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'The price of admission was love'

1970 concert goers share memories of Vortex I


Photo Credit: ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Rebecca Edens-Ahsing attended Vortex I: A Biodegradable Festival of Life at Milo McIver State Park in 1970. Looking out over what is now a field thick with grass, Rebecca Edens-Ahsing recalls how hot and dusty it had been near the Vortex I stage in this very spot 44 years ago.

Back in 1970, Edens-Ahsing had marched in an anti-war demonstration, but the company she worked for had threatened to fire any employee who took part in a protest.

When she caught wind of Vortex I: A Biodegradable Festival of Life, of course she had to go.

“A lot of good memories,” Edens-Ahsing said. “I think it was just the freedom.”

She’s brought a stack of photos from the 1970 festival with her to share with archivists at the commemoration event held at Milo McIver State Park on Saturday, Aug. 9.

One shows a crowd near the stage, sweating in the shade-less heat.

It’s possible that some of those same people were in the crowd touring the same field for the 44th anniversary of Vortex I.

In 1970, Vortex I was held at Milo McIver State Park in an effort to divert potentially violent anti-war protests during the American Legion’s annual conference in downtown Portland, where President Richard Nixon was scheduled to speak. (Nixon was a no-show.)

The event marked an unusual collaboration between opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Photo Credit: ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Edens-Ahsing brought photos from the 1970 festival to be scanned for a Vortex archive during the commemoration event held in honor of Vortex I's 44th anniversary at Milo McIver State Park on Aug. 9.Tom McCall, a Republican governor up for reelection, and several conservative Portland business owners organized and funded the legendary hippie festival.

Author Stevan Allred called the move “political jiu-jitsu.”

Allred used Vortex I as the setting of one of the vignettes in his book “A Simplified Map of the Real World.”

While he didn’t make it to the 1970 event, Allred said Vortex I holds weighty historical significance for the area.

“This is not just a way to bring tourists to Estacada,” he said of the value of commemorating the festival. “This is an example of what real political leadership looks like. The power structure chose a path that wasn’t about confrontation. It was about defusing the conflict.”

Vortex I drew thousands to Milo McIver State Park near Estacada the week of Aug. 28, 1970.

Photo Credit: ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Obviously, tie-die was an important part of the commemoration event on Aug. 9.So many people were drawn to Vortex that a traffic jam of festival-goers eventually extended nearly 20 miles, all the way to Portland’s 82nd Avenue.

The festival was called the “Governor’s Pot Party” by locals, and law enforcement was instructed to turn a blind eye to the ubiquitous public nudity and drug use.

According to a sign at the Aug. 9 event, commemorating the 44th anniversary of Vortex 1, the Rainbow Family even had “talk down tents” (in teepees) to help people through bad acid trips.

Photo Credit: ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - A woman listens to Matt Love, author of 'The Far Out Story of Vortex I' as he gives a guided tour of the Vortex Meadow on Aug. 9.Tom Hopkins was a 20-year-old television news intern at the time. Hopkins recalls having a hard time getting footage appropriate to use on TV due to the many nude people at the festival.

“Let me tell you, the best shots of nude girls came from undercover Clackamas County law enforcement,” Matt Love, author of “The Far Out Story of Vortex I,” quipped to loud laughter as he led a walking tour of the Vortex Meadow.

During Love’s tour, several people chimed in to add in their memories of the only state-sponsored rock festival in U.S. history.

Did Charlie Musselwhite actually play there? Or was that a Vortex myth?

He certainly did, according to Estacada area resident, Dan McPartland.

Musselwhite, who is now 70, is a blues harmonica player and bandleader who rose to fame in the early 1960s.

McPartland remembers pooling money with friends to bring Musselwhite to Vortex on the promise that they would fly the band out and a Vortex organizer would pay to fly them back in time to make a gig the next night.

McPartland said the organizer backed out at the last minute, so it was a mad dash to get the band on the plane on time.

McPartland wasn’t an event organizer, but times were different back then, he said. In 1970, with the right connections and the right dollar amount, you could bring a band into town.

Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED - This 1970 photo was on display at the commemoration event at Milo McIver State Park on Aug. 9.“I just liked music,” McPartland said. “Music was the pulse of all things. We lived for the music. It was a big deal.”

Add to that that the festival took place near a river on beautiful summer days.

“You would have been there if you liked music,” McPartland added.

Surprisingly, no superstar big name bands played at Vortex.

However, for several attendees, the free concert was the main draw.

Businesses donated food, outhouses and even high-quality timber and heavy machinery to build a stage.

“The price of admission was love,” Love said, referencing a sign near the entrance to the festival.

Phil Lingelbach, chairman of the Estacada Development Association, also said the festival was more about music than politics for him.

Photo Credit: ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Matt Love leads a tour of the Vortex Meadow at the commemoration event on Aug. 9. Love, the author of 'The Far Out Story of Vortex I,' told the Estacada News he gathered so much information during the event, he has plans to pen another book on the subject of the 1970 state-sponsored rock festival, Vortex I. This one, Love said, will be a coffee table book consisting of photographs and a series of essays. The working title is 'The Even More Far Out Story of Vortex I.' At the time, Lingelbach was in his early 20s and working as a counselor for at-risk youths for Multnomah County.

Lingelbach remembers that a troubled kid had wrecked a stolen car trying to get to Vortex and there had been a scramble to try to find his counselor. But the counselor was at Vortex, listening to music with Lingelbach.

“When I came out here, it wasn’t about politics,” Lingelbach said. “It was about listening to music for free.”

Lingelbach explained that in 1970 the economy was down and even if you had a job, you still probably didn’t have a lot of money.

“So a free concert? Heck, that was something we were going to do,” Lingelbach said.

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF PHIL LINGELBACH - Estacada Development Association Chairman Phil Lingelbach said he attended Vortex I a time or two after work in 1970. Lingelbach also attended the American Legion Parade in downtown Portland during the same week. Times were tense, he said. He took this shot of law enforcement in riot gear during the parade. Halfway through the commemoration event, park officials estimated about 250 people had shown up to take the walking tours, listen to 1970s style acoustic music, watch a historical reenactment of McCall’s visit to Vortex, do some tie-dye and share photos and stories from their time at Vortex I.

Volunteers were on hand to record peoples’ testimonies and Assistant Park Ranger Andrew Brainard was scanning and returning photos from the 1970 festival brought by attendees.

Brainard said the images will be sent to the state historian and digitized then go into a repository at Estacada Public Library for anyone to access.

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF PHIL LINGELBACH - Phil Lingelbach took this photo of people applauding the American Legion Parade through downtown Portland in 1970. Vortex I was a week-long state-sponsored rock festival in Milo McIver State Park intended to draw anti-war protesters from the American Legion Convention in an effort to avoid violence.He said later that the commemoration attendees brought around 30 photos to add to the archive.

Lauren Sinclair, Community Outreach interpretive naturalist with Milo McIver State Park, said that park officials hope to have an annual Vortex I commemoration event, culminating in a huge blow out for the festival’s 50th anniversary in 2020.

Donations from the 44th anniversary event will go toward installing a plaque commemorating the historical, social and cultural importance of Vortex I.

If you have Vortex I photos you’d like to share with the archive, call the park at 503-630-7150.



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