Newport Folk Festival

1968 Newport Pop Festival

1968 Newport Pop Festival

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

1968 Newport Pop Festival


..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 the event was not held in Newport, California anyway.

Then, neither was Woodstock held in Woodstock!

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

1968 Newport Pop Festival

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.

1968 Newport Pop Festival

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

Sunday 4 August

  • 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:

1968 Newport Pop Festival

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?)
1968 Newport Pop Festival

Primary Criticism

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

Here are a few observations that Digby Diehl of the Los Angeles Times 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. “
1968 Newport Pop Festival
1968 Newport Pop Festival

2 thoughts on “1968 Newport Pop Festival”

  1. I was at the Sunday show and Country Joe and the Fish played that day, “fish” cheer and all. I heard somewhere that the festival was short on time on Saturday and that they only had time to play a 15 minute set, so that’s why they came back on Sunday. Suffice it to say that my 13 year-old brain definitely registered that cheer – they were there on Sunday.

    1. Bruce

      You are spot on

      That is what happened. I co produced that show with Mark Robison and my Dad, Al Schmidt. The show was scheduled to end at 6 pm and the fair grounds anc the cops were threatening to pull the plug just as the last act of the day went on just a couple on minutes before 6 pm. We made a quick deal with all and it was agreed that Joe and. Barry to become lifelong friends of mine would do two songs which ended up lasting over a half of an hour and would also rerun the next day to perform again. Which they did. The rest is history

      Gary Schmidt.

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