Mention the words festival and 1969 and most people will respond Woodstock. That is a sensible association as too would be the word Altamont. However, dig around a bit and you'll find that 1969 is spangled with rock festivals. May 23 marks the first of them. In fact there were three that occurred that weekend, two of which were less than a mile apart. On May 18 – 19, 1968 The Northern California Folk-Rock Festival had been held. It was controversial because of the the several "announced" bands had not actually been booked and nearly 1,000 attendees experienced PCP drug reactions.
The following year when the 1969 Northern California Folk-Rock Festival was announced, Dennis Jay (of the Drug Crisis Intervention group), members of San Jose's Free University, the Institute for Research and Understanding, and the Druid Corporation (a musicians collective) announced a counter-festival: the Aquarian Family Festival. It was a free concert. While free concerts were not unheard of, major free concerts were rare. Any actual free concert fed the idea that music should be for free, not something to be paid for. Such an idea doppled forward to that famous August weekend in Bethel, NY. Another unique facet of the Aquarian Family Festival was that camping was permitted so that attendees could stay on site for the two days. Perhaps Michael Lang read about that, too?
Since the Aquarian Family Festival wasn't recorded or filmed, it lives in obscurity like most of the many other 1969 festivals. Those facts should not deny its just place in festival history. Here is the not-too-shabby list of performers for this festival and keep in mind that the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival was happening simultaneously. Interestingly, Jefferson Airplane appeared at both. Most of the bands were local and there are so many because one of the stipulations was that the music had to be continuous.
Aquarian Family Festival
(the highlighted bands would play at Woodstock)
The Ace of Cups
All Men Joy
Big Brother and the Holding Company
Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band
The Doobie Brothers
Greater Carmichael Traveling Street Band
Joy of Cooking
Quicksilver Messenger Service
Sons of Champlin
Sounds Unlimited Blues Band
The Steve Miller Blues Band
Strawberry Alarm Clock
South Bay Experimental Flash
Tree of Life
Weird Herald, Womb
I hope Mad River played "Amphetamine Gazelle." And many thanks to Metroactive.com. Also, the featured image on top is of the Chocolate Watchband. Who knew!
This blog entry is on the second of the three 1969 rock festivals held on Memorial Day weekend. The first piece was on the Aquarian Family Festival in Santa Clara, California. This entry is on its rival a half-mile away: the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival. The Aquarian was a two-day free event. The Northern California Folk-Rock Festival was a three-day ticketed event. The first Northern California Folk-Rock Festival had happened in 1968 and had issues. Some of the bands advertised weren't actually booked and PCP sent hundreds of attendees to the local emergency room. "Never again" was the immediate reaction by local law enforcement, but a year later the second (and last) NCFRF came off.
The Northern California Folk Rock Festival, organized by Bob Blodgett, was held at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. It had a stellar line-up. I've highlighted those who would perform at Woodstock in August. Jimi Hendrix, now a super-star was the main attraction. It is a portion of his "Red House" performance that is heard at the top of this entry and the full 11-minutes in the YouTube selection below.
Northern California Folk-Rock Festival
It is a great lineup by any measure.
Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Chambers Brothers
Sweet Linda Divine
Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys
Doc Watson & New Lost City Ramblers
Unlike Woodstock, but exactly like the more than two dozen other major festivals in 1969, the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival was not filmed nor recorded. The overpiece song at the top of this entry is Sweet Linda Divine from her solo album. Sadly most of us have not heard of Linda Tillery, but from the powerful performance we hear a piece of, we should have. And I'm sure the same can be said of many of the other performers from this sadly "unknown" festival.
The third of the 1969 Memorial Day weekend festivals is perhaps the most interesting of all. It wasn't filmed so pictures of the event are hard to come by. It wasn't recorded either. Well, mostly. Fortunately for us today, the Grateful Dead played the Big Rock Pow Wow that weekend (twice) and as they typically did recorded themselves. Today that recording (and an excellent one it is!) is available as Road Trips Vol 4 #1. Both shows are available to listen to via the Internet Archive: Friday 23 May 1969 & Saturday 24 May 1969. The shows were recorded by the legendary Owsley “Bear” Stanley.
The festival attracted only a few thousand people, but the line-up was a solid one. One of the performers I want to point out is Johnny Winter. The reason I want to do that is because as we move through the calendar and I blog about the many other 1969 festivals, one should note how many times you see his name. He is all over the place. Actually at the end of April, Woodstock Ventures had signed him ($7,500) to play at their upcoming middle-of-nowhere festival in Wallkill, NY.
Big Rock Pow Wow
Sweetwater would also appear at that august event.Here is advertised line-up by day:
According to the Grateful Dead site: "There was Seminole dancing and chants onstage and off—and the adjacent restored Seminole village was bustling with native crafts-makers (and sellers), as well as various hippie merchants peddling their wares. Because the festival took place on Seminole land, there were no police or conventional security. Timothy Leary’s “people” were somehow involved in putting on the event and Dr. Tim wandered the grounds and occasionally spoke from the stage. “Orange sunshine” acid was everywhere."
The band Aum from San Francisco played also. Another of those pretty good bands that came and went but had the eye of people like Bill Graham who put Aum on his record label for their second (and last) album. It is their "Mississippi Mud" you hear a piece of at the top of today's entry.