In July of 1969 the world came to Hampton, GA. Somewhere close to 100,000 hippies descended on our little sleepy town. I was there in my bell bottom jeans. I saw my first and only naked people who were not related to me, not counting a handful of PE locker rooms. I was 12, almost 13. Kids always count the age they are about to be. Some images you cannot erase.
The place. Atlanta Motor Speedway. The very house where Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, and Fireball Roberts burned up the track turned into a frenzy of rock music and other activities which my mother warned me about.
I never got inside the event. But I didn’t have to. You could hear the music from the moon. Canned Heat, “Goin’ Up the Country”. Joe Cocker, “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”. Led Zeppelin pounding out “Whole Lotta Love”. The stuff I played on a 33LP in my bedroom was flowing out over the south grandstands live.
It is reported that “the concession stands were woefully inadequate.” An actual news report. Every ice machine within striking distance of the race track had been raided. The shelves in the stores around town were cleaned out. Which is probably why my Dad conceived and carried out a plan that has become one of the more notable stories of my life.
I have no idea how any actual conversation went, but it had to go something like this.
Dad: “All those fine young people over there at the race track have to be hungry and thirsty. We could sell them donuts and water.”
Mama: “You’re nuts.”
Dad and I got to the Krispy Kreme in West End, near the Sears Roebuck store, before daylight. The camper shell was on the Chevy long bed and we filled that sucker up to the roof and back to the tail gate with white and green dozen boxes of the finest donuts on the planet. We stuffed the cab with gallon jugs of water filled out of the spigot from our well. And we went to the show.
Those fine young people were sure happy to see us. We drove through the fields around the race track and peddled our goods. The cash flowed. I have one vivid memory for which my mother would never forgive Dad. “John, you shouldn’t be taking that boy over there in all that mess.”
We parked the truck in the middle of crowd. Blankets and people everywhere. This one guy threw back his blanket, got up, and walked up stark-naked to the back of our truck. He poured out the remaining contents of a Jack Daniel’s bottle as he headed our way.
“You got any water in there?” he asked. I couldn’t speak. I tried not to look.
“Sure,” Dad said. And he handed us a dollar. Two donuts and a drink. I always wondered where a naked guy keeps his money.
Woodstock might have been bigger, but this festival was first and it belonged to Hampton.
The shop keepers were a little nervous. Small children were told to go to their rooms and not come out. No one knew what to expect from a crowd like this. But I never heard, I don’t remember hearing of anything terrible happening.
I know that the Hampton Civil Defense guys went out with one of the fire trucks and hosed off the crowd a few times. No trouble. This was not crowd control. They were just hot and tired and had nowhere to take a shower. They were like kids playing in the backyard hose. Some of them found their way up the road to Lake Talmadge and over to Lake Cindy. I guess they were trespassing, but they meant no harm. They were just a mass of lost and tired people who wanted to swim so they could cool off from the July heat.
Most sensible adults just stood and looked on from behind closed doors. No one was quite sure what to do. None of us had ever seen anything like this before. Most of the kids like me were all bug eyed that Rock and Roll had come to town.
I still listen to Led Zeppelin in my truck from time to time. “You need cooling. Baby I’m not fooling.” My mind always goes back to that summer of 1969. To the man whom I thought at the time was the coolest Dad on earth. The man who always told me to “turn that music down” took me on an adventure that I’ve never forgotten.
There is one mental image I can’t get rid of, though.
Every time I eat a Krispy Kreme donut, I see naked people.