Playing Near Peoria: The Buffalo Springfield at Western Illinois University in the Spring of 1967 • By Jeff Putnam

by MBIP


On the weekends, I’m going to have contributing writers and photographers doing the posts here. It’ll give me a little break to get ready for next week and I feel it’ll give the blog a more varied voice. Today’s contributing writer is Jeff Putnam, you can see his photo and bio here. Okay, Jeff, the blog’s all yours, for what it’s worth.

  The Buffalo Springfield

The Buffalo Springfield

In the spring of 1967, I was a freshman at Western Illinois University. In Macomb, for you out-of-staters. It was my odd good fortune to be on campus at the time that a band of future legendary status was hired to play for a school dance on campus in the girls gym.

Buffalo Springfield was only around for a couple of years but left their mark and lead to the formation of two other legendary musical groups.  At the time of the dance, they were known only for their top ten hit "For What It's Worth" written by Stephen Stills.  That song would become an  anthem of the counter-culture, anti-war, black power, flower power social revolution that had just begun. But not yet in Macomb, Illinois.

Stills went on to form acoustic rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, and Nash with David Crosby of The Byrds and Graham Nash of The Hollies. Joining them later and performing and recording with them on an on-again off-again basis was the greatest Buffalo Springfield alum Neil Young.

But that night in the girls gym, Stills, Young, Richie Furay, Bruce Palmer, and Dewey Martin were just some scruffy young, long-haired dudes from California who had a song on the radio.

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There was a surprisingly large crowd for the dance that mild spring night. Buffalo Springfield was set up on a temporary stage of portable risers, just like the local bands who played for teen dances.  They were set up against the west wall by the entrance door.  The band didn't look like anyone watching them. The crowd, including me, was dressed in what I would call dull preppy outfits.  We were still trying to figure out how to dress casual, forget dressing hip.  What I remember of the band, they band wore fringed suede jackets, denim shirts, jeans, and cowboy boots. And there were as many "longhairs" in the band as on the entire WIU campus. That would change dramatically next year.

As the music started, nobody danced. Of course not. This wasn't dance music. It was music with a message to be listened to.  The audience stood in place and sometimes swayed. There were no chairs. Excitement was palpable as the crowd soaked in the freshness and newness of the music, the musicians, and their message. It was the wave of the future.  A coming tsunami really.  Something was happening here!

I initially watched from the side of the stage near the entrance doors. After a short while I sidled up the the back row of risers that held the drummer and sat at the edge.  No one shooed me away or really even paid attention to me. I had a great seat eight feet from drummer Dewey Martin and twelve feet behind Stills, Young, and Furay. It was thrilling watching the frontline of guitarists with the drums pounding in my ears.  Bass was on the opposite side. Occasionally I would retrieve a drumstick and slide it toward Martin's throne.

Live, Buffalo Springfield was tight with luscious harmonies. Young's lead guitar sounded primitive and searing to me.  Stills sounded more melodic and playful. I had their first record album so I was familiar with most of the music they were playing. I just couldn't believe I was seeing and hearing them like this live! It was the first of a great many bands that I've heard through the years, but rarely under circumstances like this! Everything would change with civic arenas and auditioriums. I couldn't believe my good luck!

After the show, the band gathered on the sidewalk just outside the entrance to the gym. A white Ford Econoline van was parked in front of them.  I didn't see any roadies or another vehicle. The crowd leaving the dance streamed past them but didn't approach these exotic creatures from L. A. I hesitantly walked up to them. They were friendly and down-to-earth, but wanted to load up and get going.  I talked to Stills and Young. Young asked if I knew of a place where they could get something to eat. It was after 10 p.m. and restaurants were already closed and late night fast food didn't exist. And there were no all-night convenience stores and all gas stations were closed and didn't sell food anyway.

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I looked at Young in particular and the rest in general. Long-haired and dressed kind of odd and showy for the times and locale.  They had the appearance of what was becoming known as a "hippie" and looked as out of place in Macomb on that night as a reggae band at a tractor pull.

There was an all night truck stop on a curve leading out of town. There would be no other chance at food for many, many miles at this time of night. I gave them directions and thanked them and wished them well. Then I headed back to my dorm. Elated.

But I've often wondered how their dining experience went. Maybe similar to the black jazz, blues, and early rock musicians who toured the South in the '40's, '50's, and early '60's. A couple of years later in the movie "Easy Rider" I saw a confrontation in a diner between redneck locals and travelling "longhairs". It could be scary being a stranger in a strange land. At the time, I was somewhat relieved that there was nothing in the Macomb paper on Monday about a late night ruckus at the truck stop.

  Carrie Snodgress and Neil Young

Carrie Snodgress and Neil Young

About six years later I was living in California, south of San Francisco. I was at De Anza Community College near Mountain View for a pre-recording concert with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chicago's Siegal-Schwall Blues Band. I had come out of the auditorium on intermission with my friend Summer Hooker from Memphis and looked over to my right. There, by the doorway, was Neil Young and Carrie Snodgress trying to look inconspicuous. I looked at him. He looked at me. What are the odds? But that's a story for another time.

Further Reading: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Discogs and Occupy Colleges.