SATURDAY, AUGUST 30
"Texas never looked like this when I lived here man!"
- Janis Joplin
On Saturday people began arriving at the festival grounds as early as 7 a.m., although the gates weren't due to open until 11:30. One girl, who1d hitchhiked all the way from New Jersey, told a reporter for The Dallas Morning News that she and her friends had been waiting there since the night before.
As the summer sun rose higher in the clear blue Texas sky, the lines outside the gates gradually grew longer. Approaching Lewisville, northbound traffic on Interstate Highway 35E slowed to a snail's pace as more and more people arrived in cars and on-lookers cruised past the festival site slowly, gawking in open-mouthed amazement at the size of the crowd.
Unfortunately for the festivalgoers, the speedway was set in the middle of a large open expanse of land offering no shade of any kind. No trees, no awnings ? nothing. By mid-morning it was hot and getting hotter. Yet the ever-increasing crowd of young people, numbering thousands, was remarkably orderly. "All this waiting can be uncomfortable," said the girl from New Jersey, "but look around," she told the reporter, "there is no pushing, no shoving, and not much impatience." She also pointed out how people were helping each other. "I have no money," she said, "but it makes no difference. We all share what we can," adding: "That is what this is all about"
Demonstrating that spirit of sharing, one young man, wearing an old blanket and a crumpled hat, called out "Who needs water?" as he kept himself busy passing out water, salt tablets and free-for-the-asking sandwiches and soda pop to strangers.
Sadly, it appears no such relief was offered to another young man, 27-year old John Shope of Arlington. Overcome by heat prostration while waiting in line for the gates to open, he was rushed to Dallas' Parkland Hospital where he was declared dead upon arrival. Considering the alleged widespread use of heavy drugs by some of the festival's patrons, it seems amazing that Mother Nature caused its only death. There was also a birth, actually two, one of which resulted in another death. Hours before the festival began, an unidentified young woman went into premature labor while waiting for the gates to open. She had twin babies at the main gate before an ambulance could arrive to take her to Parkland Hospital where the babies, both in critical condition were but in the premature care unit. Unfortunately, only one survived. As they waited in line, some people played their guitars and sang, entertaining themselves and those around them. Others, said a reporter for The Dallas Morning News, sunbathed near signs declaring "THIS IS FOR REAL. BEWARE OF SNAKES."
At 11:30 a.m. the gates opened and a sea of humanity poured into the 25-acre site set aside for the festival.
As at Woodstock, security arrangements at the Texas International Pop Festival were kept low-key. Instead of uniformed policemen, the kids were surprised to see smiling security guards wearing red shirts and armbands with the word "Friend" on them. No doubt this pleased most festivalgoers but at least one girl, reported the News, seemed worried, commenting disdainfully, "Is that what's going to protect us?"
Many of the same makeshift shop owners who'd hawked their wares at Woodstock and other festivals that summer were also visible at Lewisville. Lining the fence of the festival site, they sold beads, posters, leather goods and other hippie paraphernalia. One owner was critical of his competitors' shoddy goods, remarking that his "stuff' was "the type somebody could really use." Another bemoaned the fact that she wasn't selling as much as she'd hoped, complaining that with so many people were "coming in here offering free this and free that" that "nobody wants to buy anything." One of the festival site's biggest advantages was that as a large open expanse, it was capable of containing a crowd as large as the one that had gathered there on Saturday. Newspaper estimates put the number of people attending at 40,000. But as the sun continued to beat down on the masses waiting for the show to begin (raising the temperature to over 90 degrees Fahrenheit), at least fifteen people were treated for heat exhaustion at the festival's first aid station. An anonymous young man, bearded and shirtless, who, reported the Dallas Morning News, walked "the entire length of the speedway before he could find her some salt tablets and a cold rag for her head", comforted one young girl overcome by the heat. It was yet another an example of the sense of selflessness which pervaded the scene. When the girl thanked him for helping someone he didn't even know, he told her, echoing the same sentiment expressed by so many others: "That's what this whole thing is about."
Newspaper reporters, strolling through the happy throng of longhaired kids eating, drinking, buying souvenirs, and talking to each other, witnessed what was to them a surprisingly open sale and use of drugs mainly marijuana, among some of the festival-goers. They were equally amazed that there were no cops inside the fenced area making arrests. Describing the scene, a reporter for The Lewisville Leader remarked, "Small groups passed marijuana "sticks" among themselves, while scantily clad females blew soap bubbles and cavorted gaily in the crowds." When another reporter for an unidentified newspaper attempted an "undercover" purchase of some marijuana, the scheme backfired on him. The container of "grass" he was sold turned out to being nothing more innocuous than lawn-clippings!
One Lewisville resident, who attended the festival out of curiosity, was critical of it in a letter he wrote to The Leader after the event: "What I saw, except for a limited few, were not music-lovers, but groups of dirty, half-clothed individuals flaunting their drug intake and lack of decency." The same writer also complained of a stage announcer whom he "presumed...was asked by the sponsors to explain rules or regulations of the festiva1." The speaker, said the local resident, "went into a long dissertation on the glories of marijuana, ending by saying, 'Let's all give a big hurrah for the Mexican agricultural department'" This was followed, he wrote, by "a long round of applause."
During the day, Clemo Clements, editor of The Lewisville Leader, toured both the festival site and the campground. Although his earlier musings had been seemingly tolerant in tone, Clements later wrote that he had "seen things at both places that had turned my stomach." Coincidentally, that very same day, an editorial critical of the festival, entitled "Nausea at Lewisville," appeared in The Dallas Morning News. It was yet another example of the "generation gap." "This newspaper simply cannot get accustomed to, or condone, youngsters of both sexes living together, smoking pot, defying authority, refusing to work." said the editorial's writer, adding "Young people assembling to hear music is one thing. Young people assembling in unspeakable costumes, half-naked, barefooted, defying propriety and scorning morality is another." Imploringly, the editorialist queried, "Who and where are their parents?"
Kay Hilliard, of The Leader, painted a more positive picture of the festival in her weekly column, which appeared in print a few days after it had concluded. Along with a former Leader colleague, Sue Silk, Hilliard ventured out to Lewisville Lake Park. There, she visited the Hog Farmers, "about forty young people in their twenties," said Kay, who were "camped out in bright orange inflatable tents."
It isn't clear if Hilliard's visit was on Friday or Saturday. Nevertheless, she spent most of her time at the park talking to "a bearded young man named Tom and his expectant wife, Lisa." They were, said the Leader columnist, "more or less the leaders of the group." (Although she never mentioned their surname, this couple was obviously Tom and Lisa Law, who were indeed two of the better-known Hog Farmers. In recent years Lisa Law has written a book about their experiences with the Hog Farm. Its title: Flashing on the Sixties.)
Lisa, said Hilliard, was busy organizing the free kitchen, "much the same as the one she helped organize in the Woodstock Festiva1." Breakfast, the columnist wrote, was made up of "oats, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, raw peanuts, currants, raw sugar, and maple syrup." It was served between 4:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. "The other meal," said Hilliard, "consisted of cracked wheat, and all kinds of cooked vegetables." The Leader columnist also noted that unlike many of their contemporaries, the Hog Farmers professed not to take drugs, preferring to get "high" by breathing. Kay and Sue watched as Tom Law, a yoga instructor, led about twenty-five people through some breathing exercises.
In Hilliard's opinion, the New Mexico communalists "were all very pleasant, courteous, and friendly." She added: "They are all peace-loving young people who wanted to break from convention and have done so. They are totally interdependent on each other and are interested only in doing their "own thing," which they feel is living together in harmony with their fellow man."
At the festival, the crowd began to cheer and applaud as the music finally began at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Opening the festival was a band named Grand Funk Railroad, a four-man group from Flint, Michigan. Relatively unknown at the time, the quartet later shortened their name to Grand Funk. Beginning in 1970 with a song called "Closer to Home," they enjoyed a five-year long period of success in the recording business, during which time they had no less than nine more songs in the Billboard Top Forty. Two of those records, "We're An American Band" (1973), and a remake of Little Eva's "Locomotion" (1974) went to number one. Although they were a last-minute addition to the line-up (their name wasn't included in the festival's advertising), the band was well received. Among the songs the group performed was a number called "Time Machine," which had recently been released as a single. No doubt, the exposure Grand Funk received at this and other venues helped sales of their record and was a factor in their later success.
All the acts in Saturday's line-up turned in performances that were at least good, if not great. Included on the bill was the brass-heavy Chicago Transit Authority a band which, like Grand Funk Railroad, was then relatively new on the music scene. A year later they shortened their name to Chicago and during the 1970's enjoyed a career which included twenty three records in the Top Forty - one of which, "If You Leave Me Now," made it to number one in 1976.
Blues guitarist B. B. ("Blues Boy") King played and sang not just on Saturday but on Sunday and Monday as well. Speaking to the audience between numbers, he expressed his gratitude for being asked to appear at all three shows, remarking that he felt both honored and flattered. Despite distractions in the crowd, said a Dallas Morning News reviewer, the bluesman "strongly commanded their attention" as he made the strings of his guitar, nicknamed "Lucille," sing along with him.
Along with Freddie King, Sam and Dave, and Sly and the Family Stone, B. B. King was one of the few African-American performers on a bill top-heavy y with white rock bands. But that was hardly surprising given that the majority of the audience at most pop festivals were white kids and rock is what they carne to hear.
Regardless, the promoters' decision to include Sam and Dave, performers of the 1967 hit record "Soul Man," was right on target. "They are a visual, as well as an audial experience," wrote a reviewer for The News, adding: "They have a campy stage manner reminiscent of the 50's. And their sound is coordinated with the same precision as their step-bend routine." As their back-up band began the first notes of "Soul Man," Sam took a line from Sly Stone. "Thank you for letting us to be ourselves." He said to the audience.
As the evening wore on and the sun began to set in the west (lowering the outside air temperature to a more tolerable level), the music kept coming: Jazz musician Herbie Mann; the James Cotton Blues Band; Rotary Connection ? another new group. Finally, at forty-five minutes past midnight, the undoubted queen of the festival appeared and the crowd went wild.
Janis Joplin, a native of Port Arthur, had grown up in that Southeast Texas oil town feeling like an outsider. As a teenager attending class at Jefferson High School, she'd had few friends. In an interview after Janis' untimely death a little more than a year after her appearance at the Texas International Pop Festival, her father recalled: "She had a pretty rough time of it in high school. She insisted on dressing and acting differently and they hated her for it. There were no people she could relate with, talk to. As far as Port Arthur was concerned, she was one of the first revolutionary youth." After high school, from which she was graduated in 1960, Janis enrolled at Lamar Tech College in nearby Beaumont. She later went to Austin, where she attended classes at the University of Texas. About 1965 she drifted out to California where she eventually found herself singing in a local band called Big Brother and the Holding Company. During the period 1966-1967 Big Brother and the Holding Company quickly became one of the more popular of the new "psychedelic" rock groups contributing to what was fast becoming known as the "San Francisco Sound." They frequently appeared at various Bay area venues (they were the house band at the Avalon Ballroom) and recorded an album for Mainstream, an independent label out of Chicago. But it was in June 1967 that the band got its biggest break. Not long after playing at the Monterey Pop Festival (during which Janis turned in one of the most impressive performances of her life), they were signed to a recording contract with Columbia Records. "Cheap Thrills," their first album on the Columbia label, was released in 1968, producing a hit single, "Piece of My Heart." In September of that year it reached number 12 in the Billboard Top Forty, holding that position for three weeks.
Most music critics agreed it was Janis' unique voice and dynamic stage presence that made Big Brother a success and that the rest of band was only so-so. Janis, apparently, was aware of this too and by the end of the year she had gone solo, forming a new back-up band that included only one other ex-Big Brother member, guitarist Sam Andrew. It was this group, which included an organist, saxophone players, and a trumpet player ? in addition to the usual guitars and drums that she toured with during the summer of 1969. By the time she arrived at Lewisville, Janis and her back-up musicians (who came to be known as the Kosmic Blues Band) had already performed at three other major pop festivals that year: Atlanta, on Saturday, July 5th; Atlantic City, Sunday, August 3rd; and Woodstock, where Janis sang very late on the night of Saturday, August 16th.
Now, exactly two weeks to the day following her performance at Woodstock, Janis Joplin was standing on a stage in Lewisville, in front of a huge crowd of her fellow Texans performing, with all her usual energy and depth of feeling, the songs which were soon to be released (in November) on her forthcoming album "I Got Dem 01' Kosmic Blues Again, Mama." After one of them, a number entitled "Work Me, Lord," Janis paused for a moment and looked out over the mass of people who were spread out before her, filling most of the twenty-five acre site. "You're looking great!" she cried out, her words carried across the open space by the speakers in the towers. "Texas never looked like this when I lived here, man." she remarked, obviously both surprised and pleased, "But man, look at you now!" After finishing her set with "Piece of My Heart," she exclaimed, as she did at the end of each performance, "Keep on rockin'!" and left the stage to a standing ovation.
Backstage, wearing a gray t-shirt (on the back of which was a red clenched fist), the singer whose nickname was "Pearl" (which would be the title of her last album), talked with members of the press. "I can't understand audiences sometimes," Janis told Philip Wuntch, a writer for The Dallas Times Herald, "Sometimes we play great and they don't like us. Then sometimes we play like dirt and they go wild with appreciation." A writer for Rolling Stone talked with her about her past and she spoke openly of how out-of-place she'd felt growing up in Port Arthur, remarking "I had to get out man, they were f***ing me over." At the same time, she mentioned that she was going home for a visit the very next week, adding that it was only the second time she been back since moving to California.
The last act on Saturday's line-up was Canned Heat, a California blues band, whose lead singer was a burley, bearded fellow named Bob "the Bear" Hite. Like Janis and her boys, the members of this group were veterans of the 1969 summer festival circuit, having also performed at Atlanta, Atlantic City and Woodstock. In addition, they had headlined some concert dates between festivals. Also like Janis, this group had played the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and in September 1968, the same month Big Brother were on the charts with "Piece of My Heart," they'd had a hit single called "On the Road Again." Before 1969 was out, their newest single, "Going Up the Country," would reach number 16 in the Billboard Top Forty.
"We're gonna boogie for ya!" shouted "the Bear" (who, because they were in Texas, was wearing a cowboy hat), and the band lurched into their first number. At one point, bass guitarist Larry Taylor broke a string and they had to stop while he replaced it "I hope you're having a good time," Hite said into the microphone, "'cause that's what you're here for." Responding to a member of the audience who shouted out something about a party, "the Bear" replied, "Party? You got your own party right here! Take off your clothes!" The audience cheered. Afterwards, a writer for Rolling Stone said, it seemed as if the singer suddenly remembered where he was and "wondered aloud if Texas was ready for that" "No, smoke your dope," said Hite, "but keep your clothes on."
By the time Canned Heat left the stage, it was 4:30 in the morning. And as the kids left to drive back home to Dallas or to the campgrounds to sleep, Wynne, Cowing and company were faced with the task of getting the place cleaned up and ready in time for Sunday's performance.
Copyright © 1994 & 2006 by Steven Butler. All rights reserved.