The Midwest Rock Festival, Milwaukee 1969

The Midwest Rock Festival, Milwaukee 1969
Authored By John Nicholson

The Midwest Rock Festival was staged at the racetrack at State Fair Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, July 25-27, 1969 with a total attendance of about 45,000. It costs $15 for the 3 days. The show had a flatbed trailer as a stage, set on the field in front of the racetrack grandstand. It looks wonderfully down home.

Also down home was the printing of tickets which had no security marking of any sort - well who did back then - as a result freaks just photocopied them at the local Kinkos.  So loads of people attended who hadn't paid but did have tickets. 

Because they didn't have a lot of money upfront, all the advances were paid out of the ticket sales money as it came in. Even so, everyone got paid and the whole event passed off without big hassles.

Led Zeppelin, who played so many festivals that summer, was there Friday night and, by all accounts, played a storming, frantic set. Listening to the bootleg, widely available online, you can hear them tearing through songs like 'Communication Breakdown' as though on speed. Blind Faith played on Saturday. They were on their one and only American tour, of course. Other acts included John Mayall, Kenny Rodgers and the First Edition (booed off the stage when they tried leading off with Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town!) and Buffy Sainte-Marie who was actually the first day headliner above Zeppelin.

The scheduled list of bands was even longer than the number that actually played - Jethro Tull, Jeff Beck and the Bob Seger System were scheduled on Sunday, but rain cancelled many of that day's performances. This festival saw Taste, with Rory Gallagher, make their United States debut.

Tommy Bolin's first band Zephyr also played along with festival stalwarts, Pacific Gas & Electric, SRC and Shag (which I imagine didn't mean what it means over here in UK) Delaney and Bonnie and Friends were also there, the MC5, Jim Schwall Blues Period and the unimaginatively named Litter.

Bob Reitman, the Milwaukee radio personality who served as emcee for the festival, ranks the weekend - and another Midwest festival later that summer at County Stadium - among the top 10 concerts he's witnessed in his years in Milwaukee.

Part of what made it memorable, he said, was the dramatic weather. There was heavy rain on Sunday. Musicians were playing on a the flatbed truck, and a makeshift plastic cover was put over it to keep the rain off them. During a performance by Joe Cocker, the plastic cover broke and rainwater poured down on him while he sang. But Cocker kept on going - a bit of rain is nowt to a Sheffield lad, tha' knows.

Johnny Winter was next up and there was real fear he'd get electrocuted, but fortunately, only the music gave everyone a blast. Oh yeah, baby.

The coverage of the festival in newspapers mentioned widespread pot-smoking in the stands (well, duh!), and afterwards a state legislator from West Allis, Robert Huber, took strong exception to that, saying the weekend would make Haight-Ashbury blush. Dude, you need to loosen up and get with the programme. For 3 days in the summer of 69 what made Milwaukee famous was not beer but kick ass rock 'n' roll.

There's a new website about this fest with great photos and more info.

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