"I mean, it's a good way to spend the summer man. You hitch rides around from place to place, you meet groovy people. I didn't start out thinking I was going to that many, but one thing led to another and by the middle of June it seemed like a good deal. Let's see how many I can go to. You know. The first ones were pretty groovy, so I thought if one is groovy, two is twice as groovy - right on up to fourteen."
- Bill Morelli, a college drop-out who attended fourteen rock festivals during the summer of 1969; from Festival! (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1970).
During the summer of 1969, the most exciting news for many Americans was not that men had walked on the Moon for the first time but that a rock festival was going to be held in or near their town. For those under age thirty, such news was usually greeted with enthusiasm, followed by eager anticipation. In marked contrast, the response of people over thirty was generally more guarded and in some cases, openly hostile. At the time, it was said a "generation-gap" separated the youth of America from their elders. Certainly there can be no better example of it than this.
Among rock music historians, it's generally accepted that the first actual rock festival ever held in this country took place near San Francisco, California in early June 1967. Billed as the Fantasy Faire and Magic Mountain Musical Festival, it was similar in atmosphere to an earlier free event called the "Human Be-In," which had taken place in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park that January. There, crowds of flamboyent hippies had grooved to the mind-expanding sounds of Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead while balloons dotted the clear blue sky and the smell of incense and marijuana smoke filled the air.
Although admission was charged at the Fantasy Fair, held in nearby Marin County, because it was a charity function the price of a ticket was only $2. It's unlikely that before or since has so little money bought so much entertainment. The musical line-up included such well-known acts as the Doors, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Dionne Warwick, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. In addition, Country Joe and the Fish appeared, along with a number of other lesser-known local bands.
Less than a week later, over a three-day period, nearly thirty diverse musical acts - ranging in style from folk to jazz to rock, appeared before an audience of some 50,000 people at the now-legendary Monterey Pop Festival. It featured not only such commercially-successful artists as the Mamas and Papas and Johnny Rivers but also showcased some up-and-coming talent whose outstanding performances at Monterey served as the springboards for their careers. Chief among these were Texas-born Janis Joplin, then fronting a band from San Francisco called Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Jimi Hendrix - who not only earned himself a place in rock history with his virtuouso guitar-playing but stunned the festival's awe-struck spectators by literally setting his instrument on fire, afterwards smashing it to bits on the stage and tossing the charred remains into the audience.
Although it was like a concert in that tickets were sold for reserved seating (the first and last festival to do so), the Monterey Pop Festival was similar to the Fantasy Fair in that it lasted more than one day and offered more than just music, setting the standard for future events. The grounds included an area where artisans and craftspeople could sell their wares - things like beads, fringed vests, posters, incense and other "hippie" paraphernalia while festival patrons, many of whom were unable to find or unwilling to pay for hotel accommodations, were permitted to camp out on the football field of the nearby Monterey Peninsula College. Widespread and open use of drugs like LSD and marijuana among performers and audience alike, seemingly ignored by the authorities, would also be repeated in many other places over the next few years.
Remarkably, despite the success of Monterey Pop, the following year saw only three major rock festivals take place in the United States. Some say this was because 1968 being an election year, America's youth was more concerned with politics than having fun. Certainly, the riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago would seem to confirm that. Be that as it may, it's safe to say the number of festivals held in 1969 more than made up for the lack of them the year before.
The "Festival Summer" of 1969 got off to a rousing start on June 20 and 21 at Northridge, California. There, at "Newport `69," a star-studded line-up of thirty-three musical acts included such name performers as Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, and Jethro Tull - just to list a few. Unfortunately, the festival was marred by property damage and violence when would-be gate-crashers clashed with police.
One week later, the Denver Pop Festival was overrun by tumult of a similar nature, resulting in a ban on future rock festivals in the mile-high city.
Over the Independence Day weekend there were three rock festivals held simultaneously in different places. Only one, the Newport (Rhode Island) Jazz Festival, which also offered rock music that year, suffered from violence. The other two, held near Seattle, Washington and Atlanta, Georgia were peaceful affairs. The Atlanta event was especially noted for its positive reception by the local citizenry.
In August, there were two festivals, both of which were held on the East Coast. The first took place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 1-3, drawing approximately 110,000 participants, mainly from Philadelphia and New York. It featured twenty-nine musical acts, most of them rock bands, with a handful of folk and jazz performers thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, although there was some gate-crashing, no battles with police broke out.
Next, in mid-August, was the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, held, not in the town for which it was named, but on the property of a dairy-farmer named Max Yasgur, near the town of Bethel, Sullivan County, New York. What more can be added about this festival that has not already been said? Rivalling man's first steps on the Moon as one of the hottest news stories of the summer, it was, despite rain, gate-crashers and a multitude of other problems, an unqualified success, becoming in the process the festival by which all others would be measured, and in the minds of many, the one which no others would ever match.
In the meantime, even before Woodstock took place, the promoters of the Atlanta Pop Festival, Jack Calmes and Chris Cowing, pleased that things had gone so well for them, decided to put on another show. The next one, they decided, would be held in Texas.
The Atlanta Pop Festival had been held at a speedway just outside the city. Hoping perhaps that it would aid in duplicating their earlier success, Calmes and Cowing, together with new partner Angus Wynne III, president of Dallas-based Showco (and scion of the family which then owned the Six Flags Over Texas amusement park in Arlington, Texas), quickly made a deal to hold their Texas festival at a similar venue, on the grounds of the Dallas International Motor Speedway in Lewisville, a small community located approximately twenty miles north of downtown Dallas. The young promoters (all were under thirty) also booked many of the same performers. These included Canned Heat, Chicago Transit Authority (who later shortened their name to "Chicago"), Led Zeppelin, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, Spirit, Janis Joplin, Sweetwater, and Johnny Winter. The festival's other acts, some of whom had performed at similar events around the country that same summer, including Woodstock, were: The Incredible String Band, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Ten Years After, the James Cotton Blues Band, B. B. King, Herbie Mann, Rotary Connection, Sam and Dave, Grand Funk Railroad, the Nazz, Freddie King, and Tony Joe White. For albino blues guitarist Johnny Winter and the raspy-voiced Janis Joplin, the festival was supposed to be a "homecoming" of sorts - although neither one was particularly fond of their native state at the time, having grown up there feeling like outcasts.
Remarkably, the cost of a ticket to see and hear this incredible line-up of talent was a mere $6 per day (or $7 at the gate), a bargain even in 1969 - unless of course, you were a kid with no reliable source of income.
In addition to music, Wynne, Cowing and Calmes arranged for the festival to have a light show presented by the Electric Collage of Atlanta. In charge of the sound system were Bill and Terry Hanley of Hanley Sound, the same company which had handled the Newport Jazz Festival for the previous nine years. Earlier that year the Hanleys had set up and operated the sound equipment for Richard Nixon's inauguration!
Ads for the festival listed all the performers and included a logo depicting a large hand giving the two-fingered "V" peace sign, encircled by a wreath of leaves. Below the hand was a smaller peace symbol. Locally, the ad was run in both The Dallas Morning News and The Dallas Times Herald, as well The Lewisville Leader. Nationally, it appeared in Rolling Stone.
A few days before the event, potential festival-goers were warned in the local press that counterfeit tickets were being sold for an average of $10 in local night clubs and at Lee Park, then something of a haven for Dallas' burgeoning hippie population. The warning included the information that not only could the counterfeit tickets be distinguished by inferior printing but that the peace symbol on the bone fide item was printed with a special ink that glowed under a black light and that tickets would checked for this distinguishing characteristic at the gate. Would-be festival goers were reminded that authentic tickets were only available by mail or at certain authorized outlets. In Dallas, there were seven, including Minsky's Music, Preston Record Center, the Exchange Park Ticket Service, and the downtown Neiman Marcus department store. Fort Worth residents could purchase tickets at the Sheraton Hotel or at the Central Ticket Agency.
1994 Introduction Fear and Loathing in Lewisville
Copyright © 1994 & 2006 by Steven Butler. All rights reserved.