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Son of Bethel
The 1969 Texas International Pop Festival


"It's really fantastic. Why man, it's like the police are almost going out of their way to be nice to us."

- Girl attending the festival

"They [the police] never come into the campgrounds. They've let us swim nude or do anything we want to."

- Boy attending the festival

Although Saturday, August 30 was the official first day of the festival, a front page story in The Dallas Morning News reported that as of Friday, Lewisville had already become "the hippie-rock music capital of the United States...as thousands of bearded, beaded and bedraggled flower children-types converged on the area."

The paper also printed a large photograph showing members of author Ken Kesey's celebrated "Merry Pranksters" relaxing inside the colorful psychedelic school bus in which they'd traveled to Texas from New York state, where they'd been part of the scene at Woodstock. For the Pranksters, a communal group originally assembled by the eccentric Kesey in 1964, the trip to the Dallas area was but one of several such journeys. Five years earlier, they'd hit the road for the first time, driving across the country and back again, attracting attention with their brightly-painted bus, equipped with loudspeakers blaring out rock music at full volume, and hoping to turn people on to their psychedelic lifestyle.

Kesey, whose first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), was later made into a movie starring Jack Nicholson, had discovered the LSD experience back in 1960 when he volunteered to take part in drug experiments being conducted at the Menlo Park (California) Veterans Hospital. Credited with bestowing upon LSD the nickname "acid," Kesey became something of a psychedelic-era legend when a book entitled The Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test, written by journalist Tom Wolfe, was published in 1967. In it, Wolfe described Kesey's San Francisco "Acid Tests," or "Trips Festivals," where, to the sound of music performed by the Grateful Dead, participants sipping LSD-laced Kool-Aid were subjected to a so-called "mind-expanding" atmosphere of flashing strobe lights, light shows and multiple film projections and were encouraged to talk, shriek or mumble into microphones placed randomly around the room.

Most other festivalgoers, said The News, arrived in cars or on motorcycles bearing license plates from most of the fifty states. Some made the journey by bicycle. Apparently, a significant number hitchhiked, some from as far away as the East or West Coast. One bearded young man, having thumbed rides all the way from California, was proud of the fact that he was penniless. Reflecting the 60's youth culture's rejection of material things, he boasted to a Dallas Morning News reporter: "It doesn't bother me, not having any money. I learned several years ago I don't need it. I'm better off without it in fact; fewer hang-ups."

The promoters had arranged with local authorities to allow those attending the festival to camp in a specially-designated 100-acre area set aside for them at Lewisville Lake Park, located just a few miles north of the speedway. "We thought it would be better to give them a place where they could be together as a group," said Lewisville Mayor Sam Houston, explaining that he thought it would "help keep down confrontations." As it turned out, the city's foresight was justified when outsiders showed up later, intending to make trouble.

Some kids, said a reporter for The Dallas Times Herald, had arrived at the campsite as early as Thursday. That evening an impromptu amateur concert began about 10 p.m. and didn't end until the sun came up over Lake Dallas early the next morning.

Throughout Friday the young people streamed in. By nightfall an estimated 2,000 had arrived, erecting their tents on the site. During the day, to the surprise and delight of many young people, they learned the authorities were willing to turn a blind eye to at least one activity common to late-60's rock festivals: nude swimming. Casually observing a mixed group of about fifty long-haired festival-goers enjoying themselves sans swim-suits in the shallow waters of Lake Dallas, Lewisville City Manager Johnny Sartain told a reporter for The Dallas Morning News that although he and other local authorities were concerned about the activity, no attempt would be made to stop it. Instead, Sartain said, they would only try to keep the nude-bathing confined to a small cove not visible from the main camping area.

One young man, who'd also been at Woodstock, was impressed by this unexpected show of tolerance. So far, he told The News, the police had been "beautiful." He added, "We seem to have a very good atmosphere here." Nowhere was this reflected better than in the uncharacteristically casual attitude displayed by at least one cigar-chewing Texas highway patrolman who told a News reporter: "I don't care what they do as long as they don't hurt anybody."

Not surprisingly, the skinny-dippers, who numbered up to a hundred at one point, attracted a lot of outside attention. Throughout the weekend low-flying aircraft swept low over the swimming area and curious boaters cruised past specifically to stop and stare. One of the bathers, a young man named Tom Stoney, remarked: "Lots of people are coming in to look at us. That doesn't bother us. They think it's something because we go in the water without our clothes on. Well, we think people with clothes on look funny."

The weekend during which the pop festival was held happened to coincide with the annual Lewisville Rodeo. Hearing about the nude swimmers, a group of rodeo participants wearing cowboy garb drove to the festival campsite in a pick-up truck, stopping to watch the hippies enjoying themselves in the water. No doubt to their surprise, they were soon invited to join the party. "We just went up to them and asked them to go in swimming with us." said a girl named Donnis. Two of the cowboys accepted the offer, leaving their boots, wide-brimmed hats, and clothes on the shore. A third said the News, "who held back in side-splitting laughter, was promptly dragged into the water by a swarm of hippies-in-the-buff."

At Woodstock, members of the Hog Farm, a commune based near Taos, New Mexico, helped to assure that a peaceful atmosphere prevailed throughout the run of the festival, their assistance proving invaluable to the event's promoters. There, under the direction of their quasi-leader Hugh Romney (better known by his nickname, "Wavy Gravy") the Hog Farmers had dished out free food and talked people down from bad LSD "trips."

Believing the Hog Farmers would be equally useful in Lewisville, the promoters of the Texas festival had given them $2,000 to make the trip from New York state. After spending $850 to rent a bus, they used most of the rest to buy food. By Friday evening the group's members were ladling it out from the free kitchen they'd set up at the campground on the shores of Lake Dallas. There, anyone who wanted it could have a bowl of a soupy stew the Hog Farmers made out of oatmeal, rice, and vegetables. One communal member suggested pouring honey over it, "if you want to make it more vitalizing." There were also free slices of watermelon or honeydew melon. The festival's promoters, remarked one Hog Farmer, had supplied the food. "All we're doing is just sort of distributing it." he said.

Naturally, the fact that many of the those attending the Texas International Pop Festival had also been at Woodstock invited comparison between the two events. The News reported that in general, those who attended both declared on Friday that so far the Texas festival compared favorably in that there was a good supply of fresh water and no lack of toilets. A shortage of both these basic necessities had been major problems at Woodstock. The Texas site's accessibility was also praised, as was the location itself - said by some to be cleaner and more pleasant than the rural cow pasture on which the New York festival had been held.

After sunset on Friday, another free concert drew a large crowd of of spectators to a field near the campsite. Different newspaper reports put the size of the audience at anywhere from a few hundred to thousands. Regardless, it was there, on a makeshift stage beside Lake Dallas that volunteer bands played throughout the night, with the Hog Farmers providing a psychedelic light show as backdrop to the music. Fortunately, for those who stayed awake all night grooving, the big-name bands appearing at the festival weren't scheduled to begin until playing until 4 o'clock on Saturday afternoon, leaving plenty of time to get some sleep before it all began again.

Fear and Loathing in Lewisville     Saturday

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