Tag Archives: 1969 festivals

LA Free Press Festival Riot

LA Free Press Festival Riot

April 20, 1969

The LA Free Press’s Birthday Party

The second “festival” of 1969 was the LA Free Press Festival. I qualify the word festival because organizers planned only a one-day event and typically a festival was a multi-day event. Having said that, it is important to keep in mind that although it was only one day, there were a number of groups for whom this event was simply one of a series in Venice aimed at controlling what they saw as uncontrolled development of the area.

California was the birthplace of rock festivals whether they be called festivals, be-ins, fairs, or whatever. The 1967 Summer of Love had demonstrated the counter-culture’s positive and negative characteristics.

For the most part, the peaceful gatherings where youth enjoyed their music and other types of entertainment presented no issues to local governments. When the gatherings interfered with the everyday lives of other residents or when local law enforcement viewed (for any number of reasons) the youth’s behavior as immoral and illegal, conflict resulted.

Such were the circumstances that led to the LA Free Press celebrating its birthday with the LA Free Press Festival. Unfortunately, a well-intentioned event turned violent.

LA Free Press Festival Riot

The Los Angeles Free Press

LA Free Press Festival Riot

The LA Free Press–The Los Angeles Free Press–(also called “the Freep”)  was an underground newspaper of the 1960s, perhaps the first of that type.  Art Kunkin edited and published it weekly.

Unlike all the other festivals of 1969, the Free Press’s was to be both musical and political.

Venice had been an independent city until it merged with Los Angeles in 1926.  According to its site, “Venice has always been known as a hangout for the creative and the artistic. In the 1950s and 60s, Venice became a center for the Beat generation. There was an explosion of poetry and art.

Sounds like a good spot for a festival.

There is not much about who was scheduled to play. Country Joe and the Fish were there. In the book the place of music edited by Andrew Leyshot, David Matless, and George Revill, it reads, “In April 1969 Venice Beach hosted its first free concert, attempting to build upon the success of Be-Ins in the previous two years. In the mythology of L.A., the “Beach” was considered an ideal ecology of life for such revelry.”

LA Free Press Festival Riot


The times were one that the hum of confrontation between law enforcement and youth was a constant presence. Apparently a thrown bottle lighted the fuse that led to the incident. One of the lessons that Woodstock Ventures learned from this and other similar incidents was to avoid having an law enforcement presence on site.

LA Free Press Festival Riot

Tales of a Blue Meanie

Alan Cole from his book, Tales of a Blue Meanie, chapter 8, Riotous Behavior, described some background: Circus Saul [Blumenthal] and Fish Face [Sam] were radical capitalists – that’s what they called themselves, anyway. They hated LBJ, despised Richard Nixon even more and had pledged ten thousand dollars each to the newly formed organization “Businessmen For Peace.” They also vowed to stage various concerts up and down the state to raise awareness and funds for their cause.

LA Free Press Festival Riot

Confessions of an Unapologetic Hippie

Phil Polizatto wrote in Confessions of an Unapologetic Hippie

It was supposed to be a love-in/anti-war gathering. Right there on that expanse of beach between Pacific Ocean Park and where Venice proper started. The line up consisted of Spirit, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Taj Mahal, interspersed with anti-war speeches. For a change, we would be on the stage itself and not on scaffolds. Still, it was just more go-go dancing. And we’d be doing it for free just like all the other entertainers….

It was a wonderful day. Everyone was on a high. Spirit really got everyone on their feet. Dancing. Swaying. Gettin’ down! The speeches were empowering and solidified the crowd’s resolve against the war. They knew that the threat from the outside was now and forever a lie. They knew that the country had better start thinking in a new way. And they knew that these rallies were meant to attract the media and make people pay attention. They needed a venue where their opposition could be clearly seen and loudly heard. So they rose to the occasion and hooted and whistled and hollered at the top of their lungs in response to buzz words that echoed through the loudspeakers. But the crowd was there as much for the music as they were to make a statement. They were there to have a good time and have some fun.

A threatening police presence, a bottle perhaps thrown, and “Suddenly it was chaos. Clubs cracking skulls. Kids screaming and being trampled by both the cops and the crowd. Some people putting up a fight. Guys trying to rip the masks from the cops’ faces to get something to punch at. Feisty women kicking and biting their assailants. Kids trying to hang on to, but then violently bucked off, the bronco legs of police who were trying to pummel their dads. Lots of bleeding. Lots of pleading. “

LA Free Press Festival Riot

The Evening Outlook reported

LA Free Press Festival Riot

A local paper reported the next day that police moved in because of a planned orgy: “The plan was for people to form a huge circle around a couple on the beach who would have intercourse. Slowly, other couples would join in, [police Capt. Robert] Sillings said his reports revealed. One couple was arrested for lewd conduct after the girl danced topless while her partner fondled her, police said. The girl reportedly was told to put on her top several times and was arrested when she refused. Sillings said there were “numerous incidents” of girls peeling off their bathing suits. Six officers were injured by flying rocks and bottles and at least a dozen other people were hurt in fist fights and by broken glass. A dozen ambulances went to the scene during the day. The violence broke out late in the afternoon when officers attempted to arrest several individuals on suspicion of possession of marijuana and public intoxication.”

LA Free Press Festival Riot
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Toronto Rock and Roll Revival

Toronto Rock and Roll Revival

September 13, 1969
1969 festival #33
Varsity Stadium, at the University of Toronto

Toronto Rock and Roll Revival

Toronto Rock and Roll Revival

Toronto Pop Festival

On June 21 and 22, 1969, John Brower and Kenny Walkeron had produced the Toronto Pop Festival in the Varisity Stadium at the  University of Toronto.  Its success encouraged them to do a larger festival in September, but like many musical enterprises, problems ensued.

Toronto Rock and Roll Revival

Kim Fowley to the rescue

Because of poor ticket sales, Brower and Walkeron almost had to cancel the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival when their main backer pulled out.

Musician, producer, and general bon vivant Kim Fowley was going to be the MC of the show. He suggested to Brower to call Apple Records and invite John Lennon and Yoko Ono to be MCs as well. Fowley’s reasoning was Lennon’s love for roots rock and that Chuck Berry, Little Richard< and Gene Vincent were among those in the festival.

Toronto Rock and Roll Revival

Plastic Ono to the rescue

Lennon not only accepted the suggestion, he offered to play at the festival as well. Accompanying Lennon and Ono were Klaus Vooman, Alan White, and Eric Clapton. At first no one believed Brower, but once the recorded conversation of Brower ordering tickets for Lennon et al, tickets sold out.

Toronto Rock and Roll Revival

Line up

As mentioned above and as the event’s name implies, this festival (though just one day) had a basic rock line up:

  • Whiskey Howl
  • Bo Diddley
  • Chicago
  • Junior Walker and the All Stars
  • Tony Joe White
  • Alice Cooper
  • Chuck Berry
  • Cat Mother and the All Night News Boys
  • Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Gene Vincent
  • Little Richard
  • Doug Kershaw
  • The Doors
  • John Lennon and Plastic Ono Band

80 members of the Vagabonds motorcycle club rode escort, 40 in front and 40 in back, for John and Yoko’s limousine from the Toronto airport to the university stadium.

Toronto Rock and Roll Revival

Toronto Rock and Roll Revival

D.A. Pennebaker

Luckily for history and us today the organizers filmed the event. D.A. Pennebaker, maker of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Look Back and Monterey Pop again did a great job. There are many pieces of the film, Sweet Toronto on YouTube. The more you watch the better an already great concert gets. Great great rock and roll!

Toronto Rock and Roll Revival

Lights on…

It is a sad commentary that the show’s great stars needed the light of John Lennon to bring a sold out mostly young white audience to listen, but that’s what happened. Ironically, the story is that John Lennon, performing for the first time without Paul McCartney since their 1950s meeting, needed encouragement.

The hitherto imaginary band consisted of Eric Clapton on guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass, and session musician Alan White on drums. [see Beatles Bible article]

Before introducing the Plastic Ono Band, Kim Fowley had everyone get their matches ready to greet Lennon , Ono, and friends. Whether this was the first time an audience used matches to greet a performer is unknown. It is likely one of the first times.

The band’s set list mostly reflected the festival’s revival theme:

  1. Blue Suade Shoes
  2. Money (That’s What I Want)
  3. Dizzy Miss Lizzy
  4. Yer Blues
  5. Cold Turkey
  6. Give Peace a Chance
  7. Don’t Worry Kyoko
  8. John John (Let’s Hope for Peace)

For more coverage, see a noisey article.

Toronto Rock and Roll Revival
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Toronto Pop Festival 69

Toronto Pop Festival 69

June 21 & 22, 1969

Varsity Stadium

 1969 Festival #10

Velvet Underground “Heroin”

Toronto Pop Festival 69

To say another “lost” festival of the summer of 1969 gets old, but, yes, the Toronto Pop Festival (as opposed to the Toronto Rock and Roll Festival later the same year) is another of the 1969 festivals few have heard of.

The line-up was a good one. How Johnny Winter had the energy to play in Toronto on Friday and then in California on Sunday, I don’t know. I have underlined those who would appear at Woodstock:

Saturday 21 June

  1. Eric Anderson
  2. Carla Thomas & the Barkays
  3. Man
  4. Al Kooper
  5. The Band
  6. Bonzo Dog Band
  7. Rotary Connection
  8. Johnny Winter
  9. Velvet Underground
  10. Sly & the Family Stone
Sunday 22 June

  1. Mother Lode
  2. Procol Harum
  3. Edwin Starr
  4. Chuck Berry
  5. Slim Harpo
  6. Tiny Tim
  7. Dr John the Night Tripper
  8. Blood, Sweat, & Tears
  9. Nucleus
  10. Robert Charlebois
  11. Steppenwolf
Toronto Pop Festival 69

Diverse line-up

A legitimate criticism of Woodstock’s lineup was a lack of black performers. Yes, there was Richie Havens, Sly and the Family Stone, and Jimi Hendrix, but those three were already an accepted part of many white listeners collection. For Toronto, Carla Thomas, Edwin Starr, Slim Harpo, and Chuck Berry added styles that Woodstock lacked.

Tickets were $6 a day or $10 for both days.

Toronto Pop Festival 69

Jeanne Beker

Woodstock had Abbie Hoffman infamously inserting himself in the middle of The Who’s performance. In Toronto a young girl joined Ronnie Hawkins during his performance of “Bo Diddly.”

While Pete Townshend threatened Hoffman, the more genial Hawkins welcomed the yellow-bikinied Jeanne Beker. Her presence was caught on camera by a photographer for The Telegram. Hawkins is in the purple suit.

Toronto Pop Festival 69
Beker on stage with Hawkins

Jeanne Beker is now a well-known Canadian television personality, fashion designer, author and newspaper columnist.

The audience recording of the Velvet Underground is the only recording of the festival I could find.

Here is a link to images from Norm Horner taken on Saturday afternoon. And another link to images from http://theband.hiof.no/

Toronto Pop Festival 69
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