It’s often said that major cultural trends sometimes seem to take a few extra years before they’re absorbed into our beautiful but somewhat isolated cranny of the world.
By and large, the flower-power counterculture revolution didn’t hit North Idaho until the scorching summer of 1971, several years after the Summer of Love brought long scraggly hair, LSD, and groovy color combinations like magenta, goldenrod and chartreuse to the forefront of America’s collective consciousness.
When the movement finally arrived here, it landed with quite a bang in the form of a drug-saturated, free-love fueled “be-in” and rock festival staged during that year’s Fourth of July weekend at Farragut State Park on Lake Pend Oreille. It’s an occasion that seems especially burned into the memories of everyone who lived in the area at the time, a watershed moment when sleepy North Idaho had its safety bubble irreparably ruptured and was forced to finally acknowledge that the times were indeed a-changin’.
In the aftermath of the event, billed by organizers as a “Universal Life Church Picnic,” an independent fact-finding committee was put together to clear up the foggy details surrounding what was viewed by many as an epic debacle, mishandled by all involved parties. They also published a 100-page book on the subject in 1972, which reads equally as dry and informative as it does delightfully torrid and juicy and inexplicably features a purple Joni Mitchell (who did not perform) on the cover.
Committee head Stanley D. Crow leaves no stoner unturned in his detailed accounts of rampant nudity, open-air sex, and people completely off their heads on every kind of mind-altering substance known to man. He breaks the weekend down, delving into the before and after, the why, the how and the Who (who also did not perform).
It’s not too surprising to learn that the whole affair had its roots in Moscow, Idaho; a college town, it was a step or two ahead of the rest of the area hipness-wise, and the hot thing that year was a big Jesus revival amongst the hippie flocks. The scene was centered around the “Church of the Rock,” a small but intense group which met in the back room of Moscow’s Northwest Passage Trading Post.
Not exactly a quaint chapel, the store where this church met was basically a head shop, making the bulk of its sales from records, bongs and roach clips, tie-dye clothing, organic foods, and pornographic comic books, a topic which Crow spends nearly two pages of his report examining in humorously lascivious detail. This group first petitioned the state that spring for use of Farragut State Park under the name of Universal Life Church, the same church which is now infamous for ordaining into ministry anyone willing to fill out a Web form and print a certificate.
The usage request, indicating plans for a “church picnic attended by at least 200 people” sat ignored on someone’s desk until early June, merely a month beforehand. Once park agents and local police got wind of the event, it didn’t take long for them to clue in to the probability that it wasn’t going to be attended by just a few sweet church grannies. With visions of naked, drugged-out hippies dancing like whirling dervishes in their heads, local officials begged the state to deny the permit. Gov. Cecil Andrus granted it anyway, saying that by law, a church had every right to gather on state land and that he had no reason to believe that the weekend was going to be anything other than perfectly kumbaya.
The front-page headline of the July 3 edition of the Coeur d’Alene Press was the first indication that things might be getting rambunctious, announcing “Farragut Growing at Car-a-Minute Rate!” At that early stage, the crowd estimate was 10,000, and writer Don Smith reported that the crowd was abuzz with rumors of appearances by popular bands Iron Butterfly, Grand Funk Railroad and Santana. Smith concluded “no one seemed to know for sure what big name acts would appear.”
Here lies the biggest mystery of the whole gathering; everyone present was apparently too high to recall any names of the performers, and even Crow’s reports that “the Committee makes no finding with regard to music groups.”
Despite the lofty names rumored, it’s most likely that only regional acts performed. Spokane’s then-popular “Jesus Rock” act Wilson-McKinley is a good guess, but only Seattle band Anthem can be fully confirmed as present. Some fondly refer to the festival as “Idaho’s Woodstock,” but it certainly wasn’t for the quality of the music. Like Woodstock, the Farragut gathering, which various sources put between 20,000 and 40,000 people, was soaked in a haze of free love, good vibes, and mind-altering substances.
The Lewiston Morning Tribune reported that “public nudity was so frequent that even the tourist eyebrows quit rising” and eye-witnessed couples “making love in a crowd too busy doing its own thing to notice.”
Crow’s report is ripe with amusing details, including tales of “Mungo the Witch Doctor,” the nickname of the self-appointed resident drug guru, the guy to visit for everything from banana peels to mescaline and beyond. Police made a handful of arrests, but quickly realized that things were way beyond the realm of control and gave up.
Overall, things went off without a hitch, no one died and countless babies were conceived. Naturally, officials were convinced that the sole reason organizers planned the whole event was to bring the dirty drug trade into squeaky-clean North Idaho. Contrarily, Farragut park director John Greig was delighted, saying “As far as I’m concerned, they can have one of these every weekend, all summer. The picnickers left the park cleaner than the Boy Scouts did and we can really use all the money it collects at the entrance.”
It would actually be many moons before another rock festival would be allowed to take place in the mossy realm of Farragut State Park. In fact, it was only last August when the park agreed to host the Black Dog Festival, slightly ironic in that all the involved acts were tributes to bands that might have been rumored to have been there in 1971: Led-Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Pink Floyd.
I’d imagine also that some of the original festival’s attendees were present 27 years later for that concert as well, albeit with quite a bit more clothing and perhaps without as much starry-eyed trippiness, at least the kind one gets from drugs.