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Porter

It was Labor Day weekend, 1972. I heard about the Bull Island Music Festival and decided to go. I took along Trish, the girl I was dating at the time.

Bull Island is an island in the Wabash River near Carmi. Trish and I drove to Carmi and got directions to the festival site. The festival was not held on Bull Island, but near it on the Illinois side of the Wabash. We got onto a narrow country road with cars parked on both sides of it, also in the fields beside it. We drove as close to the site as we could, about 2-3 miles away and parked my car. We started walking.

A car passed us driving toward the site. There were about a dozen people on the car, on the hood, on the roof and on the trunk. The driver could barely see where he was going, so was driving very slowly. There was no room for anyone else to get onto the car, so we didn’t try.

We were walking down a lane toward the stage. Behind us, people were bathing nude in the river, just like at Woodstock. Along both sides of this lane were a number of drug dealers. It was like a marketplace for every illegal street drug in existence.

We reached the back of the audience -- not millions like at Woodstock, but several thousand. We found a place to lay my sleeping bag, and had staked out our little nook. Then we went walking around exploring.

The audience was separated from the backstage area by one little wire, extending from the edge of the stage, about waist high. The authorization to be backstage was a white bandana tied around one arm. I pulled out my white handkerchief and tied it around my left bicep. I don’t remember what Trish did, but we both ducked under the wire and were were backstage. I never saw any security. No one challenged us.

As we were walking in one direction, a band approached from the other. They were the Doobie Brothers. We didn’t know who they were until one of them told us. We passed on toward a large trailer that was serving as a dressing room for the various acts. We entered and found it occupied by several musicians. Mitch Mitchell, who had been the drummer for the late Jimi Hendrix, arrived by helicopter. He was now drumming, at least temporarily for April Wine, a group from Canada.

Nazareth, a Scottish group, entered the trailer and began changing their clothes. Nazareth’s lead singer was named Dan McCafferty. He decided that he wanted to walk around in the crowd, meet people and experience the scene. We escorted him back under the wire and into the crowd.

At that time, Nazareth was not particularly well-known. It was before their big radio hits, “Love Hurts” (originally by the Everly Brothers) and “Hair of the Dog." So Dan was able to move easily and see and do what he wanted.

He enjoyed it, but after a while he was ready to rejoin his mates backstage. He told Trish that she was “a beauty lady.” I took a picture of the two of them, which unfortunately, has been lost. Then we parted company.

Trish and I returned to where we had left the sleeping bag. It was still there. It was starting to rain a bit, but not a downpour. We saw the latter part of April Wine’s set. Then came Nazareth. The response was good enough to get them an encore. Dan came back out wearing a black Elvis T-shirt, a picture of the King on his chest. Nazareth played my favorite Elvis song. “Party”.

“Some people like to rock, some people like to roll

But movin’ and a-groovin’ gonna satisfy my soul

Let’s have a party let’s have a party

Send to the store, let’s buy some more, let’s

Have a party tonight!”

I don’t remember any of the other acts, including the Doobie Brothers. We had arrived around midday Saturday. The festival went from Friday night through Monday night. We decided not to stay any longer, not to spend the night in weather that might get worse. So we headed home, with memories never to be forgotten.

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Bruce Porter is a Decatur resident, a retired counselor, and a musician, not retired.

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