There Was a State-Sponsored Rock Concert That Happened in Portland?

In 1970, a Republican Oregon governor lured protesting hippies out of town with a state-sponsored music festival.

The obituary of survival medicine expert Dr. Cameron Bangs mentioned that he served as chief medical officer at "the only state-sponsored rock concert in U.S. history." All respect to the late doctor, but what does that even mean?

—Peacey P

When it comes to 1970s Oregon history, there are three things you need to know: You've got your Mount Hood Freeway crisis, you've got your exploding whale, and you've got Vortex I.

Vortex, a weeklong "biodegradable festival of life" at Milo McIver State Park, was made possible largely by Oregon Republican Gov. Tom McCall, which is a bit like discovering that William F. Buckley invented Burning Man.

But put yourself in Tom's shoes: It's the summer of 1970. Kent State has just happened, prompting major riots at Portland State. The American Legion is bringing its national convention to Portland, with the theme "Victory in Vietnam" and a planned appearance by crowd favorite Richard Nixon.

The FBI tells McCall that hippies nationwide are heading to Portland for a Chicago-1968-style showdown pegged to the Legionnaires' bash. So when a small group of peaceniks suggest having a festival far from downtown the same weekend, McCall grasps the straw.

Not only did Vortex's organizers get free use of McIver for a week (and a promise that cops would turn a blind eye to nonviolent offenses like drug use and nudity), McCall's office used its connections in the business community to get them food, lumber, sanitation and all the other things you're worried hippies might overlook when they throw a party.

The establishment's bribe worked: Tens of thousands elected to party by the Clackamas River rather than riot downtown, and the crisis was averted.

As the festival wound down, McCall himself dropped by to check out the vibes and—this is true—participate in an Om circle. He then went on to invent free beaches, responsible land use, and recycling. Coincidence? You be the judge.

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