1969 was THE year of the festivals. Across North America and Britain, there seemed to be one taking place somewhere almost every weekend during the summer. The two earliest festivals in the summer of ‘69 were in Canada, the Aldergrove Beach Rock Festival, which bizarrely starred the New Vaudeville Band and Guitar Shorty and in Britain where the first Hyde Park show featured Blind Faith, with Richie Havens opening proceedings in front of 120,000 people.
Newport ’69 was bigger than the previous year, this time taking place at Northridge at the Devonshire Downs Racetrack. Over 150,000 people showed up to what was another one of those eclectic sixties line-ups with Jimi Hendrix receiving top billing at the three-day festival that was held over the weekend of 20 – 22 June. Gangs gate-crashed the site in their thousands, throwing sticks, bottles and rocks at the police. Among the artists at the festival were Albert King, Joe Cocker, Spirit, Albert Collins, Love, Steppenwolf, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Flock, Johnny Winter, The Byrds, The Rascals and Three Dog Night. On the same weekend in Toronto a festival that attracted 50,000 people featured The Band, Canada’s own, Steppenwolf and Chuck Berry.
The following weekend Denver got in on the act and played host to 50,000 fans to watch Poco, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker and the very last gig by the Jimi Hendrix Experience; gate crashers lobbed firecrackers, bottles and debris at the police and the police threw tear gas. The same weekend in England at a Recreation Ground in Bath a Festival of Blues was held. Top of the bill was Fleetwood Mac, supported by John Mayall, Ten Years After, Led Zeppelin, The Nice and Keef Hartley.
During the first weekend in July, the Atlanta Pop Festival attracted 140,000 and passed off with no violence or trouble as the crowd watched Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, Blood Sweat & Tears and Ten Wheel Drive among a packed two-day bill. On the Saturday (5 July) in London’s Hyde Park the Rolling Stones were staging their now-famous free concert for anything from 250,000 to 500,000 people – no one counted.
Two weeks later at the Newport Folk Festival, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor met for the first time as they performed on a bill that included Richie Havens. The next weekend in Seattle at a two-day affair The Doors, Led Zeppelin and Bo Diddley among others performed for 70,000 people over the course of the three-day festival.
Atlantic City, during the first weekend in August, was the scene of the first New York area festival when 110,000 fans turned up to see Procol Harum, Little Richard, Santana, Jefferson Airplane and almost inevitably Creedence Clearwater Revival. A week later at a horse racing course at Plumpton in Sussex, the National Jazz and Blues festival featured an almost totally rock-orientated line-up. On Friday night Pink Floyd topped the bill, Saturday had The Who, Yes and Chicken Shack performing, while Sunday featured The Nice, Keef Hartley, Pentangle and Family.
And then it was time for Woodstock…immortalised in film and on record and therefore seeming to take pride of place among all of the festivals held that year.
The Texas International Pop Festival was held at Lewisville, Texas, on Labor Day weekend. It took place at the newly-opened Dallas International Motor Speedway, and it was organised by Angus Wynne III, son of the founder of the Six Flags Over Texas Amusement Park. The junior Wynne had attended the Atlanta International Pop Festival on the July Fourth weekend and decided Texas needed its very own.
Just like at Woodstock, the Merry Pranksters, Ken Kesey’s group, was in charge of the free stage and camping area. It’s estimated between 120,000 and 150,000 and there was one death, due to heatstroke, and one baby was born. Grand Funk Railroad opened all three days and played until 4:00 p.m. when BB King played all three nights. He told the same jokes and stories, no doubt thinking every day’s audience was different.
It’s a shame it was never filmed…