Now that the orgy of insufferable hipsterism known as Coachella is finally behind us, it’s officially music-festival season, when hundreds of concerts will take over entire cities, towns, parks, and fields across the United States. As everyone knows, events like Lollapalooza, Lockn’, and Bonnaroo follow in the grand tradition of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair held in August of 1969. That’s when a dairy farmer from Bethel, New York, named Max Yasgur opened his pastures to half a million unwashed flower children and hippie-wannabes.
“The Piano Drop definitely started Woodstock. In our own minds, of course.”
Actually, Woodstock was not the first outdoor festival to feature multiple bands over several days performing on a stage set up out in the middle of a farmer’s field. In fact, the organizers of Woodstock may well have taken their cue from the Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair, held over Labor Day weekend of 1968, a full year earlier. At Sky (short for Skykomish) River, some 20,000 people descended on Betty Nelson’s organic raspberry farm in Sultan, Washington, to turn on, frolic naked in the mud, and tune into the music of 20 or so bands and performers, playing everything from folk and blues to jazz and rock. A young Richard Pryor was there (his debut comedy album would be released that November), as was the Grateful Dead, whose unscheduled appearance on the last day of the festival was as big a surprise to the concert’s exhausted and bewildered promoters as it was to the appreciative crowd.Whether Woodstock would have happened without Sky River is, of course, anybody’s guess, but Sky River absolutely would not have happened without an even less-heralded event called the Piano Drop, a one-day Dadaist spectacle held on April 28, 1968, in a tiny town (its population was just 455) northeast of Seattle called Duvall.