Tag Archives: Festivals

1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

August 1, 2, and 3, 1969
Fuller Flatlands, MI
1969 festival #24
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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October 3 Music et al

October 3 Music et al

Roots of Rock

October 3 Music et al

October 3, 1945: Elvis Presley made his first ever-public appearance in a talent contest at the Mississippi Alabama Dairy Show singing ‘Old Shep’, Elvis was 10 years old at the time and came second. (see October 5, 1948)

October 3 Music et al

Howl and Other Poems

October 3, 1957: at the conclusion of the obscenity trial regarding Howl and Other Poems, Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that the poem was not obscene. In his decision, he stated that, “I do not believe that “Howl” is without redeeming social importance. The first part of “Howl” presents a picture of a nightmare world; the second part is an indictment of those elements in modern society destructive of the best qualities of human nature; such elements are predominantly identified as materialism, conformity, and mechanization leading toward war. The third part presents a picture of an individual who is a specific representation of what the author conceives as a general condition.” [Full transcript of decision] [complete Howl] (BG, see April 2, 1958; FS, see Nov 1)

October 3 Music et al

Beatles not breaking up

October 3, 1966: The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, recently released from hospitalization, denied reports that Paul McCartney was leaving the group. There had been much press speculation during the latter part of 1966 that The Beatles were splitting up. Each of the four members had pursued outside interests after their final concert, with John Lennon filming How I Won The War in Germany and Spain, George Harrison visiting India, and McCartney and Ringo Starr busying themselves in England. Epstein also revealed that Lennon was appearing as Private Gripweed in Richard Lester’s film, and that McCartney was composing the music for another movie entitled Wedlocked, or All In Good Time. (see Oct 16)

October 3 Music et al

Woody Guthrie

October 3 Music et al

October 3, 1967: Woody Guthrie died of complications of Huntington’s disease.  NYT obit. (see Oct 6)

October 3 Music et al

Fifth Big Sur Folk Festival

October 3 Music et al

October 3, 1968: The Fifth Big Sur Folk Festival (Big Sur, see Sept 14 – 15, 1969; Festival, see Oct 26 & 27)

  • Joan Baez
  • Judy Collins
  • Mimi Fariña
  • Arlo Guthrie
  • Charles River Valley Boys
October 3 Music et al

 Seventh Big Sur Folk Festival

October 3 Music et al

October 3, 1970 – The Seventh Big Sur Folk Festival (held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds) (see Sept 25, 1971)

1:00 pm Concert:
Beach Boys
John Phillips
Joan Baez
Merry Clayton and Love Ltd.Kris Kristofferson (with Chris Gantry and Vince Matthews)
John Hartford
8:00 pm Concert:
Beach Boys
John Phillips
Linda Ronstadt, with Swamp Water
Mimi Fariña & Tom Jans
Mark Spoelstra
Country Joe McDonald
Tom Ghent
Joan Baez
October 3 Music et al
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