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Duvall Rotary re-creates ‘Great Piano Drop’ of 1968

  • Written by Lisa Allen

$3,500 raised for MDA, $4,000 for Rotary projects

DUVALL–Roger Jones and others in the Duvall Rotary thought it would be fun.

And they were right.

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SpongeBob rode the piano on the way down.
"It was so much fun," Jones said afterwards, "although it would have been better if it hadn’t been so hot."

 

It was indeed a blistering hot and muggy day, but in the end, not only did everyone at the event have a great time reliving the past (except for that poor piano), last month’s re-creation of the 1968 Great Piano Drop raised $3,500 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and $4,000 to Duvall Rotary for local community projects.

The attendance went far above even Jones’ expectations. People filled the viewing areas along the hillside and Safeway parking lot.

"There were about 2,000 people here on Sunday," Jones said. "I was stunned."

Jones, manager of Duvall Safeway, timed the "drop" to coincide with the August 20 and 21 Evergreen State BBQ championships in the Safeway parking lot.

A used piano was procured free (from Craigslist), painted white and folks were invited to sign their names. Roger Powell, of CDK Construction, offered a crane to drop the piano from, with local resident Mike Marty helping.

"We wanted to keep the event going for two days," Jones said. "So we decided to do the drop on the second day to keep up interest. The hardest part was figuring out how to let it (the piano) go. It was about 75 feet up."

Jones explained that a recent presentation at a Rotary meeting by local resident Andy Weiss, who was at the 1968 event, sparked the idea. He then discussed it with area historian Paul Dorpat who was also at the original "drop."

"I couldn’t have done it without Paul and Andy," Jones said. "Also Roger Powell and Mike Marty. They were indispensable."

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Visitors signed their names on the piano before the drop. The artwork was done by Roger Jones’ daughter, Ranae Yugawa.
The 1968 Piano Drop, which is the stuff of legends, was the brainchild of then-Duvall resident Larry Van Over and took place at Van Over’s farm on Cherry Valley Road in the spring of 1968.

 

The piano, purchased from a charity for $25, was to be dropped from a helicopter. The idea was to try to find out what it would sound like when it hit the ground.

But things went a bit awry as the pilot struggled to let go of the piano that had begun to take on a mind of its own as it swayed beneath the aircraft.

Dorpat explained what happened next in a recent e-mail: "I acted as the ‘master of ceremonies’ – struggling to get people to stand back and away from the target, a woodpile. While the piano fell, my heart – and stomach! – climbed up my throat.

"Happily the piano missed the people and the woodpile and just went plunk in wet grass. Soon after the piano hit in the shallow gully beneath Larry Van Over’s home it was rushed and plundered like the Maenads descending on the god of music, Orpheus.

"But the piano’s harp was much too heavy to carry away – easily. Instead after the crowd had dispersed, someone – with help – lifted it onto their pickup and took it home, where they stored it for more than 40 years."

Dorpat said he got a call last year from the widow of the man who got and stored it, offering it to him. Another friend picked it up – with help – and has it in storage.

Dorpat added that the drop was prelude to the 1968 Sky River Rock and Lighter than Air festival, which was the first outdoor rock-jazz festival staged in the country and not on a rented stage.

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Youthful onlookers check to see if the destroyed piano still had some music left. It did.

 

"That first Sky River (there were two more) was held up the road from Duvall on Betty Nelson’s Strawberry Farm, a little ways south of Sultan."

Unlike the ’68 event, this year’s "drop" went off exactly as planned, but was plenty exciting anyway, as all eyes were on the piano as it was lifted high into the sky, ever so slowly.

A watermelon had been placed strategically on the ground underneath, as a target. Amid cheers from the crowd, the piano fell and hit the ground – and the watermelon – with a thunk, pieces of it scattering, which were grabbed quickly by onlookers and carried away.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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