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The Lost Festival: Atlanta International Pop Festivals

The Atlanta International Pop Festival was one of the biggest fests in 1969, boasting Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Joe Cocker and CCR on the line-up.

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atlanta pop festivals

The summer of ’69 really was the summer of the rock festivals. Practically every weekend during that long hot summer there was a gig somewhere in America, the UK and in many other countries in the Northern Hemisphere.

On first weekend of July the Atlanta Pop Festival attracted 140,000, although reports do vary, to the Atlanta International Raceway in Hampton, Georgia, 20 miles south of the city from which it took its name. Despite the very high temperatures the whole affair passed off with no violence or trouble, but as with so many early festivals the ability to buy decent food was woefully inadequate. In a headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution it said, “Music fans stay orderly despite heat, wine, drugs.” The PA was supplied by Hanley Sound of Medford, Massachusetts, and the lights were the work of The Electric Collage of Atlanta, both companies doing the same thing a year later.

The festival ran over two days and among the acts appearing were Booker T. & the M.G.s, The Dave Brubeck Trio with Gerry Mulligan, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, Grand Funk Railroad, Ten Wheel Drive, Tommy James and the Shondells, Chicago Transit Authority and Led Zeppelin. There were others, including Joe Cocker, The Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, Sweetwater, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Winter and Janis Joplin who would all appear at Woodstock a month or so later.

The following year the festival moved to the Middle Georgia Raceway in Byron, Georgia, and ran from 3 July and this time ran over three days. Like Woodstock the organisers started out charging for tickets ($14) and again like Woodstock it ended up a free-festival the promoters, fearful for people’s safety opened the gates the let in the huge crowd. They had stood outside chanting, “Free, free, free. Music belongs to the people” and threatened to overwhelm the bikers/Hells Angels who had, like Altamont, been hired to handle security. Crowd estimates vary from 200,000 to 600,000.

Second Atlanta International-Pop-Festival Historical Marker

Given the extra day there were many more bands appearing. Among the big names that had appeared at Woodstock and played here were John Sebastian, Ravi Shankar, Johnny Winter, Mountain, Richie Havens and the biggest name of all being Jimi Hendrix. According to the festival organizer Alex Cooley, “We had it all set where Jimi Hendrix would play his `Star-Spangled Banner’ right at midnight on the Fourth. We told him to signal us when he was about 10 minutes from being done because we needed that much leeway to set off the fireworks above the stage. Jimi got so into his solo he just forgot. Apparently Jimi also forgot about the fireworks because when the first one went off, he jumped about 10 feet!”

There was a healthy contingent of British artists led by Ten Years After who had become very big in America on the back of their Woodstock appearance. Others were, Mott the Hoople, Giner Baker’s Air Force, Jethro Tull, Procol Harum and the vastly under-rated Terry Reid who nearly became the lead singer with Led Zeppelin but turned down the gig

Local favourites The Allman Brothers Band were there along with B.B. King, the Bob Seger System, Cactus, the Chambers Brothers, It’s A Beautiful Day, Spirit and the first white rock act signed to Motown, Rare Earth. There was again Grand Funk Railroad – fact becoming a big name in the USA – and the brilliantly named Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys.

As a postscript a company hired to film the festival went bankrupt a week after it ended. The film is apparently in a vault somewhere in Philadelphia.

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42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. dominick

    July 2, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    i wish i can get a hold of the film,i would love to see GRAND FUNK.

    • JEFFREY DAVID

      July 7, 2016 at 12:35 am

      IF YOU WANT TO SEE ANY FILM ON GFRR , TERRY KNIGHT HAS BEEN HOLDING IT HOSTAGE FOR $$$ FROM THE BAND , INCLUDES SHEA CONCERT

      • Marsha

        March 7, 2019 at 12:38 am

        It’s high time some sort of compilation film be released before those of us who were there all kick off!

        Please y’all!

        Friend of Red Dog

        God Bless his soul

  2. dave conley

    July 3, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    they need to get back togather and make a recording. I loved that band,every songs they did were great!

  3. warren

    July 5, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Never saw them in Alanta but did get to catch the sha stadium.
    As to the comment above ,they sort of are back together , without Mark. their seems to be some legal bullshit between Mark and the other members of grand funk . But their have been no new recording in years . Caught a grand funk show a while back they were terrible ,nothing like they were with mark.
    They really need to patch this thing up and get the three of them up on stage together again.Would love to take my son to see the real grand funk. Mark is the reason i picked up the guitar in the first place. Their second album the one with the red cover is the first rock and roll album i ever purchased. long live grand funk

  4. tom

    July 12, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    WAS there great time & yes HOT

  5. D. Reily

    July 12, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    This is a film that is just as, if not more important than Woodstock. Please have someone remaster it and release it. It needs to be seen.

  6. ODell Scott

    July 13, 2014 at 12:04 am

    I don’t remember Ginger Baker or Jethro Tull.If they were there I must have been asleep!

    • Greg

      July 13, 2014 at 11:54 pm

      If you were at Byron there was a free stage acoss the road where most of us camped.i believe it was (a baptist campground). Some of the mainliners played down there.

    • millard trammell

      July 7, 2015 at 9:23 pm

      Tull never showed up… i don’t remember ginger either but the water was electric.

  7. james west

    July 13, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    WAS THERE , AND WILL NEVER FORGET THOSE YEARS OF FESTIVALS

  8. greg thompson

    July 13, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    I was at Byron( for a week). It was way better than awesome. I was born on 4th of july. What a birthday!

  9. Dave

    July 14, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Spent my 21st birthday there. Drank beer backstage with Janis! If I knew how to post pics here, I would post a couple

  10. Wes Breeding

    July 14, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    I was there and remember Grand Funk. There is a video on Utube of them playing, found it by doing a search for Atlanta Pop Festival. It was neat seeing something from that far back and knowing that you were in the crowd. Great times, the guys that I worked with at that time thought that I was crazy for taking time off to got to this event.

  11. melody

    July 14, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    What an EPIC experience, so glad I went even 8 months pregnant, in the heat.

  12. Bill

    July 14, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    I was at both.The second was especially good;the best weekend of my life.We took Jaimoe’s girlfriend home;Benzena Hall:http://www.classcreator.com/Columbia-South-Carolina-C-A-Johnson-1964/class_profile.cfm?member_id=6315570

  13. Thom

    July 14, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    I remember seeing Ginger Baker getting an injection that brought him out of a stupor; 15 minutes later he was banging away on the drums…

  14. Kathy

    July 14, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    My first concert with x boyfriend an 2 friends , the time of my life , will NEVER FOEGET !!

  15. BMankin

    July 14, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    The several needed corrections to this story are as follows: The poster pictured at the top is from the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival. The photo of Grand Funk is not from either of the two Atlanta Pop Festivals. At the Second Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970, none of the following artists actually performed: Ravi Shankar, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Jethro Tull (although all of them were named on posters and in other advertising). The Hells Angels were not hired to do security for either festival, and there is no evidence they were present at all. The film of the Second Atlanta Pop Festival is not in a vault somewhere, or anywhere. It is in very decent shape and a full-length feature documentary film has been put together for public release, although when it will be available is still unknown.

    • steve c

      July 3, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      Bill’s observations are correct.

  16. Rex

    July 14, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Was at the 1970 show! It was a great weekend, Hot Hot Hot, but great music and great friends!

  17. Myk

    July 14, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    I did get to see Grand Funk during the Shining On Tour with Wet Willie at the then Capital Center in largo, MD. I still have all there albums including All the Girls in the World Beware. This album lot of people hated, but I saw it as a chance in direction, but still funky. P.S. whats the !@#$%&? Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’m a Prince Fan-nutic but Prince in the Rock and Roll Hall be for Grand Funk Railroad. Prince would shake his head on that S@#%&!. Peace and Be Wild; In Your On Style.

  18. Gabrielle

    July 14, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    LOVE YOU! Creedence

  19. john

    July 15, 2014 at 6:31 am

    Was there in 70, car we we’re in broke down in Lexington My. Hitchhiked and took bus rest of way.
    Got to the Byron exit walked in to a gas station and ran into uncle bill and had a great time.grape juice and eggs

  20. Cary Miller

    August 2, 2014 at 6:45 am

    I was at the 2nd Atlanta Pop Festival. Oh, my gosh, the stories I could tell.
    Those three days were life-changing, the best time of my life, and nothing has ever topped it. You had to be there to understand. If I could re-live any part of my life, it would be those three days. Jimi, and the Allman Brothers, Lord have mercy!

    • Lana

      September 18, 2018 at 6:39 am

      I was there too! You’re so right about it being life changing! What a gift you have been able to be there.

  21. Rodney Davenport

    August 29, 2014 at 3:41 am

    I was at the first APF with Herman Parker and Bobby Landrum. The first one’s to play were Grand Funk, and no one from here had ever heard of them before. I was kinda indisposed the next year so missed #2 in Byron…hospital for four months.

  22. Rockin' T.C.

    March 10, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    I was there, so I’ve been told.
    Well! it was the 60’s and I was “THERE”

  23. steve c

    July 3, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    There is more about this festival at http://electriccollage.com

  24. steve c

    July 3, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    I saw the director’s cut of the second pop film. Lots of good Grand Funk footage included. It might get released, lots of legal issues and money problems. Alex Cooley was at the preview along with a large Atlanta group close to the festival back in the day.
    ANOTHER FILM (DVD) of Jimi Hendrix only, will be released before the end of 2015 by the Hendrix family. It will be on PBS as well as DVD.

  25. Tom

    July 7, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    I was 10 at the time, but I do remember the event occurring. Would give a body part now to have attended.

  26. Lew

    July 7, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    I was at the first Atlanta Pop Festival in ’69. Terrible traffic jam getting there and the heat was unbearable but I do remember seeing Grand Funk. It was worth the hassle.
    I went to the New Orleans Pop Festival two months later and and really dug it. Grateful Dead played all night. Santana, Country Joe and the Fish, It’s a Beautiful Day, Jefferson Airplane and many more.
    I’ll never forget Canned Heat’s performance and when Bob (Bear) Hyte belts out his reminder, “Don’t forget to Boogie” !
    Would have been at Atlanta in ’70 but by then I was serving Uncle Sam. Hate I missed that one!

  27. niki carr

    July 7, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    I was at that festival it was fantastic. All the music was amazing. The only problem we had was finding a bathroom.

  28. Walter Craggen

    July 9, 2015 at 3:38 am

    My Book, A Hippy Grows in Graceland, has a section called “Baroque Fest in Outlandisk” which is about my experiences at the 1970 Atlanta Festival. It was my first festival and had a major effect on my mind. Decades later, this experience motivated me to attend a few Rainbow Gatherings. Words can’t describe!

  29. Tony Paris

    October 7, 2015 at 3:08 am

    The film has not been in a vault, but languishing — much of it undeveloped — in producer Steve Rash’s barn somewhere on the East Coast. About two years ago I saw a rough cut of what Rash envisions the film being at a private screening. Since then, the Hendrix footage has all been developed and will be released on blu-ray as Electric Church. The audio is already available as Freedom, a double CD. The pop festival’s promoter, Alex Cooley, very much wants the project to be finished and released, but the cost of doing so is exorbitant. That is not to say it won’t happen. As noted above, some acts were advertised but never appeared. And there is plenty of Grand Funk Railroad footage — at least in the version I saw.

  30. cobalt327

    November 9, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    There’s a cable TV documentary about (mostly) Hendrix at this festival- brought back forgotten memories of that epic extended weekend. I hope people appreciate how good he was there and how close in time we were to losing him. .

    • cobalt327

      November 9, 2015 at 7:48 pm

      Title of the film is ‘Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church ‘.

  31. David Overbey

    July 3, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    Overs Kid & Herman
    We were there will never forget Janice Joplin , Big Brother an the Holding Company and many others that played
    Lived a life time in three days was a wonderful time in my youth

  32. JEFFREY DAVID

    July 7, 2016 at 12:37 am

    IF YOU WANT TO SEE CONCERT FILM ON GFRR , INCLUDEDING SHEA CONCERT , GET MANAGER TERRY KNIGHT TO GIVE THEM UP – BEFORE WE ALL DIE. HE HAS BEEN HOLDING THEM HOSTAGE FOR MONEY FOR YEARS.

  33. Jim Massey

    January 27, 2017 at 4:01 am

    I was at the fESTIVALON 70. i GOT THERE RIGHT AFTER THEY oPENED THE GATES.. i GAVE A HELLS ANGEL’S BABE A pbr FOR ADMISSION. i WOULD LOVE TO SEE A LIST AS TO WHO PERFORMED AT WHAT TIME. DOME GROUPS i FORGOT. sECONDLY, i WOULD LOVE TO SEE THE FILM

  34. John Lambert

    March 21, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    I was there in 70 and it was a life-changing for me. Saw the Allman Brothers for the first time and was blown away. Went to many festivals in those days and nothing came close to that whole scene. Rockers today don’t have a clue!

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