Abilene Rock Festival, Texas 1971

Abilene Rock Festival, Texas 1971
Authored By John Nicholson

Abilene lies 180 miles west of Dallas out on the I20, out in the hot heart of the Lone Star State. It was where Mason ‘Classical Gas’ Williams was born and on Sunday May 2nd, 1971 it held its first rock festival. Well, I say festival but in reality it was a one-day outdoor gig. The line-up was a handful of local rock bands plus CSNY were due to play as headliners. 

Photos show that this was no more than a small wooden platform erected as a stage and placed in a field. To say the least, they kept things simple and basic. But there's nothing wrong with that.  

Floodtide, Friendship, Raven, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Eagle, Promises, Eli, Fox was the bill.

The gig was held on farm land to the southwest of the town and the weather was roasting hot, with little or no cover for up to 3,000 Texas long hairs. Dust began blowing in off bare fields ploughed up by cars arriving for the gig. Lovely. Then the PA began to break down, as PA’s were prone to do when put in a hot field with dust clouds swirling around.

When it worked, it was reported as a great sound system, but sadly, it rarely got through an hour without breaking down again.

While almost all the bands put some CSNY numbers into their set, CSNY themselves do not appear to have turned up. I can find no record of them playing, at least. Given they were possibly the biggest band in the USA in 1971 and had sold many millions of albums, playing on a makeshift stage in a field in West Texas to, at most, 3,000 people, was probably not a booking they felt obliged to fulfil. Indeed, it makes you wonder why they accepted it in the first place.

Actually, thinking about it, they’d pretty much broken up the previous summer and had been working on solo albums in the first months of 1971, maybe someone made a mistake somewhere along the line and they were never due to play or had cancelled long before. 

Instead, bands from Texas and neighbouring states cranked out rock n roll tunes and were reported as giving the dusty crowd a good time. Local news reports ran a story, almost disappointed that there were no drug busts, that the kids were largely well-behaved and the fears the good people of Abilene had had about their wee town being overrun by freaks had proven to be a myth (as ever)

There are some nice period photos from the gig here  

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