1968 Newport Pop Festival

1968 Newport Pop Festival

August 3 & 4, 1968
Orange County Fairgrounds,  Costa Mesa, California

1968 Newport Pop Festival

While…

..we wait for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair's anniversary to roll around, I figured we could visit a non-1969 festival.  

1968 Newport Pop Festival

The Newport Pop Festival can cause some confusion because of its name.  Newport, in this case, refers to California's Newport, not Rhode Island's. And then the event was not held in Newport, California anyway. 

Then, neither was Woodstock!

So this is the 1968 Newport Pop Festival held at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, California

First site

The promoters, Wesco Productions (West Coast Productions), first selected an outdoor pavilion at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Advanced tickets sales were so successful that Wesco decided to move the site to nearby parking lots. 

Woodstock Ventures had three weeks to move their festival 40 miles from Wallkill to Bethel. Wesco had three days to move several hundred yards. Neither completely succeeded.

As with any large event facing such challenges, Newport's problems included having to bring water to the new site using hoses and then attendees had to bring their own containers to fill up. 

Food concessions ran out before the first day ended. Lack of shade in southern California's August sun made the site unbearable for some. 

Line up

The line up was a good one with no folk as such, but plenty of blues and rock. Sonny & Cher, though popular for many, did not fit into the mix, though and fans reportedly did not accept them well. 

Saturday 3 August

  • Alice Cooper
  • Canned Heat
  • Chambers Brothers
  • Charles Lloyd Quartet
  • Country Joe and the Fish
  • Electric Flag
  • James Cotton Blues Band
  • Paul Butterfield Blues Band
  • Sonny & Cher
  • Steppenwolf
  • Tiny Tim.

Sunday 4 August

  • Blue Cheer
  • Eric Burdon & The Animals
  • Grateful Dead
  • Illinois Speed Press
  • Iron Butterfly
  • Jefferson Airplane
  • Quicksilver Messenger Service
  • The Byrds
  • Things to Come
There are no good recordings of any performances. Surprisingly, as ubiquitous as Grateful Dead tapes are, neither they nor any known audience recordings apparently exist, but YouTube does have some silent footage of the Dead with a different date playing over it:
 

Future Woodstockers

Woodstock Ventures scheduled six of the Newport bands to their little party in Bethel a year later. Five of them got there.
  • Canned Heat
  • Country Joe & the Fish
  • Paul Butterfield Blues Band
  • Grateful Dead
  • Jefferson Airplane
  • Iron Butterfly (scheduled but didn’t perform; perhaps still waiting for the promised helicopter flight from LaGuardia Airport?)

Primary Criticism

It is always interesting to read an article about an event written at the time of the event. Decades can de-glaze  the bit and pieces that others saw firsthand. 

Here are a few observations that Digby Diehl of the Los Angeles made. 
  1. “the Newport Pop Festival was an outpouring of post-Beatles rock. And as the Blue Cheer pushed heavy amplifier-speaker equipment offstage into the crowd, Eric Burdon thrashed around, falling off the stage, as Country Joe and the Fish led the crowd in an obscenity cheer and the Jefferson Airplane fostered a spirit of riot.”
  2. “Arthur Brown set(s) his headdress on fire, the Asylum Choir takes nude advertisements, and some rock performers have become sideshow freaks…”
  3. …when a young singer like John Kay of Steppenwolf wears tight leather pants and ruffled shirts, rocks back on his heels and gestures exaggeratedly while singing, he is indulging in the sensational.”
  4. Regarding Country Joe’s “Fish Cheer” : “It was as cheap a way for Country Joe to win the Festival audience as for Wayne Newton singing “Danny Boy” is to win a Vegas audience.”
  5. Rock has to follow the trail blazed by Lennon-McCartney or Bog Dylan by speaking to the point, not shocking. “
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