The Place: Newport Pop Festival, Orange County Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa and Newport, Calif.
The Time: Week-end of August 3 and 4, starting 10 a.m., with non-stop music until 6 or 6:30 p.m.
The Cast: Audience of 100,000 persons, by police estimates. Most are mid-teeners, younger by far than last year’s Monterey Pop Festival crowd. Nineteen famous pop, rock and blues bands, performing from 20 to 40 minute stints on a ten-foot-high stage.
A corps of cool Costa Mesa cops with easy smiles, good manners, sheathed clubs and buttoned-down pistols. One uptight God-fearing, youth-hating, small-town Mayor in a pressed suit and brown shoes.
Action! Openers are the Alice Cooper Band, a quintet of hot rocker’s with shoulder length hair and five o’clock shadow, then along come the Butterfield Blues Band, Grateful Dead and Steppenwolf, all of them groovy and gusty.
The blasty beat of the Chambers Brothers pulls the audience to its feet in a massive standing ovation, and their hitsong “Time” whips the fans to frenzy fever. As far as the eye can see from the upraised stage, thousands upon thousands of people groove on them, bodies sway and arms weave to and fro in a spontaneous rhythmic ritual under the hypnotic beat of the band.
The Blue Cheer’s mind-shattering noise totally wipes out their voices and music, if any, also audience applause—if any. They can make more noise and less music than anyone in the business. Drummer Paul Whaley socks it to the hides like he hates ’em. Drum stix splinter and bloody his hands. Fuses blow when Dickie Petersen, bass and lead singer, and Leigh Stephens, guitar, explode into action.
The Costa Mesa Mayor arrives at the scene just in time to see the San Francisco trio go loco and wreck their equipment as the Who do. With maniacal screams they stomp on their guitars, smash drums, beat the amplifiers with the mikes and throw gear into the audience. His honor splits, running scared.
Hairy 300-pound Bob Hite, called “The Bear,” lead singer of the bluesy Canned Heat, nearly caves in the makeshift stage when he jumps up and down on one spot during their 40-minute version of “The Boogie,” the group’s heaviest number. The crowd demands an encore which the Heat gladly give, thus upsetting the tight time schedule for other acts.
Under a broiling sun on the shadeless meadow, the multitudes sit or sprawl on the hard rocky ground, or mill about seaching for non-existent food and drink after concession booths sell out.
Not a drop of water is to be had and a few faint until fairground employes divert an irrigation pipe to the festival field. A bunch of boys lift it above their heads so people can leap under the gushing flood, drinking the cool cool water, filling cans and bottles, drenching their sticky skins and sweaty threads. The overflow soon creates a swamp of mud, an irresistible attraction to many guys and gals who throw themselves into it and wallow in the oozy slime. The Fire Department hoses them off, cleans them up, from a nearby hydrant.
Meanwhile back at the bandstand, the beat goes on. When Sonny and Cher do their thing, the very young aren’t impressed that much. Only those of us 18 and over tune in on their wave-length. The S/C heart team feel the slight chill. “I guess we’re not considered the ultimate in hippies anymore,” Sonny remarked to the audience, sadly.
From a whirlybird circling overhead, shapely blonde seven-teener pushes, pulls and shoves thousands of fresh flowers out the copter door to rain upon the heads of the loving flower children.
When the Saturday program runs minutes beyond the 6 p.m. shutdown hour, a straight cat in civvies strides out of the wings onto the stage when Country Joe and the Fish are half way through singing “Superbird.”
“Get off!” he orders Joe McDonald, the pilot Fish.
“Let me finish this song and I’ll go quietly,” Joe says politely.
“Let him finish,” howl the spectators who see what’s happening. They start climbing the fence around the press enclosure. The intruder grunts and steps aside. Joe and the Fish, who are heavy festival favorites, finish “Superbird” as the fence collapses. The audience howls of rage turn to gales of mirth.
Emcee Humble Harve announces that a nearby field has been set aside for overnight crashing by people who drove or hitched from far away and can’t get home in time to return next morning. Hundreds of young dudes and dolls, with or without blankets or sleeping bags, are spread like a colorful human carpet on the field in the moonlight.
The police of nearby Newport arrest 161 teen-agers for 10 p.m. curfew violation, sleeping in their cars or on public beaches, and similar “horrible” crimes. In Costa Mesa 17 are taken to the station, and only seven are booked. Cool.
Sunday is another hummer. The Byrds are big but not as big as they were three years ago. Roger McGuinn, leader, singer, guitarist, and bassist Chris Hillman are the lone survivors of the many crises the Byrdman have endured.
The Electric Flag, sensational new winners at Monterey’s Pop Festival last year, is now put down with faint applause. Without Mike Bloomfield they make more static than electricity.
The James Cotton Blues Band, Iron Butterfly, Tiny Tim, Charles Lloyd, Grateful Dead and other artists receive standing ovations—but of course this may be due to the hard rocky ground which the audience had to sit on for eight hours at a stretch.
The Animals go wild as Sunday’s semi-finale act. English Eric Burdon is more than a powerful singer, outasite songwriter and heavy leader of an animal pack; Old Eric, he’s a clown too!
Besides amping vocal samples of his recent chart-grabbing ditties, Eric pulls half a dozen chicks from the audience and dances with them, pours beer on his head, empties a five-gallon water bottle on the music critics and reviewers, photographs the photographers with his Polaroid, explodes smoke bombs, yanks the strings from guitars and chews them like spaghetti, twirls and hurls his mike like a liariat, rolls on the deck and dives off stage!
What a showman! He and the Beasts of Burdon are a sight to see as well as a band to hear. The excitement becomes contagious, infects all watchers. Nearest fans charge the stage like Comanches attacking a wagon train. Once again, for the second successive day, the eight-foot steel fence falls from the weight of climbers and pushers, entangling scores but hurting none. Eric digs. A mighty roar of approval rises from the throats of the throngs.
Can the next act top that act? If anyone can, the Jefferson Airplane can! They are set to wind up the weekend festival.
Smooth Grace Slick soothes the hearts of faithful followers as she warbles a delicate tune sired by ex-Byrd Dave Crosby, introducing the group’s album called Triad.
But Marty Balin and his Plane pals are planning what they hope will go down in musical history as the Great Cream Pie Caper. They bring 250 cream pies to the stage, and start by throwing them at each other, then passing them out to the people in the audience. Kids rushing the stage to get the pies get pies between their eyes.
Is that any way to run an Airplane?
Having begun the fun for the mob, the Airplane hop a helicopter and escape up up and away, as Jim Webb would say.
“Call it the Newport Pie Festival,” Gracie googles, gazing groundward where the pies fly.
Though it’s all a big giggle to the fans, the Mayor doesn’t think it’s funny. The following night, Monday, he goes before the Costa Mesa City Council.
“As long as I’m Mayor of this great city, no pop festival or anything like it will ever be permitted again,” he thunders. “They act like a bunch of animals.”
The festival laid on some groovy and some finky vibes. The Mayor shot it down for the wrong reasons. Crowd behavior was young and foolish, wild and crazy, but not riotous or trouble prone. The kids deserve A-plus in deportment.
The promoters deserve a kick in the head for failure to provide basic necessities, food, refreshments, clean drinking water, adequate clean toilets, shady rest areas. If you left the grounds to find food and water, you had to pay another $5.50 to return. Admission charge of $4.50 to $5.50 was exorbitant for the privilege of sitting in the dirt, frying in the sun, standing in long lines for the portable rest rooms, going unfed, seat-sore and thirsty all day. They say, the promoters, they hadn’t dreamed of an attendance guestimated between 80,000 and 110,000 including free loaders, gate crashers and ticket buyers. The largest folk and jazz festivals draw about 20,000 fans.
Next year’s pop festival, wherever it might be, probably will attract a quarter of a million people from 13 years up. If the location could be shifted to a National Park or a rolling meadow or an enchanted forest, said Elliot Mintz, this scene, could turn into an annual pilgrimage of American youth.
And that’s what this country needs more than a 5¢ cigar.