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Arts & Culture

OREGON EXPERIENCE: Vortex I

OPB | Jan. 25, 2010 5:56 a.m. | Updated: Dec. 5, 2013 11:14 a.m.

Summer, 1970. Richard Nixon was president and the Vietnam War raged on. The preceding months had seen the shooting of war protesters at Kent State University and the beating of demonstrators here. Now anti-war activists were planning to converge on Portland during an American Legion convention. The FBI was forecasting 50,000 people and a violent outcome.

Governor Tom McCall’s solution? A “biodegradable festival of life.”

Discover Oregon’s “Woodstock” on the next OREGON EXPERIENCE on Monday, February 8 at 9pm on the stations of Oregon Public Broadcasting.

To this day, Vortex I remains the only state-sponsored rock festival in U.S. history. It was, in fact, a diversionary event to lure young people away from planned — and potentially violent — anti-war protests at an American Legion convention in Portland. And by most almost every measure, it succeeded.

The festival took place at a state park near Estacada. Some now-unknown person created the name “Vortex I: A Biodegradable Festival of Life,” and it stuck. Many people came. Estimates ranged from 30,000 to 100,000.

On the surface, Vortex appeared much like hundreds of other counter-culture music events of that era: Young people listened to mostly local bands, wandered about in little or no clothing and partook of illegal substances.

But Vortex was different.

Entry was free. Private businesses in Portland contributed much of the food, supplies and building materials. Law-enforcement officers kindly escorted hundreds of young people to the festival location at McIver State Park. Yet no laws were enforced on the park grounds themselves. And all of this was endorsed and underwritten with state money and services by the Republican governor, Tom McCall.

OPB’s “Vortex I” portrays the political environment which spawned the festival and shares many stories from the people who were there.

To compile the imagery for the show, producer Eric Cain worked with the Oregon Historical Society’s Moving Image Archives. “Vortex I” includes film footage and photos from many photographers, amateur and professional, who were there. (Cain himself went to the festival as an 18-year-old, but neglected to take pictures,) Author Matt Love, too young to have been at Vortex, has written the definitive book about it and shares his research in the program. Ed Westerdahl, executive assistant to Governor McCall, maintained a low profile during the event, but he was probably the person most responsible for Vortex I. In an interview from his California home, he reveals some unique insights. Several bands that played — or almost played — on the Vortex Stage have provided some of the show’s music and include the Portland Zoo Electric Band, Jacob’s Ladder, Notary Sojac and Brown Sugar.

Watch the complete program online anytime after February 8 at opb.org/oregonexperience or at watch.opb.org.

About OREGON EXPERIENCE
OREGON EXPERIENCE is an exciting history series on OPB-TV that brings to life fascinating stories that help us understand who we are and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. The series, co-produced by the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), takes advantage of the extensive film, video and stills from the archives of OHS and OPB, and draws upon the expertise of OHS researchers and historians. Each half-hour show features captivating characters — both familiar and forgotten — who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home. Funding for OREGON EXPERIENCE is provided in part by Ann & Bill Swindells Charitable Trust, James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust.

About OPB
OPB is the largest cultural and education institution in the region, delivering excellence in public broadcasting to 1.5 million people each week through television, radio and the Internet. Widely recognized as a national leader in the public broadcasting arena, OPB is a major contributor to the program schedule that serves the entire country. OPB is one of the most-used and most-supported public broadcasting services in the country and is generously supported by 120,000 contributors.

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