Taking Texas to the People

So much of what happened in the 70s, what we did, what we bought, what we loved, what seemed like a good idea, now looks like stuff rational people would have kept themselves from doing/buying/loving. It’s as though we were compelled, by the positions of the planets in the zodiac or by radiation creeping though the ozone layer that we were depleting with hair spray and deodorant, to do weird things. One of the weirdest was ZZ Top’s Worldwide Texas Tour.

The tour’s official name was “The Worldwide Texas Tour: Taking Texas to the People.” It was in support of the album Fandango, which had produced the hit single “Tush” in 1975. It traveled with 75 tons of equipment—the stage alone weighed 35 tons. The backdrop was shaped like Texas and could change in appearance depending on how it was lit. But what those who were there remember the most about the Worldwide Texas Tour was the live animals. The show traveled with a menagerie of indigenous Texas wildlife, including a longhorn steer, a buffalo, rattlesnakes, vultures, and even tarantulas, all of which were displayed onstage. The show employed a veterinarian and animal expert to look after the critters. Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, an occasional opening act on the tour, is said to have complained about stepping in manure backstage.

The tour began on May 29, 1976, in Winston-Salem North Carolina, on an all-day bill with Point Blank, Elvin Bishop, and Lynryd Skynyrd. ZZ Top played several big all-day bills that summer, in Atlanta in June, Memphis on the Fourth of July, and in California that August. Blue Öyster Cult was a frequent opening act, although Ted Nugent and REO Speedwagon were on a handful of shows also.

Aerosmith was on the bill at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh on June 12, 1976, a show that became an epic debacle and nearly a disaster. The show wasn’t scheduled to start until 4:30, but people arrived early, many carrying kegs of beer on their shoulders. In addition to alcohol, drugs, nudity, public sex, and gate-crashing were part of the pre-show entertainment. Paid attendance was 54,000, but estimates placed the total number of fans on hand at around 70,000. The stadium was vandalized, and restrooms were quickly declared unisex. Media reports said that a bottle-throwing melee during the show resulted in 250 injuries; a couple hundred fans rushed the cops after they arrested a man for drug possession. A fan swimming in a river near the stadium drowned.

At the time, Aerosmith was not necessarily a good fit for the ZZ Top crowd, who came to hear Southern boogie. And during Aerosmith’s set, a ZZ Top fan somehow got into a restricted area and cut the power to the stage, resulting in a silence that was quickly filled by cheering ZZ Top fans who wanted to see their heroes.

Ticket price for the Pittsburgh show, which also featured Point Blank and ran about eight hours: $8.75.

The Worldwide Texas Tour was on the road through the end of November, except for a three-week break in early September. In February 1977, the band went out again. By this time, they had released the album Tejas. The itinerary for the second leg was less intense and broken up by long stretches of downtime, finally ending in December. The band, exhausted by it all, wouldn’t release another album until 1979.

Here’s a clip of “Chevrolet” from a show in Maryland during November 1976. The quality is poor, but it’s nevertheless a look at the legendary Worldwide Texas Tour.

(Expanded from my WNEW.com archives.)

California Jammin’

(Here’s another from my WNEW.com archives, edited a bit.)

If you had picked up a newspaper on the morning of Monday, April 8, 1974, you would have read about the latest developments in the ever-growing web of scandals around President Richard Nixon that would lead to his resignation in August. Government officials were urging energy conservation measures in the face of the first oil shock. The minimum wage was about to be raised to $2.30 an hour. On the sports page, Hank Aaron’s chase of the all-time home run record was the big story. (He would hit #715 that night.) But if you opened the paper to an inside page, you would probably have seen an article about a major rock festival that had taken place in California the preceding Saturday: California Jam.

California Jam had attracted approximately 200,000 fans to the Ontario Motor Speedway. Tickets had cost $10 in advance and were $15 at the gate for a lineup featuring the Eagles, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Black Oak Arkansas, Rare Earth, Seals & Crofts, and Earth Wind & Fire. Authorities marveled at the small number of arrests—between 15 and 25 on drug or weapons possession, public intoxication, and public nudity. A bigger problem was the monumental traffic jam along Interstate 10 before the show, and the confusion afterward, when thousands of concertgoers found that the cars they had illegally parked along the interstate had been towed.

The show was promoted by ABC Entertainment and recorded for broadcast on its late-night In Concert series. Four weekly episodes aired beginning in May 1974, and were simulcast on ABC’s FM radio network. (They were repeated on four straight nights during Thanksgiving week.) There was plenty of TV-friendly stuff included in the event: skydivers, fireworks, skywriters, hot air balloons, and a blimp that hovered over the race track throughout the event. The shows featured concertgoer interviews by DJ Don Imus and promoter Don Branker. There are dozens of clips from the shows at YouTube here.

California Jam was successful enough that it had a sequel: California Jam II was held in March 1978. Its stars included Aerosmith, Foreigner, Ted Nugent (whose request to make his entrance by climbing down a rope from a helicopter was denied), Santana, Heart, and others. Like the original, it was taped for broadcast on ABC-TV and radio.

The California Jam shows of 1974 and 1978 represented a new paradigm for rock festivals. The improvisational days of Woodstock and Watkins Glen were over; the modern era of the hyper-organized festival had begun.

The Rock Festival at the End of the World

(From my WNEW.com 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.

The Violence That Wasn’t

Not long ago, I got an e-mail from a guy who had found my posts on the Iola People’s Fair, the 1970 Wisconsin rock concert that turned into a Sunday morning riot involving bikers and the fans they had been abusing on Saturday. He’s spent some time researching the show himself, and he was kind enough to share some of what he had collected from obscure message boards and elsewhere.

Although a young motorcyclist was killed in a traffic accident on his way to the grounds, I was unable to confirm that there were other fatalities at Iola. I suppose it’s possible that someone who was injured in the riot might have died later on, or some attendee might have overdosed and died later on. But the historical record of the two days on the ground is fairly clear: according to news reports in local papers at the time, the traffic death was the only one at Iola.

This has not stopped rumors of other deaths from proliferating. In my correspondent’s notes, one concertgoer remembers that part of the rage the crowd felt for the bikers was due to an axe murder one of them had committed on the grounds; even more fancifully, another recalls that the angry crowd “executed” some of the bikers after the riot. But if either of those things had actually happened, papers across the country would have bannered them, and the Iola People’s Fair would not be as obscure as it is. The persistence of such rumors indicates that we are willing to believe the worst about rock ‘n’ roll, rock ‘n’ rollers, and rock ‘n’ roll crowds, and we’ve been willing to do so for a long time.

In my WNEW.com archives, there’s a plausibly related piece about the continuing allure of violent rumors involving rock ‘n’ rollers. It’s on the flip, slightly edited.

Continue reading “The Violence That Wasn’t”

Shades of a Lost Festival

(Before we begin, some shameless self-promotion: every week a Popdose writer guests on the nationally syndicated radio show Overnight America with Jon Grayson. In the wee hours of this morning, that writer was me. Since you were probably sleeping, you can hear the interview here.)

A year ago, I wrote a post for the now-defunct WNEW.com about the July 1972 Concert 10 Festival, a daylong show held at the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. Because there’s so little on the Internet about the festival (my post comes up first on Google when you search “Concert 10 Festival”), I have received a handful of comments and messages from people who were there, or claim to have been there. Since we’ve written quite a bit about rock festivals at this blog, here’s a reboot.

By 1972, the concept of the massive, multi-day festival was dead. Similarly dead was the belief (which was never especially widespread, although it did affect the planning of some early festivals) that the Spirit of Peace and Love would overcome prosaic site problems involving traffic control and sanitation. In early 70s America, racetracks such as Pocono and the various speedways that hosted the Atlanta and Texas Pop Festivals (and Altamont, for that matter) were the likeliest facilities for accommodating the massive crowds that wanted to camp out at a concert.

But even when promoters legitimately contracted with tracks, locals often rebelled. In the days before the Concert 10 Festival, with roads already jammed and law enforcement stretched thin by flooding in the area, the Pennsylvania State Police suggested getting an injunction against it. The local DA said, essentially, “On what grounds?,” and the festival went forward. Nevertheless, many locals believed the festival could have, and should have, been stopped. Days afterward, a columnist in the Stroudsburg Pocono Record blasted county officials for failing to do so. Two years earlier, local authorities had killed a six-day festival scheduled for nearby Walpack, New Jersey, not long after a festival scheduled for a ski resort near Middlefield, Connecticut, was halted by injunction. The columnist refused to accept the county’s assertion that authorities didn’t learn about the festival in time to act, and he blamed racetrack owners for wanting a big payday to salve ongoing financial trouble. A couple of weeks after the festival, the local paper denounced as censorship a proposed county ordinance that would have granted officials the power to decide whether a festival was “good” for the area. (When one of them suggested an injunction against a Johnny Cash show scheduled for the racetrack in August, locals disagreed loudly.)

My original post describes the scene on concert day—the hellacious traffic, the open sale of drugs, the garbage left behind, and the horrified reaction of locals. That post has attracted some interesting tidbits from readers who claim to have been there. One says, “I have no idea who said drugs were for sale. It’s simply not true.” In that case, the local paper reported it. He also says, “I heard through the crowd that five babies were born.” This is almost certainly nonsense—Woodstock was twice as large and three days longer, and although there were rumors of births at that show, nobody has ever been able to prove anybody was born there. “When it rained, the Groundhogs were on stage. They played until their amps caught fire.” Perhaps. “Emerson Lake and Palmer began at about 3AM Saturday with ‘Fanfare for the Common Man.'” Doubtful: Given that ELP was in the midst of the massive world tour later documented on Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends, it’s more likely they opened with another Aaron Copland number, “Hoedown.”

My research named the following acts on the bill: Three Dog Night (who closed the show), Rod Stewart, ELP, Humble Pie, Black Sabbath, the J. Geils Band, Badfinger, and Edgar Winter, although one commenter says neither Black Sabbath nor Badfinger played, and another says he remembers Mountain there. (Newspapers were notoriously bad about listing rock festival lineups in their reporting.) There were undoubtedly other, lesser bands on the bill; the Groundhogs and Mother Night are two we know of. A number of concertgoers remember less about the music than they do about the looting of an ice-cream truck, the traffic jam before and after, and the muddy conditions.

The last mentions of the Concert 10 Festival in the local paper are at the end of July, when the traffic chaos it brought was contrasted with the smooth operation of two auto racing events that brought massive crowds to the raceway three weeks later. Never mind that an auto race is not a rock festival and a rock festival is not an auto race. The Pennsylvania 500 and Schaefer 500 races on back-to-back days proved to the locals that they could run a big event, if the hippies would get out of the way.

And with that, the Concert 10 Festival faded into history.

A Weekend Out of a Dream

Before there was Woodstock, there was the Atlanta Pop Festival. It happened over the July 4th weekend in 1969, six weeks before the more famous festival in upstate New York. What Woodstock purported to be—a gathering of the tribes in a spirit of peace and love—Atlanta Pop was too. What Woodstock had—shortages of food and drink—Atlanta Pop had too.

One thing Atlanta Pop had that other festivals did not—general cooperation from the authorities. The show didn’t have to move at the last minute due to legal challenges, as Woodstock did; once a final location was set, locals did not agitate to shut the festival down, as would happen at many of the smaller festivals that proliferated in the wake of Woodstock. Promoters chose a racetrack near Hampton, Georgia, that could accommodate the crowds, although attendees had to navigate an enormous traffic jam to get in. As concessions dwindled and the temperatures rose, local fire departments came to spray the crowds with water.

The egalitarian spirit of the early festivals brought about eclectic musical lineups. In 1969, Atlanta Pop featured acts ranging from Led Zeppelin to the Staple Singers to Dave Brubeck. Two of the festival’s best sets were played by Johnny Rivers and Tommy James and the Shondells (!), and the group Sweetwater, with the unenviable task of following Janis Joplin, was said by some to have topped her.

A year later, promoters put on a sequel at a racetrack near Byron, Georgia. They expected 100,000 but got upwards of a half-million, which backed up traffic all the way to Atlanta proper, 90 miles away. The 1970 bill was less eclectic: it included Jimi Hendrix (this was the largest crowd Hendrix ever performed in front of), the Allman Brothers Band, Procol Harum, Spirit, Ten Years After, Grand Funk, Mountain, and other festival mainstays. Jethro Tull was booked, but didn’t play because Ian Anderson got laryngitis.

Some fans recall the 1970 festival as a pale copy of the 1969 event. The disaster at Altamont had happened the previous December, and that festival’s dark vibe was on the minds of many people who came to Atlanta. But others remember the 1970 festival as the time of their lives. Some people who were there probably don’t remember it at all.

By 1971, the festival spirit had dissipated. There was no third annual Atlanta Pop Festival.

The 1970 event is noteworthy to me because it’s remarkably well documented in photographs. Not so much of the performing acts, although there are a few of those, but of the people in attendance. Retronaut posted a set earlier this week; my research into the festivals led me to this magnificent collection of black-and-white photos and memories of people who were there.

Look at the pictures, especially the black-and-white ones. There’s a dreamlike quality about them. As you look, you begin to think, “Could this really have happened just this way?” Then you read the memories of those who were there, and you find that yes, it did happen just that way, a weekend out of a dream, all the more vivid for having persisted in memory so long. The color photos, even with their remarkable lack of the patina of age, depict a time and place we can no longer completely fathom. In these photos, it’s the mundane details that seem dreamlike. Who goes to a concert today carrying cans of pork and beans and tuna?

Forty years later, we document everything as it happens to us, snapping photos or video with our cell phones, narrating our experiences in real time on Facebook and Twitter. Festivals and other events are lived and shared online and they become inescapable—I knew this past weekend, for example, that Lollapalooza was interrupted by a huge rainstorm, even though I didn’t know that Lollapalooza still existed until people on my Twitter feed started talking about the storm.

But will such events be better or more fondly remembered in years to come than pre-social media events such as the Atlanta Pop Festival? I suspect not. There’s a difference between documentation and memory.