Sunday, August 30, 2009

Miami Pop 1968: Best Festival Ever

When my friend Malcolm Levi called me in late August of 1969, he was ready for a vacation. Malcolm co-owned The Electric Outlet, Memphis' first hippie clothing store located at Poplar and Evergreen, and he invited me to join him and some friends for a trip to upstate New York to the Woodstock Music Festival and Aquarian Exposition. Rather than visions of Jimi Hendrix, all I could see was twelve or so hours locked in a cramped hippie bus with acquaintances known for erratic behavior, and so I declined. Besides, nothing could ever top the festival Malcolm and I had attended only eight months previous, which turned out to be promoter Michael Lang's trial run for Woodstock; the incredible three day festival held over the New Year's weekend of 1968-69, at Miami's Gulfstream Park thoroughbred racing track.

After the "big bang" of the Monterrey Pop Festival of 1967, this was the first attempt at such a gathering on this side of the continent and the promoters saturated radio stations in college towns all over the southeast. Since my musical passions were the new, psychedelic music as well as the classic soul sounds of the sixties, I could barely believe I was going to get to hear Procol Harum and Marvin Gaye on the same day. Soul music was still huge in the south and the promoters wisely included such artists like Joe Tex, Jr. Walker & the All Stars, and Chuck Berry to lure the college kids, and Iron Butterfly, The Grateful Dead, and Fleetwood Mac to attract the freaks. Featured for the folkies were Jose Feliciano and a new artist named Joni Mitchell. A gang of Memphis pals piled into cars and headed south and when we reached the bucolic, green racing grounds, graced by flocks of pink flamingos, we were astonished at the sight. In our separate southern locales, the hippies were cautious and few, but together in Miami, we were many and mighty; colorfully dressed and long-tressed, we stared at each other for a full day before we could believe it.

The grounds were separated into two stages, giving the manageable crowd of thirty to sixty thousand room to wander between competing acts, while free-standing, whimsical sculptures in the walkways in between offered shade and wonder. Our Memphis group staked out a small, secluded spot under a tree by the entrance as a meeting place. If anyone were feeling distressed or confused, a few minutes under the tree would bring another friendly face from home. I had just witnessed such familiarity in the faces of Booker T. & the MGs and had made my way back to the side of the mainstage when I saw my boys; the band formerly known as Ronnie & the DeVilles had hired a new lead singer named Alex Chilton and had changed their name to the Box Tops. Alex was in the process of telling a huge audience that he didn't know what they were doing there, as if their hits weren't hip enough, but I managed to get close enough to shout at Thomas Boggs on the drums, who also seemed delighted to see another face from home.

As the days grew in number, so did the extraordinary kindnessness shown between strangers. There was a permanent smile on the face of the entire festival, and even those who never tampered with the locks on the "Doors of Perception," could feel it. Our little group had kicked in the doors and were probing around in the ethers looking for cosmic clues when a helmeted, motorcycle policeman roared a Harley onto the mainstage and stomped down a kickstand with a heavy black boot. I was searching for the exits when the menacing cop grabbed the micropohone and growled, "Got your motor runnin'," and John Kay and Steppenwolf exploded into "Born to be Wild." After sitting through the entirety of Iron Butterfly's "Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida" drum solo and the debut performance of Three Dog Night, big Bob "The Bear" Hite and Canned Heat took the stage. When they locked into that John Lee Hooker groove it was like an electric current went through the crowd. I felt myself propelled toward the front until I stood with a large, writhing group beside the stage, and while normally reserved at such events, I became somehow transformed into a Native-American warrior under the relentless beat until song's end found me shirtless but for a sheepskin vest, in bellbottoms and moccasins. To celebrate my conversion, we all travelled to the large campgrounds set up for visitors at the nearby Seminole Indian Reservation, where we sat around fires and smoked the pipes of peace well into the next morning.

I left Miami believing that I had witnessed the dawn of an age of gentler people who retained the capacity to love and treat one another with more compassion than previous generations, and it would only spread until we ended the war and changed the world. That euphoric naivete lasted about three weeks until Richard Nixon's inauguration, the demonizing of war protesters as "bums," the bombing of Cambodia, and student strikes ending in the blood of Kent State and Jackson State. But for one golden weekend, I saw it. I saw that by surrendering exclusivity, the worth of all people can be revealed, and that everyone has something to offer if only you are receptive. I witnessed that love is better than hate and kindness is superior to indifference. But that was a long time ago, and, like other flights of fancy, I haven't seen it much since.

My buddy Malcolm told me Woodstock was a bonding experience because so many had to endure so much, but when he described a half million hippies slopping around in the mud, I was glad I didn't go. I went to a few big festivals after Miami, but they only grew more commercial, with massive crowds herded into the infields of auto raceways surrounded by asphalt and inadequate facilities. The promoters of Miami Pop were emboldened to go on to Woodstock, but rather than obtain the cooperation of a friendly community and even an official welcome from the Governor, as in Florida, local officials in New York state gave them nothing but resistance and Governor Nelson Rockefeller threatened them with the National Guard. It is a great achievement of the hippie experience that showed the world that determined people can live without violence. Unfortunately, there are far too many others with no such determination. I can still recall that pop group from Memphis, though, among all the "heavy" acts at the Miami Pop Festival, that sang, "Love is a river running, Soul Deep."

31 comments:

gregg said...

I remember sitting next to you and Bob in the stands and can still see the motorcycle roar onto the stage. It was hot and sunny and we were in Florida so when either you or Bob mentioned that you had just had a birthday, I looked at whoever it had spoken, and believing that it must be July, I said with big eyes of incredulity, "It can't be your birthday. It's July." I meant it and was shocked to here that it was December. Most else a blur for this born-again.

Next book for you, old man, would be a memoir. You have the essential ingredient for that..a memory.

Mr. Natural said...

Those were great days. I was part of the movement for many years and it took a long, long time for me to let go of it. There were two problems with the movement, the first being human nature. Human nature is by nature selfish. You can't change it by growing your hair long, wearing funny clothes, flashing the peace sign, and saying, 'Cosmic, groovy'. Hippiedom was a mask for most people to cover their human nature for a season. That is why the spirit of the thing passed on. It was not based in anything lasting and real. Another more mundane problem is that the whole experience was really only meant for a relative few who could truly relate. It was a counter-cultural phenomena and it remains so today with the few who are still engaged with the spirit of those days. When it became mainline and commercial it drew in lots of people who were not really kindred spirits but were merely playing the latest cultural game. There was nothing deeper in them that could sustain such a different orientation from the masses. So, like a slow leak it all eventually went away. But, man it was fun while it lasted. Though the spirit of the times has passed, there will always be a hippie corner in my heart ready to jump into the next wave if it should return.

Randy said...

Gregg,
If I remember correctly, you were staying on the wrong side of Collins Ave. in the Safari Motel.
RJH

Mr. Natural said...

There were other factors that doomed hippedom. When the hippies married and started having children many of them decided to enter mainstream jobs to support their families. Having to work in a 'straight' environment diluted some of their ardor for the movement. Many after having children decided against the drug lifestyle. They didn't want to defile the purity of their children's minds. During the 70's many hippies became Christians further reducing the rolls. The really serious hippies were those who either lived in communes or returned to the land. There were built-in problems in the communes and one was the fact that most people enjoy having their own space and communal life doesn't afford this. Again, communal living makes family life tough. Living in constant close quarters has a wearing effect, human nature being what it is. As far as the back to the landers is concrened, the amount of hard physical labor involved was hard to sustain over the long haul. The relatively easy living of the cities was hard to resist. Another thing is that eventually most people quit taking LSD which was a big part of creating the mental/spiritual mileiu of the times. When you quit taking acid some of the ideas of hippiedom began to look rather foolish and naieve. Alas, maturity took its toll. So, all of these factors contributed to the undoing of hippiedom. And I am sure that some of you can think of others. The adolescent in me wishes for the return of those days. There was a non-stop party going on in this counrty that lasted 20 years or so. One of Ken Kesey's Merry Pransters made a cogent statement. He said that it was as though they had a party one night and the party spilled out of the door, into the street, and then covered the Earth. It is very interesting to study the beginnings of the movement and it seems kind of odd that such an extreme lifestyle had such an appeal with so many. The whole thing spread like the flu. My own first exposure was at a hippie coming out party at the old Guild theater on Poplar in midtown. They showed Peter Seller's movie 'I Love You, Alice B. Toklas' and afterward they had a psychedelic rock band with a light show. That event was my baptism into hippiedom and radically changed my life...yipeeee!!

Malcolm said...

What.....you mean it's over??

Mr. Natural said...

I forgot to say that the hippie coming out party at the Guild theater ocurred in Sept. of 1968 if memory serves me right. Maybe some of the readers of this blog were there or remember something about it.

Mr. Natural said...

Ah! The mystery man Malcolm Levy. It was rumored back in the day that Malcolm always had the best 'stuff' and I owe my first psychedelic trip to him. At the time it was the most mind shattering reality re-orienting experience of my life and propelled me into the heart of psychedelia. Thank you, Malcomb. You inadvertantly gave birth to a new, baby hippie. Good to see that you are still alive and kicking. Are you straight now?

Bill said...

I think that was my coming out party. Milk cartons as big as a house, Flat & Scruggs, mescaline yeah
billy g

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you stepped in and changed the subject. That Liberator Rev guy seems to be frighteningly unstable. I hope that he moves on. Most of the contributors to this blog are at least sane.

Drew Hadfield said...

I am about to complete my 62nd trip around the Sun, and an emerging fact of life amazes me. Those of us this age can remember with absolute clarity the events of 40 and more years ago. The accounts of our adventures are spot on accurate, even though, at the time, we were enjoying various hallucinogens enhanced by alcoholic beverage consumption. But, we can't remember where we parked an hour ago.

BB said...

Randy,
That sounded like some show. Do you remember who eose played? By the way, nice writing.
BB

Anonymous said...

I like re-living the memories of the old days. How about doing more of that. The political rantings get tiresome. It's always the same old shit. Somebody done somebody wrong, yada,yada,yada.

Alan said...

Mr Natural hit it on the head. My first festival was the first Atlanta pop festival July 4th weekend 1969. All the usual suspects played, but the highlight was the night after the festival ended. There was a free concert in Peidmont Park. Spirit, Bonny Delaney and Friends and the Greatful Dead played. The Merry Pranksters and their bus was there. At 12 the cops said one last song and it had to close down. Pigpen proceeded to sing Midnight Hour for an hour and never repeated a verse.

Drew Hadfield said...

To the anonymous griping about the political rants: Now see here you whippersnapper, (if I may digress, one of the few good things about growing old is being able to use words like "whippersnapper") you must learn to sit back, relax and enjoy the prose. It's like when I read something by P. J. O'Rourke. Rarely do I agree with what he has to say, but I do love the way he says it.

Anonymous said...

I've decided that the divide between the politically left and right is something more akin to the psychological concept of being right or left brained. The divide runs deeper than mere education. Once the pattern emerges it is pretty much set in stone. Those of a particular brain type resonate one way while the rest resonate the other. I guess you've noticed that practically nothing in the way of factual revelation has the slightest effect in the way of changing this state of affairs. This being so, it reduces political arguing more to something akin to cerebral masturbation. So, I guess we are all just a bunch of chronic jack-off freaks. And, I think that we were happier when we were anarchists dropping acid. Anybody got a hit?

Martin D. said...

Randolph,

The words remember and the Miami Pop Festival are hard to place in the same sentence.

In any case, do you remember Kenny Barr and I with our two beautiful girl friends (mine was Lois Diamond / UT- Coral Gables)?!?!

What a great time we all had. It was a long and wonderful day.

I do remember the cop on the bike, the over sized sculptures and figures and no problems.

Indeed.

Martin D.

SHECKY KIERKIGAARD MCGIRK said...

While y'all were at the Miami Pop I was in Vegas swinging with Frank, Dino and Sammy! It was at the Sands where I First heard the word GROOVY & it came from the mouth of Sammy Davis Jr! It wasn't quite cosmic but I was at one with the room. The room was wobbly... does that count? Did you know that Billy lee Riley became part of Sammy's musical entourage! U Believe dat? Peace! SHECKY

Father Farken said...

"You're not going to use the real story, Mr. Scott?"
"No sir, this is the West, sir! When the legend becomed fact, print the legend."-THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE

"If you remember the 60s...you weren't there!'
Gracie Slick

Randy! Thank you & The BAH gang for proving that smart ass Grace Slick wrong & for always giving us the real story instead of the legend! The Peace of the Lord! Fr. Farken

Anonymous said...

The lack of response to this topic seems to say that few care about the old days any more. The hippie era is a rapidly fading memory. I even think that lots of old timers have come to the conclusion that those days were a lot of fun, but largely a mistake. Many casualties were produced during that time. There were lots of drug burn-outs and even more who have had a life-time of employment problems, because they took the hippie game too seriously when they should have been getting an education and taking care of business. But then, no one knew at the time. It just looked like fun which is probably what the fly said thought when he entered the Venus Fly Trap.

Revelator_Lib said...

Oh yeah! I was there at the Miami Pop Festival! Quite by accident. I was a Catholic priest at the time but I found the ministry of the Berrigan brothers to be way to Traditional for me so I jumped a raft to Cuba to check out the ministry of the Castro brothers & to see how we could bring some meaningful health care to our Imperialistic nation but I got all caught up in that 68 hurricane & was washed up to sea but was able to find refuge in a Miami Bar where Wayne Cochran was playing. That's where I ran into Diane Watson! I had already ditched my Roman flea collar for my Ernesto "Che" Guevara wife beater shirt but what caught my eye was that Diane was sporting a bra-less wet Fidel Castro Tee-shirt! It was love at first sight! She's the one who turned me on to the Festival where there would be great unlimited music and all the medicinal health care that I could possibly want! Needless to say my life was changed! So I got on the road & packed my Kerouac Version of the Bible where I immediately began to preach a creative out side of the box approach to Jesus as well as my destructive but personal unholy war against Holy Mother The Catholic Church! That's where I learned the great secret of life! If you can't shoot them---learn to type! I hope some day you will join me...so the world can be as one but I digress. Read all about it in my liberating blog arrogantfisheatingmuhfuh.org where you will find Mother Theresa was just an old buh....buh...witch because she didn't appreciate receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion by hand nor did she appreciate running drugs to Padre Pio & other tidbits! At Least I'm not an anti-Semite ---yet! And Watcher you have got a lot of growing up & apologizing to do....doodah... doodah! to be continued but hopefully not on this blog!revelator_lib

Anonymous said...

Liberator Rev finally shows his true colors. Someone here called him a Marxist and a false prophet, but he is apparently much, much worse. He admits as much himself. If he opens his mouth in the wrong crowd, say in front of some serious Catholics like Sireena, he may get dispatched back to Cuba or worse. He has the patina of a scholar, but he seems to be more of a petulent, spoiled, sociopathic child. Maybe he will just go away.

Anonymous said...

Randy I would think that you would be concerned about Lib. Rev.'s statement that he is not anti-Semitic...yet. That sounds like he has some sort of hidden agenda in regard to the Jews. This guy sounds like he could be dangerous if not Satanic.

Father Farken said...

Revelator Lib! In that interview with Mother Theresa you are offended that when asked if there were anything that got her angry! You said that was her opportunity to vent & rant about the many injustices in the world. Instead she threw in a little humor & said 'receiving the Eucharist in the hand!' Brother Rev. she was fighting the injustices in the world everyday of her life but about communion she raised a good point! You come to communion in complete surrender! In the Eucharist, Jesus gives all. The bread is not just a sign of his desire to become our food...the cup is not simply a sign of his willingness to be our drink, Bread & wine become his body, blood, soul & divinity in the giving. The bread, indeed, is his body given for us...the wine his blood poured out for us. As G*d becomes fully present for us in Jesus, so Jesus becomes fully present to us in the bread & wine of the Eucharist. G*d not only became flesh for us years ago in a country far away. G*d also becomes food & drink for us now at this moment of the Eucharistic celebration, right where we are gathered. G*d does not hold back: G*d gives all. That is the mystery of the Incarnation. That too is the mystery of the Eucharist. Incarnation & Eucharist are the two expressions of the immense, self giving love of G*d. And so the sacrifice of the cross & the sacrifice (offering)of the table are one sacrifice, one complete, divine self giving that reaches out to all humanity in time & space. So what bugged Momma T was not so much the hand but the lack of surrender. She saw the hand as a sign that we are in control. She may have witnessed something similar than I did! There use to be a beautiful ecumenical chapel at The Gateway in Newark where the Catholics had mass at noon. A man was standing in the communion line reading his Wall St. Journal all the way up to the throne of grace! He half heatedly glanced his eyes from the paper stuck out his right hand to receive the bread of heaven...stared back at the newspaper... then took from the cup & burped! I wanted to choke the holy shit out of him! So I understand where Mother Theresa is coming from! Well! its time for hospital calls! The Peace of the Lord! Father Ferghus Farken

SIREEN said...

Now I don't know for sure but I have a stinking notion that this last fellow Revelator_Lib is only an imposter of Liberater_Rev! You know making fun of him & all. Jerking his chain. Busting his...uh...chops! You know he didn't go to no Pop Festival with Rep. Dianne Watson wearing no wet Castro tee shirt. Though I can just picture her with a big old afro. I think somebody was trying to do some satire or something stupid since Rev & Watson have (for better or worse) been accused of Marxist statements! Watcher don't forget how I stood up for you! All to the Glory! Sireen

Anonymous said...

hi...my buddy dave and i were just reminiscing about those 2 (or 3) glorious days..i hadn't talked about miami pop or even thought about it in many years, but there was your posting from earlier this week...
we used to say it was karma, or synchronicity, or harmonic convergence, but this was just a fun coincidence so i wanted to share it....
we were just a couple of 18 year old kids from toronto on our first big road trip but it sure opened up our ears and we just felt so much a part of what was going on in the 60s that you could say it changed our lives...
jake

Sputnik57 said...

Mr. Anon.
I agree with you about the fading memory. Hippies have become like a cartoon in the collective consciousness and the motivators that caused us to so radically change are forgotten, except for those who were directly affected. I feel those truths are the same truths now, but I am guilty, as you said, of taking it too seriously and staying at the dance too long. I always believed that living by your wits was the only way to go. But, I suppose it ain't over yet.

As for the other acts not mentioned above, in the something-for-everyone theme:
The Turtles, w/ Flo & Eddie; Rick Derringer & the McCoys, The Grassroots, Pacific, Gas & Electric, and Sweetwater.
Flat & Scruggs, Richie Havens, Ian & Sylvia, and the Sweet Inspirations.
Hugh Masakeela, The Charles Lloyd Quartet, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, James Cotton Blues Band, and Blues Image (Ride Captain Ride).

There was a smaller festival the previous May with Hendrix and Frank Zappa that I didn't know about until after the fact. They were planning another, but after Woodstock, they pulled all the permits.

Anonymous said...

Randy,I was completely immersed in hippiedom also. I took it absolutely seriously, but I was involved in the New Age spiritual wing of the movement. I was not political at all and neither were those that I hung with. The only thing that kept me from 'staying at the dance too long' is that I fell in love and my fiance told me that I needed to finish college and get serious about a means of support before she would marry be. I did that and entered a career. However, I subsequently divorced my wife, largely because she began crimping my hippie wings. But I am forever grateful and indebted to her (she has since deceased) because if it were not for her I would probably be in a very bad way now economically. I probably would have run with the hippie thing to my undoing. So, truth be known, I cannot take any credit for the fact that I am not ship wrecked now in latter life. I can't say that I was wise, self-restrained, etc. I owe the fact that I am retired and doing ok now to my first wife. That is something of a confession. I cannot be self-righteous about my state of affairs now. And, that is why I can't be hard on those of hippiedom who didn't fare so well. I was just lucky. I had help from someone who loved me and was stronger, more sane, and wiser than I was. Thank God.

Anonymous said...

I entered hippiedom in the beginning because it just looked like so much fun and was so radically different from the mind-numbing conformity of the 50's and early 60's. It appealed to just about anyone who had an iota of rebellious spirit about them. The religious and philosophical aspects came on and were accelerated by psychedelics. Who wouldn't want to participate in a coast to coast party that started in the mid-60's and lasted thru most of the 80's? The music died in the late 80's due largely to the hip-hop tsunami. 'Gangsta' culture was held up as the new cultural ideal and the new youth element bought into it big time. Also most folks quit using psychedelics so the party petered out. We will never see the likes of those days again. The government will see something like that coming and squash it. We caught them unawares in the 60's. They weren't prepared for a united movement by the youth of America. They are prepared now, though.

Mr. Natural said...

The hippie party began when Ken Kesey turned his fellow literary classmates on to LSD at Stanford University around '59. He had been working at a psychiatric hospital which was part of a CIA study of LSD code-named MK-ULTRA for possible military use. He volunteered to be dosed up as part of the study and later found that the stuff was easy to steal. So he and his buddies began having acid parties at Stanford. Word spread about thes parties and others began to come to these parties including Jerry Garcia, Neal Cassidy, etc. The plot thickened when his bunch took on the name of the Merry Pranksters and took their famous cross country bus trip in the summer of '64 (made famous by 'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test). When they got back to the Bay area they started having the 'acid tests' up and down the coast of California. Acid was legal back then and Kesey wanted to turn as many people on as possible. The Warlocks (later to be known as the Grateful Dead) was the acid test house band. The Pranksters formed an alliance with Wavy Gravy's Hog Farm and the whole thing was amplified. Meanwhile Timothy Leary began doing his psychedelic explorations with mushrooms in Mexico in the early 60's. His outfit which called themselves the League for Spiritual Discovery (LSD) and which was less party oriented and more cerebral in their pursuit of psychedelics was cranking up on the East coast. By the late 60's psychedelics had spread from these epicenters coast to coast and the party was on!! An interesting aside is a philosophical difference between the early proponents of psychedelics. Aldous Huxley as well as Leary had more serious intents for psychedelic use in regard to the raising of consciousness and helping mankind in serious pursuits. The idea was to turn on an intellectual elite in the way of a psychedelic 'think tank' in order to better steer mankind. The other side of which Kesey was the major proponent encouraged the indiscriminate party use of psychedelics. As history has shown, Kesey's view prevailed. Of course a lot more can be said. Feel free to add to this brief history.

Joi said...

I had a great time at Miami, two friends and I drove from Houston to be there. I don't even know how we heard about it, but it was great. It wasn't a generation phenom, it was a communication phenom that was sweeping people together. The music was the generator and the people were the fuel. It was a phenom that may never happen again - it was fun to be there and changed many lives along the way. My part in it helped fuel my father to leave the prep school he taught at to open his own no tuition "prep" school for poor kids that is still going today 40 years later. A pebble in the pond sends ripples all over it.

Bill Mankin said...

Actually, the December '68 Miami Pop Festival (which I attended) had no involvement by Michael Lang. Lang was involved in promoting the earlier and much smaller Miami Pop Festival that same year in May. The December festival was promoted by Tom Rounds, who organized the first known rock festival - The KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival on California's Mt. Tamalpais in 1967.