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The Celebration of Life, held in 24 - 27 June 1971, brought well over 60,000 freaks and hairies and hippies to the banks of the Atchafalaya River at the Cypress Pointe Plantation in McCrea, Louisiana. But what should’ve been groovy dream turned to dark nightmare, struck by various plagues of biblical proportions.
The plantation is situated between the fast-moving river and an inland, earthen levee which protects the residential community and farmland nearby. The festival promoters leased the 500-acre soybean plantation for $20,000 in June 1971 after being evicted from two previous sites.
The stage was erected in the soybean fields, which were off-season at the time, while campgrounds were set up along the levee and surrounding areas. It was baking hot so most spent their time down by the Atchafalaya, where overheated festival-goers either waded close to the shore or braved the swift, dangerous currents further out. Although traces of the festival remained for years after the event, today any evidence of the festival is gone.
While festival planners initially offered a wide array of musical acts and attractions, several adverse factors including local uproar from the good folk of the local towns - who let’s face it, always like a bit of an uproar when the freaks come to town - an expensive legal battle, and the disruptive summer weather common to southern Louisiana wreaked havoc on the eight-day schedule of events and contributed to shortages of food, water, and medical facilities.
Chuck Berry, It’s A Beautiful Day, the Amboy Dukes, Stephen Stills, and others performed throughout the evenings, while festival-goers spent their days scoring drugs, seeking shelter from the intense heat, scavenging for food, or risking the deadly current of the cool Atchafalaya River.
In addition to the crippling legal quagmire surrounding the festival, rumours of police brutality and a number of accidents, including the drowning deaths of at least four people, have understandably rather negatively influenced public perception and memory of the Celebration of Life.
While there were a lot of no shows, the confirmed list of bands that played still shows a good turn out by festival regular acts and from a musical point of view, it looks very strong.
Stephen Stills Band, John Sebastian, Chuck Berry, Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes, It's A Beautiful Day, Ike & Tina Turner, Country Joe McDonald, The Chambers Brothers, Melanie, WAR, Brownsville Station, Stoneground, Black Oak Arkansas, Bloodrock, Jimmy Witherspoon with Eric Burdon, Ballin' Jack, Boz Scaggs, Delaney and Bonnie, Glass Harp, Ruth Copeland, Potliquor
I got this info from a superb website dedicated to the festival which also made a great half hour doco about it which I highly recommend. http://www.mccrea1971.com/watch
And for more detailed reading on this disastrous festival, Rolling Stone is your friend.