Eugene@150: Creamery still grateful 40 years after 'Dead concert

Eugene@150: Creamery still grateful 40 years after 'Dead concert

EUGENE, Ore. - A struggling dairy teamed up with The Grateful Dead on a hot summer day to make one of the most memorable events in Eugene history. 

This final "Eugene at 150" story actually stretches from Eugene to encompass Springfield and Veneta as well.

A struggling natural food business decided to hold a concert to raise money. After booking one of the most popular bands of the time over 20,000 people bought tickets.

On August 27th, 1972 The Grateful Dead pack them in at a concert in the same Veneta field that is now home to the Oregon Country Fair. General Manager for the fair Charles Ruff is still amazed by how well the event played out.

“Pretty amazing what folks went through to pull off an event like that out here with far less infrastructure and facilities than we have today," said Ruff, while walking through the Oregon Country Fairgrounds.

40 years ago, the Springfield Creamery company was almost broke when owner Chuck Kesey and his brother (and Author) Ken, hatched a plan.

"Gee--maybe we could ask the Grateful Dead if they'd do a concert up here," explained Sue Kesey, Chuck's business partner and wife.

It took little coercion to get the band on board. Rare film from the Dead show survives today in a movie never released, called "Sunshine Daydream." (Highlights of the film are shown in the television
version of this story.)

Organizers had a creative approach to working within Springfield Creamery’s low budget. Tickets to the concert were printed on Nancy's Yogurt labels. Hand-drawn posters advertised the gig.  

Around 20,000 Dead-heads packed the field despite 107 degree heat.  As for the music?

"Nobody knew that this was going to become a 'maker' of a concert, which it actually is." Sue Kesey commented.

The scene in Veneta was a little bit different 40 years ago. Charles Ruff said that Highway 126 did not exist when the concert was held, and the stage was in what's now parking space for the Country Fair.  

Ruff said that to this day it's still called the Dead field. 

"The Fair moved here earlier that same year ... so I think that was where the brainchild came from," said Ruff.

Springfield Creamery said that it pulled quite a profit from the show. Chuck said that they took at least $10,000, helping to cement the Creamery's place in the growing West Coast natural foods movement.
The creamery is still cranking out all that Nancy's Yogurt today from its Eugene plant on Airport Road. Chuck Kesey said it is still a miracle that the ’72 concert was such a success.

"We didn't know how. We were really dumb at it -- but we did it." Kesey said.

This year Springfield Creamery celebrates 52 years in business. Springfield Creamery still makes 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of yogurt at the Eugene plant, 5 days a week.