Before there was Woodstock, there was the Sky River Rock Festival.
On Labor Day weekend in 1968, nearly a year before Woodstock, tens of thousands of young longhairs gathered on a raspberry farm near Sultan to hear bands such as Santana, the Grateful Dead and Country Joe and the Fish. The brainchild of a Seattle underground newspaper called The Helix, it’s said to be America’s first outdoor, multi-day music festival.
Volkert Volkersz, a former Snohomish music teacher who now lives in New Hampshire, was there.
Volkersz, 18 at the time, worked the concession stand in exchange for free tickets. During lulls, he watched the big-name acts as well as a slew of bands from the Seattle area that he admired.
“I was thrilled to be there,” he said. “I just soaked it all up.”
Sky River Rock Festival’s run ended in 1970, but it was revived in 2017. The 51st anniversary of the festival is Aug. 3 at Willis Tucker Park in Snohomish.
Ten acts will play classic rock, funk, rock ‘n’ roll, folk and blues on two stages. There also will be chainsaw artists, a beer and wine garden, a craft fair, food booths and an opportunity for musicians to jam.
Headlining this year’s festival is Rockfish and Friends, a classic rock cover band fronted by KZOK-FM radio host Rob “Rockfish” Oxford. The band will play 1970s hits by the likes of Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Steely Dan.
Also performing will be Blues Feedback, a Seattle band formed in 1965 that was billed to appear at Sky River in 1968. But for reasons unknown, the gig never happened. Event coordinator Jill Hatcher says the band, which is still playing gigs 51 years later, reached out to see if they could be added to the lineup.
“They’ve really wanted to play,” she said. “They’re going to be amazing.”
Hatcher, a longtime event coordinator from the Snohomish area, spearheaded a drive to revive the festival in 2017. Hatcher, 56, was eager to do so; she grew up a “flower child” in a musical family, whose uncle played in Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts during the 1960s.
“That era was really dear to me,” she said. “They told me how great of an experience that first festival was. They really wanted to get that feeling of community, peace and love again.”
The 2017 event was held at River Park in Sultan, then moved to Willis Tucker Park in Snohomish in 2018 for the 50th anniversary.
Hatcher says the festival is a labor of love for everybody involved.
“It’s not a typical rock show,” she said. “It’s more of a community artists, musicians and people who love art and music.”
One of them is Volkersz, 69, a singer-songwriter, who will perform folk songs from the era — such as Country Joe McDonald’s “I Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To Die Rag” — in the Reunion Pavilion at 10:30 a.m. That’s where other attendees from the 1968 festival will gather to share memories, catch up with old friends and look at pictures taken at the original event by Tore Ofteness.
“I’m just looking forward to playing songs and meeting up with people I knew back then,” Volkersz said. “Maybe we’ll end up talking about where we’ve been these past 51 years.”
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
Sky River Rock Festival is from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 3 at Willis Tucker Park, 6507 Puget Park Drive, Snohomish.
Tickets are $25 for general admission, $20 with a group discount (four tickets) and $100 for VIP, which includes seating with shade, a poster, drink tickets, food voucher, T-shirt and swag bag.
More at www.skyriverrockfestival.rocks.
Sky River Rock Festival
1 p.m.: Strum
2:30 p.m.: Normal Bean and the Love Family
4:30 p.m.: Blues Feedback
6 p.m.: Sea of Green
7:30 p.m. Rockfish and Friends
9 p.m.: Phoenix Arising
10:30 a.m.: Volkert Volkersz
11:30 a.m.: Acoustic jam (bring your own guitar)
12:30 p.m.: Fonzarelli
2 p.m.: Blue Velvet Groove
5:30 p.m.: Rock Candi
8:30 p.m.: Suite Clarity