Monday, September 8, 2008

History Of Festivals 9: Texas International Pop Festival 1969

August 1969, three days of acid, peace and love, hippies and music. It can only be one thing, right? Perhaps not: just two weeks after Woodstock came the Texas International Pop Festival.

Nowhere town Lewisville was the host to 120,000 hippies, as well as Led Zep, Grand Funk Railroad, BB King and Janis Joplin for the Labor Day weekend in August 1969. The festival took place on the now-defunct speedway track and was distinguished by a scorching, hard, bluesy Led Zeppelin set.

Texas had its first taste of the Zep a month previously when they played in Dallas and Houston and this performance showed a band on the up, coming between their first and second albums. Hard and horny versions of Train Kept A Rollin’ and I Can’t Quit You Baby kicked off a sweaty, thumping set that featured a tremendous Dazed And Confused and served notice to America of a major new force in blues rock.

If the night-time belonged to Zep, there was plenty to enjoy in the daytime too. Local residents were shocked –SHOCKED! – to see hippies skinny-dipping in Lake Lewisville. Some of them were so shocked that they had to get in boats to have a closer look at the naked boobies, which were officially the most exciting thing to happen to Lewisville Texas in a generation. Naked hippies; you can't beat 'em.

The town was blessed, or rather the festival was blessed, with an unusually tolerant police chief, who had the foresight to see that a non-confrontational approach to the longhairs would pay dividends. Maybe it helped that Chief Ralph Adams was leaving his job that summer, but he managed to preside over an event that saw just a couple of dozen arrests out of 120,000 punters.

To give you an idea of how mellow it was – certainly when you compare that Altamont was only four months in the future – Kesey’s right-hand man Ken Babbs ran a free stage, security was handled by the ‘Please Force’ and Wavy Gravy offered counselling for those who had overdone it on the mind-bending drugs. The clown/activist/icon/pharmaceutical experiment, in association with activist commune Hog Farm, also dished out free food. In fact, Wavy Gravy got his name, one of the great loon monikers – from no less a personage than BB King, who played for three nights here, when the blues legend found him lying on the stage.

The event also saw Janis Joplin return to Texas and get the sort of rousing reception from her home-state crowd that had not always been the case.

Grand Funk Railroad, then relative unknowns, opened the festival for free, confident that the exposure would be well worth it. Selling more albums than any other US band in the following year (1970) suggested it was a shrewd move.

Other blues rock big guns playing included Chicago and Johnny Winter(check out the album of his set - he's on theform of his life), while Sly And The Family Stone closed the festival with Hot Fun In The Summertime. And indeed it was.

IF LEWISVILLE was a peaceful, innocent celebration of the hippie ideal, it was to be one of the last gasps of it, too. The dark disaster of Altamont in December of the same year seemed to sound the death knell.

But in the first half of 1970, plans were nonetheless afoot for a festival in Middlefield, Connecticut. So here’s a quiz question: what was so special about the July 1970 rock festival at Powder Ridge Ski Area, which was attended by around 30,000 people?

Answer: the event was cancelled. The establishment got pretty wise, pretty quickly after Woodstock and the fun of 1969, and local communities mobilised to prevent tens of festivals in 1970. Festivals were seen as political events, and one such that could not get its legal injunction was Powder Ridge, which had booked Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Sly Stone, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, Chuck Berry and others. But the mere fact that the event wasn’t going ahead didn’t stop the promoters from promoting it.

30,000 souls were not going to let such inconveniences as a cancelled festival spoil their weekend and turned up anyway, leading to one of the most heroic displays of mass public drug-taking the continental US had ever seen. Without the distractions of bands to see – with the exception of a few local outfits like Melanie.

Drugs, lots of bad drugs, were the order of the day, with dealers hawking their wares untroubled: ‘Buy a tab of acid and get a shot of heroin free’, they shouted. You don’t get that in Boots.

Festival medic William Abruzzi was treating 50 freaking out trippers an hour amid scenes of considerable wigging out. Connecticut – not exactly known as a party state – hadn’t seen anything like it. When the Black Panthers got involved to protest the 1970 BP trials that were taking place in New Haven, it was clear that this wasn’t your average festival. When people started dumping drugs into the barrels of drinking water, plots were being lost left, right and I-can’t-feel-my-face centre.

Not a good day for The Kids.



Oh this is a lovely trip down memorty lane, an eclectic mix of music for sure. Great but obscure bands like Head Hands & Feet (Albert Lee on geetar) and Kevin Ayers. Roxy in cutting edge mode doing Ladytron. There's good old Argent and a cracking Bad Motor Scooter from Montrose and even the magestic Roy Harper doing One Of Those Days In England which I once campaigned for to be our national anthem! (do check out the HQ and Bullinamingvase albums -wonderful stuff)

Be Bop Deluxe do Maid In Heaven - man they were a great band.
Gary Moore is on doing a brilliant Don't Believe A Word - the slow then fast version - magnifico with Phillo on bass and jazz/rock noodlers will dig Stanley Clarke/George Duke doing Schooldays
There's some lovely 80s stuff from Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera and Tom Verlaine too.
154 minutes of quality music. I've got 4 copies to give away.

ELO - Greatest Hits & The Gold Collection

Two compilation CDs that oddly enough don't over lap at all. So in effect you get all of ELO's best stuff across the two albums. Early ELO is some of the most magnificent original music that the 70s produced. Showdown is my favourite; moody, dark rock n roll. 10538 Overture still sounds like a radical adventure too. But the later more melodious even disco flavoured stuff like Mr Blue Sky which at the time I dismissed as mere pop music - I was a hairy snob back then - now sound thrillingly fresh and are just so damn creative. Jeff Lynne remains an under-rated genius. I grew up near Mick Kaminsky you know!
I've got 4 pairs of these to give away. I bet you've forgotten just how brilliant ELO were.

For a chance to win them just email me with your address and put ELO or Whistle Test in the subject box - or both.

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