The Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair attracted thousands of young hippies to a Sultan-area farm during Labor Day weekend in 1968.
Note that this was a year before Woodstock. Yep, mud, music and mind-altering mayhem happened here first. However, unlike the famous music fair near Bethel, New York, the Sky hasn’t been the focus of any major documentary.
Gregory Shreve Garton was a 20-year-old from Portland when he jumped a fence to get into the festival along the Skykomish River. He had put together only enough “bread” for gas to get to Sultan.
Now 69 and living in Montana, Garton will be on hand at the “family friendly” Sky River Rock Festival revival Friday and Saturday to interview people who were there with him in 1968. His aim — with the help of his filmmaker daughter — is to turn his interviews and investigative work into a feature-length documentary.
The Sky River Rock Festival on Aug. 25 and 26 at River Park in Sultan will feature music by The Staxx Brothers, Annie O’Neill, Palooka, School of Rock students, Zombie Jihad, Helldorado, One Gun Shy, Sons of Mercury, Guns of Nevada, Voodoo Death Gun, Swamp Doctor and the Folsoms and Everett’s Johnny Cash tribute band.
No one seems to remember exactly who performed at the original festival, but the lineup likely included Santana, Country Joe and the Fish, the New Lost City Ramblers, It’s a Beautiful Day, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, John Fahey, Big Mama Thornton, James Cotton, The Youngbloods, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy and Flamin’ Groovies.
Comedian Richard Pryor and the San Francisco Mime Troupe also were there. And on the last day, the Grateful Dead showed up unscheduled. Garton remembers the jam played by the Dead, Big Mama Thorton and James Cotton.
The “far out” music, the funky artisan booths, the party and the unwashed audience created “an atmosphere unlike any of us had experienced or ever would again,” Garton said.
The idea for the festival came from the staffs of the Helix underground newspaper and KRAB radio, based in Seattle’s University District.
This year, the idea for the festival is from a committee of people, with longtime promoter Jill Hatcher in charge.
“We invited a lot of great muscians to participate. Many are donating their time. We hope to raise money to produce a big 50th anniversary show next year,” Hatcher said. “And we are sticking with the goal to honor and focus on past attendees.”
Garton hopes to talk with hundreds of fellow “Sky River tribe” members, including the “junior tribe” who were children 49 years ago.
His tent in Sultan will feature pictures by Bellingham photographer Tore Ofteness, who captured lots of scenes from the original festival.
“Tore’s photos tell the story,” Garton said. “You have to see them.”
Garton has read everything available about the 1968 gathering. The history buff has interviewed Paul Dorpat, one of the original organizers, and David LaFlamme, the violinist with the band It’s a Beautiful Day.
But now he is counting on other people who were young in 1968 to fill in the story.
“I hope the festival on Friday and Saturday will bring people out of the woodwork,” Garton said. “I want to see some friends. This is a great historical journey, and a fun story to tell.”
Sky River Rock Festival
Noon to 11 p.m. Aug. 25 and 26, River Park, under the U.S. 2 bridge across from 215 Main Street, Sultan.
Tickets are $35 for one day or $65 for both days.