Last weekend – Labor Day weekend – while thousands (for forty dollars a day) were reflecting on the condition of the arts in our contemporary failing democracy at the three day gated seminar named Bumbershoot, some of us may have paused to recall what happened in the mud 40 years earlier on a strawberry farm – Betty Nelson’s Strawberry Farm – a few miles south of Sultan, Washington, off of HIghway 2, on the way to Stevens Pass. (The Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair was the reason – it will be argued, with conditions, in the forthcoming video “Sky River Rock Fire” – Bumbershoot was founded.) Sky River, for short, was the first three-day outdoor rock/jazz festival staged where nothing had been staged before – in this case an about 40-acre farm.
It rained most of that Labor Day weekend, although it was not a cold rain and the estimated 40 thousand who showed up made the most of it by dancing in the mud and periodically chanting for the sun in circle dances which to the Christians, who from a small plane were dropping pamphlets reading “Christ Is Coming,” must have seemed like a pagan ritual. The music was pretty much non-stop. The “lighter than air fair” part of it was an inflated balloon of about eight feet in diameter that could get about as far off the ground as it was wide — but with a running jump by an athletic person. (I may be wrong in this for I did not ride the thing.)
The cost of admittance was $6 for the three days or $4 for a single day, but a large minority paid nothing, for aside from the flimsy farm fence there was no security. Still the bands appeared for next to nothing and the reputation of the event, even while it was underway, was sufficient to inspire the Grateful Dead, for instance, to fly up from San Francisco on their own and appear late on Monday, the last day. I remember that County Joe and the Fish, then a very popular Berkeley band, flew in from a concert in New Orleans. Joe was wearing a rather nifty white suit that, I believe, he purchased there. I also remember setting the microphone for a relatively unknown comedian, Richard Pryor. Santana was resounding across the Skykomish valley at 3 a.m., and although we must have slept, I do not remember it.
I was interviewed about SKY RIVER a few days before the 40th Anniversary by Everett Herald columnist Julie Muhlstein for their Aug. 31 offering of Heraldnet. Here is the Everett Herald link.
One of the two photos included here was also printed with the August 31, Heraldnet piece with caption included. Fred Bauer (long since moved to the wild California coastline west of Garberville) took the camp life detail from the festival. The other is a record of both covers from a Helix published the following spring. It was not unusual to use the covers to promote an event, in this case a benefit concert (although that is too puny a description for those Eagles Auditorium all-day events) for Helix and KRAB radio.