At the first rock festival, pianos fell from the sky

Ben Marks of Collectors Weekly says: "Next week is the anniversary of the Piano Drop, in which a perfectly good piano was dropped from a helicopter, just to hear what the impact would sound like. The year was 1968, Country Joe and Fish performed, and the event led directly to the Sky River Rock Festival later that year, which many believe was the prototype for Woodstock in 1969. For our article, we spoke to Country Joe, Gary Eagle and Larry Van Over (the guys who came up with the idea to drop a piano from a helicopter in the first place), and Paul Dorpat, who was the editor and publisher of the "Helix," an alternative newspaper that promoted the event."

Having the “Helix” in his camp gave Van Over the modest amount of seed money he’d need to purchase a used piano ($25) and rent a helicopter (that cost another $100). Details are sketchy, but by that morning, people were starting to stream in by the thousands, clogging narrow Cherry Valley Road for miles leading to what became known as Jug’s Ravine. Fortunately, Country Joe and the Fish had arrived early (“I remember being there, but I don’t remember driving there,” says McDonald), which allowed them to set up their amplifiers and instruments on the makeshift stage that had been set up steps from the rear end of the band’s equipment truck. Sometime around 1 p.m., the Fish began their set.

Meanwhile, Van Over decided it would be a good time to drop a hit of acid, since all he had to do that day was pay the helicopter pilot at Boeing Field the hundred bucks he had brought along for this solemn purpose, and then hop into the chopper’s cockpit for the 20-miles-as-the-crow-flies flight back to Duvall.

“It was kind of a wild ride — I was pretty disconnected,” Van Over allows. “And by the time we got out there, there were 3,000 people underneath us, which made the pilot very nervous. He hadn’t expected that. He said, ‘I can’t fly over these people with a piano,’ and I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Because it’s dangerous!’ And I said, ‘They’ll part like the Red Sea the minute you come over the hill with that piano hanging underneath you.’ I got out, he hooked up the piano, and when he picked it up and started flying over the crowd, they just split, like in the movies. It was really a wonderful scene.”