Aquarian Family Festival

Aquarian Family Festival

23 – 24 May 1969
San Jose, CA
1969 festival #6
Aquarian Family Festival
poster for Aquarian Family Festival
Aquarian Family Festival

Not just Woodstock

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 several “announced” bands had not actually been booked and nearly 1,000 attendees experienced PCP drug reactions.

Dennis Jay

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?

Great line-up

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. (*would play at Woodstock)

  • The Ace of Cups
  • All Men Joy
  • Birth
  • Beggars Opera
  • Big Brother and the Holding Company*
  • Boz Scaggs
  • Chocolate Watchband
  • Crabs
  • Crow
  • Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band
  • Devine Madness
  • Denver
  • The Doobie Brothers
  • Elgin Marble
  • Flamin’ Groovies
  • Frumious Bandersnatch
  • Gentle Dance
  • Greater Carmichael Traveling Street Band
  • Glass
  •  Mountain*
  •  High Country
  • Jefferson Airplane*
  • Joy of Cooking
  • Last Mile
  • Libras, Lamb
  • Living Color
  • Linn County


  • Mother Ball
  • Morning Glory
  • Mad River 
  • Mt. Rushmore
  • Nymbus
  • Old Davis
  • Quicksilver Messenger Service
  • Red Grass
  • Green Smoke
  • Rubber Maze
  • Rising Tide
  • Rejoice
  • Sunrise
  • Sable
  • Sons of Champlin
  • Sounds Unlimited Blues Band
  • Sandy Bull
  • The Steve Miller Blues Band
  • Strawberry Alarm Clock
  • Stoned Fox
  • South Bay Experimental Flash
  • Throckmorton
  • Tree of Life
  • Weird Herald, Womb
  • Warren Purcell
  • Zephyr Grove

Amphetamine Gazelle

I hope Mad River played “Amphetamine Gazelle.” And many thanks to Also, the featured image on top is of the Chocolate Watchband. Who knew!

Aquarian Family Festival

Ace of Cups

The first band listed (alphabetically) is the Ace of Cups, an all-female band from the Haight. Here’s a report about them.

Aquarian Family Festival

I always enjoy getting someone’s first-hand account about an event I blog about. I got this email from Roger Desmond who was at the festival:

It was a bunch of us talking. We thought the fairgrounds festival was a rip-off for many reasons. Mainly, the promoter, Bob Blodgett promised that Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin would play but we found out they were booked at another venue at the same time. Soooo we basically contacted the bands and told them we wanted to do a free concert and wham! It was happening. As a San Jose State student I was able to help secure the venue. Ironically, Jimi showed up and checked it out, and would have played but the amps he needed were not present. But the bands that DID play were amazing!

As major organizer Dennis Jay said “Its what we always wanted!”

Aquarian Family Festival

Next 1969 festival: Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

May 23 – 25, 1969

1969 Festival #7

Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

 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.

1968 debacle

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.

How? According to the Rock Prosopography siteAfter the drug-addled debacle of the previous year, it was surprising that there was an encore. Supposedly the promoters managed to rent the Fairgrounds on false pretenses, and then started advertising Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, even though they had neither under contract. The festival ended up occurring, and was well attended, but the city and county made sure there wasn’t any further events.

Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

1969 happens

Northern California Folk-Rock Festiva
Newspaper announcement that festival would be allowed.

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

         A great lineup by any measure

  • Jimi Hendrix Experience
  • Jefferson Airplane
  • The Chambers Brothers
  • Led Zeppelin
  • Eric Burdon
  • Spirit
  • Canned Heat
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie
  • The Youngbloods
  • Steve Miller
  • Chuck Berry
  • Muddy Waters
  • Taj Mahal
  • Lee Michaels
  • Blues Image
  • Santana
  • Aum
  • Elvin Bishop
  • Poco
  • People!
  • Lynn County
  • Loading Zone
  • Sweet Linda Divine
  • Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys
  • Doc Watson & New Lost City Ramblers

Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

No recording/no film

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.

Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

The Concierge Photo dot com site has several photos of the event. Check them out.

Northern California Folk-Rock Festival

Next 1969 festival: Big Rock Pow Wow

Big Rock Pow Wow

Big Rock Pow Wow

Seminole Indian Village, West Hollywood, FL

23 – 25 May 1969

1969’s 8th Rock Festival

Aum…”Mississippi Mud”

Big Rock Pow Wow

Big Rock Pow Wow

1969 Festival #8

The third of the 1969 Memorial Day weekend festivals is perhaps the most interesting. It wasn’t filmed so pictures of the event are hard to come by. It wasn’t recorded either. Well, mostly.

Fortunately for us, 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 legendary Owsley “Bear” Stanley recorded them.

Big Rock Pow Wow

Big Rock Pow Wow

Johnny Winter

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 already signed him ($7,500) to play at their upcoming middle-of-nowhere festival in Wallkill, NY.

Big Rock Pow Wow

Three days w repeats

Sweetwater would also appear at that august event.

Here is advertised lineup by day:

Big Rock Pow Wow

Arts included

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.” 

Big Rock Pow Wow


The band Aum [members were Wayne Ceballos (guitar, piano), Kenneth Newell (bass), and Larry Martin (drums).] from San Francisco played also.

Aum is another of those 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.

Big Rock Pow Wow

Next 1969 festival: First Annual Detroit Rock & Roll Revival