Vortex 1

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the huge population of hippies in Oregon, you have got to read “The Far Out Story of Vortex 1.” The author, Matt Love, dives deep into historical documents, ancient newspaper articles, and oral interviews in an attempt to explain one of the strangest events in Oregon’s wild history. If you ask around, not many people will even know what Vortex 1 was or why it took place, but when it happened the Pacific Northwest stood still and refused to exhale. Simply put, “Vortex 1: A Biodegradable Festival of Life” was the only state-funded sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll party in U.S. history. In 1970, 100,000 people hitchhiked and drove their beaters to Milo McIver State Park outside of Estacada to party and define what we know now as the classic dirty Oregonian hippie lifestyle.

Love explores Vortex 1 from many perspectives: undercover sheriff reports, countless interviews from toasted burnouts, extremely detailed journal interviews from a volunteer doctor and more photographs of naked people wearing mud and flowers than you could ever want to see. One of my favorite aspects of Love’s book is the unbelievable CD of authentic recordings that accompanies it. It’s unbelievable because the band Jacob’s Ladder plays the most stereotypical 1970s hippie rock you could imagine. On my favorite track, the singer belts out in a Creedence Clearwater style, “Start a revolution!”

You get the CD spinning, some incense burning, crack the book open and you’re there, man, totally digging the scene. All of a sudden patchouli oil isn’t so offensive on the city bus, you might smoke a joint, go hot springing naked with strangers and, of course, give peace a chance.

You see, Vortex 1 was the definitive hippie rock festival, but at the same time it was a diversion created to pull support away from one of Portland’s most potentially violent protests to the Vietnam War. In May 1970 Portland State University birthed a violent protest where nearly 170 police in riot gear sent 27 people to the hospital and stirred Oregon’s political bean pot until it came to a consistent simmer. Many feared further violence would break out because President Nixon was to speak at the American Legion convention later that year. The FBI told Governor Tom McCall he should expect 25,000 legionnaires and 50,000 anti-war revolutionaries led by the People’s Army Jamboree to clash in the face of Nixon’s war machine, turning the streets of downtown Portland into an urban battleground.

Then something happened that no one could have ever imagined. A couple hippies drove to the capital building in Salem and proposed a rock festival to literally “give peace a chance.” McCall, who became a monument because of his radical legislation, making all of Oregon’s beaches open to the public and coining the phrase, “visit Oregon, but please don’t stay,” had yet to make a real splash and solidify his governorship.

When the hippies came to the Republican governor they asked him for a big public space for the festival. He offered them a state park, then turned and said, “I’ve just committed political suicide.”

As if approving the hippie rock festival wasn’t enough, the governor appeared on television to promote Vortex 1 and to “avert and avoid … bloody violence.” Further along in his emergency broadcast McCall described the festival as “a conscious and direct response to the problem … a safety value, as a defusing mechanism.” He urged young people to attend Vortex 1.

Nearly 100,000 people showed up to Vortex 1 to camp, eat free food, listen to live bands, do drugs, drink and dance – and all of it was totally free and open to the public. Although many Oregonians refused to support the hippie rock festival, countless others worked together to make it happen. Even local timber companies donated lumber for the stage. Vortex 1 is probably the finest example we have in history where citizens and government gave peace a chance, and it worked.

You can find The Far Out Story of Vortex 1 at Powell’s Books.