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Getting back in the Vortex groove

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - This 1970 photo, taken during Vortex I,  was on display at the commemoration event at Milo McIver State Park several years ago.  Some might find the story hard to believe.

In 1970, a Republican governor organized a state-sponsored rock music festival at Milo McIver State Park, instructing law enforcement to turn a blind eye to drugs, alcohol and public nudity.

“Vortex I: A Biodegradable Festival of Life” was held during the week of Aug. 28, 1970.

The event, organized by then-Gov. Tom McCall and conservative business owners, was an attempt to draw anti-Vietnam War protesters from an American Legion parade in Portland, with president Richard Nixon scheduled as the keynote speaker.

“It was the damnedest confrontation you’ll ever see,” said McCall in Studs Terkel’s book “American Dreams.” “We took a park, 20 miles south of Portland, and turned it into an overnight bivouac and disco party....There was a lot of pot smoking and skinny dipping, but nobody was killed.”

From 3-8:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, Milo McIver State Park will host Vortex 2016, to celebrate the 46th anniversary of the original rock festival. Lloyd Jones, who played at the original event, and Jon Koonce will provide a soundtrack of live music as participants remember the event.

During the era of Vortex I in 1970, the political climate was tense. In addition to the conflict in Vietnam, National Guard troops had shot and killed four unarmed people during a protest at Kent State University in Ohio in May.

The FBI had warned McCall that violent clashes in downtown Portland were a real possibility, with several anti-war protests in opposition to The American Legion conference.

The attempt to divert protesters eastward worked, and the event attracted so many people that it caused a traffic jam as far west as Portland’s 82nd Avenue.

Some said the unusual move would kill McCall’s career, but it didn’t. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Milo McIver State Park will celebrate the 44th anniversary of Vortex I, a  week-long state-sponsored rock festival, with a commemoration event on Aug. 13. He went on to win reelection and is considered a prominent figure in Oregon politics.

“It was a very innovative idea that worked,” said Deb Hill, one of the coordinators for the anniversary celebration. “The people involved took risks, and they paid off.”

Estacada resident Phil Lingelbach attended both the Vortex festival and the American Legion parade.

At the parade, Lingelbach recalled, “everything seemed normal except for when you looked on top of the buildings and saw National Guard troops with guns and uniforms. If something had happened, they were ready to pounce.”

Lingelbach had recently been hired as a social worker for Multnomah, and “times were difficult.”

“The economy was tough,” he said. “We were just starting out in our careers, and we were at the bottom of the pecking order. We could have been some of the first ones to be laid off.”

Lingelbach’s coworkers heard about Vortex and were eager to check it out.

“We were there for the free music,” he said.

Former Estacada Mayor Becky Arnold was 14 at the time and attended the festival because her father supplied the wood for — and built — the event’s music stage.

“It was an awesome, odd thing that I had never seen before,” she said.

Arnold remembers many interesting moments from the festival.

“People had drugs in squirt guns,” she said. “My father made sure I didn’t eat or drink anything.”

Arnold recalled that during one night at the event, a festival goer went into labor.

“They had medical tents there, but we were all trying to find her husband,” she said.

Estacada resident Tom Cherry, who had just turned 18 at the time, said the festival was “his high school graduation party.”

He thought the festival appealed to people of all ages.

“My mom didn’t want me to go at first, but she went down to the festival under the guise of checking on me,” he said. “The principal at (Estacada) high school went down to the festival, too, wearing a wig as a disguise.”

Cherry remembers the festival fondly.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: PHIL LINGELBACH - Phil Lingelbach attended both Vortex I and the American Legion Parade in downtown Portland during the same week. Lingelbach took this photo of  law enforcement in riot gear during the parade.

“It was really interesting, fantastic and far out,” he said.

He thought the theme of the event was “love for the whole world.”

“It was really peaceful,” he said. “There were so many people there, and there were no confrontations or fights.”

Cherry said he’s still amazed at the unity the event fostered.

“What stands out to me is the humanity of it all, and how beautiful that was,” he said. “That couldn’t happen in the world today. Things have changed, but back then we thought love and peace could work. They really could in a perfect world, but now there’s just so much water under the bridge.”

When asked to chose a favorite memory from the event, Cherry said “it’s the kind of thing that if you remember too much of it, you weren’t really there.”

The event on Saturday won’t feature drugs or nudity, but there will be live music and family-friendly activities such as face painting and hula hooping.

Additionally, the commemoration will feature a special tribute to Dr. Cameron Bangs, lead doctor to participants at the original festival.

Attendees are invited to bring their own food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages.

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