The Rock Festival at the End of the World

(From my archives.)

By the spring of 1972, the bloom was off the rock festival rose. yet eager promoters were still willing to try putting them on, and fans would attend if they could. In April 1972, the Mar y Sol festival attracted about 50,000 fans to an oceanside site in Puerto Rico. A festival planned for the previous November had fallen through—and Mar y Sol nearly did, too.

New promoter Alex Cooley had chosen Easter weekend for the festival—an extremely important weekend in heavily Catholic Puerto Rico—and Puerto Rican officials, who had welcomed the idea of Cooley’s involvement at first, were suddenly not so supportive. The week of the show, a judge issued an injunction against the festival on the grounds that drugs were being sold at the site, only to reverse the injunction a day later and let the festival go forward.

About 25,000 people had arrived by Friday March 31. On April 1, the day’s headliners included B. B. King and the Allman Brothers Band; on the 2nd, Alice Cooper and Emerson Lake and Palmer performed. Faces and the J. Geils Band were the top stars on Monday the 3rd; Black Sabbath was also scheduled that day, but they were unable to get to the festival site from the airport on the gridlocked roads. Other performers were sprinkled throughout the weekend, including an unknown from New York State named Billy Joel, whose set wowed the crowd, even if nobody can remember clearly whether it was on the 1st or the 2nd.

The vibe at the festival was ominous: armed gangs roamed the grounds, one concert-goer was murdered in a fight gone wrong, and several people drowned in the ocean. The biggest enemy was the sun; the festival medical tent saw more cases of sunburn than anything else. And by the end of the weekend, island authorities had had enough. Cooley had to be smuggled off the grounds because he was the subject of an arrest warrant. About 3,000 people had come down from the mainland, taking advantage of combined flight-and-ticket offers. It took three days to get them all home, because the fine print hadn’t made clear that most of the return flights would be on standby.

A report on the festival in Creem magazine that summer captured the end-of-the-world feeling of Mar y Sol: “More than once during the three days, in fact we were to feel like a yellowing photograph in Life magazine; a living theatre re-enactment of hippiedom 1968 staged for the benefit of curious Puerto Ricans.”

A compilation album of music from the festival was released officially, but it’s long out-of-print. Emerson Lake and Palmer’s set was released on their From the Beginning box set; Billy Joel’s performance has been bootlegged. There was a plan to film the concert a la Woodstock, but it didn’t happen. Here, however, is some film taken by somebody who was there. The music backing it features Steppenwolf , the Guess Who, and Creedence Clearwater Revival—none of whom played at the festival.

One thought on “The Rock Festival at the End of the World

  1. I have a three song sampler from the festival I got from my old college radio station many moons ago when I was a DJ there. Every track on the sampler is good. It has 7 minute version of ELP’s “Take a Pebble,” an outstanding version of J. Geils Band’s “Looking for a Love,” and folkie Jonathan Edwards singing & playing “Sometimes in the morning. All 3 songs were good enough that I tried to track down a decently priced copy of the album. Unfortunately, it’s now extremely hard to find.

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