Organizers imagine Vortex2020 as a music festival that involves ‘all of Oregon’

Photos from Vortex IIn the downtown Portland home of Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale, a crowd featuring notable Portlanders like Storm Large and former-mayor-now-city-council-candidate Sam Adams gathered Sunday to celebrate a new twist on a legendary Oregon event — Vortex2020.

The original Vortex was the first government-sponsored music festival in U.S. history. The 1970 festival, spearheaded by then-governor Tom McCall, drew about 100,000 to Estacada’s Milo McIver State Park.

“Vortex I: A Biodegradable Festival of Life,” as it was called, was a week-long rock festival dreamt up by a small group of hippies, with the goal of drawing anti-war protestors of the American Legion’s national convention from Portland. The group persuaded McCall to hold the event and McCall, in turn, told officials to ignore drugs, sex and nudity.

This new Vortex is being organized by a large coalition of people but spearheaded by Lauderdale and Robyn Tenenbaum.

Vortex2020 will take place 50 years after the original Vortex festival at the same location as the original event. But it will have key difference from that first festival — it is not government-sponsored, though it will be put on through a partnership with Oregon State Parks.

It will, however, have a similar message of counter-programming to unrest.

“Exactly fifty years after Vortex I, Oregon is experiencing heightened levels of violent protests, a growing urban-rural divide, skyrocketing homelessness, rising income disparities, and a climate crisis,” read a flyer handed out at the event.

“This year,” it continued, “an unprecedented partnership between Oregon State Parks, nonprofits, musicians, foundations, artists, and activists gives us another historic chance to heal divisions through Oregonians’ shared love of music, the arts, and our beautiful outdoor space.”

“Vortex2020 will not be a nostalgia project,” reads the festival’s website, “but a fresh statement of our values: community, unity, kindness, historic awareness, and stewardship of our precious public lands.”

Tenenbaum said Sunday, “It’s really about all of Oregon being involved.”

One way the festival aims to do that is a novel approach to ticketing — festival-goers must earn a ticket by volunteering at an approved partner organization.

The exact way that will work is yet to be determined, but the volunteering will have to happen before the festival, Jessica Lyness, of Maxwell PR which is working pro bono for the festival, said Sunday.

Who will attendees be volunteering to see? The final list will include around 25 bands with close ties to Oregon. Not all of them have been announced yet but they will include Pink Martini, Storm Large, Bocha, Edna Vazquez and the Dandy Warhols.

Vortex2020 festival is set to happen on August 22 and 23.