FEAR AND LOATHING IN LEWISVILLE
"Lots of local folks have been horrified to learn that anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 young people are to converge on our peaceful valley starting August 30 for three days...What has caused the concern among local folks is all the horror stories we've heard...and seen over TV, when youths of today gather in large numbers. We have visions of fighting, riots, destruction and lewdness."
- Clemo Clements, editor of The Lewisville Leader
In 1969 Lewisville, Texas was a small semi-rural community not unlike many other such towns scattered across the country. Located mid-way between Dallas to the south and the university town of Denton to the north, Lewisville was relatively isolated from the troubles then plaguing America's big cities. For the most part, its citizens led quiet, peaceful lives in a place where the most exciting events were the local high school football games and the annual rodeo, held each fall over Labor Day weekend.
Just two miles to the north of town is situated a a huge man-made reservoir administered by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Officially designated Garza-Little Elm, the body of water was, in 1969, more popularly known as Lake Dallas. (Today, it is called Lake Lewisville.) Created in 1927 by the damming of the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, it provided the citizens of the city for which it was named not only with drinking water but recreation. Large numbers of Dallas residents kept motor boats at one of the lake's marinas or brought them up for a weekend of water-skiing or fishing, on trailers towed behind their cars. Many others came up on weekends to camp, fish or swim at one the lakeside parks. Not surprisingly, a number of Lewisville residents made their living from these out-of-town visitors, selling them groceries, boating supplies, fishing bait and so on. A large enclosed fishing barge where anglers could dip their lines in the water in air-conditioned comfort was especially popular, given the summer heat from which Texas annually suffers. Boat dealers also did a brisk business.
On August 10, 1969 posters promoting the Texas International Pop Festival began appearing here and there in Lewisville and four days later, a news story heralding the coming of the festival was carried on the front page of The Lewisville Leader, the town's weekly newspaper. Accompanying the article was a photograph of Showco's Angus Wynne III and Chris Cowing, president of Interpop Superfest of Atlanta, smiling and holding a festival poster between them.
Although not a single Lewisville resident openly resisted the coming of the festival by seeking to stop it (as Leader editor Clemo Clements later pointed out), it seems it quickly became a topic of concern among the town's citizens, some of whom feared that their community would soon be overrun by drug-crazed hippies bent on creating bedlam. The very weekend following The Leader announcement of the so-to-be-held Texas pop fest, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair took place in Bethel, New York. Not surprisingly, sensationalist media reports of widespread drug use and public nudity at that event only increased the anxieties of Lewisville residents.
It now seems ironic, in the face of concerns about dope-smoking outsiders, that Lewisville residents had only to look in their own back-yard, so to speak, to find the very problems they feared the festival would bring. Only a little more than two months earlier, Lewisville police had raided a party at a residence on Surf Street where they arrested thirteen young people - a girl and twelve boys, for possession of drugs. Ranging in age from seventeen to twenty-two, eleven of the thirteen were Lewisville residents. Police Chief Ralph Adams, who was later raked over the coals for his handling of festival security, told The Lewisville Leader that he and Detective Marion Birdsong, upon raiding the house, had found 57 Desoxyn tablets, 1½ ounces of "ready-to-use speed," three syringes, a "lid" or ounce of marijuana, and enough seeds to grow up to 1,000 marijuana plants.
In the August 21st edition of The Lewisville Leader, editor Clemo Clements addressed the coming of the festival in his weekly column "At Random," and in particular, focused on the apprehension with which some residents viewed it.
"Lots of local folks," began Clements, "have been horrified to learn that anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 young people are to converge on our peaceful valley starting August 30 for three days." Their concern, said the editor, stemmed from things they'd seen on television in regard to similar large gatherings of young people. Unfortunately, the image was a negative one. "We have visions of fighting, riots, destruction and lewdness." remarked Clements.
These fears, commented the insightful editor, were also the result of Lewisville "being a little removed from metropolitan centers." As a result, he continued, "we don't have the daily experience of being around the new breed of young people who attend such Pop Festivals...Thus the unknown and unfamiliar frighten us."
Obviously aware that some people were failing to make the distinction between actual full-time hippies and those young people who simply grew their hair long and affected a hippie lifestyle on weekends (known to their peers as "plastic hippies"), Clements went on to assure his readers that not all young people were troublemakers. Today's kids, he noted, fell into three categories. First, he wrote, "There are the unwashed, pot smoking, and aimless school drop-outs. They are to be pitied more than censored." Next, "there are the militants, who create strife with their revolutionary ideas and defiance of authority."
The majority of the festival-goers, Clements believed, would fall into a third group, one in which "the males have beards, long hair, long sideburns, and dress a little different from what we consider the norm. And many of the girls will have long, stringy hair, white hose, mini skirts...or will wear blue jeans." But, he conceded, "they'll be happy, intelligent, courteous and clean."
Clements concluded by telling his readers he'd been reminded by a teenage girl working at The Leader for the summer that there was also a fourth category, the one to which his helper belonged. In that category, he said reassuringly, the youth are "well-behaved and conventially dressed."
In the same issue, Kay Hilliard's "Over the Coffee Cups" column was also positive about the coming festival. Hilliard, who had the opportunity to meet and speak with Wynne and Cowing, had obviously been impressed and remarked that the two young promoters "weren't what most folks call hippies in any sense of the word." Admitting that although she hadn't heard of most the acts scheduled to perform and that "my musical tastes have run to more conservative lines that to the Canned Heat and the Chicago Transit Authority," she also said she was planning to attend, adding, "I may even stitch myself up some psychedelic bell-bottoms to wear!"
One week later, on the eve of the festival, Clements again sought to reassure his readers that they really had nothing to worry about. Devoting his entire column to the subject of the festival, he wrote: "This seems to be the week for being alarmed." Lewisville residents, the editor said, "are alarmed because 50,000 or more young people will converge on our area for a pop festival at the local speedway." What alarmed him, wrote Clements, was that "so many local folks are alarmed."
"Unfortunately," he continued, "just about the time that local and area folks had eased their qualms about the local Pop Festival, a sort of similar event was recently held in Woodstock, New York." The television and newspaper reports of that event, wrote Clements, during which "many unpleasant incidents occurred...brought back the original qualms of local and area folks."
Regardless, Clements declared, he had every confidence in both the speedway officials and in the festival's promoters, who, he reminded his readers, had left "no stone...unturned in providing every precaution to prevent trouble." He also noted that many of the problems encountered at Woodstock were the result of its remoteness. In contrast, he remarked, the Atlanta Pop Festival, which had been produced by the same people putting on the Texas festival "received excellent marks from the newspapers there as well as the community leaders."
Certainly, Clements conceded, "there will no doubt be some marijuana...and possibly some smoking of it," adding: "When 50,000 or more youths get together in one place, it is inevitable that a few will get out of line." But, the editor said optimistically, "By and large...the majority of the youths who attend the festival will do so to listen to music and enjoy fellowship."
Attempting to console anyone who still harbored misgivings about the festival, the editor reminded them that "this will likely be only a one time thing." (As it turned out, he was right.) He also put on a brave face. "Frankly," Clements declared, "I'm looking forward to having this experience. Maybe I need my head examined, but I believe Labor Day weekend will be exciting, interesting and informative."
City officials also sought to assauge the fears of residents. "We don't anticipate any real problems this weekend from the Pop Festival other than from possible traffic congestion." Lewisville Mayor Sam Houston told a Leader reporter. City Manager John Sartain added that he and the Mayor had been in touch with the police departments of neighboring communities "and have been assured we will receive any help we need in the event we need help."
Houston also said, "We will respect the rights of visitors to Lewisville, but we insist they respect the rights of Lewisville citizens," adding the admonition, "As long as everyone behaves in an orderly manner, there should be no problem whatsoever." Finally, the Mayor declared in a statement that would soon come back to haunt him, "We also want to reassure all citizens that all laws governing the state of Texas and city of Lewisville will be enforced under normal enforcement procedures."
The festival's promoters, with a view to holding future events on the same site, were equally desirous that the festival be as trouble-free as possible. Responding to Lewisville residents' concerns, Showco's Jack Calmes, proclaimed, "This is not going to be another Woodstock," adding, "It is unfair to declare us guilty by association." The Lewisville Leader backed up Calmes' assertion by pointing out in a front page story, just as Clements had in his column, that the promoters had taken every possible precaution to ensure that the festival would run smoothly. Unlike Woodstock, the paper said, tickets had not been oversold for the Texas festival and there was plenty of parking and ample camping sites "with more than adequate sanitation facilities."
In a final note,The Leader declared, "This is going to be the weekend that was...Some of our citizens are looking forward to the weekend with optimistic enthusiasm and others with horror. Some of the horror-struck residents are thinking of closing their buisnesses, barricading their windows and leaving town. But the more optimistic ones are looking forward to the weekend and anticipate it will be exciting, interesting and possibly even profitable."
Festival Summer Friday
Copyright © 1994 & 2006 by Steven Butler. All rights reserved.