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Remembering the Great Piano Drop of 1968 Original harp donated to DFA for cultural center

  • Written by Lisa Allen

From his vantage point in the chartered helicopter on the way to his small farm off Cherry Valley Road on that sunny late April day in 1968, Larry Van Over was astonished as he looked down at the unusual number of cars on the roads, most of which seemed to be heading in the same direction. “Gee, there are a lot of people out today,” he reportedly commented.

Continuing on, he soon realized a lot more people than he had anticipated had paid attention to the announcement on KRAB-FM that a piano was to be dropped from a helicopter onto his property east of Duvall. Plus, the mention that a rock band – Country Joe and the Fish – would be playing drew even more of the curious to the event.

harpAt Jack Straw Cultural Center in Seattle, Elizabeth Hill surveys the piano’s harp while original home movie coverage of the 1968 Great Piano Drop plays in the background. (Photo by Lisa Allen)

Van Over, a KRAB producer and musician, with some assistance from others at KRAB (it was, after all, supposed to be a fundraiser for the station), planned out – sort of – the logistics of the thing. The pilot was to pick up the piano that had been placed close by, lift it, and then drop it on a woodpile. The hope was that it would make some sort of interesting sound as it hit the ground.

Van Over had previously heard – on the same radio station – the sound of a piano being destroyed by sledge hammers. Disappointed at the result, he began to wonder what would happen if the instrument was dropped from a significant height. So he went looking for a piano, found one at a local charity for $25, dropped it off at his farm and then chartered a helicopter from Boeing Field, thereby cementing the destruction of someone’s old living room upright into local lore for generations.

Among those on the road that day, journeying to the event, were then-ninth grader Andy Weiss, who had heard about it on the radio and hitched a ride along Woodinville-Duvall Road to get there, and Eunice Kosters along with her husband Ken, who had just returned from active duty in South Korea.

“I was a weekend hippie,” said Weiss, who recalled his memories of the exciting but brief event during a taped discussion of the “Great Piano Drop” on March 17 at Jack Straw Cultural Center in the University District. The discussion, which took place just shy of the 51st anniversary (April 28), was aimed at further documenting the event with the help of some first-person stories.

Other than Seattle historian Paul Dorpat, then-editor of the Helix (the hippie newspaper), Andy and Eunice were the only ones who actually attended the memorable “Drop” who could be rounded up for the occasion. Van Over passed away a couple of years ago.

“I wanted to hear Country Joe and the Fish,” Weiss explained. “It cost a dollar to get in and for an extra dollar you could get a hit of LSD (not an actual part of the event but separate, Dorpat insisted). It was great music and great weather.”’

Eunice remembered that she thought it would be fun to go up and take a look. “I had never seen so many people in Duvall. We didn’t pay to get in and didn’t see anyone else pay either. But later a lot of them decided to move out here and became important parts of the community.”

The attendance was eventually estimated to be about 3,000 people. The population of Duvall at that time was 400 or so.

As the drop was being planned, one thing the organizers didn’t expect was the number of people who showed up (they were thinking maybe 300). Dorpat, who was picked to be master of ceremonies, said he asked the band to come and play there. “The band played once before the drop and a couple of times afterward,” he said. “I was asked to emcee because I was editor of the Helix and had some authority. I was also gregarious and loved the attention.”

Dorpat was also charged with keeping visitors away from the woodpile where the piano was supposed to land. “I was worried about injury,” he said. “My role was to say on the mike: ‘Please stay back from the woodpile!’”
Find out how the piano drop ended in next month’s Valley View.

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