More than 20 years ago, I swore off hippie concerts.
At the time, I was a budding intern at San Francisco Weekly and went off on my first investigative reporting story. My editor wanted copy about nitrous oxide—or, "hippie crack," as he called it. Allegedly, hippie concerts were awash in a new fad—brain-freezed buzzes from "laughing gas." A week earlier, two Chico State students had stolen a tank from a local dentist office and then uncapped the gas in the closed cab of a pickup truck. They both died.
With a multiday Grateful Dead concert settling into the Bay Area, my editor suspected that some entrepreneurial hippies would snag "laughing gas" tanks and give out $1 pre-show hits in the parking lots. He wanted a story in the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson. I offered to go undercover and really crawl into the skin of the story—a decision that bookended my days as a recreational hippie.
Certainly, it was not my first dabble as a hippie. By my sophomore year in college, at a backwoods elite Vermont college, I had tossed off my Dockers for Birkenstocks, and begun to grow out my trimmed Midwest farm boy haircut into a messy tangle of blond locks. I learned about the Grateful Dead, first, through cassette tapes passed from one Saab to the next prep school boy and, then, by cutting out on midterms to catch three-day festivals—amorphous treks to Grateful Dead and Allman Brother shows and, by senior year, to see a fun-loving house band in Burlington known as Phish.
The unstructured music from those jam bands are ideal backdrops for summertime concerts, free-flowing riffs that carry an audience like Huck Finn rafting the Mississippi, and floating melodies that send stoned concertgoers on fanciful mind-journeys, like children chasing the tail of a kite. For some, it is a definition of bliss.
But at that final Grateful Dead concert, I saw the midnight black shadow to the hippie concerts. I took hits from a stolen nitrous oxide tank—one which I had witnessed being stolen from a local dentist, two grown men crowbarring their way into a back office—and interviewed two police officers as my brain went into a fog, my pen struggling to stay connected to my notepad, words spilling in the empty air and onto my palm. The three-day "undercover" assignment ended in a low-slung east Oakland hotel, with two purloined tanks and a collection of middle-aged men flattening out crumbled dollar bills. It was so far from the fun, sun-dappled good times of the shows. I was 22-years old at the time, wide-eyed and curious and an ambitious journalist. The same could not be said for the dirty and desperate 40-year-olds in the room. It was my last hippie concert.
But, while I would no longer touch a hippie with a sanitized twelve-foot pole, and cock my head like a dumfounded terrier at white men with dreadlocks, I absolutely understand the charm of hippie concerts.
Like snagging a lightning bug in a jar, being at a hippie concert can capture adolescent pleasures, glowing with promise and magic and wonderment—a perfect frame of mind for the-living-is-easy summertime. With a nod to the Sasquatch! Festival (see the Sound page), which dedicates (read: quarantines) a whole stage to what they label as "Wookiee bands," referring to the hairy and lumbering Star Wars creatures, we provide our favorite three Wookiee concerts of the season.
The Source's three choices
for Wookiee concerts. By Source Staff
4 PEAKS—Straw cowboy hats, Birkenstocks, long nights of dancing, flowing skirts over pants, and tie-dye T-shirts. And, don't forget, banjo music. This year's headliner March Forth Marching Band adds a playful, circus element to the festival: think Wookiees on stilts. Other acts include Greensky Bluegreass, Poor Man's Whiskey, Dehlizdublin, Head for the Hills, Moonalice, Grant Farm, Acorn Project, Sugarcane, True Spokes. Rokin' A Ranch. June 21-23, Rockin a Ranch, Tumalo. $109.
The Coyote Spirit Festival—This desert rendezvous is half Burning Man and half Chewbacca breeding ground. Seriously, Chewie would be in Wookiee heaven with so many delicate dreadies running around, bathing in hot springs and gyrating their hairy hips in hopes of keeping the holy hula hoop up a few moments longer. This year the three-day love fest includes sound healing, yoga clinics and "laughter therapy." The impressively large musical lineup on the desert flats ranges from cutesy Idaho folk pop duo the Shook Twins to Jah Sun, a multi-instrumentalist who specializes in heavy baselines. Like any other Wookiee-fest worth its patchouli, the music at the Coyote Spirit Festival starts early each day, and lasts well past midnight. But don't worry, in between sets there's scheduled "chill" time, and with vendors on site serving the latest in vegetarian Wookiee cuisine, festivalgoers should be well taken care of. June 14-16, Summer Lake Hot Springs, Paisley. Call 541-943-3931 for tickets, $100.
Oregon Country Fair—The grandfather of Wookiee gatherings, the Oregon Country Fair is a magical spot where silverback Wookiee-sightings are as common as little Wook pups. The 44th annual fair draws all walks of life and offers everything from jugglers and clowns, to poetry readings, hip-hop dance performances and folk music below the dripping Douglas fir branches that arch overhead. Handcrafted goods: candles, baskets, sweaters, sandals, jewelry, pottery, musical instruments, soaps, woodwork. Transactions may or may not include traditional forms of currency. That said, the Oregon Country Fair is a lot less Reggae on the River and a lot more Grateful Dead moms and dads exposing their offspring to the wonderful "diversity" of Oregon. It is good family bonding time, camping in the Willamette Valley forest (not part of OCF—camping is off site) before taking in another day of zaniness. July 12-14, near Veneta, Oregon (13 miles west of Eugene). $22-24/day at ticketswest.com.