The ‘Freak Out’ Festival Of 1969 – Rock Hill Park

Rockhill Park Poster 1969Dufferin County has its secrets .  Not to the people who live here but to all the new residents that have moved here since 1986.  Memories run deep and with the pasting of time new generations will create their own.

Let me tell you a story.  Well not so much a story but about how my afternoon unfolded about 2 months ago.

I went out for a hike on the weekend and was listening to The Guess Who on my iPhone while I out on the trail.  The temperature was perfect and the day seemed to slowly unfold.  I parked at the Dufferin Hi-Land parking lot just south of Dufferin County Road 17.  Opposite the car park, is a most interesting short section through amazing trees and lots of bush reveals an exposed section of the escarpment, the Trail winding its way between and across crevasses and other limestone formations.  It really was awesome.  The thing was that while I was checking out the caves I got turned around a bit and stumbled onto some old abandoned buildings.

Now, I had no idea what this place was so I took lots of photos hoping to show some friends what I had found.  But while I was getting ready to find the trail again I noticed this wall with parts of the chipboard missing.  Behind it was a time capsule of photos, posters, newspaper clipping and it was all from the late 60’s and early 70’s.  HOW COOL was that!  It was like taking a step back in time,a time before I was born.

A few days later, lots of sleepless nights, exchanged email with some bloggers online and even trips to the Dufferin County Museum I was able to put the whole thing together.

It’s hard to believe that 44 years ago! there was this amazing thing that was happening in north america….It was called the ‘counter culture‘ of the time.

IMG_8457Gatherings like the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock (or our local equivalent – the ‘Freak Out Festival’ held at Rockhill Park near Orangeville (Ontario) over the Labour Day weekend of 1969 and 1970) brought together tens (or hundreds) of thousands of ‘hippies’ for weekend-long parties fuelled famously by ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll’.  It was a time of change – both in culture as well as in music.  If you were a teenager in the late sixties and early seventies, you’ll remember the songs of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendix, The Doors, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Joe Cocker, and many, many more.  Their music still resonates with those who were part of the ‘counter culture’ of the time.

So basically our local  ‘Freak Out’ festival ran over labour day weekend in 1969  which was the first year, then in July 1970 as a ‘mini’ festival and again in July 1971.  CHUM AM was the sponsor the first year ( I don’t know who sponsored it after that). During the 1969, 1970 and 71 festivals camping was located in a field and there were a few trees but not many. People basically set up tents where ever they wanted.

I the main stage was setup on the pond,  but there were other ‘smaller’ stages in other areas; the playtimes were staggered throughout the day/evening.  The music was the magical part of the event.  Friends and relationships were born, it was a time of change….I would have loved to be part of that movement but that time is long gone.

There was a hill where you could sit/lie and watch/listen to the bands across the lake. There was a sort of covered picnic area at the top of the hill where you could seek shade and have something to eat.  They even had people Rock Hill Snack Bar 2013selling food and crafts in the park.

The big bands of the 1969 weekend were The Guess Who and Lighthouse. The 1970 festival was obviously a much smaller event but just as enjoyable I’ve been told.  The police, locals and even township tried to shut it down over the 11 years but the music just keep playing, that was until the 80’s came along.

Back in the 1950’s there was a trail park up further in the park which might explain why there are trailers there today.

So why did the festivals come to an end?  The laws where different back then so I guess it was like the wild west.  The the ‘locals’ must have complaining about the noise and the mess after the 69 festival and that could be why CHUM stopped sponsoring.  Besides, Woodstock had come and gone and the idea of weekend long festivals had sort of had their time. I imagine the whole idea of running something that big,  complicated and expensive without major sponsorship (and money) would have been too much for whoever took over and so they just stopped.

But Elwood (the owner of Rock Hill Park) had other plans.  As history has it, Willie Nelson in 1980 played to 80,000 people on June 27.  It took Willy Nelson a bit to get there but he arrived at Rock Hill Park for the concert in a helicopter sent by Tommy Hunter because all the other helicopters were fighting fires.

After that weekend ROCK HILL PARK was destined to be shutdown for good.  But the memories will live on and thanks to facebook there is even a Rock Hill Page.

Mulmur Township and the locals had enough.  So Country and Western music stopped, not be echoing through the hills from Mulmur’s Rock Hill Park, August 3 and 4, due to a court injunction prohibiting overnight musical festivals in the township.  Wednesday, July 17, 1985.

Here is a post I found on the net (I can’t remember the site…sorry)

IMG_8469

IMG_8473I was 16 in the summer of ’69. A bunch of us were working the tobacco fields around Essa township near Angus, Ontario. There were two outdoor concerts coming up one called The Freak Out near Shelburne Ontario and another called this Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in upper New York state. I remember that I loved the line-up of that Woodstock thing but choose The Freak Out because it was only 3o miles away. At the time it was a sound choice and most of my friends choose the same but 3 of my buds headed south. (they were gone for almost a week) I must say I rocked and partied pretty hard at the Freak Out but as Woodstock ’69 history continues to grow and Freak Out fades in the fog of time my choice not to head south was the wrong choice. Who knew 50,000 @ Freak Out vs 500,000 @ Woodstock. Did happen to attend Woodstock ’99 but that was a different time in a different place that does not compare with the original.

Summer of 1969 and Motherlode (out of London, Ontario) reached top forty charts with this great song. The band also performed at The Freak Out at Rock Hill Park near Orangeville, Ontario along with some twenty other bands including The Guess Who and Five Man Electrical Band that same year. Close your eyes and it doesn’t seem that long ago….


Here are some photos that

ROCK HILL PARK in 1969, 1970 or 1971

ROCK HILL PARK in 1969, 1970 or 1971

ROCK HILL PARK in 2013

ROCK HILL PARK in 2013

Rockhill Park Poster 1969

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Image 4

Image 6

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Categories: Community News, Festivals & Events, Year In Review

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39 replies

  1. Dave what a great story………who knew……

  2. Thanks for posting this. I had heard about the concerts at Rock Hill Park when we moved up to Melancthon in 1988. It must have been amazing seeing these groups in our backyard. Thanks for the photos and the history. Don’t forget we also made history in 2011 in October with groups and musicians playing in a farmers field and it was called FOODSTOCK.

  3. We did

  4. They didn’t just have rock bands, they also had Country. My Dad’s band played there more than once, some of you will remember the Pine Ridge Ranch Boys. Thanks for this Dave!!

  5. wow Dave thanks our trailer was right across from the laundry/ washroom and showers
    I loved that place it holds alot of very treasured memories

  6. Does any one remember the satans choice had there own gate set up before the main gate forone half the price. what a crazy place

  7. I remember this place well. We had so much fun there back in the late 70s early 80s. I dated Elwoods grand daughter Lorrie Rusk. Wish we could turn back time..

  8. I was raised as a child coming to this park in the summer time! I remember seeing Kitty Wells, Buck Owens and several other artists! I remember swimming under the stage while the bands played or floating on a tire tube and watching the bands play. I have great memories from this park!

  9. Great web page and pictures. I remember being there and many other rock concerts all over southern Ontario. I remember the police roadblocks too, telling me that the concert was canceled. LOL Thanks for the memories.

  10. I played guitar along with my Dad on fiddle in the late 60’s and early 70’s just before I joined the military. Elwood Hill would have country music doo’s until 1970. We would stay late in July until the Shelburne Fiddle Contest at the beginning of August. I posted out West to the Airborne Regiment in 1972, and these are the first Pictures I’ve seen of the place since then. Its a bit of a shock.

    • Hi Tom, I don’t know you from a hole in the ground, but I am Elwood’s grandson and spent my summers working at the park in the 70’s. I will be retiring from the CF in a few months after 35 yrs of svc. I spent 7 yrs with the Airborne Gunners from 80 to 87. Chris Rusk.

  11. I volunteered at all the festivals. Elwood’s daughter Marilyn, was one of my best friends. It would be so great if the walls inside the building with all the photos posters etc., could be preserved, and even displayed at the museum. If I lived closer, I would love to be a part of that process.
    As teenagers, we had the “time of our lives” there. Is was the begining and confirmation of a culture that came from underground and revelled in the “Sunshine of our Lives”. I can hear it now……….

  12. LOVED THIS COULD NEVER FIND ANYONE WHO REMEMBER THESE CONCERTS

  13. Wow seeing these pics has brought back many awesome memories of Rock Hill Park!
    Lauri Rusk(Elwood and Jean’s) granddaughter and I worked the summers there when we were teenagers. We had the opportunity to meet some famous country singers and make a ton of friends with people that camped there.
    I have so many great memories with Mary Jane and Rob, Ted Briggs, the newphie hill, Bob Cobb, Frenchie and the list goes on.
    Yes the bikers came to the park and tried to enter two by two. If they behaved, they got to stay. The air strip was the party place! Again I have tons of memories there!
    I loved watching the concerts as a young girl and in my teens!
    Thank you Elwood and Jean Hill for following your dreams, fight burocracy and giving us the experience of a lifetime!

  14. What wonderful history I was only fortunate to have gone to one concert at Rockhill but it truly brings back memories.

  15. was there in 71 and I think the stage was on the hill above the pond as opposed to the older picture with a small stage on the pond.

    • Yes, there was a second larger stage on the west hill from the pond. It was built for bands like Lighthouse and Guess Who. The water stage was just too small for the bigger Groups.

  16. Hi, I’m Sharon, Elwood’s eldest (of 5) daughters. It’s truly heartwarming to read all the positive comments being posted. My sisters and I worked the gate for these festivals and boy do we have memories of that!!! Dad started out with Saturday night dances, then Sunday talent shows (Carol Baker competed there when she was 13 years old). Then came big name Country and Western shows, then the festivals. We did have an interesting childhood!

  17. first of all, i would like to thank elwood and his family for having the festivals. all year i would look forward to going back. i went there in 1969,70 and 71. i was 17 in 1969. i loved every minute of it. those photos sure bring back memories. the building that looks like a driving shed and almost falling down, was the snack bar. We use to lie down on the roof for hours watching the bands and other activities. elwood was a great guy, very friendly and always there if you had a problem. if anyone got unruly, especially one particular group, and interfered with the enjoyment, he immediately put a stop to it and they would listen. He was not a guy to mess with when he was angry.
    the pond was very refreshing. i could go on for hours about the fun we all had. if i could turn the clock back, going to rock hill would be the first place i would go. thanks again..

  18. I played bass guitar in a nine piece group “The Sound Spectrum” (later Truck) from London. We played at the 1970 Rock Hill Festival. Here is an excerpt from a letter that I wrote to my girlfriend afterwards:

    “We proceeded to Rock Hill at 10 in the morning without incident until we got within a mile of the festival when we were stopped by a police roadblock. They were actually going to search the whole bus and everybody on it until Peter diplomatically talked them out of it. Now we didn’t have much time.
    As much as I was sure that the festival would bomb out, it was really good! The weather was good, the bands were good and the crowd was good. The only sore spot was the police (as you have probably heard about).
    We played two shows… one in the afternoon with a good reaction, and one at night that was fantastic. This was the ultimate ego trip. We played “All You Know”, What You’re Looking For”, “Goin’ Home”, and “Themes”. We literally had them on their feet through the whole set! When we finished, they were yelling “MORE!”, but we had to get off the stage for Lighthouse. That was the one time you should have seen us.
    Lighthouse was good, but it took them 2 1/2 hours to set up. Things were a bit uptight, but you wouldn’t believe how patient the crowd was.
    We didn’t get home ’till after sunrise.”

  19. I was only 7 or 8 at the time but I definetely remember the road blocks. Great post I did not know about Karrens dad playing there neat history. More pictures welcomed.

  20. hi, some of my friends and I spent many summer weekends thru the mid/late 70’s at rock hill park. my friends bruce and john worked the gate and other jobs too.(free admission for the gang) bruces eldest brother bobby married elwoods daughter (cant remember her name) that’s how we came to find the place of our young dreams.
    we would drive up from etobicoke late on Fridays , stay up all nite. pitch tents and cook big cheap blade steaks. bon-fires,car stereos, bbqs,coolers with ice n beer, the sat nite dance at the pavilion, late nite skinny-dipping in the big square pond.. partying all nite long,kissing girls by fire-light . going to the snack bar next a.m. for coffee and headache meds, then some hair o the dog. the many fine folks and their daughters in their permanent trailers with colored patio lanterns.and no wheels. (Janice from brampton, I really liked you,even if you were a bit young ) we had car/tent camping at its finest. loved this place. the great music of many great country bands. freddy fender, tom.t.hall, Michael walls, rainbow ranchboys, ( cant remember most of em, I was more of a rock fan)
    I am fortunate to still have many of the great friends today that I had in my teen years back then. we still tell great stories from those summers at rock hill. (but not to our kids) racing our cars up and down roller-coaster hill, and detouring into the cornfield burt Reynolds style, finishing with fish-tail donuts in a cloud of dirt and cornhusk. crazy stuff. I was lucky, ted drove his nova straight into a rock in the corn, busted a lower control arm, .. the shot and chug a lug contests, caps ,streaking, the buzz.
    anyway ,I will always cherish the great memories I and my friends have from this wonderful place.nothing beats “up-north” with your friends, al jackson

  21. The photo of the pond with the floating stage is definitely not from 1969 – I swam in that pond on the Sunday morning of that weekend – no floating stage at that time. I remember the stage being at the top of the hill

    • Lot’s of great memories. I first met Elwood when he opened the Army Surplus store in Orangeville. I still remember after a couple of months of recovering from a motorcycle accident I was hobbling up Broadway on crutches when I heard Elwood shout from the other side of the street that he was glad to see I was up and around and that he wished me well. Of course there was Rock Hill Park Freak Out, our local contribution to the movement sweeping North America. We didn’t realize at the time what a special time it was. I still remember running out of food and money and casually asking if anyone had some spare change. There was a tap on my shoulder and when I turned around it was Skip Prokop the drummer of Lighthouse. He told me to hold out my hands and then proceeded to empty his leather change purse into my hands. In the spirit of Peace and Love I bought fruit and handed it out to the crowd. It was Groovy….Far Out and Right On!!!

  22. The first two concerts were awesome, but the third the police clamped down and it wasn’t as free wheeling and open..Thought the stage was floating in mid-air when first arrived..the trees looked like huge flowers.

  23. I was at some Rock Hill Park festivals. At least 2 I think. By the third I was out here on the Wet Coast. Seems I tried to go to Woodstock after one but they wouldn’t let me across the border – long haired teen w/ no money. That’s my memory of it at least. Haven’t checked the timelines.

    Massive acid trips, peak times . . . I spent most of the time rolling back and forth on the ground. Don’t remember having a tent or a sleeping bag. Perhaps I stayed up all weekend. People burning fence posts to stay warm at night. Bikers too – yes Satan’s Choice. I remember watching an ex-druggie turned Jesus freak preaching against the evils of drugs to an audience of wisecracking stoned teens at one of the crossroads. That’s when I formed the opinion people in need of an emotional crutch could / would find something / anything to prop themselves up with. In his case, first it was drugs and then it was Jesus – Hallelujah. Huh. Rock Hill Park eh?

    No wonder my last year at Bramalea High school was so nuts. 2 years of high school Dance Committee productions in grades 11 and 12, a couple of stints at Rock Hill Park and The Rock Pile to top things off every weekend. No wonder putting on the Comfort Soap Farm festivals (Royston BC) was such a comfortable fit. The Rennasance Fairs came much later after many fine concert prductions at The Joint, AKA 907 McPhee St, AKA The Arts Alliance. And now look at where we’ve arrived … The Vancouver Island Music Festival to the World. …. I think I have some 35 years of putting on festivals and events …

    Nice electrical panel shot. Looks a lot like the one we burned up that last year before the big transformer upgrade at the Comox Valley fairgrounds ‘cept it’s a hundred amps not 200.

    Thanks for the memories. Think I’ll web archive this page as one of the foundation blocks of my past.

  24. I was there for the 71 festival with a bunch of friends , on one day we bought all the fudgsicles the ice cream guy had and the proceeded to throw them up in the air to the crowd . People thought it was raining ice cream bars .

  25. In 1970, Rockhill was a low-key event organized by Elwood J. Hill that I attended. The bands played on the stage in the lake.

    For 1971, a bunch of us from Burlington helped Elwood out. This included (I’m only giving first names for privacy concerns) Sonny who booked the bands, Mike C. who arranged security and myself.
    We would go up to Rockhill in the winter & spring for organizing meetings and to party.
    Other people from Burlington who would come up included Derek (who actually had a vehicle so he drove), Valerie, Nancy, Gunar, Ronnie, Scott and Dave W. from Kitchener.

    (copy and paste this link for your hi-res copy of 1971handbill)

    https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B-1tuI6VnNQpSm9YTWFaZV9RNVk&usp=sharing

    Roddy H. designed the handbill. I had met Roddy a few years earlier in 1968 in Vancouver and we met again at Sheridan where Roddy was taking art and design. Pete Traynor (himself – the one and only) brought in and ran the sound system. The stage was a flatbed trailer that faced the east. That was the year the barn burned down. Crowbar, Chilliwack, Mainline and a bunch of other bands were there. Also notable was the appearance of Mike Quatro – a keyboard/synthesizer player from Detroit. He seemed to be under the influence of pharmaceuticals but he put on a great show. BTW, Mike’s little sister is Suzi Q, later famous as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days. Unfortunately (or maybe not) she wasn’t there.
    Dave J. from Burlington was a little guy with John Lennon glasses and sideburns. The bikers had ripped off
    his sleeping bag. He walked into their camp, found the sleeping bag, grabbed it and marched out. The bikers
    were in such a state of shock that they left him alone.
    Th

  26. Hey folks. There’s also a Facebook fan page for Rock Hill Park if you care to share memories https://www.facebook.com/RockHillPark

  27. Does anyone know who owns the land now? I would love to go take some pictures. When I google street view it, there are no trespassing signs all over the entrance.
    Thanks 🙂

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