Sunday, March 22, 2009

Universal Life Church Picnic, Farragut, July 1971

If You Can Remember It You Weren't There:
"Church Picnic" Introduces Sleepy North Idaho to Sex, Drugs & Rock-n-Roll

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 4th 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. Governor 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 twenty and forty thousand 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 the sighting of a man “advertising free love by means of balloons tied to his penis” and 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.

(photos reproduced from CDA Press)


Jeff Jordan said...

I attended the Universal Life Church Picnic and it was one heckuva party.... I drove up from Spokane in a 1958 Mercury with push button transmission. Damn, it was hot. Yes, everyone said Santana was going to make a surprise appearance. Wouldn't have mattered, it was non-stop rock and roll, dancing in a dust bowl under scorching heat. It seemed like Boone's Farm Strawberry Hilll and Buckhorn beer were the drinks of choice. Only place I've ever been where there were vendors hawking drugs in public -- just like at Safeco Field. Fun story, thanks.

Jeff Jordan
Voices Editor
The Spokesman-Review

Bent said...

Nice story OTV. I wen to the Ozzmo Boogie a couple of times out at the Athol air strip in the 1980s...I think they were trying to revive this original event, but that eventually died out too.

Songwraith said...

Great post!

HuckleberriesOnline said...

Question: Were you a hippy?
17 comments on this post so far. Add yours!


Liz on March 22 at 12:42 a.m.

A wannabe.

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OrangeTV on March 22 at 1:50 a.m.

More where? No linky.

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Stickman on March 22 at 8:57 a.m.

Of course.

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OrangeTV on March 22 at 10:48 a.m.

Here's the link to the rest of the story:

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Bent on March 22 at 10:59 a.m.

I was too young to be a hippy, but my aunts where full fleged hippies. In fact, they sold tie-dyed items at craft fairs and they even went to the real woodstock…

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BigMike on March 22 at 1:25 p.m.

I own a VW brown (earth color) van. Sometimes I overhear kids say, ” Look, there is a hippy van!!!” I wonder if that makes me, since I'm driving it, still a hippy.

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JamesBond on March 22 at 1:52 p.m.

I have always liked hippy chicks.

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JohnA on March 22 at 2:45 p.m.

JB: “I have always liked hippy chicks.”

You'd have loved the U of I in the mid-70s, JB. it was not uncommon to see 'em in droves: peasant dress, hiking boots and braided hair, the leashed German Shepherd in tow. Even though I was a long-haired type myself, they were a tad too bohemian for me, I'm afraid.

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Gary Ingram on March 22 at 3:20 p.m.

The flower-powers were so happy that the state took a hands off attitude that they presented Governor Cecil Andrus with a watermelon at a news conference/ceremony at the old North Shore Convention Center when it was over. Not one of Idaho's proudest moments. The Farragut Report found that the whole event was staged to expand the northwest market for distribution and use, which the record shows it did. Mission accomplished!

The official government response was to keep the law breaking contained and not agitate participants to move into neighboring communities.

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Sam on March 22 at 3:50 p.m.

What were you doing back then, Gary?

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Arpie on March 22 at 4:45 p.m.

What do you mean were? I was married by a Universal Life minister.

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Stickman on March 22 at 7:08 p.m.

I liked Sam's comments, though I try to never to say anything against Gary, as I like him so much. Gary, what were you doing back then? Some of us Truly want to know. If you ask me, I will always tell in detail. But that's another story.

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Herb Huseland on March 22 at 8:45 p.m.

Not all Universal life Ministers are stoners, nor are many of them hippies. I was never a hippie, but I am a universal Life Minister. Some, like myself, become ordained for the purpose of being able to perform marriages. Many people that are not church goers, still find justice of the peace or judge type marriages a bit to impersonal. I have performed exactly one marriage, but am available for others by request.

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Gary Ingram on March 22 at 9:45 p.m.

Sam, I will not surround myself with mystery of my comings and goings back then. So Sam, I was chairman of the Kootenai Republican Central Committee and raising a young family.

My vice chair and I took my boat out on the lake and took pictures of people screwing on the beach, went into the park and witnessed the selling of drugs and selling beer and wine without a license, watched young people drunk or stoned and out of control, witnessed a large cache of entry money being collected and whisked away to places unknown in an old pickup with hippie folks in charge of the steering wheel.

Oh, there is more, but this is quite enough, I guess. I've made reference to a citizens panel that investigated and chronicled its findings in a booklet called, The Farragut Report. It is very thorough and factual. It's author is Stanley Crow, an attorney in Boise.

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cantyoureadthesigns on March 22 at 9:50 p.m.

“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.”

That's gold, right there, Patrick.

I presume Gary Ingram was leading a pack of nice, clean, Boy Scouts back then, “altar boys” all of various stripes and denominations.

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Arpie on March 22 at 10:08 p.m.

Joan Baez played a concert at the Panida in Sandpoint tonight. She did not deny that she was at Farragut thirty eight years ago.

Tonight's show was amazing. A living legend, still hitting the high notes. She had the sold out crowd of aging hippies wrapped around her finger. She ended the night leading us all in Amazing Grace. The Panida never sounded sweeter.

I'll bet even Gary would have liked it.

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Buddy Bob on March 23 at 8:39 a.m.

I certainly was a hippy! There is still a spark of that energy to this day - especially peace and love and “Come Together!” It was an interesting time and I have often wondered how it dissipated so quickly?

I was at the Farragut Universal Life Church picnic. In context of the day it was not as out of place as it seems it does now in reading about all that took place. It was very interestingthough… That is for sure!

By the way, Farragut might have been the focal point, but flower power hit North Idaho before that!

Peace and love,

Buddy Bob

BayviewBob said...

I was there! Sort of. I was fishing on the southern end of Lake Pend Oreille, with my Dad and Uncle. I was 16 at the time and my Dad and Uncle were not impressed with all the drugs and nudity on the shores of the lake. We stopped trolling and moved closer to shore to try our luck at still fishing though! LOL
To this day, I have never seen more naked people in one place.
27 years later, I moved to Bayview. A little less nudity these days, but still a nice place!

Anonymous said...

experience of a lifetime. me and 3 friends from long beach, ca to see a friend in spokane. we read about it in newspapers for 3 days and decided to go. wow, i kinda remember it, lol, i do remember bandns playing at bottom of valley and people sitting on side of hills and getting sucked down to the bottom by the music. also, people parachuting in to the bottom of the snake pit where the music and action was really going strong. i was 21 at time and out of the army for only 6 months. i remember them spreading rumors about some bad mescaline going around, we dropped some and only worried for about a hour but all was fantastic. expereince of a lifetime

robert george said...

i forgot to add that as you sat on the hill side looking down at the bottom where the bands were playing they had a large bond fire. also, they were shooting fireworks from the bottom up into the sky that really were beyond words. so you could look up into the sky or down towards the bottom of the pit to where the music just sucked you down. after enjoying the lucy in the sky with diamonds one had to take the trip to the fire and the crowd. robert george

Rev. Sy said...

I not only was there, I was ordained by the founder of the ULC. I don't remember any fireworks or a bon fire, but like a lot of the early '70s it was a bit fuzzy. I was also sort of a temp Roadie for "celebration" a Spokane band. Since becoming a Minister I have perfomed many weddings and even one Baptisim.

robert george said...

i am also ordained minister of universal life church, ordained by original founder rev. kirby hensley on oct 3, 1977, which doesn't change the couple events that i do remember happening during the picnic. lol there was a bondfire going on at bottom of valley where bands were playing. i sat and watched them from side of hill for couple hours straight till i went down to be part of it. also, there were fireworks. would a ordained minister lie? lol rev. robert george

LGrant said...

Just found the sight. I can verify several acts that appeared. Tits LaRue and the Cadillac, and Wildman Fisher (incredible rendition of Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water, I Will Bring You Down). More later, if I can rediscover some of those lost brain cells. I'll pass the site along to some of my still-living friends to see if they can recall any others. Glad to see there are still a few other survivors!

Anonymous said...

I was also at this party. Just 22 years old, been back from Nam for 2 years, and thought I'd seen it all. Boy was I wrong. To this day I still think Santana was there,
or maybe it was the Chocolate Mescaline. By my account of rampant nudity, open-air sex, and people completely stoned off their rocker on every kind of mind-altering substance known to man, it was a great three days! Best part was nonstop rock n roll and the mud slide. Best smoke was Acuppulco Gold and Ti stick. Beer of choice was Lucky Lager and Anny Green Springs Plumb Hollow was the wine of the day. A lot of people are bound to remember that they had sunburns in places that have never been exposed before! Some painful memories there. Are You Sure SANTANA was not there???

Bob Sayler

robert george said...

wanted to add a little more since my post and reading others who remember somethings lol i remember a group, looked liked canned heat and they sang a song with the lyrics, "drunk as a skunk, high as a butterfly". anyone remember the name of song and group. also, i remember taking mescaline with my 3 friends, then they started annocuing over loud speaker that there was some bad mescaline going around, forgot what color, maybe chocolate, we kind of freakout hoping we didn[t take the bad shit. but we didn't and it was a trip to remember, or try to remember lol

Anonymous said...

There is an account of the Universal Life Church Picnic in Dennis Eichhorn and J.R. Williams' Graphic Novel 'The Legend of Wildman Fischer', including Wildman, who was by them an ordained Minister in the Universal Life Church, taking the Stage Security guy a little too literally when he asked "Where's you axe?" Apparently Dennis was one of the organizers.

Anonymous said...

I got a ride from Spokane & my friends left me there. Wasn't there a light rain on the morning when the last of us were packing up? I was curled up under the bandstand and had no idea how I was going to get home. Someone got me a ride on Bill Whitticomb's '43 Chevy schoolbus with some of the band "Sleepy John" outta Spokane. We swung by the docks for a last look and a park ranger closed the gate to the dock road behind us. When we came back up there was a padlock on the gate and two of the guys unscrewed it and put it back together so that we could leave. A year later I bought that bus. I was living in it in Moscow, Id. Another year later and I was taking part in the beginnings of the Blue Mtn. Festivals.

Mike Carter said...

Wow, that gathering looked like it was a huge event, wish I as around at that time to see it. It's amazing that something like that would have a hard time succeeding today. But the Universal Life Church is something that people in the right have taken advantage of over the years.

Paul Arntson said...

I played lead guitar in the band Tits LaRoux and the Cadillac at this event. It was quite an experience to play in front of 10,000 people.
I had no idea at the time that this would be the biggest venue I would ever play.
We were scheduled to play late afternoon, but we were delayed until dark. Our saxophone player Nick Johnson had been in a motorcycle accident which totaled his 1948 Harley chopper. He hobbled on stage in crutches and delivered his usual stellar performance.
I still keep in touch with the drummer Jim Busch from that band.

I think the biggest name there was Wild Man Fischer.
-Paul Arntson

Anonymous said...

That was my first summer in Idaho. After graduating from high school in Danville CA, east San Francisco bay area. I came to Moscow to study forestry at U of I. My studies were ignored due to girls , rock n roll and getting high. My girlfriend and I drove my '65 VW bus up to the ULC picnic. I will confirm for sure that one of the musical acts was Tits LaRue and the Cadillacs. The front man was well known Lewiston Id musician, Nick Johnson, aka Nick Mostly. When my employer , a landscape contractor in Colfax, Wa., learned that i attended the event, he fired me ! Ha