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Rainbow Gathering is coming, and the Go West is going

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Looks like the First Amendment guarantee of free assembly will be flexed to its splintering point come summer. Following on the booted heels of last month’s announcement that the Hell’s Angels are bringing their unique brand of alcohol- and octane-fueled mayhem to the Garden City in July, it appears a kinder, gentler gathering will be gracing a National Forest near you. The Summer 2000 National Rainbow Gathering is tentatively scheduled for July 1-7 somewhere in or around western Montana or Idaho. Exact dates and location to be announced circa June 10.

For those unfamiliar with the great barefooted, unwashed horde that is the Rainbow Family, they describe themselves as “the largest non-organization of non-members in the world.” Including, but not limited to, former and current hippies, beatniks, nonconformists, dreadheads, crystal worshippers, anarchists, atheists, alchemists, tree worshippers, and myriad other hybrids cradled in the loving spoonful of “alternative lifestyle enthusiasts,” the Rainbows have been making a mecca of public lands across the nation by the thousands every summer since 1972. Last year’s Gathering in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest drew an estimated 25,000-30,000 people, along with hundreds of national law enforcement officials, who label the gatherings as “illegal trespass,” since no one applies for Forest Service permits.

It’s a thorny issue to litigate (as has occurred repeatedly), since the Rainbows claim no leaders, spokespeople, membership, dues or rules except “peaceful respect.” All decisions are by consensus, with membership extended to “anyone with a belly button.” Despite Big Bro’s characterization of the events as hotbeds for illegal activity, Rainbow Gatherings are celebrated more for their peaceful dancing, drumming, chanting, humming, praying, swapping (goods and partners), eating, sleeping, and other half-baked and wholly naked frivolities. Assuming the Forest Service and ATF don’t declare martial law and pee on the whole collective campfire (as has happened in previous years by photographing cars, recording license plates and barricading roads), the event is free and open to all. Bring a tent, a tambourine, a trowel, toilet paper and a Tupperware tub of tabouli.

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There is a specific, unnamable, almost eerie hush that falls over a drive-in at that precise moment when the sun dunks down below the horizon, and the first images of film flicker on the outsized silver screen. And for Missoula’s Go West Drive-In, it now seems like that hush will hang in the air forever. According to local real estate agent Tex Cates, the Garden City’s one and only ozoner—one of only a handful that remain Montana—was recently bought by an anonymous investor who “is not going to operate it as a theater.” Just what will become of the 34-year-old landmark, as well as its treasure-trove of Western-themed refreshment counter kitsch, Cates couldn’t say. But, he says, it looks likely that the Go West’s picture-showing days are over. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more. But it sounds like, as they say in the motion picture business, the end.

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