Friday, October 23, 2009
By Stephanie Minasian
The shores of Lake Amador and the hills surrounding it were swarmed
with hippies during one warm October weekend 40 years ago, when an
estimated 40,000 people flocked to Amador County from all over the
country to experience love, peace and good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll.
The Gold Rush Rock Festival of 1969 gave Amador County a taste of
Woodstock, and attracted thousands of music-loving, free-spirited
hippies from all of the western states - even as far away as
Washington, D.C. - to Lake Amador to experience a rock holiday and
see legendary musical acts such as Santana, Ike and Tina Turner, Taj
Mahal, Kaleidoscope and Bo Diddley. The Sacramento Union reported in
October 1969 that about 40,000 rock fans gathered in the fields
around Lake Amador, but reported that only 20,000 were expected to
show up. Tickets cost $3.50 at the gate, but it was suspected that
thousands of hippies were able to sneak into the festival for free.
Amador County resident Gene Buckley was a senior in high school when
the festival rocked the county. He remembers the long string of cars
honking their horns and being backed up on Buena Vista Road to park
in the 700-acre parking lot. Despite an extra 20,000 unexpected
concert-goers, Buckley said that there was very little police
inspection in order to gain entrance into the festival. He and his
buddies snuck into the concert, along with the other thousands who
did not pay for their tickets.
"Back then, the county didn't have a lot of police," Buckley said.
"They (Amador County) had no idea how many people would show up. We
drove in the back way."
The sheriff of Amador County at the time, Joseph Martin, mentioned to
the Sacramento Union in 1969 that he was anticipating trouble at the
festival and put in an advance order for reinforcements - including
the National Guard. Despite the massive number of music fans that
showed up at the lake, the county law enforcement reported to the
Sacramento Union that the crowds were surprisingly well-behaved.
"Everyone was friendly," Buckley remembered. "There was no need for
police." He also said that one of the major issues the county had
with the festival was that it would attract uncontrolled people to the county.
"Amador County didn't want to remember it because it let
drug-infested hippies come into the county," Buckley said.
The hippies came dressed in typical hippie-frocks - including
serapes, chino pants and even donning nothing at all. It was reported
by the Union that more than 50 free-spirited hippies stripped down to
their birthday suits and swam to the small island in the lake, where
they perched together to listen to the music.
Deborah Budrick was 17 years old when she and two friends ventured to
Lake Amador to see the rock festival everyone was talking about.
"It was pretty busy," Budrick recalled. "Three of us girls hopped in
a car, brought sleeping bags and set out to stay the night." She said
she recalls a wide variety of people attending - all coming together
to enjoy the music.
"I remember the music was good," she said. "My friend had told me
about it and said that there was going to be great music, and I was
available to go." Budrick and her friends didn't end up staying the
entire weekend, but spent one night to enjoy the music.
Reminiscent of the Woodstock concert in New York the same year, drugs
played an integral part at the Gold Rush Rock Festival. A journalist
from the Sacramento Bee in 1969 reported that the air was hazy with
marijuana smoke that was mixed with the dust kicked up by thousands
of sandal-wearing youths. To prevent fires from sparking due to the
dry scrub brush surrounding the area, state forestry officials had
burned out weeds before the festival, according to an article from the Union.
It was also reported by the Union that there were at least two people
who were taken to a nearby hospital in Jackson to be treated for drug
overdoses. About six concert-goers were also found to be under the
influence of alcohol. Although the sponsor of the festival had
prohibited the use of alcohol on its grounds, Buckley remembers that
red wine flowed heavily through the concert-goers. Those suffering
from bad LSD "trips" were given shots of a tranquilizer by an on-site doctor.
James Hackworth was 22 years old when he and his wife and two kids
ventured to Lake Amador for the weekend of music and recalls the
camaraderie and good time they had.
"I remember looking over a sea of people and everyone was really
happy and full of enthusiasm," remembered Hackworth. "The music was
the catalyst that drew us together. It really was a time of believing
in love and peace for humanity."
Even though 40 years have passed since the festival shook the
foothills with rock 'n' roll, those who attended remember it as a
peaceful, hip and huge historical event for the county - when the age
of Aquarius took over the Mother Lode.
"It is part of Amador County history," Buckley said.