For years now, a bunch of friends with connections to the Park City and Salt Lake street scenes have gathered over the Fourth of July out at the Bertagnole sheep ranch in East Canyon to celebrate their independence from the mainstream.
They’re a wild bunch, to be sure, but also collectively embody much more than their share of our species’ overall artistic sensibility. You got your fine-arts painters and top-shelf acoustic musicians and vocalists interacting in a cultural stew with production geeks from the film biz and practitioners of the audio, video, and photographic arts.
Their genealogy harkens back to such earlier haunts as the old Saber Club, the One Big Union, the Alamo, the Quarter Note, the Handlebar, the Red Bell, Mama Eddie’s Right-On Beanery, the Forge, the Cosmic Aeroplane, and the "Bastille Family Reunion" (more on this later).
Myself, I’ve only partaken of past rituals at the ranch for music, gourmet grub, and campfires, never staying for more than a few hours at a time. This year, however, I headed right out after the KPCW party on Friday and stayed until Monday afternoon.
It was a weekend of rapture among the aspens and splendor in the grass as sounds of music, crackling firewood, and tinkling ice cubes filled the air. And if that wasn’t enough upside for the space-time, staying in touch with the outside world required an inordinate effort. At least that was our story and we stuck to it.
There is something to be said for a landscape dominated by camp chairs, coolers, tents, sheep camps, pop-up trailers, coolers, mandolins, guitars, fiddles, dog-eared paperbacks, dog-eared dogs, coolers, sumptuous repasts, and jugs of distilled blue agave (some of it aged) for breakfast. Did I mention the coolers?
One of the special attractions this year revolved around onetime-local Texas Joe Quinlivan’s traveling circus. As special-effects coordinator on HBO’S "Big Love," Joe Q., as he is reverently known, in partnership with his dogs Howdy and Shepp, hauled in a stage, booked a band (the Dirty Dog All-Stars) complete with sound and lights and, generally, had his way with the joint.
To Bill and Julie Bertagnole, along with son Brandon, fell the wrangler duties of keeping the revelers in line, mostly in an upright position, and well-fed and hydrated. Like swallows to Capistrano, regulars to the event, from the Kona Coast of Hawaii to Memphis, Tennessee, and beyond, return each year.
More than a few of these regular attendees also have ties to a famous gathering from the summer of 1970 known as the "Bastille Family Reunion." During a time when such meetings-of-like-minds were frowned upon by the local constabulary, a conspiracy of sorts made it all possible.
Discovering that if you were having a "family reunion" at one of the local parks, rather than just a gathering of "crackpot protesters," that live music could then be included in your gathering, a contingent of local counterculture types got a permit for a "Bastille Family Reunion" from the Salt Lake Department of Parks and Public Areas for July 14, known worldwide as Bastille Day since the French Revolution of 1789.
What the Bastille family generally held in common centered around a huge revulsion to the Vietnam War, a total disgust for President Richard M. Nixon and all he stood for, and a firm belief that they held the moral high ground in their ongoing battle against the status quo. This, of course, included their choice of recreational anxiety inhibitors.
Well, today is the fortieth anniversary of that illustrious gathering, although the actual reunion won’t take place until this Saturday. Once again the "Bastille" family will gather from around the globe, recall those now gone, laughingly remember past antics, and, possibly, if the Reverend Willis has anything to do with it, toast a fetching photo of the long-ago leather-clad Bernadine Dohrn.
My favorite Bastille family yarn actually took place on Pioneer Day later that month when a trio of pranksters climbed to the "U" on the hillside behind the University of Utah toting end-rolls of newsprint fashioned into other similarly-sized letters of the alphabet to go above and below the "U."
Tricky Dick, you see, would actually be driving down North Temple from the airport with a perfect view of the "U" on his way to meet with his advisors in the LDS Church office building prior to attending the rodeo and snorting some green Jell-O. The Bastille boys just wanted to make sure he was properly welcomed.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.
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