Note: This column continues the Peace At Pittsburg Rock Rock Festival – 1970 series I began last week.
Not unlike many Americans today, young people in the ‘60s were disheartened with the current state of affairs, distrustful of the system (Don’t trust anyone over 30), and frightened about the fate of the planet. This, coupled with opposition to the war in Vietnam, gave rise to the ‘60s counterculture and the hippie movement on the east and west coasts.
The ‘60s really didn’t show up in Southeast Kansas until the ‘70s, kicked off, in no small part, by the Peace At Pittsburg festival. Which is to say, we got a genuine influx of “hippies” — “persons of unconventional appearance, typically having long hair, associated with a subculture involving a rejection of conventional values and the taking of hallucinogenic drugs.”
I can tell you first hand that this was the case at the festival. I was totally amazed at the long hair, nudity, tie-dye, peace emblems and drug dealers wandering through the crowd calling out their wares – marijuana, LSD, hashish and speed. As for the dealers, after the first day, because no one was getting busted, they just set up their wares with signs advertising prices like concession stands.
The most popular and successful concession though — in no small part because of the 90+ degree temperatures and high humidity — was far and away “the Ripple truck,” also known as “the wine garden,” which was operated by my cousin, Joe Fowler, in partnership with Frank Merando and Tom Restivo. To get around the liquor laws they gave away the Ripple … and sold cups of ice for a dollar. They also sold orange juice, Pepsi and Mountain Dew. An attractive young woman in a bikini had the good sense to set up next to the Ripple truck to sell her balloons of nitrous oxide.
The Ripple truck’s success was a big relief for Tom Restivo, who told me last week, “I took a big chance and put my college tuition money into the project. As it turned out my share was enough to cover my tuition for several semesters.”
Among the persons who saw the newspaper accounts about the open drug sales was Sedgwick County Sheriff Vern Miller (then running what would be a successful bid for Kansas attorney general), who criticized local and state authorities for not making arrests. Years later, when festival organizer Kenny Ossana was asked, by Gary Rice of the Kansas City Star, about Miller, he laughed and said, “Yeah a lot of people say I elected him attorney general.”
The premier local bands to perform at the festival were Fatty Lumpkin and Man Alive. Man Alive featured Steve Gaines (who would later play with Lynyrd Skynyrd) on lead guitar, John Moss on drums, Gary Clark on bass and Marc Marcano on the organ.
Marc told me in a phone call last week that, because the organizers hadn’t ever run a concert, he ended up being stage manager as well as performer … and his wife, Carol, a newly graduated nurse, joined with nurse Nell Blackmon to run the O.D. Tent, which was nicknamed the “Home For The Blown.”
Marcano told me that his classic Hammond B-3 organ kept going out of tune because of a substandard generator that had a gas leak. “Yeah,” Marc said with a laugh, “Some kid who was really blown away on something fixed it … by fashioning a new gasket he cut from a Cracker Jack box!”
Marcano’s Hammond B-3 ended up being played by most all the keyboardists in the bands, including Mike Finnigan who was then with The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood — a Columbia recording group from San Francisco that came over from a performance in Wichita where they heard about the festival from their agent. On an interesting side note, Marc told me that, the year before the festival, he’d gotten a frantic call from someone wanting to rent his organ for an upcoming concert in Independence. Turned out it was for Ray Charles, whose performance contract called specifically for a Hammond B-3. After a little ‘negotiation’ he cut a deal for a hundred dollars and four premier seats at the concert.
Other bands at the festival included an early formation of Kansas (that would go on to record the hit singles “Dust In The Wind” and “Carry On Wayward Son”), Busride (a horn band from Joplin that played Chicago style music), Impulse Federation, Rock Sanctuary, The Chessmen, Grit, Carousel, Morning Star and more.
Thankfully, Kansas State College (now Pitt State) art professor Robert Blunk Jr. captured the festival in living color on 8mm film. It’s now available on YouTube. You can find it by inserting Blunk’s name and Pittsburg Peace Festival into a search engine. It’s a precious documentation of the festival but, unfortunately, there’s little footage of the bands … and no sound.
Young people came from all over the Midwest and beyond; one in particular, a self-described, small-town, western Kansas hippie named Randall Thies. Thies was a Vietnam vet who, after college degrees at Washburn and Iowa, became an archaeologist for the Kansas Historical Society. He not only attended, but also returned years later to interview participants and map out the festival grounds (located two miles east and a half mile south of 69/160/400/171 junction). He also did a dig in search of a roach clip that he felt would serve as an “archaeological” example of the festival.
Alas, he found no roach clip — only beer tabs, beer cans and a Ripple bottle — but he did secure an original Peace At Pittsburg t-shirt from Angelo Merando that is now housed in the historical society’s museum. In 2003, Thies published his adventures and findings in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article in The Journal of the Iowa Archaeological Society titled “HIPPIE ARCHAEOLOGY: IN SEARCH OF THE KANSAS WOODSTOCK.”
Note: Last week’s column failed to credit Bill Wilbert for the T-Shirt and Malcolm Turner for the festival grounds photo. This week’s photos are also by Malcolm. The festival grounds map is by Randall Thies. Next week I’ll continue with more about the attendees, the big fire, and some reflections and reactions from participants and area townspeople.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or firstname.lastname@example.org.