Mississippi River Festival

Mississippi River Festival
Authored By John Nicholson

The Mississippi River Festival was a summer outdoor concert series held from 1969-1980 on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Illinois. The Festival was notable due to its central midwest location, the natural ambience of its outdoor venue and some of the biggest bands of the day. It wasn’t a festival as such, more a headliner and maybe a support act.

It began as a partnership promoting regional cooperation in the realm of the performing arts. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville invited the St. Louis Symphony to establish residence on campus and to offer a summer season. To host the symphony, the university created an outdoor concert venue within a natural amphitheater by installing a large circus tent, a stage and acoustic shell, and a sophisticated sound system. To appeal to the widest possible audience, the university included contemporary popular musicians in the series. Hence the longhairs and groovy rock n rollers also turned up to get their freak on.

The Who, Yes, Chicago, Eagles, and the Grateful Dead shows were especially heavily attended.

Some shows attracting crowds in excess of 30,000. Jackson Browne wrote two of his songs for the live Running on Empty album in a nearby Holiday Inn at the intersection of I-270 and Illinois Route 157. Now that’s some top notch trivia ain’t it?

In July 1969, Bob Dylan did a short surprise gig, together with The Band. It was his first performance since the legendary motorcycle accident in 1966. Across June and July, all of these bands played: Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Janis Joplin, Arlo Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, Iron Butterfly, Blues Image, The Band (Bob Dylan came out for the Band’s encore) and played four songs, Ian and Sylvia, New Christy Minstrels, Richie Havens, Joan Baez.

Over 12 years, it was a gig which attracted a kind of legendary status and I’m sure is fondly remembered to this day

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