• If you build it, they will come: Allman Brothers, Ike & Tina Turner, Canned Heat, Chuck Berry, Edgar Winter, Alice Cooper
• When Woodstock Nation annexed North Baltimore, Ohio
• Was it all just a front for laundering pot dealers’ money? I’ll never tell
The idea started as a pipe dream, probably. A handful of hippies bought a farmhouse and some farmland in Northwestern Ohio, roughly between Toledo and Lima (pronounced like the bean.) The plan: build a stage next to the farmhouse (in fact, use the house as the backstage and dressing rooms) and put on a rock concert every Saturday.
In the summer of 1971, I was a recent graduate of Bowling Green State U a few miles up the road, publishing an alternative newspaper, The Crystal City News. We were approached by the folks behind what was to become known as The Park and hired to create something we called The Park Press, an 8-page handout reporting on the previous week’s concert, promoting the venue’s features and headliners that week, and beating the drum for the next week’s bands.
As the chief photographer, I got to roam the grounds and the stage, all-access style, shooting everything in sight. Even more important was the access I had to the darkrooms in the journalism department at BGSU. While I was no longer a student, some of the J-school professors were supportive of the Crystal City News (even though the dean wasn’t.) As a result, that summer I got “life lessons” in photojournalism and concert photography and shot some greats and soon-to-be-greats.
North Baltimore was a pretty conservative place. When construction started on The Park, some townspeople got up in arms.
When posters and flyers appeared promoting opening day, the town fathers were debating furiously whether this was a good thing or would lead to North Baltimore being overrun with freaks. They were unable to stop it, though.
I spotted a guy at one of the earliest shows wearing what I guess his closet held as the closest thing to hippie (more like beatnik) garb. He was clearly a local police officer, casing the joint. For joints. We published the photo in the next week’s Press edition. If the guy had only been able to go “backstage,” i.e. enter the house, he would’ve succumbed to a contact high from the thick clouds of pot smoke ever present, during the week as well as during shows. The word was that our employers, The Park’s creators, had generated their “seed money,” if you will, for purchasing the land by moving massive amounts of pot into Ohio. It was said that lots of weed was even stored in the upstairs bedrooms where they lived. This is only second-hand and speculative knowledge . . . I swear. (Make no mistake, the marijuana was not being sold or handed out at the concerts! The concerts were, presumably, a way to launder the pot profits, by booking and paying the bands.)
On the Friday evening before Chuck Berry was to play, there was a knock on the Park house’s door. Standing there was Berry, with a guitar in one hand, a small suitcase in the other. He had hitchhiked up from Cincinnati, where he’d played the night before. He requested, as was his M.O., that a local band be recruited to back him up Saturday night. The band had to know his songs. What band didn’t?!
When the Allman Brothers arrived, they asked if anybody knew a harmonica player who might be decent enough to sit in with them.
Those present who lived in Bowling Green immediately thought: Zam! Bruce Zamczyk, a talented musician famous in our college town. Somehow, we got word to him in time (no cellphones!) – someone might have sped the 23 miles up I-75 to BG and back — and Zam wound up blowing harp with the Allman Brothers, something he probably dined out on the rest of his life. He passed away some years back, sadly.
One night I was out in the crowd at The Park and stopped to sit down and chat with a young woman who had caught my eye. I put my camera and lenses down in the grass next to me and got lost in conversation. When I got up to go, the gear was gone. Someone made off with several hundred bucks worth of pro photography equipment and I learned a lesson. Some people took the hippie precept of “sharing” the wrong way.
The Park, of course, didn’t technically qualify as a “mini-Woodstock,” because these were only one-day concerts and nobody camped out. But two years after the real thing in Bethel, NY, a fairly conservative region of a Midwestern state was, for the summer – and one after that – host to the “peace and music” ethos of the Woodstock generation.
On Facebook, there is a page devoted to The Park, with some more memories and more of my photos.
Bonus art: A back page of an edition of the Park Press, painstakingly inked by yours truly. Inspired by The Allman Brothers’ song.