45th Anniversary of Poe Ditch

For the 45th anniversary of BGSU's fabled Poe Ditch Music Festival, I have created a six page digital exhibit on the history of the event for the BGSU Library's Digital Gallery.

The exhibit uses existing photographs and news articles in the Jerome Library collection as well as additional information I collected, to create text telling the history, and an audio recorded element.

Poe Ditch Music Festival Digital Exhibit:

It could be said that few things in BGSU history have become as infamous at Poe Ditch Music Festival, a one day event on Sunday June 1st, 1975, in the Doyt L. Perry Stadium. 
Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. BGSU University Libraries. 

Construction on Perry Stadium was completed in 1967, for $3.9 million and named after coach Doyt L. Perry. The stadium was built to hold 23,232 people. In this image of the stadium under construction, Peregrine Pond, where the Daze of Rock festival would take place.

BGSU Centers for Archival Collections
The early 1970s was a time of social unrest. College campuses became the stage for protest including anti-vietnam demonstrations. Coming off of the heels of the The Kent State shootings of unarmed college students (protesting the US bombing of Cambodia) by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970,  and the Jackson State College shootings 10 days later in Jackson Mississippi, Bowling Green State University took the approach of inclusivity of student culture rather than a militant, or exclusionary approach.

In the years leading up to the Poe Ditch Music Festival  the BGSU administration had hosted many artists and speakers of cultural and counter political significance including Aerosmith, MC5, and Pat Paulsen. The University’s Student Government Association, in the beginning of 1974, created a committee called Cultural Boost to bring in relevant musical acts and decided on a large scale music festival.  Kim Jakeway,  leader of Cultural Boost, said that they wanted to “make something noteworthy for BGSU.”

As plans moved forward, mismanagement and confusion started to rise.  The BG News, on May 9, 1975, reported the musical acts as Marshall Tucker, ZZ Top, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Richie Havens, Daryl Hall and John Oats, Outlaws and Golden Earring, but at the last minute the line up changed, dropping ZZ Top, Hall and Oates, and Marshal Tucker. The final lineup was the Outlaws, Pure Prairie League, Styx, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Richie Havens, Montrose, Golden Earring and Johnny Winter. $25,000 was allocated for advertising in the Bowling Green, Toldeo, Detroit, Fort Wayne, Chicago, Columbus and Cleveland area. This ad was placed in the White Panther Party newspaper, the Ann Arbor Sun.
Ann Arbor Sun, May 23, 1975

By the end of May 25,000 presale had been sold, already exceeding the stadium's capacity. Less than 3,000 of those were student tickets. In an effort to boost student attendance Cultural Boost member Mario Sansotta remarked “Do you want more big concerts of this type, or do you want to keep on saying you go to Boring Green?” Boring would not be used to describe the event that took place.

Photo of Doyt L. Perry Stadium during the Poe Ditch Music Festival. BGSU Libraries. 
People started arriving into Bowling Green the night before the festival. An estimated 10,000 people slept in the fields around the stadium. A Bowling Green police officer, Galen Ash,  said, “We were getting people that were hitchhiking in and they were camping in people’s backyards and we couldn’t keep up with the complaints.”

Words like 'hitchhikers', 'bikers', and 'outsiders' were being used to describe onslaught of people pouring into town.  “I can remember looking out from the stadium ... and I could see nothing but miles and miles and miles of stopped vehicles on I-75,” said Jakeway, leader of Cultural Boost. The musicians arriving at Toledo Airport couldn't make it on the highway and had to be flown in by helicopter.

To make a tense situation worse, only half of the 150 security personnel hired from Eagle Detective Agency of Toledo reported in to Perry Stadium, which, by start time at 11:30am, had an estimated 35,000 to 45,000 attendees, leaving just only one law enforcement officer for every 6,000-7,000 people, as stated by Wood County Sheriff Raymond Coller in the June 3, 1975, edition of BG News.

Infield at Poe Ditch Music Festival. BGSU University Libraries. 

Ken Schoeni, a maintenance operator at the stadium remarked about the drug and alcohol use at the festival, “They were all juiced up, my God Almighty.. and they were on drugs more than they were alcohol.” Despite the crowding and drug use the event started off well. Reviewers praised the performances of Richie Havens and Montrose, and excitement was building for the headlining acts when the festival was thrown yet another curveball when a massive thunderstorm that hit Toledo at 5:30pm was heading straight to Bowling Green.

By the time the storm hit Perry Stadium 30,000 attendees evacuated for safety but an estimated 10,000 braved the brutal 30 minute storm for the promise to see Johnny Winter and Golden Earring. Once the storm had passed it was announced that the stage and equipment was soaked with water and too dangerous to use and the rest of the event was canceled.

Debris  covered field at Perry Stadium after the storm.
BGSU University Libraries

A June 4th, 1975, edition of The BG News called the cancellation a “culmination of abuse” stemming from the organizers of the Poe Ditch Music Festival. The remaining crowd grew angry and began throwing bottles at the stage. Someone tossed a molotov cocktail into the press box and it went up in flames. The angry crowd spilled into town. By midnight a wooster street bar called the Gigolo was set on fire and a hurricane of debris circled Perry Stadium and the surrounding area.

 In one glimmer of positivity, the Poe Ditch Music Festival was declared a financial success, despite the added costs due to the storm and rioting. Despite this, University President Hollis Moore issued a statement stating 'The largest scale rock concert experiment will not be repeated at Bowling Green State University. It was strictly a first time last time experience,'

Perry Stadium

Audio Recording from the BGSU Music and Cultural History Walking Tour: