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Feelin’ groovy in Evanston

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EVANSTON — I met Justin Black outside the Wal-Mart Super Center near the freeway overpass, which is what passes for the corner of Haight-Ashbury these days.

The Rainbow Gathering, mother of all hippie get-togethers, is taking place 37 miles away in the depths of the forest, but if you want to hook-up for rides back and forth, collect forgotten supplies and make a relatively clean bathroom break, this is the place. Heaven bless Sam Walton.

Justin was raised in Iowa, more or less, but his address these days is wherever his backpack leads him. He spent 18 days in Texas at a folk festival before coming here to the Rainbow convention, the annual point-of-reference for people who hear the clarion call of communal collectiveness. Every year as many as 20,000 of them flock to a patch of remote public land somewhere in America and wear flowers in their hair and bear an uncanny resemblance to Janis Joplin and Eric Burdon & the Animals even though many Rainbowers, like 24-year-old Justin, can't remember the '60s because they really weren't there.

But the basics of peace, love, rock 'n' roll and very few showers live on.

Justin, who admits he's given me a fake name and says he prefers to go by the name "Lielack" because he seldom tells a lie, explains that the Rainbow Gathering works even though no one person is in charge because of the infectious all-for-one spirit. "It's about living freely in a true communal society," he says. "Everybody pitches in, everybody helps out. Everybody gets wood, everybody gets water, everybody cooks. Everything's free."

This year, which happens to be his sixth straight Rainbow, Justin has appointed himself to the free cigarette program. That's why he's come to Evanston this morning, so he can pick up a $10 can of tobacco and 200 wrappers and return and spread the smokes.

There is no actual selling or buying in the compound, he explains, although some capitalism does carry on in the parking lot. There is no stealing or other crime, either, and if there is, a person is to yell "Shawnisena" (spelled phonetically, I'm not sure of the correct spelling and neither is Lielack) at the top of their lungs.

" 'Shawnisena' is like our police force," says Justin, "Yell that word and everyone responds. The offending person might get duct-taped to a tree, and sometimes worse, depending on what went down."

The Rainbow Gathering officially begins every year with the summer solstice, Justin goes on to explain, and ends on the Fourth of July, although hundreds arrive a month early and leave a month late to make sure the unstructure has plenty of structure.

The high point is from midnight to noon on July 4 when a 12-hour moment of silence is observed for world peace.

"It's not like fully quiet," says Justin, "some people mess up. But it's pretty quiet."

The silence gives people a chance to assess their life's goals. Justin explains that his personal goals are simple yet complex.

"Basically, I want to change the world, plant a garden like Eden, and raise crystals from the earth to spread around the universe and transport light and life so we're all connected again," he says.

Then he gives the hint of a wink and nods his bandana-wrapped head and says, "Kinda far out isn't it? My mom always told me to reach for the stars."

After which he adds, "Any chance you could give me a lift to the tobacco store?"

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.