Of course as hippies, we had a resident rock band, La Banda Plenty. I was the lead guitar player, sometimes wondering if I was doing more for our group as a guitar player than as the camp’s mechanic. Our band developed a reputation throughout Guatemala. We were extremely naive about our invincibility, writing songs with revolutionary lyrics about the social injustices in Guatemala. We became very popular among the idealistic young folks.
We were invited to play in Guat City at a “battle of the bands” in a big outdoor arena. We had no idea what we were getting into. We had a large flatbed truck that we used during the week to haul water pipe and construction materials for our projects. We all (the entire camp of about forty people and the band) piled into the truck and I drove, negotiating the hairpin turns of the road into Guatemala City.
We arrived in downtown Guatemala at the arena, and walked into this gigantic forum with thousands of Guatemalan youth hanging out waiting for the bands to start. The producers of the event set up each band at a different corner of the arena. We were scheduled to be the last band. When we walked in with our psychedelic tie-dies, Guatemalan trajé, and our beautiful hippie women, we stuck out like, I would say sore thumbs, but that isn’t quite the right metaphor. Anyway, every head in the place turned. We just smiled back and waved, doing our hippie thing.
The first band played Beatle tunes. They were a Guatemalan band, and did not speak English, but you could tell that they had listened very carefully to Beatle albums as they sang phonetically, “End in dee end, the glove yoo chake, is evil to the glove yoo lake.”
Another band played, and we waited. As I looked around I noticed many Guatemalan kids rolling these humongous joints, taking a handful of grass and sprinkling it into a sheet of paper, then rolling it up and smoking it. I started to realize that the situation was looking rather dangerous.
We were in the middle of a fascist dictatorship, right in Guatemala City, and the kids around us were having a smoke-in. Oh boy!
Suddenly, someone says, “Hey it’s Banda Plenty’s turn to play.” We cranked up our guitars, jumped on stage, and started our usual trippy hippie Grateful Dead type set. We were into our second number when I looked out into the audience and noticed that the whole crowd was surging towards one point right in the middle of the arena. It was like there were energy lines all flowing towards a center spot. Wow, I thought, this is one cool hallucination. I followed the lines to the center of the energy vortex and there in the middle of the vortex I saw one of our hippie carpenters (Ormand Lee) trying to step into the middle of two guys who were about to do surgery on each other’s faces. The entire arena started to surge towards these guys and I realized that we had a potential riot on our hands.
Thomas Wartinger, our paramedic, was running our light show, which consisted of a powerful light mounted behind a wooden disc with a hole in it that was attached to a mechanical drill. Thomas would sit at this drill spinning it during our more psychedelic jams, giving our music a strobe light effect. Anyway, with this riot just about to commence, I yelled to Thomas, “Got any ideas?” He yelled back, “Turn your guitar up to TEN and do HENDRIX!” I turned around to Pedro and Michael and yelled, “Purple Haze!” and turned my amp up to ELEVEN, in the tradition of Spinal Tap, and proceeded to do Jimi’s best, spitting out squealing feedback and sustaining notes. Our women dancers started to gyrate, moving their hips back and forth in galactic dimensions, and suddenly, the crowd looked up at us and forgot all about the fight. We had grabbed their attention by the psychedelic ponytails and turned a potential riot and BADddddd trip into a rocking event. We soared on thanks to the spirit of Jimi H. into the night, leaving a bunch of satisfied souls.
Shelly Freeman remembers, “Our Banda Plenty got up there and was singing a Jimmy Cliff song: ‘Remake the world; be you black;be you white —Remake the world.”