Rainbow Farm was something of a watershed for me, the end of the four-year trail trying to manifest a cannabis festival that could rival Woodstock.
The mission had begun with a trip to visit Ken Babbs of the Merry Pranksters. “I’m thinking about calling it the World Hemp Expo Extravaganja,” I said. “That’s great,” said Babbs, “but you should just call it Whee!” That’s when a lot of stuff clicked in my head and I realized the vibe we were really trying to scout was fun, and I endeavored to manifest the world’s most fun festival possible, and I am sure in many people’s minds succeeded. Just ask Fishbone. But I was saddened to see a recent attack on the festival in the Portland Mercury, a savage piece of hippy bigotry posing as humor if ever there was, a piece that failed to mention a single ceremony, much less the amazing birth of a baby. Although it’s true the site was comically packed with people stoned out of their minds, we were used to that vortex from years of producing the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, and referred to the telepathic effect as “entering stonerville.” Whee just had ten times more stoners.
John Sinclair, Dennis Peron, Stephen Gaskin and Paul Krassner did a peace circle with the Rainbow Gypsies early the first day while tents were still going up. Just seeing that circle made the event for me, but there would be dozens more to follow over the weekend, some small, and some immense. I was sure we were well on our way to rebuilding the counterculture and couldn’t imagine the difficulties that lay ahead.
One significant problem was Oregon was infested with meth heads, and that scene carried a ton of bad vibes and rip-offs. The other problem was the owner of the site was way out of tune and had no respect for the Pranksters and no idea who Ken Kesey was on the cosmic scale. But after two festivals, he ended up losing the property, while fighting county officials and local law enforcement the entire time.
The next property owner to volunteer to host my event was Gideon Israel in Washington. But after one Whee, he was also taken down by a local sting operation. Gideon’s festival site was a campground called Rainbow Valley.
I made a plea at the Cannabis Cup for someone brave enough to hold a Whee! festival considering the first two were crushed by the authorities. That’s when I joined forces with Tom and Rollie of Michigan. They were the brave ones who stepped forward, only this time the authorities weren’t just taking the property. First, they had child services take away their son and refused all contact. Although a gay couple, the boy was Rollie’s child and the most important thing in their lives. And after losing the boy, they both lost their minds and decided to go down swinging.
I was in Woodstock when it all went down and had just returned to New York City. While picking up some video tape at B&H, a teller told me a plane had struck the Trade Towers. I noticed the smoke while riding my Honda Hawk across town. But when I got to my office, I was horrified to discover a string of voice messages from Tom and Rollie, the first of which announced their plan to stage a Waco-like event to bring awareness to the benefits of cannabis legalization. But as the messages went on, they became more and more frantic, until it was just Rollie. By that time, I’d already searched online and discovered they were both killed by FBI snipers. The story was already nearly a week old, but virtually nothing had penetrated the national media. And, of course, this was September 11, and a story was unfolding that would wipe Tom and Rollie’s quest for glory from the pages of history.
Fortunately, Dean Kuipers wrote a book about the event, and the book is being made into a major motion picture, so hope remains alive Tom and Rollie’s quest for martyrdom may not have been in vain. This is a difficult subject for me because it accompanied the shock of 9/11 in a massive double whammy. I had a string of people join me on my missions only to wind up in prison for a few years. But now the authorities were taking lives as well as prisoners. For years, I found it impossible to write anything about Rainbow Farm or about 9/11.
The saddest part for me was the Whee! vibe was all based around improvisational fun and peace ceremonies and learning how to foster and spread non-violence.
When I emceed the first circle to be held at Rainbow Farm, Tom came running up to join in and hold hands, an indication he really wanted to participate in peace culture.
Gatewood Galbraith, a trail-blazing attorney from Kentucky, was pushing armed revolution at the time, and may have helped hook Tom up with the spook-infested Michigan Militia, a huge mistake. I will always wonder if I’d been at work that week, would I have been able to talk Tom and Rollie out of this insane plan to create a Pot Waco? Could my participation in some way have prevented their deaths? Had I known what was going on, I would have attempted to mediate a peaceful solution when the stand-off began. I just never got the chance to play that role and it haunts me.
But you can check out that first peace circle at Rainbow Farm on a video from my archives first posted online two years before their deaths.
4 Replies to “Remembering Rainbow Farm”
I was at rainbow farms in Michigan, and it was an amazing, loving, and spiritual experience. To this day I cannot repeat what it was like. Not even here in colorado do I feel like it was.
Hey Steve, have you heard there’s a movie in the works based on Burning Rainbow Farm? I saw a link to an article about it and emailed the author to confirm it. I’ve reached out to the director to let him know I want to help.
Thanks for the heads up. Yeah, I noticed that which is why I wrote this blog. I have some video footage they should check out.