Woodstock of the South, it was called

Woodstock of the South, it was called.

excerpt “Drummer’s History” Russell Buddy Helm copyright 2013 all rights reserved

1969. Woodstock of the South, it was called; the Palm Beach Pop Festival. The helicopter landed on the perfectly manicured putting green at the back of the Colonnades, where the game show, “Treasure Island” was filmed.  A fifty gallon oil drum with a simmering fire currently sat on top of the hole in the classy putting green reserved exclusively for the rich patrons of the Colonnades.. Only this week, it was taken over by hundreds of crazy long hair rock and rollers. The limos pulled up in front, the hotel valets watched with amazement and disgust; Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Iron Butterfly, Stones; every great band in the world. I managed to get us a room; “Hello. This is the Bethlehem Asylum, we just arrived from Europe, and are at the Palm Beach airport and expect our rooms to be ready when we arrive at the hotel…What? No reservations!!! Let me speak to the manager!…You’ll hear about this…OK…one room? That’s all you can manage? Welll…alright.” Christian, Charlie, and Mike, decided to stay in the school bus out with the great unwashed crowds of hippies at the festival site where Governor Claude Kirk personally came in and busted a hippie. The National Guard was mobilized, stationed behind the Pratt and Whitney aircraft engine plant across the road from the swamp/festival site. In an attempt to shut down the festival, the sheriff’s department actually tried to herd alligators onto the festival grounds but like trying to herd cats; gators will do primarily what they decide to do. The nights were cold.. The helicopter came and went as if in a combat zone all day and all night. The Colonnades is a tall hotel surrounding the putting green/landing pad on three sides including an arrangement of water canals where contestants would paddle franticly in little plastic boats, competing on the national TV game show, ‘Treasure Island’. But now, there was intense partying in most of the rooms overlooking the chopper landing site. Hell’s Angels had taken over the suites reserved for the Rolling Stones who were delayed, people hanging on the railings, flashing strobe lights, screaming, yelling, laughter, a loud clutter of every music.. We were in the Chambers Brothers room witnessing the height of anarchy occurring all around the hotel. I was feeling anxiety about our future in the music business where  money was made off of artists, who like soldiers, payed the ultimate price of sacrificing their own sanity and lives. The older resident guests were overrun with parties in the halls. Jim, dressed as Yancy Derringer,  kneeled politely, comforting an elderly couple trying to have dinner while Janis’ band jammed with Spooky Tooth on a tiny stage; the usual dinner music trio was long gone. The doors to the suites were open, displaying wild partying and live music. Jim, Danny and I dropped in on Johnny Winter playing for a rapt crowd of kids sitting on the floor in his suite. They were offering him drugs as religious tokens of their adoration. He was albino white, placid, other worldly. His chrome Dobro gleamed in the candle light “You guys must be doing something right, if you’re here..”  The helicopter continued dropping off wounded, fried rock stars and picking up fresh ones to fly out to the front. As the nights wore on it became more demonic. Our road manager almost lost his face when he walked around the back of the chopper when it was our turn. Flying out over the swamp was like transporting instantly from rich conservative Palm Beach into the jungle swamp of Viet Nam. We touched down backstage blowing sand everywhere, covering the sleeping hippies with propwash. It was more hallucinogenic than Apocalypse Now. We climbed the steps onto the gigantic stage overlooking thousands and thousands of music fans nestled in the morning mud, a young hippie came up to us backstage, “You want some hash or acid, before you go on, Man?” “No thanks,” I said, “We’re ego tripping.”

excerpt “Drummer’s History” Russell Buddy Helm copyright 2013 all rights reserved


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