The First International Pop Festival, Rome 1968

The First International Pop Festival, Rome 1968
Authored By John Nicholson

This was held in Rome and was intended to rival the USA's 1967 Monterey Pop, Miami Pop and Newport Pop festivals of 1968. It was arranged amidst campus occupation by students at the University of Rome and riots as students were stopped from storming the US Embassy in an anti-war protest.

Many artists took part, including Pink Floyd. the Byrds, Captain Beefheart and Donovan. However, when The Move set fire to the stage with their pyrotechnics at the end of their set, they were arrested by the police for doing so. Dude, it’s just some pyro, it’s not a war, which by the way, I’m against.

The festival had been scheduled to last a week, but after The Move were busted, the venue was shut by the authorities and the festival was over. Boo! What a bummer. 

The four days of concerts that should have taken place at the Palazzo dello Sport dell´Eur, were organized by two young Americans, Jerry and Patricia Fife who, returning from the experience of the Monterey Pop Festival were inspired to try and recreate the Monterey vibe in Rome. Bad idea man. Rome is not Monterey.

Bands didn’t often get as far as Rome. The travelling costs made it prohibitive for many, who frankly didn’t feel much like hauling ass halfway across Europe just to play a show or two. So everyone wanted a lot more bread to play. 

They got Hendrix on board though, initially at least. Jimi toured Europe more than most I guess. Trouble was, the promoters had to keep moving the date. Initially, it was supposed to take place in February, then they moved it to April, and then to May and Jimi couldn’t make the revised dates. He did play two shows at the Brancaccio Theater, on May 25th though. 

On top of this, the scene was only just getting going in Rome and the amount of freaks, rockers and hippies wasn’t as big in number as many had assumed. You’ve got to remember it was all a new thing and not everyone got on board right away. A lot were frightened by this new youth movement, the drugs and everything that went with it, and that included far out music from the likes of Captain Beefheart and Pink Floyd.  

All of which meant when they did open for business, the crowd that turned up was quite small. It was a financial disaster of considerable proportions. Melody Maker called it "The pop-flop of ´68", probably because no-one used ‘rock’ music very much even in ‘68 and because pop rhymed with flop..

Everyone had expected a large crowd to turn up and the authorities had feared it would be an army of left-wing revolutionaries all hell bent on kicking some capitalist ass. But in the end, a few hundred turned up, enjoyed the music, The Move set the stage on fire and everyone had to go home.

The poster was designed by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, an influential British graphic design and avant-garde musical partnership of Michael English and Nigel Waymouth. They made a lot of psychedelic posters and two albums too, the first of which was basically a Spooky Tooth album, but that's another story for another day. 

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