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This went down in history for one very good reason. It was Jimi Hendrix's last gig.
Three young Germans had a dream: Helmut Ferdinand, Christian Berthold and Tim Sievers planned a European answer to Woodstock. Inspired by the Isle of Wight, they liked the idea of having the festival on an island, which quickly led to the isle of Fehmarn, a well connected small island between West Germany and Denmark. What could go wrong? Oh, just about everything.
The date was set for 4th-6th of September, 1970. They planned for 30 to 40 bands and an audience of about 60,000 people. In the end the audience was estimated at between 75,000 and 100,000 people.
The German sex shop pioneer Beate Uhse sponsored the Fehmarn Festival and put 200,000 German Marks up in advance, and offered the use of her 20 German sex shops as additional ticket sale offices. Somehow that seems so German doesn't it? Still, makes a change from taking Coca-cola's dollar. But maybe it was why the promoters made such a huge cock-up of everything. Fnarr fnarr.
The cost of putting it on was around 500,000 DM, but a total of 600 ticket centres had only managed to sell 10,000 tickets at 12 DM each. Once this news got out, some bands pulled out, foremost amongst them John Mayall and Joan Baez. Jimi, however, had already been paid upfront - a fee of 70,000 DM plus a Merc to take him from hotel to site.
On September, 2nd, island authorities and all other organisations involved inspected the festival area and complained about the terrible mismanagement. The waste disposal was not regulated and you know what that means. The payment of the 300 co-workers had not been properly negotiated yet. It was little short of chaos.
On September, 3rd, approximately 4000 fans had arrived as the festival facilities officially opened. During the night into the 4th of September, the wind increased and it started to rain. Of course it did. Also during the night, about 180 Bloody Devils (later to become a chapter of the German Hell's Angels) from Hamburg were on their way to Fehmarn. In Germersdorf, they forced the local gas station to supply them with free fuel and in the village of Petersdorf, they got into a fight with Persian students, originally engaged as security, and hippies, which left four Persians injured by stabs. Bad vibes, to say the least. But it got worse. The bikers 'persuaded' the organisers to appoint them as security. This was very silly and guaranteed disaster.
Friday was stormy and it rained throughout the entire day. Around noon, more and more visitors arrived at the festival area and had to face the security checks by the heavily armed and drunk Hell's Angels. Do you think this is going to end well?
People were kicked and generally abused, cars were damaged and all alcohol was confiscated by bikers, who drank it all. Shortly before the opening of the festival, the sex shop sponsor Beate Uhse visited the crowd and signed autographs, because who doesn't want a sex shop owner's autograph?
Master of Ceremonies for the gig was blues dude, Alexis Korner. A cooler man has not lived. He opened the festival on Friday September 4th 1970 at 4.30pm. Alexis had been hired as the host of the show for the next 3 days, and he turned out to be the main force in running things onstage and backstage, as none of the so-called management seemed to have an overview of anything. Whenever chaos struck again, Alexis Korner stepped out onstage and entertained the crowd. What a man!
The first group to play was Cravinkel from Germany. I have no idea what they sound like, they sound like some sort of pickle. The PA sounded terrible, the crew had major problems to get the sound system going properly and to cope with the heavy storm.
After Cravinkel, the Danish jazz-rock group Burnin Red Ivanhoe took the stage. With lots of their fans in the audience, they had a good show, but the rain got worse and worse during their performance. The following act was the Sandy Denny-led folkies, Fotheringay and they also had troubles coping with the weather. Roadie Ford Crull remembers: "The whole stage was wet! Sandy kept getting electric shock from the microphone. The situation was unbearable."
A little later, the rain became catastrophic. Sheets of water fell from the sky. The area was drowning, and the show had to be stopped for a few hours. People tried to hide under plastic bags and improvised tents, but there was so much water that any attempt was in vain.
Ford Crull, was later hired by the organizers to become a stage manager for the festival: "If you think the Isle of Wight was a mess, you should have been to Fehmarn. We had to get many of the bands equipment out fast because the German bikers went berserk towards the end of the festival, and turned over trailers, etc, and lit fires before the German police came." Poor old Ford. Sounds like he had such a hard time.
Meanwhile backstage, there was utter chaos. Because of the delay, Taste had to leave for another show. Colosseum's van had broken down and was stuck in a traffic jam. And Cactus hadn't bothered to even call and say they were not coming.
Alexis Korner did his best to keep the crowd calm as he announced the absentees, but people start to realize this was all one big bummer, like, dude. The organizers tried hard to get a helicopter to at least get Colosseum to the festival, but without success.
And still the rain fell.
Renaissance turn up and start to play but the weather is just too bad for them to complete their set. It sounds like it was nothing short of torrential rain.
At 23:00 Alexis Korner stepped out to the mike again and said: "We are really sorry, but we cannot go on tonight." There were remarkably still 15,000 people in the audience. 5 out of the 9 groups had played, most of them shorter sets than usual because of the bad weather. The organizers feared riots, but the crowd was cool and calm. Most of them just hoped tomorrow would be better.
During the night, the bikers started riots. They destroyed one of the organizers containers and a decision is made to pay each biker 150 DM to get rid of them. Not all bikers go, but the plan seems to work out at least a bit. Lots of them remained but the security checks at the gates stopped.
Saturday turned out to be cold and stormy as well, but at least the rain had stopped. At noon, the second day started with the German blues rock band, the brilliantly named Frumpy from Hamburg, featuring the famous female blues singer Inga Rumpf. The band did well, and had a good time.
Inga remembers how they left the festival for another show right after their performance and looked back out of the car and saw the next rainstorm with dark clouds coming down: "We felt really sorry for the other bands who had to play after us."
After a long break, and four announcements later, Ginger Baker's Airforce finally came onstage. Originally scheduled for Friday evening, but delayed due to the rain, their show turned out to be one of the highlights of this second day.
Next up was The Faces with Rod Stewart.
Despite the fact that the sex shop Queen, Beate Uhse had already given them an advance of 200.000 DM, the organizers had to ask her for money again. They hope to get access to the money still untransfered from the sex shop ticket sales to at least keep the festival crew on board. Luckily enough, Beate Uhse agreed.
Between sets, Alexis Korner tried to prepare the audiences for the fact that a few bands, among them Ten Years After and Procul Harem would not be appearing. The crowd were unhappy and there were fears that Hendrix wouldn't turn up.
Quickly, free jazz sax player Peter Brotzmann and his ensemble is brought onstage to play. But an angry crowd doesn't want to hear free jazz. An un-angry crowd doesn't want to hear free jazz, either. It starts to rain. Anger rises further.
Meanwhile, Jimi Hendrix arrives on the Isle of Fehmarn by train from Hamburg. He wants to get over to the festival site immediately and play, but the weather conditions are too bad. Gerry Stickels, Jimi's road manager tells the organizers that the tents in front of the stage have to be removed, before Hendrix will play. This is actually announced from the stage, and indeed, most of the tents disappear. His performance is delayed to Sunday noon. The crowd is not informed about this until later in the evening to reduce the risks of riots. Man, this was one long hassle.
The next band is Mungo Jerry and go down brilliantly. Canned Heat follow and lay it down hard even though Al 'the Owl' Wilson, has just died 3 days previously. They play for two hours and are followed by Sly and the Family Stone, who are also well-received.
Fears of rioting calm a little. When it's announced Jimi will play tomorrow, everyone takes it in good humour. Phew. The Saturday music was wrapped up by Cluster - a German electronic band. Who doesn't like to sit in cold rain listening to German electronic music? Yah das is good.
At 12:56 the following day, Jimi Hendrix finally appears on stage much to the excitement of the crowd, but not all of them are happy. Booing and screams of Go home! are mixing with the cheers. Jimi obviously hears this. He says: Boo, boo….I don't give a f**k if you boo, as long as you boo in key….you mothers….!. Some moments later he apologizes for not getting on last night. Soon enough, the crowd forget their frustration, and Jimi plays a good show. The sun is coming out, and everyone seemed to have a good time. He walked from the stage and within days would be dead.
So that was the Fehmarn Festival, pretty much a disaster from front to back but it's place in rock 'n' roll history is well and truly sealed.