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The Newport Pop Festival of 1968

NewportgrahicNot to be confused with the Newport Folk Festival of 1965 (where Dylan went electric and blew out a lot of mental amps) which occurred in Newport, Rhode Island or the Newport Pop Festival v.2 of 1969 (see below), we're talking about the first Newport Pop festival taking place in Southern California in 1968.

Dave Swanson wrote a good article about it, opening with “The era of the big rock festival is littered [punny!] with the legendary, the local and the forgotten. Woodstock [1969] and Monterey [1968] may have the cache, and Altamont [1969] the tragedy, but among the ruins of the rock-festival era sits an interesting curiosity know as the Newport Pop Festival. On August 3 and 4, 1968, the all-but forgotten festival took place at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, California.”

Here are some of the factoid bullet points I've curated about this festival.

  • This was the first music concert with over 100,000 paid attendees.
  • Kids were passing out from the heat, getting sprayed with water and playing in the mud (this was pre-Woodstock mud wallowing).
  • Food and drinks ran out halfway through day one.
  • Everyone got sunburned.
  • Kids with no hotel reservations squatted overnight on the lawns of nearby houses. Promoters had to put together an emergency campsite.
  • David Crosby (who just left The Byrds) started a pie fight with Jefferson Airplane and 250 cream pies.
  • Sonny & Cher flew in on a helicopter getting lots of attention. Helicopters also flew over dropping flowers on the crowd.
  • Sonny & Cher were the act that got booed on stage.
  • It cost $5.50 to get in and one fan said “it was well worth it.”

SonnychernewportThe festival had an amazing lineup in which Sonny & Cher did not mesh with at all, and shows how quickly music was changing between 1967 and 1968. Here it is:

Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish, Eric Burdon and the New Animals, Iron Butterfly, James Cotton Blues Band, The Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, Electric Flag, Steppenwolf, among others.

The newbies at the festival were Tiny Tim (kinda out of place if you look at him as a novelty act but Swanson claims at the time he was a “genuine troubadour” and the crowd loved him) and a band called Alice Cooper with its headliner then known as Vince Furnier.

Swanson writes about Sonny & Cher, “whose star had been fading fast” and “were repeatedly booed by the crowd.” Swanson says, “the duo’s last hit, ‘The Beat Goes On,’ was more than a year old.” (Yikes! One whole year?) Swanson is disdainful of Sonny’s then attempt at psychedelia, a song called “Circus.” With that I would have to agree. Sonny, steeped in 1950s rock-and-roll and R&B was completely not suited to be a southern, Chicago or British blues songwriter and was lost in the field of psychedelic music. As expected,  “it went nowhere,” Swanson says and although he's writing in 2015 you can't help but hear it as “nowheres-ville” and “it went nowhere, man!” 

In another article about attendee reminiscences, Marsha from La Habra remembers Sonny & Cher “playing and no one paying attention; I think they were booed at times.” Susan from Santa Ana remembers Sonny & Cher circling overhead in a helicopter as “so exciting!” When Canned Heat left the stage and Sonny & Cher came on, Terry from San Dimas remembers leaving with his friend and his mom.  Terry says Alice Cooper opened the show without any response or attention, even boos.

According to Swanson's article Sonny told the L.A. Times around this time, “I know we’re not considered the ultimate in hipness anymore.” Which is quite the understatement when swallowed up by that lineup.

Swanson ends his story with, “it remains a mystery as to how, or why, they were part of the event.” I'd also add my own question here about why this was billed as a "pop" festival and not a blues festival or a psychedelic rock festival. And if you look at some of these poster assets, Sonny & Cher are listed pretty high up in the marketing space.

That would be the real story. Why were they included here? But there are other unanswered questions: how did the bands backstage treat them? Did they play a shortened set as a result of the audience response? What was their set list eliciting these boos?

Newportpic2 Newportpic1 Newportflyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newport #2 was called "Newport 69" and took place June 20-22 in Northridge, California. 200,000 attended that one which ended becoming the more famous of the two. The lineup included Jimi Hendrix Experience, Ike & Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Taj Mahal, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Credence Clearwater Revival, Eric Burdon and War, Jethro Tull, Steppenwolf, Booker T & the M.G.s, The Grass Roots, Johnny Winter, Marvin Gay, Poco, The Byrds, The Rascals and Three Dog Night among others.

Why do we go into such a not-so-pleasant piece of Sonny & Cher's history? Because this is an interesting part of 1960s history and exemplifies the dramatic changes happening in rock music and also illustrates how publicly painful that incident probably was for other pop and folk acts at the time.

And also, it illuminates an irony: how many of those bands are still around and touring in arenas? The world is a capricious and wily place.

Newortprogram2Links:

How the Newport Pop Festival Brought Together a Diverse Lineup (by Dave Swanson)

1968 Lineup

Readers reminisce about Newport Pop Festival of 1968

The Newport Pop Festivals (Wikipedia)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newport_Pop_Festival