Aug 30, 2022

August 27, 1972: West of Elmira, Oregon


ELMIRA, Ore. (UPI) - A large-scale rock concert here Sunday gave this town the most colossal traffic jam in its history as thousands of fans drove through near 100 degree heat to what was billed as a potluck picnic with The Grateful Dead.
At first the entire concept seemed like a rock fan's fantasy - a very inexpensive concert (only $3 a head) featuring one of America's top rock groups, The Grateful Dead, in a quiet country atmosphere with the whole affair sponsored by a dairy that gave away free yogurt and food.
But the concept isn't so ludicrous when you remember the Springfield Creamery is owned by the family of Oregon novelist Ken Kesey, author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Sometimes a Great Notion."
Kesey's concert-throwing antics with his entourage, "The Merry Pranksters," and assorted friends such as the Hell's Angels and The Grateful Dead back in the 60s became the subject of Tom Wolfe's bestseller, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."
Sunday's affair was hot, hectic and loud - but peaceful.
By early morning all 10,000 printed tickets were sold out. But clutching their money, rock fans kept arriving until police and sheriff's deputies estimated their number at between 25,000 and 50,000 by afternoon.
The concert maintained a peacefulness that was reminiscent of 1969's Woodstock Festival. The fans sprawled on the grass, shed clothes, quietly listened to music, and attempted to battle the heat.
A few fans showed up at the first aid tent suffering "bad trips." But the record hot spell took its toll as volunteers dabbed sunburned brows with ice water and passed out salt tablets.
This isn't to say drugs weren't very much in evidence. They were. But the crowd seemed to confine itself to nothing more than marijuana smoking.
One group did open a large cannister of what they said was laughing gas. Some LSD was being sold but largely "acid" seems to have lost its fascination for the youth. More coke was being drunk than sniffed.
After two hours of music from the "New Riders of the Purple Sage," the Grateful Dead moved onstage at 4 p.m. and fought their way through the heat until after 7 p.m.
Finally the magic ended, the clothes went back on, and cars started merging into a line of traffic that by nightfall stretched halfway from Florence to Eugene.

(from the Capitol Journal, August 28, 1972)

* * *


A combination of warm weather, a big name band, free yogurt and food given away by the Springfield Creamery, courtesy of the Kesey family, resulted in a monumental traffic jam Sunday as thousands of fans drove to a rock concert held west of Elmira.
Lane County sheriff's deputies and some state police had their hands full of motorists headed to what was billed as a potluck picnic with The Grateful Dead.
The event cost $3 a head, with part of the proceeds going to its sponsor, the Springfield Creamery, owned by Chuck Kesey, brother of Pleasant Hill author Ken Kesey.
The free yogurt and food couldn't have lasted very long. Authorities said concert organizers had predicted about 5,000 persons would attend. It was more like four or five times that many Sunday.
Estimates from sheriff's deputies ranged from 20,000 to 30,000, based on the thousands of cars they waved into the three dusty parking lots near the site of the concert - which also is the scene twice a year of the counter-culture's Renaissance Faire.
Deputies said the crowded condition on roads leading to the rock concert made it difficult for emergency vehicles to reach injured persons. One unidentified youth suffered an extreme reaction to a bee sting and it took an ambulance about 45 minutes to get in and out of the site, authorities reported.
Many concert-goers were enjoying the music and sunshine half or completely nude and drugs of various kinds were being offered for sale. And there was plenty of beer and wine, but little water to moisten parched throats.
Chuck Kesey said Sunday he had no idea how much money was raised in the benefit concert. And he wouldn't even offer a guess as to how many people turned out.
The Grateful Dead played for about three hours, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., preceded by two hours of music from the "New Riders of the Purple Sage."
When nightfall descended and the music stopped, cars streaming out of the concert site backed traffic up so far that, by some reports, there was a line halfway from Florence to Eugene.
Other than traffic and complaints from area residents, authorities said there were surprisingly few problems resulting from the event. However, they did have to have several dozen cars towed away for illegal parking on both sides of Highway 126 in the Veneta-Elmira area.

(by Don Mack, from the Eugene Register-Guard, August 28, 1972)

[Photo caption of the crowd's backs: "The bare look was in evidence at Sunday rock concert."]

* * *


Bass player Phil Lesh thanked the Springfield Creamery "for setting it up so we could play out here.
"This is where we get off the best."
Then came a "Johnny B. Goode"-like guitar introduction, and the Grateful Dead concert began. Some 25,000 people were there to experience it Sunday afternoon. It was a concert to remember.
People everywhere roaming around on the huge, rectangular grass field west of Elmira. Wine, beer, dope, Coca-Cola, ice cream sandwiches and free food. A 10-foot high stage. A water truck full of drinking water which ran out. Few, if any, clothes on. Good times.
And it was hot.
The 98-degree weather nearly dehydrated many of the people there, including the Dead themselves, who took two half-hour long breaks to refresh during their four-hour concert. Many took to the shade at the edges of the field to escape the sun rays. And others set up home-made tents and lean-to's to stay cool.
But mostly, it was to no avail.
The heat kept on, like it would never stop. The water truck helped for a while before it ran out of water. The soda-pop and sno-cone vendors were there, but with high prices and horrendously slow lines. There were bags of ice which didn't last long.
As a result, many people stumbled around in bloated grogginess.
Things got better from about 6 p.m. on, when the sun began to go down. The atmosphere loosened up and breathing was easier.
The Dead's excellent concert followed the same pattern. What rough spots their music had came during the first parts of the concert, and as the sun slowly went down, the music became freer and more flowing.
They opened the concert with some recent Jerry Garcia tunes, "Deal" and "Sugaree." Later, they added a rolling version of "Me and My Uncle," followed by an extended "Playin' in the Band," which signified the direction of music for the rest of the night.
The Dead were rolling along, playing with smooth togetherness in word and song. Then, as the sun was setting, the extended versions of familiar songs pulled the audience into a softly bouncing, vibrant mood, anxious to hear more and more.
"Dark Star" weaved and intermingled throughout its relaxed entirety, and the fullness of life beamed through "Sing Me Back Home."
A long, amazing version of "Sugar Magnolia" instilled an overpowering energy in the hand-clapping, good-timing audience, and a flowing enthusiasm erupted. Then came "Casey Jones," with accompanying cheers from the audience all the way through.
"One More Saturday Night" had the audience on its feet, jumping, overflowing, bursting, living. Energy throbbing.
But that was it.
After "One More Saturday Night," Bob Weir waved goodbye to the crowd and the Dead left the stage. The audience cheered for more but that was it. The Dead could have gone on to complete their concert with "Truckin'," "Uncle John's Band" and "Johnny B. Goode," but they didn't.
The abrupt end to the concert was unexpected and disappointing, but can't really be considered a shortcoming, because the Dead had just played one of the more alive-with-good-feelings concerts in or around Eugene in recent years.
In short, the concert was excellent. A more vibrant exchange of energy in the form of a concert will be hard to come by around here for quite a while.
The Dead had two additions when they played Sunday. They had a piano player, Keith, who added to the rolling pulse of the concert, laying out rounded, yet clear, notes as musical background for the band. And they had a new singer, Keith's wife, who sang during some songs and gyrated around the stage during others. Her voice didn't come through the sound system clearly most of the time, and it did little except to add to the Dead's already full vocals. Occasionally she would let out an "Ohheayeahahhh," which, unfortunately, didn't fit the music.
The only flaw in the day was the announcer, who sounded and acted like the extreme stereotype of sock-it-to-ya top-40 disc jockey. It was hard to imagine where he came from. He certainly didn't fit with the concert's mood and he was totally asinine from the beginning of the concert to the end.
The announcer didn't detract that much, though. The full, rich music filled the afternoon and evening, overshadowing any minor flaws marring the day.
Anyone who was there experiencing the Dead's "Sugar Magnolia" will tell you the same.

(by Clay Eals, from the Oregon Daily Emerald, August 30, 1972 - pp.1,8)

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  1. Some reviews of the Veneta show. It's funny that Veneta, the closest town, is all but unmentioned in the ads & articles around this show; instead the show takes place in some unspecified spot "west of Elmira," like it's in the land of Oz. Still, at least 25,000 people had no trouble finding the spot - the site's only about 13 miles away from Eugene, and the yearly Oregon Renaissance Faire started being held there in 1970. (A fair had just taken place there in July '72. It was renamed the Oregon Country Fair in 1976, and remains a big draw.)

    The first two reviews are from the "regular" mainstream press, which was more interested in police reports than music. The bands are dispensed with in a sentence or two, but we're told all about traffic jams, a bee sting, towed cars, drugs, bad trips, and thirst. (A tip from the reporter: "acid seems to have lost its fascination for the youth.") As for the Grateful Dead, well, apparently it's some rock band from the '60s. Maybe people came for the free food.

    Fortunately, a young reviewer from the Daily Emerald (the student newspaper at the University of Oregon in Eugene) also attended and wrote a more detailed account of the scene. He describes it pretty well, including some crowd details you don't see in the film.
    He was a Dead fan, knowledgeable about their songs, and a 3-hour show in the broiling heat was too short for him. The show's end was "abrupt, unexpected & disappointing." This must be one of the few newspaper reviews of a Dead show that complains about the songs they didn't play!
    But still, he praises the "excellent" concert as one of the most alive & vibrant he's seen lately. He's very attentive to how the show built up & stretched out as it went along, pulling the crowd in. It sounds like he'd seen the Dead before in their pre-Keith days; Keith is a welcome addition, and he doesn't even mention Pigpen. However he's not a Donna fan. (This is likely the first published complaint about her Playin' wail!) He doesn't like Ken Babbs as the stage announcer either.
    One thing that strikes me is that the rock & roll songs wrapping up the show are described as the highlight, a burst of "overpowering energy" that got the crowd dancing & clapping. It wasn't the long jams that amazed him the most, it was Sugar Magnolia.

  2. That first article may have underestimated the prevalence of LSD use at Veneta, based on what I heard from Sam Field.