The Woodstock of the South

A festival that took place in Love Valley, North Carolina in 1970 is illustrated with a photo of a crowd at the event.

When he was eleven, Andy Barker had a vision of constructing a replica of an Old West town in North Carolina.

As a twenty-one-year-old soldier in World War II France, he wrote to his mother about his plan to create a “Western town,” claiming it was his “best idea yet since I’ve gotten my new partner, the Lord”.

By the time he was thirty, Barker had located the ideal piece of land in the Brushy Mountains near Statesville, North Carolina. He gave up his contracting job in Charlotte and moved his family (wife Ellenora, and children Tonda and Jet) to a one-room cabin without electricity or running water.

He gave the name of his town Love Valley.

Picture of people walking along the main street of Love Valley during a festival. Photo (C) Ed Buzzell.

Barker’s love for old John Wayne films may have been what drove him, but he was also a deeply religious man with an optimistic view of the future. In 1998, Conrad Ostwalt, a professor of religious studies at Appalachian State University, wrote a laudatory analysis titled Love Valley: An American Utopia.

Ostwalt observed that Barker was discontented with the lack of open space for Americans in the twentieth century, and that Barker’s ideals were based on the image of a pioneer who lived in harmony with nature and their neighbors, pursuing a life of independence and freedom.

In 2011, Barker passed away at the age of 87, having held the title of the oldest and longest-serving mayor in North Carolina’s history. The only time he wasn’t elected was in 1991 when his name was on the ballot.

For the most part, he was the one who ran the town, apart from 1971 when he chose to move away due to a rock festival he had organized, possibly to acquire funds for a new sewage system.

The event was aptly named the Love Valley Thing.

During the early days of Love Valley, Andy Barker was focused on promoting a sense of genuineness.

His principal source of guidance was Hollywood, not history; for a period, the most rigorous building regulation in the town declared that “all structures on the main street should give the impression of having been there for one hundred years.”

Before constructing a permanent home for his family, Barker constructed a church. This church eventually became part of the North Carolina presbytery, however, its services remained largely ecumenical.

His aim was straightforward and barely registered on any religious scale: Barker noted in his foxhole that “we can keep young boys busy and away from any mischief by permitting them to take part in running the place.”

At the start of its history, the town developed gradually over several decades, with a population of around seventy in the 1960s. The town was initially inhabited by Barker’s parents, and in the 20th century, more people were drawn to it for the combination of communal principles and independent spirit of the Carolina Piedmont region.

From the start, Barker was determined to win over the conservative, agrarian, and traditionally religious communities of Iredell County.

His strategy of hosting large events such as rodeos, square dances, trail rides, and Fourth of July blowouts was essential in creating an image of Love Valley as a family-friendly destination.

This approach also generated revenue for the town’s economic development, which was mostly based on the lumber, shingles, and buildings that were constructed from scratch.

This concept of a “Field of Dreams” was a success, as people were drawn to the town. Interestingly, Love Valley was a dry town for quite some time, even the saloon.

By the late 1960s, the flurry of activity in Love Valley had come to a halt. Initiatives to provide vocational training for underprivileged youth were unsuccessful and a land rush held in 1967 was not taken up by anyone.

Additionally, the local rodeo crowd was gradually being pushed out by motorcycle clubs.

Barker was enthused by 20th Century Fox’s plan to shoot the Civil War movie John Brown’s Body in and around the town in 1968, but it ended up not happening, similar to the aborted idea of relocating the gravesite of Tom Dula

(a North Carolina folk hero) to Love Valley for no clear reason other than the possibility that he had passed through the region on his way to his trial and execution.

By the beginning of summer in 1970, Andy Barker had yet to experience a rock festival.

The recent past has been a major hindrance to efforts such as this one. Woodstock was held just one year ago and, unfortunately, it was accompanied by a great deal of chaos and turmoil.

This was followed by the terrible events that took place at Altamont. Furthermore, Iredell County had its own experience concerning large music festivals when folk music started to become popular among the younger audiences.

This caused an increase in the number of hippies who attended the traditional Old Time Fiddlers Convention in Union Grove. Reports of vandalism and drug use led to protests from local religious leaders and, subsequently, to a split between the festival organizers.

Despite the many warnings, Andy Barker kept his distance. During his time creating a haven away from the rest of American culture, he failed to notice the alterations in its needs and perils.

He thought the young people just wanted a place that was welcoming, pure, secure and pure for them to relish their tunes. (It was unmistakably the youngsters’ music, all the rock and roll; Andy Barker favored Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, and big-band items.)

Organizing the Love Valley Thing took only four weeks, in stark contrast to Woodstock, for which planning had been ongoing for more than a year before the first band was booked and the final venue set.

Big Brother and the Holding Company (without Janis, of course) and Tony Joe White, whose single “Polk Salad Annie” was a hit in 1969, were hired. Local acts from the Piedmont area were also recruited.

To top it off, the Allman Brothers, whose debut album had been released the previous year, were chosen to headline.

When July arrived, Tonda, Barker’s daughter, had heard that all the legitimate tickets were gone and counterfeit ones were also being sold quickly.

An unknown artist created a commemorative program with a shirtless and bearded man with his arms in the air, making peace signs, with a headband, standing in the middle of two worlds on the cover – the Jesus/hippie continuum.

The words ‘the love valley thing’ were written in bold, red font below the image. As the week progressed, bands began to flock to the town and put the finishing touches on the large wooden stage at the rodeo arena.

Suddenly, people began to accumulate.

The exact number of attendees at the Love Valley festival is uncertain. 59,000 passes were sold for five dollars at head shops around Winston-Salem and Charlotte. It is believed that many individuals paid cash at the gate and there were also counterfeits being sold.

Moreover, a lot of people snuck in without any sort of pass by trespassing on private farms or by climbing the fences that had been put up. They left trash in creek beds, camped in fields, and bathed in livestock ponds.

The turnout for the opening night was massive, estimated to be between one hundred fifty thousand and two hundred thousand.

The memories of the festival are vague, and the same can be said for the existing evidence, despite Andy Barker’s attempts to locate some. During the summer, he hunted down the Fox people who had been let down by John Brown’s Body and had a film team make a documentary about the event.

They also built a soundproof recording studio in the old jail, which was a line on Andy Barker’s list of accomplishments as president of Love Valley Records.

At the end of the weekend, there were numerous hours of footage, but no one is certain what happened to it (or Tonda isn’t saying anything, though I strongly suspect she knows something).

Ed Begley Jr. was a part of the film crew. At the time, he was trying to earn money between his roles in films such as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) and The Bill Cosby Show (1970)Later, he was able to achieve success through the TV soap St. Elsewhere and Christopher Guest movies.

For nine days that summer, he worked as an assistant-cameraman in Love Valley and tried to capture the hippies in their home.In an email, Begley wrote that he could not remember the acts because it happened a long time ago in 1970.

At the conclusion of the weekend, only twenty-four arrests had been made in regard to drugs, which seemed too trivial given the abundance of drug use that was visible to the public (a UPI wire story on July 18th described people trying to sell hashish, mescaline, speed, LSD, and marijuana).

A physician who had offered to provide medical services at the festival ended up being a dealer; Tonda played a role in helping the DEA apprehend him at her parents’ residence.

Over the course of the festival, one hundred people were arrested, facing charges such as theft, assault, and even an attempted rape. Grant E. McIvors, a twenty-one-year-old soldier from Fort Benning, sadly passed away due to heatstroke, possibly coupled with drug use.

In addition, Harold Tester, aged twenty-seven, was shot but lived through it, as the incident took place during a scuffle with a sheriff’s deputy when he and some others were suspected of trying to get into the festival without a ticket.

At dusk, newswire services reported an occurrence that demonstrated how little Barker had grasped the folks he had invited to Love Valley. Andy Barker took the mic on the enormous wooden stage and was welcomed with a standing ovation.

According to the UPI, he said to the people, “Thank you, beautiful people. Let me tell you I love you all.”

The Australian Associated Press reported that the white-haired mayor requested the crowd to stand and sing the national anthem, though the majority of them just formed a “V” with their hands, symbolizing peace.

Barker paused in the middle of the anthem, raising his own hand in the same sign and declared, “I’m with you, but let’s sing.”

UPI reported that after numerous attempts to get a reaction failed, Barker asked the attendees to lower their heads in a moment of prayer to be thankful for living in a land where they were able to do what they were doing.

The audience expressed their disapproval when he attempted to lead them in a prayer, as they booed him.

On that day, the AAP reported that Andy Barker, clad in cowboy apparel, had walked down the dusty main street and welcomed the youth that were coming in, telling them to “try to keep it nice.”

When Sunday morning arrived, he found himself entering a clash between the Hells Angels and the Outlaws, who had followed the long-haired crowd to the town.

Tonda watched from the second-floor window of the only motel in town, as her father walked up to the two gang leaders and asked them to put down their weapons–a huge ax and a metal chain. Thankfully, they listened.

Later, Barker fell unconscious on his own stoop. It was so sudden, everyone assumed it was a heart attack. Ellenora then took him off in their station wagon, and Tonda thought she was driving him to the hospital.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Barker drove her husband to a lodge in High Meadows, which was approximately three hours away. This was a spot they used to go to occasionally in order to take a break from the duties of ruling a small town.

This time, however, they were fleeing from an invasion that Barker himself had caused.When the celebration concluded, the town was in a state of disarray and Andy Barker had been deeply affected internally.

He had been so unwaveringly receptive, so incredibly positive, so certain that his town, along with its tiny festival, could be an antidote to the risks and horrors of modern times.

He hadn’t been aware – hadn’t even been aware of how little he knew – of what that truly entailed until modern life was parading through his Main Street, camping in the nearby forests, and destroying his fences.

Regardless of the huge amount of proof to the contrary, Barker kept on assuming that the throngs were all merely idealistic teenagers. Tonda states, “‘Daddy didn’t trust that these kids were taking illegal substances,’ he said. ‘No, they don’t do drugs.

They’re simply outside, they’re liberated.'” It took a massive number of cannabis plants scattered around the town, the descendants of numerous misplaced stashes, to persuade Andy Barker otherwise.

A week after his High Meadows retreat, Andy Barker had returned, rejuvenated. He devoted a few months to helping the festival goers who had stayed in the town, and efforts of the North Iredell Betterment Association to limit the size and duration of public gatherings.

This only served to aggravate the local press, which harshly criticized Love Valley. Consequently, business plummeted and some of the locals fled.

In January 1971, Jet Barker, Andy’s eighteen-year-old son, took over the management of Love Valley Enterprises, while his father searched for solace in a one-room cabin on the other side of the mountain. It seemed to be a recurring theme at the start and end of these things.

On the weekends, Ellenora would come to visit. At one point, a reporter from the Charlotte Observer came to see the remarkable outhouse he was constructing; it was carpeted and air-conditioned.

In addition, he had plans to cover the toilet seat with mink fur. In addition to the outhouse, he also tended to a vegetable garden and a beehive.

In 1972, Barker returned to Love Valley, however, the festival was a lingering source of aggravation for him for years.

When I spoke with him once, he began discussing the festival on his own, recollecting how he had given the Allman Brothers their first opportunity to succeed and how Love Valley had been the southern version of Woodstock.

But there were other moments when he was not as sentimental. A quote he gave to Go, AirTran’s in-flight magazine in 2010 demonstrated his ongoing dissatisfaction with the festival even four decades later: “I hated that cockeyed thing.”

All in all, Tonda estimates that only around one in ten people paid for access to the festival. Consequently, her family incurred loans of around one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in order to foot the bill, resulting in financial ruin.

In mid-January, Love Valley was peaceful and quiet, waiting for the summer season. Families on round-bellied horses went up and down the semi-paved roads wearing jeans and hoodies. The main street was reminiscent of the Old West, with the buildings’ slight lean and the Christmas lights still up.

The Silver Spur Saloon had a giant wood stove to heat a five-foot radius, the rest of the giant dining room was cold and the taxidermy display was impressive. Behind a curtain was a room with a stage, where bands and Zumba classes were held a couple nights a week.

Cars are not permitted on the small stretch of road known as Main Street in Love Valley, but the remainder of the town is disorganized and constructed around this commercial area.

The houses, sporting either tin roofs or vinyl siding, are usually equipped with an aged horse trailer or two in the yard. The roads have been labeled after the Barker grandchildren, such as Tori Pass and Drew Trail. Cacti are in abundance.

Post-festival and Andy Barker’s two returns, Love Valley took a step back. The rodeo was re-established and, due to a combination of the lingering hippies and a renewed interest in its Old West theme.

The city developed into a place that catered to artisans–blacksmiths, leatherwork artisans, and macrame. The motorcycle community also returned to the area; at times, it could be quite chaotic with all the partying and drinking.

The legacy of the Love Valley Thing remains present today. In some ways, it is quite literal, as evidenced by the waiter at Silver Spur Saloon, Taj, who was named after Taj Mahal, the blues musician.

It is said that his father, Terry, who goes by the name of Honky, made a trek from Mississippi to Love Valley in early July of 1970. On the way, he took acid and got lost, yet still ended up in the town a week after the festival had already ended. He then met a woman and Taj was born not too long after.

Tav, who has no connection to the Taj, shares a story that is similar to mine. I had posted a query on an Allman Brothers fan message-board looking for stories from the festival, and Tav’s was the only response I received.

He had a close relationship with the Allman Brothers, having used his dad’s lake house near Macon to record Idlewild South and having seen them play at the Atlanta International Pop Festival the weekend before.

He was, however, too out of it to make it to Love Valley, as he was on speed and had been impacted by a friend’s bad trip that resulted in a hospitalization. Tav then writes about an angelic figure who showed up and offered to take him to Love Valley, but he could not recall the man’s name.

Tav was close with a musical group, Flood, who had the misfortune of having their gear submerged when a roadie drove their truck into a lake near the festival. This event is not referenced in their song, “Love Valley, U.S.A.”, a tribute to Andy Barker and his “welcoming nature”.

Taj, who was born only because of his father’s fascination with the area, is part of the newer population of Love Valley, one that does not have any reverence for the town’s western heritage.

He has never ridden a horse due to his distaste for the cowboy lifestyle (as well as the lack of need to take care of a mountain bike).

Love Valley was not a place of fantasy for him, rather he was ridiculed at school for living in a ‘cowboy town’, and in the town itself he faced mockery for his ‘hippie’ look.

There were clashes between the cowboys, hippies, and bikers, and the usual issues of small Southern towns such as gossip, racism, and insularity were present. As is often the case, Taj left Love Valley as soon as he had the chance.

For close to ten years, he had been jumping around from one job to another while dealing with homelessness; he was even living in a tent until winter came and snowed.

On Christmas Day, his dad came to see him and his collapsed shelter, deciding that Taj should return home for a while to get his life in order and save some money.

It was meant to be temporary, Taj says, but that was three years ago. Now at the age of twenty-nine, he has a better understanding of Love Valley than he did when he was younger.

Hippies now get tattoos, cowboys smoke pot, and there aren’t as many quarrels, which he describes as integrated.

He also has friends, a mountain bike, and a decent job at the saloon. I asked him if he was ever going to leave, and he answered with a definite “No. I’m never leaving again. I’m home.”

The spirit of Andy Barker, who founded Love Valley, is still present, even though his legacy is different from what he had planned.

Upon my arrival there, I could feel his absence in a very concrete way. His old house at the end of Main Street was complete with an empty parking space and two signs.

One was a wooden sign with letters in red that read: “andy barker–mayor”. The other, right beneath it, declared this spot to be “reserved for the world’s best grandpa”. It was almost as if he had just left temporarily and would be returning shortly.

Despite this, the members of Barker’s family no longer embrace his “open arms” strategy (especially for raising funds) and this is possibly a prudent decision. Love Valley has learnt from past errors.

The same issues that initially presented a problem for the town hosting a festival still exist today; a lack of resources, a lack of a secure perimeter, and not enough persons nearby who can manage a gathering of more than a few hundred rodeo admirers.

Tonda chuckles as she declares, “I’m out of here if anyone repeats that!”

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