Sky River Rock Festival organizer Paul Dorpat (center with beard) at the 1968 Labor Day weekend event near Sultan. The La Conner author Tom Robbins is second from left at the event that drew big-name bands and thousands of people. (Courtesy Museum of Pop Culture)

Sky River Rock Festival organizer Paul Dorpat (center with beard) at the 1968 Labor Day weekend event near Sultan. The La Conner author Tom Robbins is second from left at the event that drew big-name bands and thousands of people. (Courtesy Museum of Pop Culture)

Woodstock here? Not if county leaders in 1969 had their way

Hippies flocked to Sultan for Sky River Rock Festival in ’68. Today, big events come with regulations.

Woodstock, Woodstock, Woodstock — I’m guessing you’re weary of it on this 50th anniversary of the mythic rock festival’s final day. You probably weren’t there. You likely saw the movie. What’s left to say?

“I’m sick of Woodstock,” Everett’s Dave Ramstad joked last week. A local historian and retired Boeing worker, he was in his late 20s when hundreds of thousands of festival goers showed up on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm some 60 miles from Woodstock, New York.

Ramstad recently shared a tidbit of bygone local news surely related to Woodstock. Doing research at the Everett Public Library, he found a must-read Herald article.

Dated Aug 12, 1969 — a few days before the start of Woodstock — the headline is “‘Hippie-type’ Impromptu Festivals Limited by Proposed County Law.”

Staff writer Jack Morgan chronicled “a new Snohomish County resolution aimed at controlling large impromptu gatherings in the unincorporated areas of the county.” Local leaders had apparently been worried for some time about such gatherings. A previous resolution aimed at heading off the “hippie-type” festivals had been rescinded on “a legal technicality.”

This ticket from the Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair is in Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture collection. (Courtesy Museum of Pop Culture)

This ticket from the Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair is in Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture collection. (Courtesy Museum of Pop Culture)

Back then, the county had a commission form of government with three board members. In 1969, the commissioners were Chuck Hill, N. Richard Forsgren and Sam Kraetz, according to Herald archives.

Their resolution included an onerous list of requirements: water-flushed or fly-tight toilets, “in accordance with the Uniform Plumbing Code as for theaters and auditoriums;” the approval of the county sheriff by a separate application; and “controllers” who must be licensed merchant patrolmen or people meeting the requirements for becoming patrolmen.

The list went on and on. What’s as interesting as situations and people the measure sought to ban are those that were exempted. “Provisions do not apply to entertainments at camps, parks or resorts currently having permits under Snohomish County Code,” the article said.

It looks like they just didn’t want those hippies coming around.

Oddly, there was no mention in that 1969 article of either Woodstock or the close-to-home Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair, staged three miles south of Sultan over Labor Day weekend 1968.

That massive counterculture gathering — some 13,000 people had tickets and thousands more likely sneaked in — predated Woodstock by nearly a year. Sky River’s venue was a swampy field owned by “Betty ‘Universal Mother’ Nelson,” according to a Sept. 2, 1968, Herald article that also said “Who are they? Hippies.”

Big-name bands played at Sky River, among them Santana, Country Joe and the Fish, the Youngbloods, It’s a Beautiful Day (of “White Bird” fame) and, on the last day, the Grateful Dead.

This poster is from the Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair, which drew thousands of people to a field near Sultan over Labor Day weekend in 1968, is among several in Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture collection. (Courtesy Museum of Pop Culture)

This poster is from the Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair, which drew thousands of people to a field near Sultan over Labor Day weekend in 1968, is among several in Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture collection. (Courtesy Museum of Pop Culture)

Paul Dorpat, who in the 1960s was editor and publisher of The Helix underground newspaper in Seattle, was a Sky River festival organizer. A historian, writer, photographer and co-author of “Seattle Now & Then,” Dorpat had earlier in 1968 helped stage the “Piano Drop” in Duvall.

That wackiness, on April 28, 1968, combined a piano being dropped from a helicopter with a Country Joe and the Fish concert. About 3,000 people showed up for what became the inspiration for the Sky River festival.

Perhaps the Sultan festival inspired artists who showed up at Woodstock. The Woodstock lineup, after all, did include Country Joe McDonald and his Fish, Santana and the Grateful Dead.

Could another Woodstock happen here? Big music events certainly do happen, but within bounds of government regulations.

Michael Dobesh, division manager of the county’s planning and development services department, said the county issues special events permits for the annual Darrington Bluegrass Festival and the Summer Meltdown. Special events permits are issued through the county Fire Marshal’s Office.

Public events open to more than 100 people, according to Dobesh, are reviewed by the county’s public works department; risk management (if insurance is required), the sheriff’s office, the Snohomish Health District, and the parks department if on county-owned property. Those departments can require conditions ensuring public safety, safe access, adequate parking and sanitation facilities.

This poster from the Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair lists Pink Floyd, Muddy Waters, Youngbloods, Country Joe and the Fish, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Richard Pryor and Santana among the performers. (Courtesy Museum of Pop Culture)

This poster from the Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair lists Pink Floyd, Muddy Waters, Youngbloods, Country Joe and the Fish, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Richard Pryor and Santana among the performers. (Courtesy Museum of Pop Culture)

Heather Thomas, a Snohomish Health District spokeswoman, said a temporary food permit is required for any booth open to the public. Requirements vary based on types and volume of foods. Large events with five or more vendors happening over multiple days require a three-compartment sink onsite for dish-washing, and often a prep sink.

Hmm. Rules today aren’t so different from the county’s anti-hippiefest resolution of 50 years ago.

Just two weeks ago, on Aug. 3, an event dubbed Sky River Rock Festival 51 was staged at Willis Tucker Community Park near Snohomish. Shannon Hays, a spokeswoman for Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said its organizers had a state liquor permit for a beer garden, insurance and a parks permit.

That day’s nostalgia included a Reunion Pavilion. All who could remember the 1968 Sky River Festival were invited to tell stories.

Hippies, whatever their ages, were more than welcome.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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