The 1980 Atlantic Folk Festival and Outlaw Bikers Convention

…Yeah, you read that right… Outlaw Bikers Convention

The recent motorcycle gang violence in Waco,Texas brought back memories of my summer of 1980. I’d finished my second year of college at Mount Allison University, and was working on campus at the Alumni Association and living in “the Monastery” with 10 or so other students.

tough biker

A biker from the 1970s. Image found on Heather Runnion’s MotorcycleMonday on

The Monastery had been a real monastery at one time, but it had been re-purposed by the University as a rather exclusive men’s dorm during the school year. In the summer, it was mixed student housing for those of us who were working on campus.

I made some good friends there – notably Heather and Darlene who lived on the second floor near me. We passed a lot of our time goofing around, and invented a game with a big beach ball that we called Spaz Ball – basically whacking the ball back and forth across the long open corridor upstairs. (we often did this with Billy Joel’s album The Stranger blasting from Heather’s room)

I don’t remember whose idea it was to go to the Atlantic Folk Festival in Nova Scotia that year – maybe my sister’s (who drove us there in her baby blue VW bug) or Heather – who was always organizing things – but the four of us: my sister, Heather, Darlene and I decided to go and we packed up the little VW with a tent and our stuff and drove off for a weekend of outdoor music and folksy fun.

It was held on a farmer’s land – a farmer who in retrospect probably really regretted hosting it. By the last day of the weekend the land was covered with nasty garbage and churned into an unholy mess of mud and yuck. (I will never forget the stink in the air – it will live on forever)

There were a lot of people there and the camping was cramped – tents were pitched inches from each other – literally side by side and many lines deep.

It seemed like the organizers hadn’t anticipated the turnout and the port-o-potties had long line ups and quickly became stinky, messy, slimy sludgy areas. Hygiene was not an option – especially with rain and drizzle adding to the quagmire.

arlo guthrie outlasting the blues

This album came out in June of 1979 before the festival we attended. Arlo Guthrie – Outlasting the Blues

We did get to see and hear some awesome music however – the stage was set at the bottom of a gentle sloping hill, and Arlo Guthrie came out to perform on the last morning of the last day.

The reason I’m reminded of this event was because it was also a North American biker’s convention. I’m not talking about middle class suburbanites who get nice shiny motorcycles and ride them on weekends, I’m talking really mean, tough, criminal bikers from all over Canada and the US. There were A LOT of bikers there – everywhere.

I had the lovely distinction of having one of the bikers in Satan’s Choice follow me around all weekend: I found myself ever so menacingly tracked around the festival site, whispered to from behind in crowds, and intently stared at by him along with a bunch of his terrifying buddies wherever I went.

Hell's Angels by Bill Ray 1965, TIME/LIFE magazine

I’m sure the bikers at the Atlantic Folk Festival were all really sweet guys and loved their mothers. Photo by LIFE photographer Bill Ray, taken for Time Magazine 1965 – article on Hell’s Angels. (

He was pretty scary looking – lean and wiry, with hollow cheeks, long black hair, a bandana around his head, and a Van Dyke beard and mustache. He wore a gang jacket with the sleeves ripped out, showing his heavily tattooed arms (which in 1980 wasn’t something everybody did like they do today – it was a real sign of toughness back then) and he had a pet rat that sat on his shoulders and neck (that part didn’t bother me at least).

But his persistent stalking of me was unnerving  – I quickly realized I couldn’t be alone anywhere for any amount of time.

70s biker

Apparently people think of 1970 bikers with nostalgia – those rough and scary guys really were something. (found on MotorcyleMonday on

There was a lot of drinking going on and a lot of drugs too. One morning we got up early and came upon more than one dead body – probably dead from overdoses (or given the guest list, maybe murdered) – lying on the dewy grass, with their skin a pale shade of blue. Staff and paramedics were in the process of removing them before the crowds got up and moved in…

The four of us stayed away from any large gatherings at night after the stage shut down. We tried to avoid the bonfires where the most out-of-control people seemed to be. And we tried to steer clear of the bikers riding their roaring machines through the tents and crowds. In the end the only violence we directly encountered was from the group tenting behind us.

They were playing their music really loud, they were really drunk and really foul mouthed, and just inches from our heads. It was late at night (like 3am late). We asked them politely to keep it down and they were, naturally, verbally abusive to us. Then, they moved their truck up to our tent and ran the exhaust into it – nice people. I don’t remember what happened next (probably due to carbon monoxide poisoning) but I think we got help from some people, somewhere, and the creeps stopped trying to kill us and moved somewhere else.

It was a memorable life event. It was also the first and last huge weekend music festival I ever went to and camped at… and it was my first and last outlaw biker’s convention ever.


Byway Boy – a horse story

When I was in Junior High (1973-1976) I had a friend who worked part time in the stables at the local race track near Port Elgin, New Brunswick (Canada). The track was, as far as I knew at the time, a training track for Harness Racing. My friend was especially fond of a beautiful gelding there named Byway Boy. Byway Boy was golden brown and was young; only two or three years old.


A painting by my father Bernard Safran, aptly called Harness Racing. It depicts the former racetrack Brunswick Downs, in Dieppe, New Brunswick, Canada. Oil on masonite, approx 24″ x 41.5″, October 1991.

One night someone stole into the stables and slit Byway Boy’s tendons on his hind legs – a cruel, horrible thing to do. The wounds healed but he was never able to race again and his owner, unable to use the damaged horse, was going to have him destroyed. My friend asked the owner to give him some time to see if someone would buy the horse – the owner agreed and offered to sell Byway Boy to anyone for a few dollars.

I was heartbroken by the story.

I told my cousin about the horse, hoping she’d be able to help somehow, as she had her own horse and knew people in the area. Byway Boy had not been trained as yet for pleasure riding, but he could be with patience.

Soon after, it was arranged for us to go see him  – he’d been taken to a pasture near a friend’s house in the Port Elgin area, where we could look him over. So my cousin and sister and I went.

stubbs whistlejacket

This is a portrait of a famous English racehorse of the 18th century named Whistlejacket. I remember Byway Boy being very handsome with a similar shining, golden-hued coat. Whistlejacket by George Stubbs, c 1762 – life size portrait, National Gallery, London.

He was easily spooked and skittish, and was not used to being saddled or ridden. I vaguely remember several people were there to try the horse, and they rode him first – they got rocky rides and were not impressed with the difficult horse. I remember my cousin riding him too – and her experience showed, as she took him through his paces and he behaved for her. And then it was my turn.

I calmed myself and approached him quietly. He let me get on him and I rode him without thought – just feeling – leaving him enough room in the reins to move his head, guiding him with my legs and weight. We cantered around the field. It felt right and he didn’t fight me, and I fell in love with him.

I wanted him so badly. I wanted to take him home with me – he was so beautiful.

Eatons catalogue 1976

Eaton’s was a Canadian company much like Sears.

Even before I knew about Byway Boy, I’d already taken the Eaton’s and Sears catalogues and figured out how much fencing would cost for pasturing a horse; we lived in a farmhouse with a number of barns at the time so that wasn’t a problem; and hay and straw weren’t too expensive, especially since we lived in the country (of course I never considered the cost of a farrier or a vet or any of the other myriad expenses of having a horse). My father had already said no to me having my own horse – he didn’t want to have the extra expense and responsibility, and what would happen when I went off to school?

Someone eventually did take Byway Boy, but after that I don’t know what happened to him. It was a sad story, but unfortunately not that unusual for the racing business – race horses are for making money – they are a commodity – not pets. And to some people animals are even less than that…

… and some people will do anything for money.

Even in the sport of show jumping there are stories of atrocities to the horses – anywhere people can make money there can be someone corrupt and hardened enough to hurt animals.

I was at Spruce Meadows during a competition years ago, and found myself sitting in the stands next to a few farriers. When one well known competitor came onto the field they told me that he sometimes taped tacks onto the backs of his horses’ legs to make them jump higher.

Equestrian legs

This is a random picture of three equestrian riders in competition – it isn’t of the “bad guy” in my story.

It may have just been innuendo and nasty rumor, but the other things they told me about this man were true and came to light a few years later in the press. I could never stand to watch him ride after that.

No wonder when years later I was reading the book Black Beauty to my daughters, that I got to a part where I just couldn’t stop sobbing (when Ginger dies) – and my youngest took the book from me and read it out loud – braver than me, or perhaps still too innocent to understand the agony that animals endure at the hands of people.

horses london 19th c

The book Black Beauty was written by Anna Sewell in 18 77 to educate the public on the abuse and suffering of horses. It became a best seller, and has since been lauded as one of the most influential books of all times in the battle against animal cruelty. The eponymous horse, Black Beauty worked as a cab horse in London after he was injured in an accident. This photograph shows a street scene in London, England, from the 19th century – taken around the time that Black Beauty was written. You get a sense of the multitude of horses that were used everywhere. (Note that the double decked buses in the picture are being pulled by only two horses each)