Miami Pop Festival December 1968

Miami Pop Festival December 1968
Authored By John Nicholson

Held between December 28–30, 1968 in Gulfstream Park, Hallandale, Florida, this was the east coast's first big fest. A gathering of the east coast tribes like none before it. It must've been so exciting. All the heads that had grown into the counterculture in the previous 2 years, plus even more weekend hippies wanting to get it on, made their way there to see a stellar line-up

The Amboy Dukes, Chuck Berry, Blues Image, The Box Tops, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, Wayne Cochran, Cosmic Drum (aka Train of Thought) James Cotton Blues Band, Country Joe and the Fish, José Feliciano, Fish Ray, Flatt and Scruggs, Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye, The Grass Roots, Grateful Dead, Richie Havens, Ian & Sylvia, Iron Butterfly, Junior Junkanoos, Jr. Walker & The Allstars, The Charles Lloyd Quartet, Hugh Masekela, Joni Mitchell, Pacific Gas & Electric, Procol Harum, Terry Reid, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Steppenwolf, The Sweet Inspirations, Sweetwater, Joe Tex, Three Dog Night, The Turtles

Not to be mistaken for the fest of the same name held in the same location earlier in year, this was a much bigger affair.

5 weeks before it was due to start, the Man issued an edict, no doubt whilst wearing an ill-fitting suit and fingering his too-tight starched collar nervously..

"It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation, or other legal entity, to engage in the business or occupation of psychedelic and hippie dance halls, shops and establishments." Mayor Ernest Pinto said, "We want to make it clear there is no room in Hallandale for hippies."

Very forward thinking of you there, Ernie. Give him the bong, someone. But this was typical of the times. Hippies were feared as though they were an alien race, and not actually the sons and daughters of perfectly respectable middle-class people. It's even more laughable because I'm sure the boy Pinto, wouldn't have known a "psychedelic" dance hall from a grapefruit on a stick. And as for Hallandale not having room for hippies, man, they were already there all around you. They're like the air, man: everywhere.

But as was also quite typical of the times, the festival organisers were more clever, better organized and more resourceful than the stuffy officials in county hall. In this case it was Tom Rounds and Mel Lawrence who had organised the legendary early rock festival at Mount Tamalpais in Northern California back in June 67. They had backing from Tom Driscoll, a seriously rich dude, whose family owned berry farms. That fella had major cash. I love how, so often, the freaks co-opt a rich businessman who, though he has little interest in the music, has an eye for turning a buck. The local straight people must've hated them and seen them as turncoats. But hey buddy, this is America.

They rented the racetrack for just $5,000 and 5% of the gate. This was to make it a very profitable festival and as such an early example of how to make these gigs work for everyone.

The promoters were hoping this would become an annual event, so to that end set about schmoozing local officials, getting the backing of the Governor, who presumably snapped his fingers and said, "Mmm that sounds, groovy, daddio....can I have my money now". Even Ernie Pinto got on board near to the start of the festival, despite his earlier anti-hippy stance. He made calls to get sleeping and camping facilities arranged. Someone had clearly spiked his water.

Miami Pop Festival ticket
Miami Pop Festival ticket

The previous May future Woodstock guru Michael Lang had put on a small festival at Gulfstream Park, headlined by Jimi Hendrix, but this was to be a bigger, more ambitious affair with a wide range of bands and musicians, from folk, to blues, to jazz, to soul and rock from people as diverse as the Grateful Dead, Paul Butterfield, Iron Butterfly, Marvin Gaye, Jose Feliciano, Joni Mitchell, Procul Harum, Terry Reid (whose second album cover features a photo of him shot at this festival) and up to 30 others.

Terry Reid’s second album. The photo was taken at Miami Pop FestivalTerry Reid's second album. The photo was taken at Miami Pop Festival

 It was also the first to set up 2 stages - The Flower Stage and The Flying Stage - to keep the music flowing. Each act had 45 a minute set (just enough time for the Dead to tune up and play one number, then)

The stages were created and overseen by the legendary Chip Monck, whose name you'll see in a lot of my pieces on festivals. One of those largely unsung men of the rock n roll movement, he was the go-to man for stage crafting. A key part of Bill Graham's Fillmore set-up, a year later he'd do Woodstock. He looked brilliant too. Long hair, droopy tache and not an ounce of body fat on him.  

Over 100,000 turned up across the 3 days, all largely drawn from the surrounding area. Looking at photos of the crowd, it looks a lot like Monterey, with people sitting in nice, neat rows, all grooving to the music. There was no trouble, so the Mayor didn't have to worry, turns out hippies, man, they're alright.

The good organisation was partly down to the fact that holding it in a defined space such as a racetrack, meant it could all be well contained. Also the routes in and out of Hallandale were good enough to cope with the influx of people, so the whole region didn't descend into gridlock.

With 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Via' riding high in the album charts, Iron Butterfly were a major draw for this festival, but according to many, it was Pacific Gas and Electric who stole the show, performing a total of 4 times across the weekend.

After it was over Rolling Stone called it 'The Most Festive Festival of 1968' and Tom Rounds became a kind of guru for how to put on a profitable festival.

All that being said when he tried to organise one in 1969, as festival culture was really getting up a head of steam, the local officials panicked and, worried half a million kids would turn up this time, refused Rounds permission to stage a second festival, even despite the fact that these shows generated a lot of money for the local economy.

The thing was Rounds was no stoned-out hippy, he knew what he was doing and had figured out early on what needed to be in place to make things good smoothly. If anyone could have put on a show for half a million people in 1969, it was him. But The Man just didn't dig that, the good folk had got The Fear, were scared the revolution was here and smelling of patchouli oil. In one way they were right, in another, sadly, wrong. 

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