Atlanta International Pop Festival, Byron, Georgia 1970

Atlanta International Pop Festival, Byron, Georgia 1970
Authored By John Nicholson

The second Atlanta International Pop Festival was held in a soybean field (great for vegans!) adjacent to the Middle Georgia Raceway in Byron, Georgia, from July 3–5, 1970, although it did not finish until after dawn on the 6th. It was the only successor to the first Atlanta Pop Festival, which had been held the previous summer near Hampton, Georgia.

The event was promoted by Alex Cooley, who had helped organize the '69 Atlanta festival as well as the '69 Texas International Pop Festival, and two years later would promote the Mar Y Sol Pop Festival in Puerto Rico from April 1–3, 1972. For a while, Cooley was the go-to guy.

Like 1969's Woodstock festival, the event was promoted as "three days of peace, love and music." Tickets for the festival were priced at $14. Also like Woodstock, it became a free event when the promoters threw open the gates after large crowds outside began chanting "Free, free, free. Music belongs to the people" and threatened to overwhelm even the biker security crew the promoters had hired. Crowd estimates for the festival varied widely at the time, and still do, ranging from 150,000 to 600,000. How do you count a big crowd anyway? It seems clear that this was A big one though. And understandably when you see the line-up on offer.

The Allman Brothers Band, Ballin' Jack, Bloodrock, Bloomsbury People, Cactus, Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, Chakra, The Chambers Brothers, Goose Creek Symphony, Grand Funk Railroad, Gypsy, Memphis State University cast of "Hair", Hampton Grease Band, Handle, Richie Havens, Hedge & Donna
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, It's a Beautiful Day, Johnny Jenkins, B.B. King, Lee Michaels, Mott the Hoople, Mountain, Poco, Procol Harum, Radar, Rare Earth
Terry Reid, Rig, Savage Grace, John Sebastian, Bob Seger System, Spirit, Ten Years After, U.S. Kyds, Johnny Winter.

Captain Beefheart, Ginger Baker's Air Force, Taos, Jethro Tull, Ravi Shankar, Country Joe and the Fish, Judy Collins, Rotary Connection, and Sly and the Family Stone did not actually perform.

That's not far short of the absolute cream of rock and roll at that time. It's also worth noting that by 1970, you were a festival veteran if you'd been attending them since 1967 but most were just getting on board with the groove and so 1970 was a time when pretty much everyone under the age of 25 would give at least one festival a try out, having heard so much about them. This must've helped push up attendance numbers.

Construction crews worked at the festival site for over a month prior to the event's opening day building the main stage, two spotlight towers atop soaring tree-trunk tripods, an eight-foot-tall plywood fence surrounding the entire 11.7-acre audience seating area, and other facilities. A separate, much smaller stage – the "Free Stage" - was also built some distance away in a wooded camping area to accommodate impromptu performances by mostly local Georgia musicians who wanted to play during the festival, and many did - including The Allman Brothers Band. During the construction phase, the band Wet Willie performed for the construction crew but did not perform during the festival itself. Cool.

The festival sound system was supplied by Hanley Sound of Medford, Massachusetts, and a rear-projection light show was provided by The Electric Collage of Atlanta, both of which had provided similar services at the first Atlanta Pop Festival the previous summer.

Temperatures at the festival were roasting hot, surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day. Nudity and drug use were widespread, as you'd expect, but local law enforcement officials, who knew they were vastly outnumbered, stayed outside the festival gates and employed a general 'hands-off' policy towards most festival-goers during the event's duration. A case of 'they've got the guns but we've got the numbers.'

However, Georgia's governor, Lester Maddox, who had tried repeatedly to prevent the festival from taking place, vowed that he would do whatever it took to block any similar event in the future. The state legislature enacted sufficient restrictions to make it much more difficult for anyone to organize another rock festival in the state. As a result, a third Atlanta Pop Festival never took place.

It's often said that when Jimi played around midnight on 4th July, it was to the largest audience he'd ever played in front of. Whether that's true or not, his set has been released a few times since, and a great triple album of music from Isle of Wight and Atlanta came out in 1971 The First Great Rock Festivals of the Seventies.

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