The Lauritzen Family Farm will host a revival of the 1968 festival that drew in more than 20,000 people out to a raspberry farm for performances by Santana, Country Joe and the Fish, the Grateful Dead and Muddy Waters, the event often lauded as the Woodstock before Woodstock.
The Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair will reverberate through the Sky Valley again Aug. 25-26, at the farm off 160th Street, which parallels the Skykomish River just south of Sultan. The city is on board and helping with permits. A core group of residents are in charge of piecing together the rest of what is billed as a build up to next year’s 50th anniversary festival.
As plans develop, people are coming forward with photos, paraphernalia and some raunchy and many introspective memories from the original festival.
Former Heart band member Michael Fisher was 20 in 1968, and happened to make it to the second day’s lineup after a chilly night car camping in the mountains turned too lonely. It was after law enforcement had barred further admittance; not that the closures stopped potentially thousands of festivalgoers, who are believed to have snuck inside the outdoor venue.
“It was a whole cultural kind of experience because it was a counterculture of hippies and anti-war people,” Fisher said. “All kinds of people were together in one place, and there were a whole lot of heavy duty spiritual influences, and a certain amount of psychedelic drugs mixed in — just to make it really interesting.”
Also known as the Magic Man, Fisher said the festival acted as a precursor to the kinds of shows chosen and musical direction taken by the rock band he and brother Roger Fisher began in the early 1970s. The time period was very much an awakening and personal growth for people, who felt they were ready to release themselves from an era of rigid social restrictions, he said.
Lauritzen said this year’s festival is being forged with a specific climate in mind, which happens to be on par with Fisher’s recollections.
“I think it was such an awesome era of time and music and people,” she said. “I think we need to get back to that reality.”
Lauritzen was recently told a story by one community member about their mud-clad trip to the local laundry mat to try to clean off some festival grime. The business was swamped with other dirty attendees, many stripped bare and waiting for their clothes to finish. That, of course, could never happen now, she said: “We’d all be arrested.”
The new venue is only five miles from the original site. On a sunny day, the Cascade Range looms high in the east, which will work as a backdrop for the main stage, Lauritzen said. Soon after purchasing the 40-acre parcel a few years ago, she knew she wanted to use it to host a commemorative concert. People in town were already planning the same event.
Various revivals and anniversaries of Sky River Rock have been held, celebrated and covered by media outlets in the region. Fisher said he once found himself in a picture plastered in Rolling Stone magazine from one of the original shows.
Leo Moreno, owner of Loggers Tavern and a 2017 festival committee member, held a daylong concert series last year at the bar, which was also in the spirit of Sky River Rock. Hundreds turned out for the event, said Moreno’s bartender Robert Lackey, committee member and marketer for this year’s festival. The test run proved there was already an interest in the community for another round, he said.
The field behind Lauritzen’s home will have at least one stage for the larger acts, but a second smaller stage for local bands could be added as more sign on, Lackey said. Committee chair T.J. Mohrbacher said this summer’s eventwill include a beer garden and vendors selling local products, such as produce from area farms. A number of community sponsors, such as Jim Tinney, owner of Kiss the Sky Books in Sultan, are helping fund initial costs. People are invited to help carry out planning, and can contact the committee if they want to participate, he said.
Both Mohrbacher and Lackey said every aspect of this year’s festival is being designed, booked and bought with the original character in mind. Presale for the first 100 tickets has opened, and can be purchased at skyriverrockfestival.com, where the lineup can also be found. Some proceeds for the event will go to local nonprofits, Lauritzen said.