Jul 18, 2012

April 26, 1970: Poynette, Wisconsin

Here are two different news viewpoints of the Sound Storm festival. They don't say anything about the Dead, but they do set the scene for this lost show.


POYNETTE, WIS. - The bacchanalian rite that began here Friday with wine, women, weeds and virtually nonstop acid rock music began to wane Sunday night.
Thousands who camped for the weekend in the kames and drumlins of a rolling wooded farmland near here began to leave after the Grateful Dead - a nationally popular rock group and the top billed band of the "Sound Storm" rock fest - left the stage.
The sheriff's department estimated Sunday's crowd at 25,000. Another 25,000 were here Saturday and 12,000 on Sunday - many of them holdovers for the entire three day celebration.
At 11 p.m., there were about 3,000 persons at the site and promoters said the bizarre bazaar probably would wind up about 3 a.m. Monday.
Sunday's crowd climbed higher and higher as the sun made its ascent. Many persons in it were in states of delirium from the caterwauling guitars and the drugs and marijuana.
One naked young man danced atop a U-Haul van beside the four tier stage.
An "Earth People Beach" was established beside a creek that meanders through the 660 acre wooded farmland two miles west of Poynette.
Dozens of young men and women peeled off their clothes and frolicked in the water.
One young woman in the teeming crowd, unabashed by the photographers who approached her, sun bathed nude save for her rose colored glasses.

Donald K. Bobo, vice president of Golden Freak, Inc., of Madison, which promoted the festival, said Sunday night, "we're wiped out, bankrupt, we've lost 25,000 bucks."
Bobo said that although crowds were large, thousands of persons entered the sprawling grounds without paying. He declined to say what the production costs were for such things as renting the land, hiring nearly 50 rock bands and more than 100 security guards.
The workmen who manned the mobile electric generating plant for the stage lights and musical amplifiers complained late Sunday that they had not been paid. They threatened to pull the plug.
Donations were then collected from the crowd to keep the beat going. At about 11 p.m., $500 had been collected - half the amount the workmen said they had been promised.
A highlight Sunday, besides the appearance of the Grateful Dead, was a hippie wedding on stage.
Barbara Swenson, 21, of Madison, a winsome bride with a garland of baby's breath flowers in her blond hair and wearing a floor-length cotton gown, gave this expanation for the fest wedding:
"All of these people are our friends and where could we find a church big enough for them?"
The bridegroom, Robert Leslie, 22, of Oconomowoc, lead guitarist in the Northern Comfort, one of the performing groups, nodded agreement.
Columbia County Sheriff Vearn Golz reported that only three arrests were made during the three days - two for littering and one for drunken driving.
"It's just amazing," Golz said. "If you had this many middle age people, drinking the way these kids are, you'd have no end of fights and trouble."
The major note of trouble of the festival was a fire which destroyed an abandoned farmhouse on the grounds and three cars parked nearby.
About 20 volunteer firemen from the village of Poynette battled the blaze which leveled the two story building. There was no immediate estimate of damage in the fire, which authorities said was of unknown origin.
A supervising nurse in a medical aid station reported that the 35 volunteer nurses and doctors had given medical attention to about 60 persons, two dozen of them for bad drug trips.

(by Dean Jensen, from the Milwaukee Sentinel, April 27 1970)

* * * * *


[Caption: At right are a few of the more than 50,000 young Americans who gathered in Poynette, Wis., for a rock music festival weekend before last. It was a miniature Woodstock. Here is the last of three reports by Chicago Today reporters Dick Cheverton and Glenda Sampson and photographer Steve Kipp.]

"One man gathers what another man spills..." - THE GRATEFUL DEAD

The Grateful Dead did as much as anyone to start the cultural convulsion that led to the first "acid tests" in 1965, and then to the pop festivals - Monterey and Woodstock and Atlantic City - and now they were on the stage at Poynette, Wis., looking out over a churning sea of seeking faces...

There's a war going on, remember? And it's getting bigger.

CUT TO YALE UNIVERSITY: Its president, Kingman Brewster, is warning that student morale is sagging, and apathy growing. Psychiatrist Rollo May warns that, in his belief, apathy leads not to exhaustion, but to violence.

BACK TO POYNETTE: Jerry Garcia - 'Captain Trips' they used to call him - immersed in his music, working around until he finds the door and steps thru, into one of those long, incredibly complex musical corridors...
And they keep it up for 4 hours. In the dust and setting sun of the last day of the Soundstorm rock and roll festival.

Shall we go, you and I, while we can
Thru the transitive nightfall of diamonds... - THE GRATEFUL DEAD

A young man sat on a hillside Saturday afternoon, silently carving a minute face into the limb of a tree. Its expression shifted in the shifting sunlight...
Four kids sat wrapped in a plastic bag, smoking grass, and they looked like ominous embryos from the movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey"...
A girl with sunburn passed the medical bus and someone - without being asked - reached out and daubed lotion on her nose...
There was dust and dirt and lost souls / there was flagrant flouting of the nation's drug laws / there was sharing and togetherness and eerie beauty.
When we went to Poynette, it all looked...odd. The dustbowl "natural ampitheater" (think about those two words for a minute...); the churning crowds, the tents springing up like a medieval encampment. Three days later - after it had all imploded and the hillside where we had encamped looked like home - it was the other way around...

CUT TO A CAR, driving back to Chicago, Sunday night: We pass the comfortable townspeople of Poynette sitting on their porches in plastic-web lawn chairs. We drive into darkness, the tail lights of the cars on the road sharding like drops of frozen blood. We drive into the suburbs and the regimented, mass-produced apartment houses and the curtain-walled office buildings with their flourescent innards spilling out into the darkness.
Back into Chicago and the concrete and the asphalt and the square street corners and the pinched people crossing the streets on rheumatic legs while the auto horns scream at them to move faster faster faster.

Chicago didn't exist for 3 days. We were in the woods and the nearest telephone - when it worked - was half a mile away.
Now we are back, and the apartment door has closed, and there is a sudden, claustrophobic feeling as the lock snaps shut and the safety chain glides into place...

Wonder who will water all the children of the garden
When they sigh about the barren lack of rain
And droop so hungry 'neath the sky... - THE GRATEFUL DEAD

CHICAGO AGAIN: It comes with sudden, terrible clarity: one does not stop on a city street and chat with perfect strangers. One does not lightly offer help nor ask for it. One does not share; one protects. And preserves.
Poynette was - for 3 fragile days - a lesson in glittering possibilities. It was togetherness and sharing and, yes, there were also dirt and foul-ups and lost souls.

It was a perfectly protected reservation, an enclave of people who happily call themselves "freaks," a drug ghetto, a glmpse of a future that may already be obsolete.
The national reporters all went to Woodstock last year and watched kids downing pills and smoking grass. They concluded that the current drug laws are about as evenly and honestly enforced as were the booze laws during prohibition. Poynette just put the icing on the cake.
But it was more than that.
You got the feeling that it was a battered and almost broken army that had encamped on those lush Wisconsin hillsides. They seemed to be whispering "Gimme Shelter," echoing the Rolling Stones...

GIMME SHELTER, even if it's for 3 perishable days.
Would it have lasted beyond those 3 days? Probably not. It was made to be a memory.
But there is a quiet power in memory: the glittering possibility, once glimpsed, is not easily dismissed. The children of Poynette will be back again...somewhere, sometime...

William Tell has stretched his bow
Till it won't stretch no furthermore
And it may require a change
That hasn't come before... - THE GRATEFUL DEAD

(from Chicago Today, May 5 1970)

See also:



  1. The Lost Live Dead post links to the Wisconsin Magazine of History, where you can find Michael Edmonds' article on the festival:

    One witness "recalled that the the end of the third set most of the band left the stage exhausted and happy, but rhythm guitarist Bob Weir remained at his microphone trembling and entranced, almost catatonic. The Dead's crew came forward, picked him up under the armpits, and carried him backstage."
    Garcia is said to have praised the festival as "the best festival they had ever performed at, the most mellow."

    Note that the article above says they played for 4 hours - well within the range of, say, a day at the Fillmore East - and that they played in the sunset.
    Witnesses say they started in the late afternoon. Apparently they played Lovelight & the Other One in the first set, and Dark Star at sunset. (The sunset there that day was around 7:50.)

  2. I remeber "Strawberry Alamclock" playing. All the nude bodies in the stream. The hot sun. And peace at the fest as clearly as yesterday.