Sunday, July 6, 2008

1970: 2 Festivals: A Brief History.

Sunday 06/07/08

Free Stuff

Last week Chris Murgatroyd from Hebden Bridge won over £300 worth of CD's, DVD's and books. This week's free stuff is a bit more modest. I'm just waiting on some new stock of CDs and DVDs arriving but I've got some tasty stuff for you nonetheless.

White Stripes - Elephant

History will record Jack White as one of the 21st century's finest song writers and musicians. Not many people can claim to have written a riff that has been taken up by football crowds worldwide - but that's what he's done on 7 Nation Army. There's a low-fi, organic and really powerful spirit about this album.

Kings Of Leon - Youth & Young Manhood

Hard to catahorize and all the better for that. This is a kinda modern southern rock/boogie by the Kings and features the excellent single Molly's Chambers.

Joe Satriani - Is There Love In Space?

I've been buying Satch albums since Surfing With The Alien 20 years ago and this one is a cracker. It has a Flying In A Blue Dream feel about it and of course Joe's tone and melody are impeccable. The only trouble with Satch records is they make you feel like giving up the guitar cos you'll never anywhere near as good as he is!

Metallica - And Justice For All

Ground-breaking metal from 1988. For man this is the 'real' Metallica's peak. So metal it hurts.

The Clash - From Here to Eternity

The definitive best of from Complete Control to Should I Stay Or Should I Go. More straight up and down rock n roll than we realised at the time, this now sounds like classic rock; which is a very good thing indeed.

I've got two of each of these to give away so just emaikl me with either Satch; Clash; Kings of Leon; White Stripes or Metallica in the subject box or any combo of those, and i'll put you in the draw to win them next week.

1970: 2 Festivals: A Brief History.

As festival season gets into full swing, I thought it would be interesting to look back on two festivals from 1970 when the whole idea of a festival was still considered a radical, some feared, revolutionary idea. 200,000 hairy people in a field listening to rock n roll was genuinely a cause of concern for some of the authorities.

Their fears were misplaced. Few were plotting social revolution, most just wanted to get laid and listen to some good music and smoke a bit of dope. But these were changing times and no one knew were rock n roll was heading. One thing was for sure, some of the best bands of the era played.

So lets go back 38 years to July 1970.

The Atlanta Pop Festival was held at Middle Georgia Raceway, Byron, Georgia 3rd July to 5th July 1970. So it wasn't Atlanta then. It was a scorching hot weekend with tempratures breaking 100 degrees. The promotoers thought they could attract 100,000 people and advertised the festival on FM radio
stations. Tickets cost $35 which was considered high at the time and because of that, they sold just 10,000 in advance.

There as also a feeling in the air that music should be free - and so people without tickets began to turn up and chanting 'free festival' I've tried this out side of pubs but chanting free beer, beer should be free,' for osme reason just never works. A free stage had been put up outside the racetrack. Leaflets were printed up which said 'If we kill the festival, we play right into establishment hands. We destroy our own scene.'

Sounds like a reasonable argument doesn't it? By all accounts the repsonse was ' music is for the people, power to the people, open the gates' etc etc' The promoters were naturally concerned with this turn of events and announced a free day on the Monday July 6 for those who couldn't afford the tickets.

But this did nothing to help. Altamont had happened in December '69 and everyone knew how that had badly turned out. So the promoters, caved and made it a free festival on the Friday night at 9.30pm. Proof that collective action, whether in the right or in the wrong can be effective.

The politics may have been tricky but the music was brilliant. Friday night featured the Allman Brothers, Georgia's house band. They played a stunning set which was
available for decades as a bootleg but has since been released as a double CD.

Of course it rained - a thunder storm broke during the Allman's set but they played on until being fried by the electricity forced them off promising to return later - which
they did at sunrise on the Sunday, playing for four, yes four hours!

Saturday dawned even hotter People passed out, queued for water and salt tablets and generally blistered in the heat. Add in the traditional bad acid and STP laced with
stychnine and by Saturday night medical staff called in army helicopters to ship out the sick, the crazy and the sun-stroked. The place looked like a rock n roll version of M.A.S.H. Yay!

Local officials were horrified by the drug use of course - this was all part of this new tradition - also naturally, to assuage their worries, the promoters hired some doctors
to talk about drugs and their dangers and Bhajan andIndian yogi did a talk on 'a drug free experience of music and love' which was probably very groovy while you were
trippig out of your brains.

Richie Havens claims to have seen five or six UFO's during the yogi's speech, butt hen again, intoxicants had probably been taken.As Saturday was the 4th July, Hendrix played The Star Spangled Banner. There is film of his set. Check out a brilliant Stone Free

Oher bands to play were BB King - a festival regular, Mountain, Procul Harem, Jethro Tull,Rare Earth, The Chambers Brothers, Lee Michaels, Cactus, Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys, Poco and a brilliant Johnny Winter who played it's a killer set. Listen to him play Mean Mistreater here which is lifted from the vinyl album of the festival

The show was documented on a triple live album which paired it up with the same years' Isle Of Wight Festival. You'll pay at leat £50 for a copy now. Atlanta is side one.

This was the last time a festival was allowed on this scale in Georgia. Legislation was passed to effectively prevent mass gatherings

Just a few days later on New York's Randall's Island an event billed as 'New York's Pop Festival was held. It was deliberately not called a festival which by now just put all the 'straight' people's backs up. So this was to be different. for a start it was to be held in Downing Stadium and there'd be no camping. It was billed as a series of concerts rather than a 'traditional' festival.

However, three weeks before the shows, groups representing the Black Panthers, yippies and Free Rangers - self styled as the RYP/OFF Collective, presented the promoters
with a list of frankly bonkers dmeands. They wanted 10 hand picked community bands to play at $5,000 per group plus expenses. 10,000 free tickets for them to hand out, bail funds for anyone arrested at the festival, and a portion of the profts from any film of the gigs.

In return for compliance the RYP/Off Collective would promote the festival in their communities and would provde 'troops' to act as security and PR men!!If the promoters didn't agree, there would be violence and they would call it a free peoples event' and no one would buy tickets.

The promoters, doubtless feeling a bit sick, said they'd negotiate. This in turn got the local Young Lords - who were to the Spansih communtiy(the local community to Randalls Island) what the Black Panthers were to the black community - a bit cross. They wanted a piece of the action. The RYP/Off people agreed and some of their demands were agreed to by promoters.

By the time people arrived for the Friday show, 8,000 out of the 25,000 did not pay as so-called security looked the other way. Hendrix, Grand Fuck Railroad, John Sebastian, Steppenwolf and Jethro Tull (you can trade a recording of their set here) all played on Friday - a really strong line-up. There are recordings of Hendrixs' set out there. There's even amateur footage of a sizzling version of Ezy Rider and Foxy Lady

By Saturday, the bands began realising they'd probably not be getting paid since there was so much gate-crashing, so managers wanted paying up front before bands took the stage.

Ravi Shanker refused to go on, Delaney & bonnie, Miles Davis, Richie Havens and Tony Williams' Lifetime didn;t even bother turning up.Gate-crashing continued with the collective asking people to give them money and get in 'free'By Sunday the promoters gave up and called in a free festival but it had been free since the start in reality. 30,000 had gate-crashed it.

Ten Years After and Cactus played without being paid as did the New York Rock N Roll Ensemble. Dr John, Mountain and Little Richard follwed suit but most bands just didn't
turn up at all much to the punters disgust. A reporter asked promoter Don Friedman what he thought about it all, 'The festival spirit is dead, and it happened quickly. I don't know the reason's why. Greed on everyone's part, I guess. The love-pace thing of Woodstock is out. Anarchy. Complete and total anarchy. That's what's replaced it'.

It's a sad and quietly profound statement. It was a financial disater; no money was paid to the collective, the bail fund collapsed, most performers were not paid. A move called The Day The Music Died did come out in 1977 and featured some of the bands performances. and highlighted all the problems that were encountered. Read more here

The conflicting demands of all the different groups, the bands, the fans and everybody else just relfected the wider disparities between a disintigrating counter-culture movement in 1970 and a bourgoeing rock n roll industry. But above it all there was some blisteringly good music played at both these festivals and atthe end of the day, the music is really what matters. Then and now.
I'll be covering another couple of festivals next week. I got loads of info for this from Robert Santelli's Aquarius Rising book, which is probably out of print now but if you can get a copy it is really a definitive history of the festival era in the 60s and 70s.

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