Tag Archives: 1969 festivals

1969 Mississippi River Festival

1969 Mississippi River Festival

June – July 1969
Southern Illinois University
Edwardsville, IL

1969 festival #7

Nearly all the 1969 festivals I’ve written about were two- or three-day events with several performers each day. I did have a piece on the 1969 Forest Hills Music Festival in Queens, NYC, even though it was a summer-long event because so many festival-type rock groups were part of it.

1969 Mississippi River Festival

Southern Illinois University

In 1969, Southern Illinois University initiated the Mississippi River Festival. Though primarily designed as a summer residence for the St Louis Symphony Orchestra (with Walter Susskind the conductor), [a la Tanglewood in Massachusetts featuring the Boston Pop Orchestra] the Mississippi River Festival regularly featured other types of music over its typical two-month (30 dates) run. Not quite the kind of weekend festival featuring several performers each day that typified the most other 1969 festivals, the MRF nonetheless featured many of the same performers who were at those festivals.

1969 Mississippi River Festival

1969 Mississippi River Festival

Circus tent

Organizers located the venue inside a custom-made circus tent with seating for approximately 1,900 guests.  The tent had one open wall to allow for lawn spectators.

Here is a 14-minute video which mostly covers the early organization of the inaugural season. It features mainly the orchestra.

A Carmina Burana soundtrack backs the video!

1969 Mississippi River Festival

Not Woodstock Ventures

Viewers might find it interesting and amusing to watch how formalized the MRF organizers were compared to those of Woodstock Ventures.  These organizers sit a table, coffee cups in front of them, men in jackets and ties, women dressed for “church.

Because it was a two-month season, attendees could purchase a season pass for every show available.

The St Louis Dispatch has a slide show entitled, “Glory Days of the Mississippi River Festival.

1969 Mississippi River Festival

Grateful Dead
1969 Mississippi River Festival

1969 Mississippi River Festival

Great guests

Over the 11-year run of its existence, many other great bands played the Mississippi River Festival, such as, Grateful Dead, the Who, Jimmy Buffett, Yes, Janis Joplin, the Flying Burrito Brothers (in 1970 with Gram Parsons), Joni Mitchell.

Below is a chart with the various rock- or folk-related groups that played in 1969. It is a great selection.

1969 Mississippi River Festival

Dylan out of circulation?

Of special note is July 14. The Band played.  It is “common knowledge” that Bob Dylan did not perform at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. And that is true. It is also common knowledge that Bob Dylan’s first public performance following his July 29, 1966 motorcycle accident was at the Isle of Wright event the end of August 1969. Common knowledge? Yes. Accurate? No.

Who came out to play with The Band on their 4-song encore? You guessed it: Bob Dylan. I think that qualifies as a public appearance, don’t you?

1969 Mississippi River Festival

1969 Mississippi River Festival

June 23 – July 27, 1969

Date Performer Notes Paid attendance
6/23 Buffy Sainte-Marie 2268
6/24 Modern Jazz Quartet The Galactic Vision projected a light show on a screen behind MJQ 1542
6/26 Paul Butterfield Blues Band High winds forced lawn guests to seek shelter 3449
7/1 Janis Joplin na
Aorta
7/7 Arlo Guthrie  

The National Educational Television Network recorded the concert.

3753
Joni Mitchell
7/10 Iron Butterfly 12,735
Blues Image
7/14 The Band Bob Dylan came out for the Band’s encore and played four songs with them. This was his first public performance since his July 29,1966 motorcycle accident 4082
7/17 Ian and Sylvia They called their band the Great Speckled Bird 2487
7/21 New Christy Minstrels 5711
7/22 Richie Havens 2753
Eddie Fisher Trio The EFT was an East St Louis jazz band
7/23 Joan Baez 11,052

In their 2006 book , The Mississippi River Festival, Amanda Bahr-Evola and Stephen Kerber wrote: To host the symphony, the university created an outdoor concert venue within a natural amphitheater by installing a large circus tent, a stage and acoustic shell, and a sophisticated sound system. To appeal to the widest possible audience, the university included contemporary popular musicians in the series. The audacity of the undertaking, the charm of the venue, the popularity of the artists, the excellence of the performances, and the nostalgic memory of warm summer evenings have combined to endow the festival with legendary status among those who attended. [Edwardsville Intelligencer article about book]

1969 Mississippi River Festival

r Festival

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1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

August 1, 2, and 3, 1969
Fuller Flatlands, MI
1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

Whites and the Blues

With civil rights and anti-establishment sentiments in the air, there were  numbers of white kids searching outside the popular top-10 musical box.  Of course they’d already heard Brits  Eric Burdon, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and John Mayall’s interpretations of American Blues, but eventually and not surprisingly, those same white kids “discovered” what had been in front of them all along: true Blues.

University of Michigan sophomore John Fishel was one of those white kids. Bert Stratton was another. He said, “…in those days to like the blues was to be part of an exclusive, rebellious club. It was like a secret language. If you were a young white kid who was into the black blues you thought you were pretty cool.”

1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

University backed

A group of University of Michigan students  led by Fishel decided to hold a Blues festival.

Quoted in a 2009 Ann Arbor Chronicle article, Fishel said, ““Somebody put me in touch with one or two people. It ended up with maybe four or five of us getting together. Some of us knew each other, some didn’t. We really didn’t have a concept at the time. We didn’t know whether it would be a series or a one-shot deal. We didn’t know whether it was an inside show in an auditorium, or whether it was an outdoor show. But I agreed to do the entertainment part of it.”

The group asked their school for sponsorship and two university-connected nonprofit entities – the University Activities Center (UAC), and Canterbury House, the student Episcopalian organization – put up $70,000 for the event.

The kids did good!

1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

Chicago

That spring the group visited Chicago to test the waters: what true blues performers attracted the best crowds? Luther Allison was one they found.

They invited Allison to play at a free show in April and the reception was great. The group knew they could continue.

1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

Ann Arbor, the Not-Woodstock

According to a 2018 Forbes article, “When Ann Arbor Blues Festival opened in 1969, it wasn’t just the first blues festival in Michigan — it was the first blues festival ever.”

As a Woodstock alum, it is hard to criticize what so many think of as the greatest festival of all time.  History and commercialism have  ways of distorting reality when reality is mostly a subjective,  not a single unequivocal experience.

Woodstock, for all its outstanding and now-historic performers and performances, lacked true blues. Ten Years After, Paul Butterfield, Canned Heat, and Blood Sweat and Tears all provided their interpretation of original Blues.

1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

Ann Arbor Line up

August 1, Friday Night

  • Roosevelt Sykes
  • Fred McDowell
  • JB Hutto and the Hawks
  • Jimmy Dawkings
  • Junior Wells
  • BB King

August 3, Sunday afternoon

  • Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup
  • Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins
  • Roosevelt Sykes
  • Luther Allison & the Blue
  • Nebulae
  • Big Joe Williams
  • Magic Sam
  • Big Mama Thornton
  • Freddy King

August 2, Saturday night

  • Sleepy John Estes
  • Luther Allison
  • Clifton Chenier
  • Otis Rush
  • Howlin’ Wolf
  • Muddy Waters

August 3, Sunday night

  • Sam Lay
  • T-Bone Walker
  • Son House
  • Charlie Musselwhite w Freddy Roulette
  • Lightnin’ Hopkins
  • James Cotton

 

Unlike the half-million who camped in Bethel, NY, the Ann Arbor Blues Festival had about 20,000, but 20,000 very enthusiastic listeners. Dan Morgenstern wrote in Downbeat that “the performers – especially the veterans – were treated with respect that bordered on reverence. It added up to a kind of recognition that blues artists have seldom, if ever, received from their own people.

In October, after Woodstock, Morgenstern was clear.  The Ann Arbor Festival was “without doubt the festival of the year, if not the decade.”

Stanley Livingston, a professional photographer from Ann Arbor, captured the performers both on- and off-stage. He and Michael Erlewine later published many of his photos in  Blues in Black and White

1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

Ann Arbor 2

In 1970 a second blues festival was held, but success led to disruption and disruption led to financial loss.  Also, the Goose Lake festival held the same time had a big-name line up that pulled possible guests away from Ann Arbor.

The festival went away for two years, returned in 1972 to a three-year run, and then went away again.

1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

Renewal

In 2016, James Partridge realized that in three years it would be the original festival’s 50th anniversary.  In 2017 he organized a new Ann Arbor Blues Festival.

Today,  Partridge, the Festival’s executive producer, says, “I want everybody to know what Ann Arbor has contributed to music and recognize that the Ann Arbor Blues Festivals, they changed music. They changed history. Had it not been for those original festivals, a lot of the music we listen to today might not have been made.”

The 2018 festival will be on August 17 and 18 at the Washtenaw Farm Council Fairgrounds

1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival
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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

Incident

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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