EDITOR’S NOTE: Vortex 2020 has been postponed because of Coronavirus concerns. Organizers hope to reschedule it for 2021.
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — They called it “Oregon’s Woodstock”—a massive outdoor music festival with plenty of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But Vortex One was more than a rock concert. It was also a controversial political ploy set during America’s anti-war movement.
The time was August of 1970. Over the course of a week, as many as 100,000 people descended on Milo McIver State Park in Clackamas County for Vortex One. Bluesman Lloyd Jones was just a kid when he played Vortex, during an era when young people were protesting the Vietnam War.
“It was a great memory for me—a really wonderful, happy memory for me,” said Jones. “It was a peace-loving thing. The whole point was aggression and violent behavior was just so uncool.”
As history sees it, Vortex One was a diversion during a time when anti-war demonstrations were turning violent, including in Portland. Four demonstrators at Ohio’s Kent State University were killed by National Guardsmen earlier that year. The American Legion National Convention was scheduled for Portland that summer, with President Nixon as the keynote speaker. Oregon officials feared the convention could attract thousands of demonstrators—and more violence.
So, Republican Governor Tom McCall agreed to hold Vortex One to keep potential demonstrators away from downtown. It was America’s first state-sponsored rock concert.
“I know it costs money. It shouldn’t be done. But the whole alternative is the possibility of bloodshed,” McCall was recorded saying in the Vortex documentary.
Nixon canceled his speech, sending Vice President Spiro Agnew instead. There were protests, but no violence. The American Legion Convention, and Vortex One, were big successes.
Now, Vortex is returning, on the year of its 50th Anniversary. The two-day event is slated for August in McIver State Park.
“It’s a fascinating piece of history,” said Vortex 2020 Event Organizer Nate Overmeyer. “It’s a people’s festival. It’s harnessing that can-do spirit.”
The free event is being crowdsourced. To get a pass, attendees are asked to volunteer for community projects. You can do that, as well as nominate projects, on the Vortex 2020 website.
“This day and age, to see such a different world, and the hate and the violence and the separation that I thought we overcame—we could use some of that now,” said Jones. “I’m happy about it.”
Two of the acts already scheduled include Pink Martini and the Dandy Warhols.
Follow KOIN 6 for the latest news and weather