A remembrance of Spring Weekends past at SUNY-New Paltz

The Youngbloods immortalized Spring Weekend at SUNY-New Paltz in 1970 by putting a shot of the crowd on the back cover of their Rock Festival album. That famous two-day concert also featured performances by Hot Tuna, Jefferson Airplane, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Stone The Crows, Eddie Kirkland, Baby Tate, Larry Johnson and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen (which featured Leon Russell). (Warner Brothers)

Remember the Tripping Fields, that spacious, California-shaped tract of somewhat swampy multipurpose grassland at the southern tip of the SUNY-New Paltz campus, probing into the lower Moriello Orchards? Even my mother, who moved here in 1962 – well before the activism/hedonism of the counterculture redesigned her quaint little Huguenot town – called them the Tripping Fields. I don’t think she knows what “tripping” means. She probably imagined that it had something to do spring, youth, meadows, daisies and free time. She was right.

Spring Weekends were held there: two-day rock concerts featuring a panoply of surprisingly big names, afforded by the Student Association’s mandatory fees and justified by an assumed homogeneity of taste that has since been rightfully redressed. I don’t have the data to back this up, but I seem to recall that, at the peak of the Spring Weekend era, the crowds at these concerts were more than double the student population of the college.

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In my youth, before my own college years elsewhere, I attended a bunch of Spring Weekends. I remember: mud, mostly, cities of mud; but also hippies packed like salted fish onto a tract of land that was (actually, not kidding) a single long golf hole, with a green, a bunker and a pin. As if in orchestrated cultural counterpoint, along the forested eastern fringe of the Tripping Fields hid the opposite of golf, the exemplary communal village of the long-defunct Environmental Studies Program: some A-frames circled around organic gardens, one high-tech solar house that always seemed to be in progress, a single-residence grotto like an aquarium tank embedded in the side of a hill. I looked for the grotto for years, and couldn’t verify its reality until I met a man who claimed to have lived there. It’s all gone now.

Just as Spring Weekend attracted thousands of non-students, the Environmental Studies Site, if I recall correctly, had some issues with casually matriculated squatters. This was a different New Paltz, well before the academic rehab that may well have spelled the end for innovative studies and, indeed, for the classic Spring Weekend itself. Perhaps, in the ’70s and into the ’80s, academic standards were low and the students were high; but in a timeless paradox, lax standards sometimes encourage a kind of imagination and autonomy that high standards can squeeze right out of you.

I didn’t actually see a lot of great shows in the tripping fields: the Waitresses, Gary US Bonds, a Pure Prairie League side project and, in one year in the gymnasium, after the field shows had been prohibited, They Might Be Giants, Michelle Shocked and Tribe Called Quest. But the legendary student-run Jedi Productions booked excellent gymnasium and theater rock shows year-’round, so there was no shortage of big-name talent passing through.

Many veterans of those days rue the passing of New Paltz as a tour destination. Even though I remain a working rock guitarist, I am no rockist True Believer. Monolithic guitar-rock did not fairly represent the diversity of the SUNY-New Paltz studentry. That SA budget should have been more fairly distributed to a variety of student-initiated programming, and ultimately it was, moving the SA beyond what my friend Mark Aldrich once called “the great melting-pot rainbow of white.”

So I don’t rue the rock, but I do miss the idyll of Spring Weekends. As the licenses of the ’60s gave way to the ’80s’ attempt to restore the academic sobriety of the institution, the administration may have grown less comfortable with allowing students that kind of free rein and access to facilities. From the perspective of the Sudbury educational model, Spring Weekends exemplify learning at its very best: students working without adult interference or the need for external validation, initiating and organizing themselves and using real money to make real things happen. From an administrative perspective, it is not hard to understand some reluctance. Rock concerts are chaos unleashed. New Paltz’s reputation as a vigorous party school was not an academic asset, and Spring Weekend had become its flagship ritual, when the loonies ran the bin.

Baby-Boomers and vets of the culture wars like to remember an era of free love, pre-HIV, before sex was all second-guessing and actualized Freudian nightmares. Me, I wax nostalgic about the pre-Lyme era of fields and long grasses, the days of hill-rolling and copse-traipsing, gone forever. Spring was long, meadows weren’t poisoned and everyone loved guitars.

There are 19 comments

  1. Denise Luczai Shelton

    I was there. I was 12. My grandmother warned that people would “throw drugs” at me. They didn’t. My most vivid memory was of the plumber’s butt of the guy in front of me who was passing around a pipe of pot around. I know Jefferson Airplane was supposed to be playing but I don’t remember who played while I was there. I had a curfew. A few years later, I camped with some friends at the Tripping Fields. There was a wooded area nearby. Growing up in New Paltz was really a wonderful experience. We went from Norman Rockwell to Timothy Leary in a heatbeat. Wow!

  2. Michael Miller

    It was an event that made an impression in the minds of anyone who attended New Paltz can and will talk about for over 50 years. What other school can make that claim. I am still high on life that I was there, and a high five to all of you that feel the same. Regards Moon

  3. Bill C

    BC I was there. I was 13. I already had a great love for a wide variety of music. I remember Joe Cocker well. I went on to see quite a few shows in the early to late seventies either outside of in the gym. Been to hundreds of concerts in my life and collecting Ricky stubs has become a regular thing for me. My regrets are that I have none for any of the SUNY New Paltz shows. War, Johnny Winter, Larry Coryell, Frank Zappa, Maharishi Orchestra, seatrain and others. Wonder where I could find them?

  4. EJ

    Johnny Winter
    Toots and the Maytals
    Joan Jett
    The Pysedelic Furs
    Was literally just telling a friend about those weekends…gladly etched into my experience at New Paltz!

  5. Andrew

    I too attended many of the spring weekends…Psychedelic Furs and Toots being a particularly memorable one. I understand that the Doors and Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane played early on. Does anyone know where I could find a listing of all the acts that played?

  6. Pat Summa

    In the interests of improving the historical record I dug up this list of Spring Weekend acts:
    1965 – Fats Domino
    1966 – Isley Brothers, Dionne Warwick, Anthony and the Imperials
    1967 – Smokey Robinson
    1968 – Turtles
    1970 – Jefferson Airplane… When Grace Slick named the Tripping Fields
    1971 – Jethro Tull, Edgar Winter, David Rea
    1972 – Byrds
    1978 – Good Kats
    1979 – Harry Chapin
    1980 – Rick Danko and Richard Manuel and friends
    1981 – Suprstars of Jazz Fusion, David Crosby, David Bromberg, Loose Enz, Garland Jeffries and the Rumour, Dregs, Greg Kihn band, Dave Mason
    1982 – Papa John Creech
    1983 – Psychedelic Furs, Toots and the Mayalls, Johnny Winter
    1984 – Stevie Ray Vaughn, Frank Marino

    I saw the following myself:
    1985 – Gary U.S. Bonds, Waitresses, Pure Prairie League
    1986 – Pieces of a Dream, Monyaka, Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Artie Traum, Modern English
    1987 – Abel Allen of Itopia, Potsie Cryer, Cool Beans, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

    The current students don’t know what they’re missing…

  7. NJ

    I went to one when I was still in High School, the MC5 played and there was a rumor of the Airplane, but I never saw them on the stage. Later, I went to the one with Garland Jeffries and the Rumor, and the Dixie Dregs played at that one too.

  8. Ed Moss

    As a student at New Paltz from ’68 thru ’72,
    I worked all concerts during the 69-70 school year, and escorted The Youngbloods from their motel to the stage for their performance…
    I was elected as Concert Chairman for the ’70 -’71 school year, as a result of my bringing Pete Seeger to New Paltz for a benefit show during the Spring of ’70, where I became known to many students by introducing him to the audience ( He played 6 shows in the lecture center, as a bomb scare locked down Elting Gymnasium).
    For Spring Weekend ’71, I booked The Byrds and Jethro Tull to headline the two nights. Edgar Winter did not play NP that year. He did play a show at Marist College that winter, and our crew provided the sound system. Had a rough time getting back to NP that night with heavy snow falling !
    The show I remember most clearly was the first one held that year, with BB King, Jonathan Edwards, and The Allman Brothers. Two shows on a Sunday night. BB asked to go on first for the second show so he could get back to the city, and the Allmans played until 2am, when we had to vacate the gym…
    Those shows were all about music. There were no special effects, no dancers, and no one flew in from the ceiling. The productions were simple, equipment needs very basic, and everything worked without a highly specialized crew.
    I was backstage when Tull and Peter Frampton played Jones Beach a few years ago, and couldn’t believe how complicated the whole process of playing music had become…
    NP was great music, wonderful friendships, and the coming of age that none of us understood or appreciated art the time.
    Almost 50 years ago !!! Great memories !

  9. Madelyn Prezioso Cordeiro

    I am on this album cover with my friends. We hitchhiked to New Paltz from Long Island, and saw Joe Cocker JeffersonAirplane, and the Youngbloods! Amazing concert and we ended up on this Youngblood Album! Crazy💫

  10. Dave P

    I was only there once, and that was for the Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble show. Walking towards the Tripping Fields I heard Hendrix’s Come On (Part 1) blaring from the field ahead, and knew I was at the right place. Stevie would play two or three shows a day back then (they played Poughkeepsie later that night), and the trio just formed a triangle facing each other, and playing their a$$e$ off. The audience was just an afterthought. But what music!! Frank Marino rocked as well.

  11. Alli

    Omg, thank you. Just got back from seeing The Psychedelic Furs at the 2018 Pleasantville Music Fest, and I KNEW I had seen them at Springfest (*cough* 35 years ago *choke*) but couldn’t find any verification. And funny enough, Toots and The Maytals are playing this coming Friday at The Capitol Theater…

  12. Rachele

    You left out The Who, who played “Tommy”. Simon and Garfunkle. I had a baby in a baby carriage for that 1970 Spring Weekend and can remember walking back into town with the Airplane wailing out Volunteers that you could hear all the way into town.

  13. henry cavanagh

    wonderfully written, more or less accurate, good period context. a fun read! great to hear the voice of ed moss again in comments. -MOST authoritative. names of the day …jane stabile, sitomer. rubenfield, pia and terry (amsler), madlener, so many other shadows….
    good comments…the official alumni mag. is NOT proud of the whole period, and prints not a word of reference to it. the ORACLE of the day….from ’67 or so onward, is available at sojourner truth library on microfiche for reference,
    however. personally, I hated live concerts and all the tribal stuff, and rarely witnessed any! although I helped elect the groovy student govt. that financed the revolution, ….all art-majors, liberal arts, or lit, …a pendulum swing away from the button-down frat/jock control of the past. I preferred to get stoned in private, and listen to music I could actually hear. one concert I attended I fell in love and wound up living with the ‘chick’ I had just met…hi, rosalind Rosenberg! the only other one…bbking, I was calling for my ‘mud-woman’ …and a woman somewhere in the crowd always called back…
    later I had to place an ad in the paper to find her.

    then it came time to pay the piper, literally. at the time, the students ‘owned’ a campsite(!), with canoes, log cabins, skiing, tobogganing,- even horses. all had to be sold to pay for the brief thrill of the admission-free concerts, and the shokan campus was since rented out…..the serious side of the smoke cloud.
    the student art guild also ran events during this period, usually without name bands, but local or student bands instead. with 40 kegs of free beer, few could tell the difference! the annual ‘beaux arts ball’ was a long tradition. the admission raised scholarship money. no one wanted to collect or pay money in those wild days,
    so we made it free, giving a chunk of S.G.A. money for scholarships as a cost of doing business.
    as eventually even with grades, there was no accountability. the student fees were routinely collected and distributed, and spent without a care….about $200,000. a year! legends grew of famous musicians jamming with the students, visiting apartments, smoking dope, and sleeping with the local talent.
    I retired as ORACLE editor and student art guild president, and worked on graduating. by 1973, I was in Europe.
    my friend and co-conspirator, jack murphy is a well-spring of later history. he has even originated a yahoo group of contacts and documents, and is working on one of art and artists of the period…..look for the golden age of new paltz..
    thanks for the memories, henry Cavanagh, at hcavanagh2@gmail.com

  14. Mickey Grab

    Hey Moon, Nice comment. I remember Gracie Slick refusing an opened drink, saying she couldnt partake because she couldnt be sure what was in there, but there are pics of her in the ORACLE sharing a joint w our Frat brothers. I recall The Who playing 2 or 3 songs, with the crowd wondering “Will they Play TOMMY”, when Roger Daltry (or it could have been Pete Townsend – hard to tell w that heavy Brittish accent) said “We will now proceed to play TOMMY in its entirety. The Crowd went wild! I didnt know who Jethro TULL was, so didnt go to ELTING GYMNASIAM to see them, but walked past the building, and it was ROCKIN! Great memories!

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