With all the media attention given to the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival this month, it is fair to say that most people are well aware of it. But how many know about the Churubusco Live-in?
In late March 1970, two NYC promoters, Hal Abramson and Ray Filiberti, along with their lawyer Joseph Martino came to Clinton County to announce their plan to hold a major rock music festival on Memorial Day weekend in Churubusco, NY.
They held a press conference at Plattsburgh’s Holiday Inn on March 30 and one the following day in Montreal to promote what they called the Churubusco Live-in.
THE BIGGEST NAMES
Posters had already been printed and tickets were going on sale in NYC, Boston, Montreal, and Plattsburgh. For $20 one could attend the entire festival and hear some of the biggest names in rock: Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young; the Allman Brothers; Sly & the Family Stone; Three Dog Night; the Kinks; Richie Havens; Chuck Berry; Little Richard; Bo Diddley; and many more.
The promoters came on strong with their sales pitch. At their Montreal press conference, Abramson rattled off a litany of statistics — a million hamburgers and a half million hot dogs would be consumed, a thousand outhouses would be installed, and his $1.5 million investment would result in $4 million in revenue. Security would be handled by college students. When asked if the townspeople had any complaints about the projected crowd of 200,000 descending on their town, Abramson replied, “I own the town.”
Reportedly he had put money down on over 1000 acres of land in Churubusco, though there was never any documented evidence of that.
DROPPED A BOMB
Because there was no prior consultation by the promoters, the reaction from the locals was swift and sharp. Town of Clinton Supervisor Dellor Perreault charged “they dropped a bomb on us.” There was great concern over the intrusion and impact of tens of thousands of young people who, some feared, would bring drugs, nudity, and other unsavory elements into the community.
A petition of opposition to the festival was circulated that purportedly was signed by 98 percent of the town. With the help of Plattsburgh attorney J. Byron O’Connell, the Town Board quickly drafted a 14 article ordinance placing numerous restrictions on any public event. It also gave the Town Clerk the right to refuse permits and licenses to any applicant deemed undesirable or incapable of properly conducting business.
At a public hearing in Churubusco on April 17, the ordinance was passed unanimously by the Town Board. The promoters’ attorney Joseph Martino arrived two hours late by which time the meeting had ended. He compared the ordinance to Hitler’s 1933 suspension of constitutional rights and parliamentary procedure. Martino defiantly vowed to hold the festival anyway because “We don’t really need the cooperation of the people of Churubusco…”
'LIABLE TO GET SHOT'
J. Byron O’Connell, the attorney hired by the Town, fired back. “That live-in will turn into a lynch-in. People up here aren’t used to long hair. They don’t fool around with legal niceties and they’re not going to put up with any nonsense from college students. If they come up Rte. 189, they’re just liable to get shot. If they try to push this thing it will go down in history like Lexington and Concord. The feeling is ripe.”
The Clinton County Legislature got involved and directed its attorney, Edward Trombley to seek a temporary restraining order on the sale of tickets. State Supreme Court Justice Norman Harvey issued that restraining order on April 23 and followed it a month later with a permanent injunction, effectively killing any chance of holding the Live-in on Memorial Day or over the Fourth of July which the promoters had considered as an alternative.
'HOLD YOUR HEAD UP'
Furthermore, on May 19, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller signed a bill requiring promoters to obtain proper permits from the State Health Department for food, water, and sanitation and also to post substantial bonds in order to hold festivals.
Promoter Hal Abramson gave up the fight, but not without a strongly worded letter to O’Connell which was reprinted in the local press. He wrote, “...if I could comply with all the requests I wouldn’t have my Festival in your Town.”
He called the Town officials “do nothings” who turned their backs on the youth in their community and this country.
“The Churubusco Live-in will occur but not in your Town[,] it’s going to occur in a Town that thinks very highly of its children. When you people walk down your streets hold your head up high because I can’t see how you can look at each other after depriving your community of the most important thing in life and that is Love.”
So the Second Coming of Woodstock was not to be for the North Country. Still, a part of us wonders what might have been had the Churubusco Live-in occurred.
Cerise Oberman, SUNY Distinguished Librarian Emeritus, retired as dean of Library & Information Services at SUNY Plattsburgh. She can be reached at email@example.com. Tim Hartnett is associate librarian at SUNY Plattsburgh, Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.