50 Years Ago

Claude Jones played for the 1971 May Day peace protest in Washington, D.C. The concert was part of a kick-off event that brought forty thousand people to West Potomac Park to camp out and enjoy the music as they prepared for the protest activities over the following days.

We were supposed to go on at eight o’clock, but we kept getting bumped by “national” acts like NRBQ. Claude’s big green step-van, which served as our equipment truck and a mobile lounge of sorts, was parked behind the stage, so we had a place to hang out drinking tequila and getting stoned while we waited for our turn, which was always “next.” We would be there awhile, but we would be rewarded for our patience.

At about five a.m. we finally got to play. We did “Bad Dream”, “Patch of Gray”, and a few more of the usual numbers. Everything was sparse and focused, distilled by the long night. Looking out from the stage, all you could see was blackness — it was like playing into a void. But as the set was drawing to a close, the blackness shifted almost imperceptibly as night gave way to morning twilight, and you could just barely make out a few faces down in front. A sea of people in sleeping bags and blankets slowly emerged with the dawn while we played Bob Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine.” Joe and Franny sang the last verse together, their voices carrying over the park in crystal clear harmony, accompanied by Henley’s ethereal organ lines… I put my fingers against the glass, and bowed my head and cried… And with that remarkable, transcendent moment it was time to call it a night.

Afterwards, I packed up my bass, and Con and I headed out to find the car. A fleet of buses full of police in riot gear pulled up by the Lincoln Memorial, and we had to wait a minute before crossing uncomfortably close to them. One of the cops waved his club out the window and yelled at us to stick around for the fun. They were fresh and ready to go. I shuddered. The sleepy campers back in the park had no idea what was coming. It was going to be a massacre. In the end, though, everyone went peacefully after being ordered to leave, and nobody got hurt. Not yet anyway.

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