Love Valley Rock Festival, North Carolina, 1970

Love Valley Rock Festival, North Carolina, 1970
Authored By John Nicholson

This festival was held between Thursday Jul 16, 1970 and Sat Jul 18, 1970. It was a remarkable gig which ended up inspiring one of the era's great southern rock songs. 

The bill was headlined by the Allman Brothers Band and also featured Big Brother, Radar, Peace Core, Wet Willie, Johnny Jenkins, Tony Joe White, Hampton Grease Band, Donnydale, Catfish Freedom, Sundown, Chakra, Hot Rain, Kallabash, Warm Stone Blind, Captain John's Fishmarket. Ah yes, the CJF, whatever became of them?  

Naturally it became known as “South’s Woodstock” (everyone had their own Woodstock for a year or two) was launched at Love Valley, North Carolina. Located north of Statesville, Love Valley was the creation of Andy Barker in 1954, who had always wanted to live like a cowboy in an Old West town. I’m not making this up. Basically, it was known as “a western-themed community” and was like going back in time by over a hundred years.  

He came up with the idea of a rock festival after seeing others raking in the cash and decided he’d book some local bands and a couple of headliners and charge $5 for the 3 day haul (though, as tradition now dictated, many thousands got in for free)

100 people lived in this self-styled western community but thousands turned up for the festival because that's just what you did in 1970. The exact number is hard to measure. Some said it was up to 200,000 but others that it was definitely under 60,000. The Allmans had one album out and were still largely unknown. The bill was stacked with local bands, some say over 40 turned up. 

The Allmans played several times across the weekend, at one point being filmed - the grainy footage is still around and they were widely acclaimed as being on smokin’ form. However, no one got paid. This wasn’t a rip-off though, Barker had told everyone from the start there’d be no bread.  

Barker had wanted to make a documentary about it, also as per Woodstock but he didn’t have the cash to do more than record a few clips of bands. 

The festival was not without controversy, as surrounding farmers and Statesville residents were unamused by the massive infestation of music-loving hippies and drug-taking weirdos getting their not inconsiderable freak on. Easy to forget just what a cultural schism there was between the youth counterculture and rural folk for whom life had changed little in a hundred years. Probably still is.

Other recognizable acts at Love Valley included British singer-guitarist Terry Reid; the Hampton Grease Band and Flood, both from Atlanta; and future Southern-rock mainstays Wet Willie, who hailed from Alabama. From the West Coast came Big Brother featuring Ernie Joseph (not to be confused with Big Brother and the Holding Company). From the Triad, Mitch Easter’s psychedelic high-school band Sacred Irony performed, as did Greensboro’s own Kallabash.

Because of its size, the Love Valley Rock Festival made headlines. Beyond the initial buzz, the festival served notice that the counterculture was beginning to invade formerly resistant corners of the hippie-hating South. Yee and indeed, haw. Put some flowers on that pitchfork, baby.

While everyone wanted to think they were recreating Woodstock, it didn’t have the same coverage or profile, despite causing a stir in NC. But Love Valley did become a little counter-cultural hub for a few years after the festival. Among those who stuck around or returned from time to time were members of the Allman Brothers Band. In fact, Andy Barker claims the Allmans’ ties to Love Valley run so deep that they offered to perform for free on the festival’s 25th anniversary and wanted to do something for the 40th, too. So it must’ve stuck in the collective consciousness as a groovy place. But Barker didn’t fancy putting on another fest so turned the chance down, saying, “I told ’em I like ’em and they can always come visit, but I don’t want no damn concert in here,” Barker said, with a resolute chuckle. “I’ve had all that I want.”

It was noted as a very peaceful festival full of love and good vibes.

People camped and slept in vans and shared food. Watermelons were very popular, again, another festival tradition. Pot was openly smoked and everyone was cool. It was a really nice safe environment.

There was naked bathing in a nearby lake, of course. The local cops took pictures of the girls, as though they hadn’t ever seen a naked body before. Very uncool.  Funny how such a simple thing as swimming without your clothes on was so shocking and radical. I mean, what could be more natural? Kallabash took nudity seriously, let off smoke bombs at the end of the set, and when the fog cleared, had all stripped naked. Well, we’ve all done it.  

The beautiful thing about the Love Valley Festival was that so many people stayed on in teepees and lived the hippie life there for many years after. Maybe it was because it was called Love Valley, but many people had a lot of love for the place. Butch Trucks of the Allmans laer commented, “Love Valley became kind of a focal point for the Allman Brothers Band. We all just started hanging out there. Love Valley was where we lived and hung out when we weren’t working. Dickey built a house there. That’s where he was living with Sandy Blue Sky when he wrote ‘Blue Sky.’

“It was such a cool place. You had to ride horses. It was just like this Wild West town, and I can remember nights we were full of moonshine and LSD, having fake fights and falling out of the second floor of the hotel with one of the guys in the middle of the street cracking a whip. It was nuts. I mean, it was crazy.

“The only negative thing about the festival was that it got so hot when we were playing. Somebody decided to turn on the hoses, and they just watered down the whole audience. But then people started slinging mud at each other. Some of that mud hit Duane’s Les Paul gold-top guitar, and he got pissed. And he walked off stage, went back to the Winnebago and said, ‘I ain’t playin’ no more.’ It took us a long time to talk him into getting back onstage and playing. I mean, that guitar was more important to him than just about anything.

“So finally, after about an hour, we went back out and got everybody to agree to quit … well, they kept throwing mud at each other, but they were very careful that it didn’t hit toward the stage.”

Amazing that was where Blue Sky was written. I love that song so much, such beautiful guitar. 

So Love Valley really contributed to the history of rock in more ways than one. 

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