In the grounds of a stately home in Hertfordshire, on July 20, 1974, £2.75 bought you nearly 12 hours of entertainment. It was provided by the Allman Brothers Band, Van Morrison, the Doobie Brothers, the Mahavishnu Orchestra featuring John McLaughlin and Jean-Luc Ponty, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Tim Buckley. The occasion was the Bucolic Frolic, otherwise known as the first-ever rock festival at Knebworth.
The all-day Saturday concert marked the first time that the home of Victorian novelist Edward Bulyer Lytton had been opened to the public for such an event. For more than a decade to come, huge multi-artist shows became de rigueur at the location, which has again reverberated to the sound of summer concerts in more recent years.
An estimated 60,000 people showed up for this flagship occasion. Who better to headline it than one of the hottest rock bands in America? While the Allmans had only made a very tentative chart impression in the UK at that stage with the Brothers and Sisters album, British rock cognoscenti were well aware that the LP had spent a mighty five weeks at No. 1 in America the previous September. The knew that the ABB had a reputation for epic, extended live performances, as advertised by their great At Fillmore East live album of 1971.
Many festival-goers to Knebworth’s designated camping area arrived during the course of the previous afternoon and evening. The day of the concert was greeted with fine weather, and one of the most striking settings ever seen for a UK rock event, with giant oak trees around the grounds. The audience were entertained through the day by the acoustic introspection of Buckley, the free-form jazz musings of Mahavishnu, the endearing antics of Alex Harvey and his band, the west coast rock of the Doobies and Morrison’s much-admired poetic intensity.
But none of that could have prepared the crowd for the reportedly record-breaking 60,000-watt PA system of the Allmans. Rarely off the road, they had been in Europe for a few days before, arriving at Knebworth from a show at the Summer Festival two days before in Hilversum, Holland.
They roared into their set with “Wasted Words” (heard above a few months earlier, as with “Jessica” before it, at Winterland in San Francisco) and Elmore James’ “Done Somebody Wrong” and “One Way Out.” Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts led the line as the band’s music spread through the Hertfordshire countryside. Gregg announced to the crowd that they were going to play “every song we know.”
He was true to his word. The second set kicked off with “Statesboro Blues” as the show extended to some three hours in length. Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More” led into the band’s instrumental anthem ‘Jessica,’ then two extended encores concluded with a huge “Whipping Post” to send the crowd home, or back to their tents, exhausted but happy.
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