our inspectors told us we couldn’t put it in there. They said, “This is illegal.” And I realized: they didn’t know how to test! [laughs] I knew that I was supposed to put it in there. So we were pretty close to being the first people to do that, I’ve been told. I’d been taught at Oregon State, bacteriology, what acidophilus did. And I knew it was the right answer.
SUE KESEY: Chuck's a great future-looker. This is what people wanted: they wanted real food that was really good for you.
JESSE: Please welcome to the Deadcast, Joshua Clark Davis, author of the exceptional scholarly book published by Columbia University Press, From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise & Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs
JOSHUA CLARK DAVIS: It's yogurt, it's tofu, it's organic produce. If you go back to the ‘60s, if you think about the counterculture, in a way, it's a rebellion against the dominant commercial culture. I think organic food and vegetarianism, all the way back in the ‘60s, was itself a subculture that was rebelling against the larger commercial culture around food and supermarkets, the A&Ps and the Safeways and so on. It really began to blossom in places like New York on the East Coast; on the West Coast, the Bay Area. Especially the macrobiotic movement that was getting really big in the mid-’60s, right before the counterculture was taking off.
I hate to use this term ‘synergy,’ but the things that were happening between music, drugs, food, counterculture — it's all kind of clicking in, right at that moment. I think there is an argument that maybe like 1972, in some ways, is kind of like maybe the biggest kind of last year for the counterculture. Obviously, the counterculture goes on for decades. But as long as the war in Vietnam is still going, and Nixon hasn't been reelected yet, there's some urgency there.
JESSE: What was then known as the health food business existed as one of the most successful outgrowths of the counterculture. But those associations came with a price. In From Head Shops To Whole Foods, Josh gets deep into the story of Erewhon Market. One of their earliest managers, Paul Hawken, went from the Civil Rights movement to San Francisco’s Calliope light show to the health foods business.
JOSHUA CLARK DAVIS: Erewhon. At their first store in Boston in 1966, they got raided by the FDA for, in the FDA’s eyes, selling unlicensed health advice, [or] things that were bordering on unlicensed medical advice. So these businesses… it seems so unthreatening today, things like yogurt, tofu, organic produce. But they did threaten people in certain ways because that countercultural connotation was so strong: ‘this was what freaks ate,’ ‘this is what heads ate,’ ‘this was not necessarily safe,’ because you didn't know what those folks were also putting in their bodies. There’s something else going on there that I think some people are very suspicious of.
JESSE: This is all part of the background to the event that would result in the Grateful Dead coming to play in Veneta — what is known in Creamery lore as the Applewine Incident, when some employees wound up with a batch of apples and decided to try their hand at winemaking.
CHUCK KESEY: I picked the yogurt at that time at about 2 in the morning — that's when the yogurt was ready and that was my job. I had to go to the creamery at 2 in the morning and walk through it, and usually I would find footprints of somebody that was in front of me. This was normal. And this time, I went to the apple wine and pulled the plug, and spilled 200 gallons of…
SUE KESEY: Apple mash…
CHUCK KESEY: Apple mash in the warehouse. Yes, what a nightmare. Who would do that? But I could track them and I knew who — I could tell by their footprint that they were wearing good shoes. So I shoveled it back in the vat because it couldn't drain, it was just on the floor. I shoved it back in the vat. They had ruined it, and I thought: Well, I could distill it. I stretched a piece of plastic over the top of the vat, put a little coil on it, put a steam in it and went home. In the morning, I came back, and it was full of cops like 25 cops. The Eugene Register-Guard, our local newspaper, had already gathered and were waiting for me to come. They loved the story — it was so dynamic. In the long run, I got fined $75 for doing it. But it knocked us out of our normal business cycle.
SUE KESEY: Our reputation went down the drain with the apples…
JESSE: The Man was ready to go after the yogurt heads.
CHUCK KESEY: It was no accident. They lied about what we were doing and how much we were doing.
JESSE: They subsequently lost their contract with the local schools. In 1970, the Springfield Creamery put their faith fully in yogurt.
LONE STAR/PRINCESS VESPA/DOT MATRIX/BARF [Spaceballs]: Yogurt!
JESSE: In 1970, the Creamery launched perhaps its most famous product, Nancy’s Honey Yogurt, named after Nancy Van Brasch Hamren.
SUE KESEY: Nancy came to work for us in 1969. She had moved up to Oregon with her boyfriend—who was Mountain Girl’s brother— to stay at the farm while Ken and Faye and the kids had gone to England to hang out with the Beatles for a while.
JESSE: As one does. We are just honored to welcome Nancy Hamren. Unlike Wavy Gravy, the nationally distributed food product named for her is actually good for you.
NANCY HAMREN: I had been raised in the Bay Area, and then in the middle of my senior year in high school, we moved to Pasadena. So I lasted about a year and a half in Southern California. It was so different from the Bay Area, where there was jazz and Beatniks and philosophical things going on that were of interest. So I moved back in ‘66, January ‘66, lived right over the top of the guys who were practicing that would become the Jefferson Airplane. Our apartment was right over theirs, so that was fun. And I was just a hippie in the Haight Ashbury for two years.
JESSE: Nancy was quite literally a member of the Grateful Dead family.
NANCY HAMREN: When I lived with Gordon, we were in Marin County, pretty close to where a Mountain Girl and Jerry lived. So we’d go over and visit ‘em in Larkspur and see Sunshine [Kesey], this beautiful little curly blonde-haired girl.
JESSE: But the invitation came from the Keseys to hold down the farm.
NANCY HAMREN: Gordon and I went, “Yeah, it's time to get out of California.” And so we moved to Ken’s farm and stayed there for six months: learned how to feed animals, feed lots of people on brown rice and greens, grow an organic garden and all that. It was a great summer. And then Woodstock happened and so they hired the Kesey Farmsters to load up some school buses and go back and help manage the backstage at Woodstock. I had been in San Francisco, and we went endlessly to the dances: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, everybody. It was such a great music scene — Grateful Dead, of course. I just didn't want to ride on a school bus for 3,000 miles with a bunch of people I didn't really… would not normally [have] liked as friends. Some people, some of them. It turned out that that was a really good decision. The farm emptied, and Ken came back from England and said, “Okay, the farm’s closed now.” It used to be the place where people could crash — there were parties, it was quite the fun farm event[s]. I was 22, I needed to find a direction in life.
SUE KESEY: Nancy was there, and she needed… actually, she needed to make some money. We needed a bookkeeper because our bookkeeper was wanting to move on. So we hired her — she came to the office, and she didn’t leave for 45 years. [laughs] Absolutely the best hire, one of the best hires we ever made. This is when we were in his transition period of saying, “Well, what are we going to do? We're going to… let's make yogurt.” And Chuck wanted to make yogurt.
NANCY HAMREN: They wanted to pivot to a new direction and find something that was unique and would benefit people. Honestly, we were looking to make everybody's gut better than it was. So, I had been making yogurt at home…
SUE KESEY: Nancy said, “Gosh, I can't find a good yogurt out here in Oregon at all. This is what my grandma used to make.” She and Chuck work together. They were great. Chuck knew what he wanted, and Nancy had a great palette as well. That's what became Nancy's Honey Yogurt.
NANCY HAMREN: Chuck had sent away for some acidophilus and some yogurt cultures for me, and started just perfecting it at home in glass gallon jars on the back of a stove in a water bath—or half gallons, I guess—and came up with a really good yogurt. And they said, “Well, let's try selling your yogurt here… some somebody will buy it.” Right then, a student co-op opened up, the Willamette Peoples’ Co-op. So I would do the books, the payroll, the office managing and all that. And then I would put on boots and a white coat and go out and make yogurt in a little 30 gallon vat. The co-op bought our yogurt. It didn’t have a name — it was just yogurt from Springfield Creamery. One day, they called up to order some more and the manager, Marlena from New York, she called up and said, “Give me some of that Nancy’s yogurt.” It just got named for it! Somebody bestowed that name. The thing was, Chuck and Sue loved it, and they named it that.
JESSE: In some ways, the yogurt was the hottest new technology to come down the hippie pipeline. Richard Sutton would go on to work for the Creamery.
RICHARD SUTTON: The yogurt was really special. There was nothing being marketed anywhere in the country like it, as far as the living cultures and everything. I could hear the reaction from people that I knew on the streets in Eugene and the area around there, from people that I knew from various other commune farms. It was almost spoken of in reverent tones as though you were talking about something that was in the Whole Earth Catalog, if you go back far enough. It carried a lot of cred, it really did.
JESSE: Lawrence Roberts is the author of the incisive book, May 1971: A White House at War, A Revolt In The Streets, and the Untold Story of America’s Biggest Mass Arrest. He was spending the summer of 1972 in Eugene.
LAWRENCE ROBERTS: I shared the feeling of a lot of folks who were coming out of college or in college at the time. I was involved as a protester in the Vietnam anti-war movement starting in 1969, went to various protests. I was arrested as part of the biggest mass arrest in U.S. history in Washington in May of 1971, in a big attempt by anti-war groups to [make a] traffic blockade of the city, to protest Richard Nixon and the war. This was a year later — by then, the particular kind of actions of going into the streets and protesting, carrying signs and picketing, pretty much faded away. People that felt that was not effective or they just sort of moved on and turned more inward — this idea that the cultural part of things was where they should put their energies.
The Oregon area reflected that. I think there were some people who were involved in politics, directly in politics. But mostly, the idea was ‘let's just create something different.’ Let's create an alternative. Everything was about alternatives: alternative schools, alternative food, alternative music.
JESSE: The Springfield Creamery had figured out the alternative food, and now it was time to spread it to the world. It’s one thing to operate a local creamery, it’s another to manufacture a new product. There was no distribution chain to just get their yogurt into supermarkets. But there was an emerging network of natural foods stores connected into the heady hippie underground. Nancy’s Honey Yogurt found its first Bay Area representative via a distributor of rock magazines and underground comix.
SUE KESEY: There was a great guy named Gilbert Rosborne who was taking comic books from… I'm not quite sure whether they were published in Eugene, and he hauled them down to the Bay Area and distributed, or if he did the other way, if he brought books from the Bay Area up to here. I think it must have been that way, because then he was empty going back.
CHUCK KESEY: It was a backhaul.
SUE KESEY: He said, “Well, I'm going to all those stores and all the natural food stores and they're really longing for good products. Why don't I take the yogurt down?” And that became the original connection into the Bay Area with our yogurt going there. And eventually, Gilbert quit doing comic books pretty much and created a business called Natural Foods Express, and did distribution of the dairy product and other things into Marin County down to Santa Cruz during the ‘70s. There were a lot of businesses like us who were creating new foods. All these natural food stores that were popping up everywhere needed things to put on their shelves and in their refrigerated cases. We were taking it to local natural food stores in Eugene, and it was… gosh, we were making sometimes 200 gallons a day.
JOSHUA CLARK DAVIS: In my book, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, part of the whole idea of the title is that there was kind of this universe of activist businesses, countercultural businesses that emerged in the late ‘60s, and there was overlap in different ways — kind of this constellation of head shops, the comic book stores, the natural food stores. Maybe they didn't always sell each other's products, but there was a good chance they were often in the same neighborhoods. Or there was actual kind of cross-pollination like you said. That doesn’t surprise me, especially not on the West Coast and especially not in college towns. Springfield Creamery is basically right next to Eugene, right next to University of Oregon. That's a big part of the story as well.
JESSE: But wait there’s more.
CHUCK KESEY: You know Huey Lewis?
JESSE: Huey Lewis?
SUE KESEY: Yes, that's the other part of the story. His partner in Natural Food Express was Huey Lewis. He was a struggling singer who sang at night and drove yogurt in the daytime. Huey always said he wrote “Workin’ For a Livin’” while he was driving their truck down to Santa Cruz to make deliveries.
CHUCK KESEY: It was the windshield wiper... [mimics the beat of ‘Workin’ for a Livin’”]
AUDIO: “Workin’ For a Livin’” [Huey Lewis and the News, Picture This] (0:25-0:36) - [Spotify]
JESSE: That was Radio Luxembourg, recorded just days before the Dead arrived. The fabulous 208, it was called in Britain, for its spot on the medium-wave radio band, but that’s in metric. It could be heard at 1440 AM in the UK, in Germany on the FM band, in France via long wave, and beyond via shortwave. Aiming itself from the hills of Luxembourg westwards towards the UK, it was heard likewise beyond the borders of the Communist nations to the east, at least where it wasn’t being jammed. Founded in 1933, Radio Luxembourg was the world’s first and biggest pirate radio station, defiantly sailing the airwaves of a dozen or more nations. For people in countries with tight national control over radio, which included both England and many countries in the eastern bloc, Radio Luxembourg was the only way to hear lots of rock music on the radio. We are so pleased to welcome to the Deadcast from Radio Luxembourg, the DJ who hosted the Dead’s visit, Kid Jensen.
JESSE: Please welcome, Huey Lewis!
HUEY LEWIS: We started a little whole foods distribution company based on Nancy's Yogurt. Our business was called Natural Foods Express. We started with Nancy's Yogurt, but we had all kinds of other natural foods as well.
JESSE: Huey often made the trip from the Bay Area to Springfield.
HUEY LEWIS: Yogurt needs to be refrigerated, but it's quite stable actually. So in the beginning, truth be told, we would drive the truck up to Eugene, it was nine hours to get up there. We’d get up there about about 9 or 10 at night, and then load the truck and take a nap at Roseanna’s house, then get in the truck and drive to the Bay Area, and distribute it as well, same day. [This was] before we had the walk-in. Then, we got the walk-in — then we could put it in the walk-in, and then we got to ship it down after a while so we didn’t have to drive up. [My band] Clover was going during this period as well. I was doing this in the daytime and then gigs at night. Burning the candle at both ends, no question about it.
JESSE: Huey Lewis was and is a true member of the Creamery family, though didn’t make it to the ‘72 benefit.
HUEY LEWIS: I wasn't there. But we did a show for the Creamery. I can't remember when that was. We partnered up with a promoter and we did a show and benefited them a little bit. That was a really fun gig. Ken was on the farm and Chuck had the Creamery, Chuck and Sue. They're just the greatest people in the world. They're rock solid Oregon people and Nancy worked there forever, they named the yogurt after [her]. Rosanna… I think Roseanna had the fruit. I think Roseanna’s idea was the fruit. Roseanna married a friend of mine, Wally Lourdeaux, and lives in Marin County. I still see them and I coach their kid. So it's all pretty much family for me. They're just great people.
JESSE: He’s not kidding. In 1993, Huey was participating in Twister, one of brother Ken’s stage productions, and the entire gaggle went to see the Dead at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, closing the circle with Huey’s old yogurt route.
HUEY LEWIS: They had a big gig in Eugene, and I was there as part of Kesey’s crazy entourage. They asked me to sit in. I remember it was the first time I'd ever had in-ear monitors. The Dead were, I think, the first people to do that. I guess I had a harmonica with me. “What do you got?” “Well, we’ll do something in E.” I said, “Great.” They gave me a microphone that was connected to an amplifier somewhere in the backline of this enormous stage. I didn't know where the amp [was]... they just kind of handed me the microphone, and stuck these two things in my ears. And, by the way, they had the system where they had in-ear monitors, but they also had a little button that you could push which would defeat the in-ear monitors so they could talk to each other, and say to the monitor guy, “Hey, I need a little more drums or I need a little more of this,” or whatever. And then, with their foot, un-press the button, and it would go out through the microphone. So I’m hearing them talk at the same time I’m hearing music. I don’t know where the music’s from… it was the strangest notion ever. And I’m trying to play my harmonica and I can’t tell if I can hear it or not. I hear this terrible sound, and I realize: oh shit, it’s my harmonica feeding back. Now, I look at the back of the stage — Jerry, who figured this out way before I did, is already back there with his back turned to the crowd, at the very back of the back line, working with my amp and trying to get me a nice tone. And he did that for the whole song. I thought it was so sweet, man.
JESSE: Sorry, we had the Time Sheath set for the wrong decade. Let me just shake it.
AUDIO: [tape rewind]
JESSE: But the Creamery wasn’t just yogurt. Some communities anchor themselves around music venues or bookstores or bars. Springfield, Oregon got a health food store.
SUE KESEY: Springfield didn't have a natural food store. They were all in Eugene. We thought, well, we could do that. We had a lot of people coming into the office and wanting to buy yogurt and so forth, and we really weren't set up to sell yogurt from the front office because it was about as big as a closet. So we just started putting together a natural food store, where we had food in bins, just like the natural food stores looked. And it was called the Health Food and Pool Store. The reason it was named that was because we had a wonderful pool table in that room—which was the break room—for our employees. Nobody wanted to give up the pool table. We ended up building a big log platform, because the room was really high-ceilinged, and put the pool table up overhead on a platform. People could come up and play pool if they wanted. That's how my son and daughter became pool sharks at a very young age. Anyway, the pool table was there for a long time. The store was delightful. The store was a wonderful gathering place for folks. We loved it. It was open until 1987 or so when, actually, the whole creamery moved over to our current location in Eugene.
NANCY HAMREN: You could come in the store — the grains and all were stored in 10-gallon milk cans. You could play pool for free. We had a big Fisher stove, so people would stand around and talk politics. It was a hub of interest and community. It was a small community. Most people were pretty… let’s see, we used to call ‘em ‘square,’ ‘straight,’ whatever the word is these days.
JESSE : Joshua Clark Davis.
JOSHUA CLARK DAVIS: Why not have the yogurt, the organic food and the antique billiard table all in the same place? I mean, we just watched Licorice Pizza — this kind of really appealed to me, because it had some of this type of stuff. The waterbed store, and then the guy goes on to do the pinball shop. People were kind of mixing and matching these small business ideas in this period. Not afraid to try new things and very much shaped by the counterculture; even folks who weren’t totally embedded in it, they were kind of breathing that air. It was in the atmosphere.
JESSE: Opened in 1970, the Health Food and Pool Store and quickly became a local hangout. David Koranda.
DAVID KORANDA: It just became a kind of natural gathering space. The yogurt was awesome, the people were awesome and it wasn't very big. So you got to know people who went in there and they got to know each other, you saw the same people, et cetera. So it was just very laid back. Unlike any other store I think that you would naturally go into, and certainly different than a place where you would go buy groceries or yogurt or something like that.
JESSE: Please welcome to the Deadcast, ace Dead freak Strider Brown.
STRIDER BROWN: I have to say that Eugene in ‘71 and ‘72 was the closest I will have ever gotten to, let's say, the original Haight Ashbury. There was still, even for myself, a certain feeling of innocence.
JESSE: Richard Sutton scored a job as manager at the Health Food and Pool Store.
RICHARD SUTTON: Before I went to the Creamery, I was working at the Kiva bookstore in Eugene, which was on the road to the campus, learning all kinds of weird stuff including how to throw Tarot cards. So it's all kind of a blend — it all came together.
JESSE: The store launched far more than Nancy’s Yogurt.
NANCY HAMREN: The Health Food and Pool Store was a place for people to bring their small kitchen-made products that were approved by the Department of Agriculture of course. You have to be certified. But it was a place for people to sell their stuff. The Kettle Chips guy was one of our first distributors who took Nancy’s Yogurt up to Portland and down to Ashland. Well, first he started out… there weren't very good roasting nuts, so he came up with the idea that he would supply the roasted nuts to the stores and provide them with a peanut butter machine. And people could make—just like grinding your own coffee—you could make your own peanut butter. So Kettle Chips started out that way. And then he realized that there was only like Laura Scudder’s potato chips that he could maybe… he started making these trial batches, small batches of kettle chips, and it grew from there. He was a dear, dear friend. Poolside Bakery was Esther and a fella who made granola. We had some government ovens, pizza ovens that we'd bought on government surplus. So they started making granola in the back of the Pool Store and selling it in the store. And that turned into… so then, Golden Temple took over that, and created their own line — I think it's called Sweet Home Granola. Now you see it in the grocery stores in those milk carton shapes. It started the Creamery, in the back of the Creamery. And Surata Soy Foods, of course, is a local flavor tofu company that made their first batch at the Creamery. There's just lots of connections, natural food connections that the Creamery has helped.
JESSE: There was more than yogurt at stake. It was an attempt to radically redefine the food market in the United States. But in launching a new yogurt, a new store, and helping to support a network of comrade foodmakers, the debts were beginning to pile up.
NANCY HAMREN: It was a struggle. Nowadays, if you were a startup with a really good idea, you would seek out some investment money, to help you get up and running. That wasn't really available back then — that wasn't a thing people did. And so you just kind of pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, really. So we were making this great yogurt, probably one of the best probiotic yogurts in America, if not the best. And we just needed to get… you have to buy containers and honey and milk, and labor. You have to try to make it work within a cycle of sales and purchasing. So we were having trouble, we were unable to pay our federal taxes. It was probably payroll taxes. And we needed some kind of good idea to pull us out of this dilemma.
CHUCK KESEY: We didn't have any money. And all we had was determination. We weren't going to quit — so, we asked the Grateful Dead.
An Old Fashioned Stage-Raising
NANCY HAMREN: I think, maybe Jim Denny set up the idea: what if the Dead did a benefit for us? Okay, let’s try. They have a connection to Ken, so we can at least get an interview with ‘em. So Chuck and Bud and Black Maria — Chuck Kesey, Ken’s brother; Bud Hexby, Faye’s brother; and Black Maria, one of the Pranksters—drove down. The Dead were rather democratic: even the roadies had a seat at the table where decisions were made. So they went down and proposed it. Their head roadie was a guy named Ram Rod, and he was from Pendleton, Oregon.
JESSE: Ram Rod had joined the Merry Pranksters during Ken Kesey’s escape to Mexico in early 1966 before arriving at the Dead’s house in the Haight later that year with the message, “Kesey sent me. I hear you need a good man.”
NANCY HAMREN: And he spoke up for us. And he said, “These are good people, they need to be saved. This is worth doing.” And they agreed.
JESSE: In early September, they’d be setting off for a cross-country tour, but they did have a free weekend at the end of August. The band’s August newsletter had tentatively announced a show at the Santa Barbara County Bowl on August 27th, but that evaporated as gigs sometimes do, and the Dead committed to help the Creamery. There was also an unspecified benefit penciled in at the Harding Theater. While it wasn’t unusual for the Dead to play a benefit, it was slightly more so to play for an out of town organization.
CHUCK KESEY: We had 28 days, from the ‘yes’—
SUE KESEY: To the date, they picked —
CHUCK KESEY: To the date they picked, which is a pretty phenomenal statement. At that point, I had never been to an outdoor concert. Eugene, I think, had never had an outdoor concert. So there was no concept of it — there was no prototype, there was nothing to copy. This is total invention on how to do this.
JESSE: They had a venue in mind, too, about 15 miles west of Eugene, in the town of Veneta. And like the Springfield Creamery, the Old Renaissance Fairgrounds were already home to an important local landmark and countercultural institution. What was then called the Oregon Renaissance Faire was founded nearby in 1969 and moved to its permanent home on the Long Tom River the following year. Larry Roberts.
LAWRENCE ROBERTS: One aspect of the counterculture was this movement called the free school movement, which was a way that people on the counterculture [could] set up a system of schools for their kids that weren't part of the system. So these independent schools were popping up all over. My project was to sort of study these schools, and the one I ended up going to visit was a place called The Children’s Community School, located on a farm not far outside of Eugene. One of the things that the people before me did to raise money for this free school, for The Children's Community School, was to set up this annual event called the [Oregon] Renaissance Faire.
SUE KESEY: We knew that property, that the Faire had been there for a couple of years on that property. But it was rented — they leased, the Faire leased the land for the fair. And so we went to the landlord and said, “Well, can we lease this field, this part of the field here, for this concert for a couple of weeks?” For this month, actually. He said, “Sure.” He was this really nice guy.
JESSE: Like the health food movement, the Renaissance Faire as an institution has what might seem like surprising connections to the counterculture and to the Dead’s world specifically. Owsley Stanley and his crew of LSD making team were regulars at the Northern California fairs. One of those associates and close friends, Bob Thomas, would do the final illustration for the Dead’s skull and lightning bolt logo, to Bear’s specs, of course. He also played bagpipes in the Golden Toad, known as the Grateful Dead of the Ren Faire circuit. With no official releases, recordings are extremely rare, and have only surfaced in the past few years.
AUDIO: [The Golden Toad, live in Berkeley, 6/19-20/68] (8:44-9:04) - [YouTube]
JESSE: But while the Renaissance Faire evolved, the Oregon iteration became very much its own, and would change their name to the Oregon Country Fair in 1976 after the California Ren Faires threatened lawsuit because, essentially, the Oregon Faire wasn’t Ren enough. In Veneta, it wasn’t so much about dressing in period garb and speaking in dialect as it was about extremely heady craftwork, family-friendly circus flare, and getting deeply lost, in the woods or elsewhere. If you’re interested in the history of Renaissance Faires, I recommend Rachel Lee Rubin’s book, Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture. And by naturally, I mean organically.
LAWRENCE ROBERTS: Shortly after I got there in June of ‘72, this was like a second or third Renaissance Faire, which I attended. It was an amazing event, and this was the same grounds, of course, where the Springfield Creamery fundraiser was held about six weeks later. It was a winding trail through the woods, beautiful woods of Oregon, with all these booths set up by people who are selling crafts, and doing music or learning to blacksmith or showing you how to grow organic vegetables. We had a booth for this free school I'm talking about that we manned. Lots of civilians came during the day. At night, there were just campfires, everybody had guitars and mandolins and fiddles. So it was like an all-night kind of counterculture camp with clouds of marijuana smoke and everything else.
JESSE: The 1972 iteration of the Oregon Faire took place from June 30th through July 2nd during an early summer heat wave. One history of the Faire recalls the institution in 1972 of what became known as the “purple sock” rule for men. Let’s just call that foreshadowing. The Oregon Renaissance Faire was a lot of cool things, but it definitely didn’t resemble a rock festival — or even a folk festival.
CHUCK KESEY: At that time, you couldn't rent a stage. And in 28 days, you could not rent a stage and get it there.
NANCY HAMREN: We had to build a perimeter fence and then build a stage. So there were all these volunteer hippie carpenters and young people who were out there, just making it happen.
CHUCK KESEY: The Creamery is good at engineering — because it's a complicated machine, that creamery is. We built a city in 28 days and had a concert —
SUE KESEY: With a lot of help.
CHUCK KESEY: And a lot of it was mostly volunteers, almost everything was volunteer. Their stage was built with volunteers. In 28 days, you couldn't get a ticket printed either. So we had to make our own ticket.
SUE KESEY: We used our yogurt cup labels as the tickets and we just printed over them.
CHUCK KESEY: The Creamery staff just cranked out a ticket. Click click click click click — they just knocked out a ticket.
NANCY HAMREN: It was $3 or 3.50 at the gate, and the tickets are printed on Nancy's Yogurt labels. We, of course, didn't have enough money to even silkscreen our containers; they were pick and stick labels. I think maybe the Kiva sold tickets, Sundance [Natural Foods], the Student Union. And we had posters around town. So people came from all over — they heard about this concert from Seattle to California, just came from all over to be there. I think we sold about 13,000 tickets.
JESSE: There were, of course, posters. One of them featured intricate lettering and a clear glass milk bottle with the haloed head of a cow and the word “Renaissance” misspelled. The art was by the Hog Farmer, Merry Prankster, and visual artist Paul Foster, then living in Springfield and doing occasional work as Fall Posters, some nice wordplay on his name. The other poster was hand-lettered with a Rapidograph by Creamery employee Richard Sutton.
RICHARD SUTTON: I was doing the graphics here and there and I guess they asked me to do the poster. I said, “Sure.” I did a couple of signs up on campus for restaurants. I did some small band local concert things, graphics that they used on drum heads and stuff. I had my trusty Rapidograph and my India ink bottle. A lot of the illustration I did at the time [was] point by point by point by point on a big pad of vellum paper, which is kind of like tissue, only really heavy, so that you could do a lot of ink work on it. It was easy to put it over something else if you needed to back it up. I hadn't really learned much about the graphic arts business, but I knew I liked to do illustrations. So, you do what you do. I think I took the skeleton, I borrowed that — I traced it, probably, off an older Dead album.
SUE KESEY: At the natural food stores, I think, is where the posters all went up. All up and down the coast.
CHUCK KESEY: There was one guy who decided that it was his job to hit every bar in Oregon, and walk into the bar with a poster and say, “There's a Grateful Dead concert comin’, and here it is,” and off he goes.
JESSE: Johnny Dwork.
JOHNNY DWORK: This show was literally played off-the-grid, on sacred land that had been inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years, on a brilliant summer day away from the psychically constricting forces of the default society paradigm that we all know the Grateful Dead were trying to move away from, that the whole culture of the time was trying to move away from. There were no cops, no confining walls, no industry promoters. This confluence of expansive forces was both profoundly empowering and also really well-timed for the arc of their career.
JESSE: The show existed almost entirely inside the emerging alternative society of which the Dead were a part. That same summer, they were beginning to explore the idea of starting their very own record company and distribution system. It was a do-it-yourself at virtually every level. But looked at another way, it’s like a wholesome musical — to save the family dairy, the kids are gonna get together and put on a show.
Enter… the film crew. The film now known as Sunshine Daydream was directed by John Norris and produced by Sam Field. Sadly, neither are with us anymore. But I did interview Sam in 2013 when writing my book, Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America.
SAM FIELD: John Morris was the instigator of the whole idea to film a concert. He had been a film guy in New York, did some stuff with WNET and was kind of my childhood friend outside New York. He lured me to California originally, took me to my first lathered up Grateful Dead show and got me on the Bus.
JESSE: After trying to contact the Dead’s management, in February 1972, collaborator Phil DeGuere went to go see Jerry Garcia play with Merl Saunders, and told him they wanted to make a movie. DeGuere recalled to Blair Jackson in 1986, “He seemed sort of bemused by the idea that anyone would want to make a movie about a bunch of musicians who stand onstage and stare at their guitar strings.” Sunshine Daydream’s filmmakers have passed on, but Adrian Marin both helped them restore and release the project, but also directed his own wonderful mini-documentary, Grateful Days. More than anybody else, Adrian is the keeper of the Sunshine Daydream flame.
ADRIAN MARIN: Europe ‘72 tour comes about, Sam Cutler calls them up and says, “Hey, guys, I think this is your chance, this might be the one to come and check it out on.” They're like, “Well, we'd like to come and sort of travel with you guys. But we really need to do some more homework, we feel.”
JESSE: In the spring, John and Sam headed to Europe and followed the Dead on pretty much the entirety of the Europe ‘72 tour — not quite riding with the band, but intersecting frequently. We included some of Sam talking about it in our Denmark episode last season, though it’s one of many topics I wish I could ask him about more.
ADRIAN MARIN: And so it was while on that tour, I think, that an uncle or something of Sam's died, left him just a little chunk of loot.
JESSE: Every day, things were looking more plausible. Sometime after they got back, it seems that documentarians Albert and David Maysles, famous for Gimme Shelter, had contacted the Dead about making a documentary. Initially they were told to talk to Norris, DeGuere, and Field, who the band seemed to continue the band’s film team. The Maysles soon fell out of the picture and soon, Sunshine Daydream was born.
SAM FIELD: Earlier, in July of that summer, the band did a Portland and Seattle Paramount Theater brief tour. And that was the first time I'd ever been to Oregon, going to those shows. Like I say, John and I spent our youth in the New York area, and then came to California in the late ‘60s and found plenty to do around here without really going very far.
ADRIAN MARIN: They got another call from Cutler saying, “Hey, this is really maybe the one, guys. I think you’ve got to get up there — this is promising to be a pretty loose affair, and it's gonna happen really quick.”
SAM FIELD: We didn't know where or when the opportunity to film a concert would show up, it could have just as easily been in the Bay Area or in any other state. So it just sort of happened that the opportunity was there. So, all of a sudden, we became familiar and then we stayed and lived there for a year, doing editing and a lot of the post-production.
JESSE: The filmmakers connected with a group known as Far West Action Picture Services, with the excellent acronym of FWAPS, which I assume to be a Don Martin style onomatopoeia for the sound of when a film reel runs out — fwap, fwap, fwap. Co-founded by Merry Prankster Mike Hagen, FWAPS was a heady hippie-style film and television company doing local television and film work. With the team of John Norris, Phil DeGuere, and Sam Field, they caught underground America circa 1972 at perhaps its deepest. Cameras started rolling as the old-fashioned stage-raising began.
Commune Land USA
SUE KESEY: The other thing showing our novice concert promotion side was that, when we built the stage, we didn't really take into consideration the direction we were facing the stage. So, actually, the stage faced west — and, consequently, the band had the sun in their face on a day that was over 100 degrees for at least the last half of the day. Maybe all day. Certainly as the sun got to that level in the sky. It was… they were having trouble keeping their guitars in tune and didn’t think their music sounded very good. A lot came from that, that position of the stage.
JESSE: The volunteers the Creamery rounded up for their stage-raising—and, indeed, much of the audience for the show—came from the communes and alternative living situations in the area around Eugene. David Koranda.
DAVID KORANDA: There were a number of different communes at that time, all around Eugene, and all of them had different things. One of them was related to food. One of them I remember was related to Christianity, et cetera.
JESSE: Camille Cole.
CAMILLE COLE: There were a lot of communes in the area. There was the Mud Farm, the Goat Farm, the Church of the Creative… just all the hillsides around that area were dotted with various types of communes. We would go and visit each other. It was definitely a family. Not long after that, I took up with a… I guess you'd call it a gypsy caravan, and we were the Bus Farm. You can picture a fleet of Victorian houses meandering down the highway, house trucks, Victorian houses on the back of flatbed trucks. We raised the roof on our school bus and extended the back end. So people would pull over and wave. We took a cross-country trip and we were on TV in Nashville — they took us up to Graceland in Memphis. We were on display at the New York State Fair. So there's a lot of adventures in there.
JESSE: Camille has a memoir coming out.
CAMILLE COLE: The Midnight Show: Bohemians, Byways & Bonfires
JESSE: Founded the year before, the Hoedads Reforestation Cooperative was a worker-owned collective that—very intentionally—made literal roots in the area. Strider.
STRIDER BROWN: The Hoedads were absolutely their own. Certainly they were like a cooperative that was based, of course, on tree planting and other work in the woods.
CAMILLE COLE: During one of the early Country Fairs, they were having some problems with the Hells Angels who wanted to take over the childcare area and park their bikes there. So they asked the Hoedads if they would do security. Plus, there were a lot of traffic jams up on the road. So the Hoedads took over security. So in those days, the Hoedads were sort of the Savior.
JESSE: Working with foreman Page Browning of the Merry Pranksters, the Hoedads also helped build the stage.
CAMILLE COLE: Loosely, the Grateful Dead and the people who were part of the Grateful Dead families were part of that group as well. Even though the Dead didn't specifically live in this area, there were people connected to them who did. So the band were sort of peripherally part of our community.
JESSE: One of those was the Church of the Creative. Richard Sutton of the Springfield Creamery lived there.
AL STROBEL/“MIKE” [Twin Peaks, Season 2, Ep. 6]: The magician longs to see, one chance out between two worlds… fire walk with me!
JESSE: Nancy remembers Al Strobel, too.
NANCY HAMREN: He built this really quirky house: an absolute Hobbit house, on that property down there. It's still there.
JESSE: Weirdos and David Lynch fans of all stripes, this is crazy, but please welcome to the Deadcast, from Twin Peaks: Phillip Gerard, aka Mike, the actor Al Strobel.
AL STROBEL: I had a terrible car accident when I was 17 and had the nerves from my left arm pulled out of the spinal cord column, then in excruciating pain all of my life. I had a near death experience during that — I fought like hell to come back here to live out this life, because I was only 17 and I figured there must be more. There sure as hell has been…
JESSE: Which is one of the ways that Al ended up co-founding the Church of the Creative with Mountain Girl’s brother, Gordon Adams. Al became a resourceful and creative architect.
AL STROBEL: It was a very interesting adventure. I got to build a 1,000-square foot cabin there that was remarkable. The whole south side, two stories with a window — it had a beautiful view of the opposing little mountain across the valley. Then you went upstairs and there were bedrooms up there, about a half a story high, and a little bit higher was the kitchen, which was a 12-foot diameter circle topped by a geodesic dome with glass panels. The hummingbirds just loved it — they thought it was a gigantic flower and they kept getting trapped.
JESSE: Did Al see the Dead and play a community role when they came through Veneta?
AL STROBEL: Oh yeah, you bet.
JESSE: We’ll have more with Al Strobel next time.
Though the commune scene might seem like it was on the far-out opposite end of the countercultural spectrum from the radical political left, there was at least some surprising crossover. Larry Roberts.
LAWRENCE ROBERTS: One of the things that was the kind of interesting, in terms of the interplay between the political and the counterculture, was that—even though I didn't know them at the time—some of the people who were underground from Weather Underground and Black Panthers and stuff, were hiding out under assumed identities in these communes. One commune that I visited, some friend said, “You’ve got to come meet the people at this place, it’s very cool.” Which it was. But to get to get, you sort of wandered down this path, and then there was like a small river or a big creek. And the only way to get access to this commune was to take a little zipline across the river. I remember asking, “What's the point of that?” They said, “Well, if the cops come or the FBI comes, we'll have a little warning before they actually get to us.” So I assumed that they had reason to not want the police to show up.
DAVID KORANDA: There was one, CRO. There was a Rainbow Family that was in Cottage Grove further south. Around that same time, we had a gathering in the Three Sisters Wilderness that was a lot of people that formed the Rainbow Family.
STRIDER BROWN: The Pranksters had their own, let's say… call it camp, and the Rainbow Family had the Rainbow Farm, had their camp. But when it came time to build the stage, the Rainbow Farmers and the Pranksters collaborated.
JESSE: In these episodes, Strider is going to be our avatar for the Veneta benefit for the Springfield Creamery. He took a long route to get there, but a fascinating one that encapsulates the summer of ‘72 pretty well. Strider was a pretty serious East Coast Dead freak.
STRIDER BROWN: I had been seeing the Dead already for a couple of years and had gone to three of the Academy of Music shows [in March 1972]. So I was still at home, but getting ready to drive out West with three friends. I had been out there visiting my sister in Sausalito the summer before and up to Oregon to visit my brother the August before.
STRIDER BROWN: I made up my mind that as soon as I got out of high school in June of ‘72, I was moving out west to Oregon. I moved out of home right after high school graduation in June of ‘72. We headed out that first day from Connecticut. We were somewhere on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and we stopped at a rest area. There was an old bread truck that on the side was painted “Rainbow Family of Living Light.” We were given the old Rainbow Oracles. That was definitely a sign. We had planned on going to that first Rainbow Gathering when we had set out anyway.
JESSE: At a few points during the Veneta show, you can hear references to the Rainbow Farm.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: There was a poor man from the Rainbow Farm makin’ his way out here today by panhandling a little money, and got busted for it! Now, the Rainbow Farm boys, they’re poor folks and they need money. So if any of you’d like to contribute for his $27 bail, come to the side of the stage where the Rainbow Farmers are. They’ll accept it.
JESSE: Same Rainbows. The Rainbow Gathering of the Tribes, organized in part by the Rainbows of Eugene, was scheduled to take place soon.
STRIDER BROWN: Barry Adams, aka Plunker, had been going around and saying, “We will meet at noon on Fourth of July, 1972, At the top of Table Mountain in Colorado.” That was his mantra.
JESSE: He’d been a character at the Oregon Renaissance Faire, where Richard Sutton of the Creamery met him.
RICHARD SUTTON: I first met him I think probably at one of the Renaissance Faires up at Vinita. He was just sitting there, he had a thing that he was playing. It was a giant coconut shell with a hole in it, a bridge, a stick for a neck, and two or three strings and he was… [makes plucking sounds]. And people were gathered around, somebody would bring a drum and next thing you know, something else was going on. I never even knew his last name was Adams. I only just knew him as Barry Plunker.
STRIDER BROWN: The guy who gave us the copy of the Rainbow Oracle there at that restaurant in Pennsylvania, our first day West, he was an older guy. He had a long flowing beard. I can't remember the exact clothing that he had, but he definitely had the look and vibe of somebody out of maybe the Old Testament or somewhere, somehow.
JESSE: We’ve posted a link to the original Rainbow Oracle. Heads were to gather high on the mountain and ommm together until the magic happened and they summoned New Jerusalem and other heaviness. Strider and his friends had a long adventure and encountered many Dead freaks en route, at the Rainbow Gathering and elsewhere. We’re only going to hear the most abbreviated version. After all, we’ve got a Dead show to catch.
One of Strider’s travel mates was Danno Hikinin. This part of their experience at the Rainbow Gathering is an instructive counterpoint to how the Springfield Creamery event wouldn’t unfold.
DANNO HIKININ: As soon as Woodstock happened, from that summer onward, the status quo establishment—the powers that be, the man, the pigs, however you want to put it—had decided they were gonna clamp down on this situation and smother it. And not only were hippies being beaten up everywhere, but hippie events would be quashed everywhere.
JESSE: A few summers earlier, he’d witnessed it firsthand at the Powder Ridge Rock Festival in Connecticut, which was to have included Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, the Allman Brothers, Joe Cocker, Van Morrison, Fleetwood Mac, and more.
DANNO HIKININ: Powder Ridge when it was first planned was going to be another Woodstock. And it was quashed, but I was there.
JESSE: That wasn’t going to be happening at the first Rainbow Gathering.
DANNO HIKININ: I've been navigating with a USGS topographical map since I was a 14-year old Boy Scout. I knew how to do orienteering and all that stuff — orienting with a map and compass, using a silver compass, the whole nine yards. So I looked at my friends and I said, “Not to worry, I can get us into the site.”
JESSE: It was an adventure unto itself.
STRIDER BROWN: So the four of us started towards the Gathering and there was a mountain that we had to go over.
JESSE: Yeah, that’ll happen. It’s an adventure we can’t totally get into today, except to point it out as one of the types of worlds heads were creating that summer. Like the Dead themselves, the Rainbow Gathering would be a thread of energy continued forward from the ‘60s. The Rainbow Gathering exposed Strider to new ideas and of course good ol’ Grateful Dead freaks.
STRIDER BROWN: I grew up as a Catholic and stopped going to church when I was 14 or something like that. My parents were open-minded enough to realize that they couldn't force that on me. But certainly the insights that I was getting from Grateful Dead concerts or other concerts—the two times I saw the Jefferson Airplane in 1970, other bands—that was certainly the key towards newer realities. And then when I got to the first Rainbow Gathering, I went from being raised a Catholic to being somewhat agnostic. I don't think, perhaps, atheist — but I had a profound sense of a form of spirituality. It took off from there, you could say.
JESSE: Strider and his friends made it to the Bay Area.
STRIDER BROWN: We wanted to approach San Francisco by way of Marin County, so we went across North Bay—Blackpoint, North Bay. We wanted to go to the old… I believe it was Billy Kreutzmann’s wife, Susila, had the store called Kumquat Mae. I suppose [it was] a play on the words “Come What May.” A couple of us bought those old Smilin’ Jack or [Steal Your] Face shirts that on the side had marijuana plants.
JESSE: And then eventually to the Eugene area, where Strider met up with his brother and friends at the non-commune known as Adytum. David Koranda had actually scored it via the Oregon Renaissance Faire.
DAVID KORANDA: Strider’s brother and I put up a teepee. We bought a couple of teepees in Sacramento when we were leaving San Francisco, and we put up a teepee, put up a sign that's like: “Do you have a place for us to put this?” And that's how we met people who gave us… we had 640 acres, no running water, no electricity, et cetera, on our Lookout Point Reservoir. So we spent a summer out there doing that.
JESSE: Michele Lefkowith was an Adytum resident, too
MICHELE LEFKOWITH: We lived in shacks, we lived totally off the grid. No electricity, no running water. If I recall—I think it was between him and I and a couple other dudes—we dug an outhouse, and we used to cook on a wood stove and take a bath in a galvanized tub by the wood stove. Really off the grid hippie shit. Sometimes in the summer out there at Adytum, there'd be 15 people, maybe even more than that, running around nude. We'd live in teepees in the summer and we went to the sweat lodge.
STRIDER BROWN: My living arrangement was very unique. There was a path that went out of the old logging road up to this one tiny clearing, and there was a double-trunk bind maple tree that I had created a rope ladder going up between the two trunks. 50 feet up in that tree, I had created what we used to call in Connecticut, a Sheffield net and I took two poles and then I wove, with a nylon rope, basically a framed hammock. The reason I knew it was 50 feet up in the tree is that I had a 50-foot rope that I dangled down, and it just barely touched the ground. It had a fantastic view.
The Field Trip
JESSE: It was a good summer to be a Dead freak in the Pacific Northwest. In late July, the band played two shows in Portland and two in Seattle. Strider and the gang went to both nights in Portland, of course.
MICHELE LEFKOWITH: It was an awful place to go to a Dead concert though. I just remember…, at least personally. You had to sit in these fucking chairs — it just didn't make sense to me. But nevertheless, it was a really good show.
JESSE: She wouldn’t have that problem next time. A few days later, back in San Francisco, the Dead agreed to play for the Creamery. Pretty soon, the big news found its way to the heads.
STRIDER BROWN: Sometime in early August, Michelle Harvey, because she knew that I was a serious Dead Head, Dead freak, she said, “Hey, Grateful Dead are gonna be playing out at the Old Renaissance Fairgrounds towards the end of the month.” And I was like — huh… woo… really.
DAVID KORANDA: Usually, once a week or so, we’d go into the Springfield Creamery, and they had a pool table upstairs. So we would shoot pool, buy yogurt, hang out, whoever knew who would come in there. And then word started to spread one day, which led to this concert.
STRIDER BROWN: I may have bought my ticket at the Springfield Creamery [Health Food] and Pool Store, which was an amazing institution in its own right.
JESSE: Poster artist and Health Food Store manager Richard Sutton and his co-worker had an exhausting day leading up to the show.
RICHARD SUTTON: Just before the concert, we spent an entire day running around in his station wagon, gathering up all the stuff that the Dead wanted in their backstage table spread and everything. So we were running the errands. We ran all over the town and got it all done, came back and were so exhausted that neither of us could talk, or stand to even sit and listen to music. So that's why we missed it.
JESSE: Well, maybe next time.
STRIDER BROWN: We had a caravan, basically, that we drove out there on the morning of the concert. Early morning of Veneta on August 27, 1972, Michelle had this beautiful old, I believe, GMC paneled truck that was painted orange. A bunch of us—I think my brother, his wife, Michelle, David, myself, may have been a couple other people—we rode over in that. And then right behind us was Glenn and Odie. We called them Whammo Glenn and Whammo Odie because we were playing Frisbee a lot. We had this thing in Connecticut before where somebody would go, “Whammo!” — and then throw you the Frisbee.
DAVID KORANDA: There were two parts. One was, yeah, we’ll do whatever we can to support the Creamery, because of what it has become for, in a sense, the community. And then we’ve got to go see the Dead. So it just felt so impromptu — there wasn’t much notice, there wasn’t much planning for it. It was just like yeah, let’s go. Next thing you know, the road’s packed — we’re hanging off the back of trucks, sitting in the back of pickup trucks and just lined up.
STRIDER BROWN: So, we drive over in the panel truck. And then we start getting into the traffic coming out of Eugene. It was… we crawled along at a snail's pace, and then we finally made it to the Renaissance Fairground area and parked — and nobody was even taking tickets.
SUE KESEY: I think most people that came probably had a ticket, but they certainly didn't have to turn them in or prove it because there was nobody there. But that was, it all… that’s the way it came on. [laughs]
JESSE: A few days later, the Oregon Daily Emerald estimated the crowd at around 25,000. Sam Field.
SAM FIELD: There is a site with open fields, which was great for parking. And then there was a whole network of trails that are in and amongst trees, with occasional widening out, so there was a place for shade.
JESSE: Larry Roberts.
LAWRENCE ROBERTS: I don't even really remember the traffic jam. A couple of my friends from back East had shown up, luckily, a few weeks before. So I brought them along and my new girlfriend. We knew it would be a popular thing of course, so we got there early. We staked out some shade, which was a little hard to come by, under some trees to the… I think if you're facing the stage, it was on the left.
SUE KESEY: I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, except that I was theoretically supposed to be collecting the money from ticket sales and so forth. And actually being sure my kids and everybody else's kids were kind of collected — or at least we knew where they were.
JESSE: Uschi Obermaier and Rainer Langhans were centers of the radical Munich commune world, an underground power couple associated with Kommune-1, and a deep tangent we don’t quite have the space for today.
CHUCK KESEY: The concert, you don't have a chance to enjoy it. You're putting out fires and running around and worrying about everything, checking on people.
JESSE: Merry Prankster Ken Babbs was handling MC duties.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Alright, alright — it’s alright, for all you people with kids, don’t forget the Kids Tent down there. Mercy and Morgan, two little girls are there now, lost, looking for their mommies and daddies. At the Kids Tent down there, with the red striped awning.
Enter the New Riders
JESSE: First up, starting in the early part of the day, were the New Riders of the Purple Sage.
MARMADUKE [8/27/72]: This song asks the musical question: “What the fuck’s going on here?”
AUDIO: “Whatcha Gonna Do” [New Riders of the Purple Sage, Field Trip] (0:00-0:30) - [Spotify]
JESSE: The New Riders’ set was released in 2004 by Omnivore Recordings, titled simply Field Trip – Veneta, 8/27/72. Buddy Cage had replaced Jerry Garcia on pedal steel in late 1971. They released Powerglide in March 1972 and had been touring heartily ever since. They’d crossed paths with the Dead in Europe, then on their way home headlined two nights at Carnegie Hall, the small room, and a ton since, including shows with the Dead at the Hollywood Bowl and the Berkeley Community Theater, just a few days earlier. Don Witten.
DON WITTEN: I actually listened probably more to New Riders at that time. I remember listening to them on my 8-track cassette on the way up in my little orange Volkswagen Beetle.
JESSE: But then, surprise, there they were.
DON WITTEN: I don't think they are listed on the poster.
AUDIO: “Rainbow” [New Riders of the Purple Sage, Field Trip] (1:29-1:56) - [Spotify]
JESSE: Sometime during “Rainbow,” a parachutist landed near the stage.
MARMADUKE [8/27/72]: Far out! This is the first time I’ve sang ‘Drop in and see me any old time’ and somebody’s done it here, I don’t know…
DON WITTEN: I didn't have anything against the Dead. I liked their music, but I wouldn't consider myself a Dead Head at that point. But yeah, I got on the Bus that day.
JESSE: Danno Hikinin.
DANNO HIKININ: During the New Riders show, that was before things had gotten really, really hot. That was when I was down in front. I looked back behind the stage when the New Riders were playing, and who did I see but Jack Casady hanging out with Phil Lesh, cracking bottles of Heinekens and smiling. If anybody’s ever seen Jack smile, it just lights up the whole world when he smiles: ‘Jack Casady is here!’
JESSE: With the help of New Riders’ leader Marmaduke, Ken Babbs offered a public service announcement.
MARMADUKE [8/27/72]: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to tune in to your local stations for an announcement from our sponsor…
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Today’s program is being brought to you by ST, standing for ‘salt tablet.’ Now, it’s been recommended by our sponsor that everybody take one or two, and he’s gonna give ‘em away for free —
MARMADUKE [8/27/72]: [makes hyperventilating noises] Ugh, ugh, I’m dehydrated, I can’t breathe!
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Give him a salt tablet someone please…
MARMADUKE [8/27/72]: [continues hyperventilating] Salt… the water is all drained from my body… I’m replacing it as fast as I can, just doesn’t do any good…
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Alrighty, already. So, the salt tablets — over there at the White Bird Tent is where they’re at.
JESSE: Oh rightio, the White Bird tent, run by the White Bird Clinic. One of the Dead’s few previous out of town benefits had been for the White Bird Clinic in early 1971.
KEN BABBS [8/27/72]: Okay, so in the meantime, when he’s changing the tube in the amplifier, you’ve got to watch out for the blue acid with the white stars on it that’s shaped like a little pyramid of Zygotimites [sic] over there in Egypt with a white eye in the middle… it kills ya!
JESSE: In Veneta, White Bird acted as the freakout tent, but they’ve continued to provide righteous health services to the people of Lane County.
DANNO HIKININ: The New Riders are taking a slight break and, boy — all of a sudden, there's a train track right next to the fairgrounds. And all of a sudden, a train starts going by and the crowd goes wild! The crowd is jumping up and down, hooting and hollering and waving their hands in the air, and they're doing that pulling the motion, which you do to get the guy to pull on his horn. And, of course, the guy pulled on his horn, we could all see ‘em. There he was, literally like Casey Jones, right there in the flesh. He was looking down on us all with this great big smile on his face.
JESSE: Give or take the intensifying heat and the blue acid, the vibes were pretty solid. Everybody find a cool spot and get hydrated. We’ll be back in 15 minutes. And by 15 minutes, I mean next week. See you then.