To me it signified the end of the Woodstock Nation.
Advertised on the radio for weeks, the Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival at Bull Island, Illinois was supposed to be the next Woodstock. Several of us decided to go and loaded up.
Leaving from Murfressboro TN the day before the start of the music, we arrived late in the night. We were lucky to get there when we did and to get off of the interstate and park somewhere on a dirt road that led to the festival. Later we found out that hundreds, if not thousands, of cars were left on the side of the interstate and they got towed.
We slept until some time after daybreak and began a long walk to the festival's gate. We didn't have tickets but did have the cash to get in so we waited in line to pay our way. Almost to the gate, a group of folks began pushing on the flimsy fence and broke it down with someone yelling "It's a free festival." No one tried to stop anyone and we all politely walked through the downed fence and headed towards the stage which was still a long ways away.
The twenty dollars each not paid came in handy later on.
Well... what did we come upon first? Dope stands. That's right, makeshift stands set up in a row with signs saying what was for sale. It was mostly acid; blotter, sugar-cube, capsules and pills. We checked them all out, talking to the vendors and decided on the sugar-cube.
It turned out to be a good choice as it was reported to be some bad acid, even bleach sold by some sorry scum just to make a buck or to disrupt the situation and hurting some folks in the process.
We never saw one cop the whole time we were there. The dope stands were taken down later that day but there were plenty more drugs of every kind to be found. Downers and heroin seemed to be the drug of choice for quite a few.
We walked around the site taking in all of what was going on, met up with some friends and staked out a place a little to the right of the stage about maybe 150 feet back.
We had carried a few supplies in with us, some food and water, soap, towels and blankets. Everything was needed and more so.
Before nightfall we were beginning to see that all was not well with the promised entertainment. Bands we had never heard of attempted to play but the organization was not there and the sound system was never right until later on in the night. It was a mess that only got worse.
But we didn't care, we were in the midst of somewhere around 250,000 to 300,000 people and it began as a big party whether or not we had music. As it turned out, very few of the scheduled bands showed up and some that did would not play due to lack of being paid or just plain afraid of the crowd.
Overdoses were common. The PA announcer was continually yelling to not take this or that as it was bad and reminding people where the medical tent was. One guy was standing up spouting nonsense very loudly for a long time and began to get on people's nerves until a couple of guys physically carried him off. The crowd around clapped and yelled.
Later that night, a very well endowed topless lady with a leather satchel full of ounces of pot made her way through the crowd hawking her wares. She sold out.
At one point the crowd was fairly quiet and a guy stood up and at the top of his voice screamed "this is dope to the max." The crowd gave him an ovation.
It rained hard that night, shades of Woodstock, and that messed things up. Cheech and Chong played during it with everyone under plastic and blankets trying to stay dry.
I remember falling asleep sometime after that.
The next morning brought out the sun and everyone was walking around in pretty much a daze. What was unsettling was that many guys were going around begging for downers. Downers at a rock festival? We commented that this must be the end of the psychedelic era.
We were dirty from the mud and dust and since Bull Island was surrounded by water on three sides, we took a hike to wash up. Sure enough, many others had the same idea and why get your clothes wet, skinny dipping was the way to go.
We sat on the bank watching the nude bathers and getting up our nerve to do the same. At that moment there were probably a hundred or so in the water and we joined in. Glad we brought the soap. Then the helicopters began circling around very low with their cameras blazing. Naked hippies must have made their story for the nightly news a little more interesting.
Bands did play but who they were, I can only go by what others have written.
We left the next morning and I ended up driving the whole way back while the others slept.
I wouldn't do it again but I wouldn't take anything for the experience. It was what you might call 'a different kind of fun.'
If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would swear that the festival was a set-up, a sort of psyops to put an end to the ideal of the Woodstock nation. If it wasn't, then it was the biggest f**k up in the history of rock festival promotions.