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As you’ll know if you’ve been reading a lot of my blogs, Detroit and Michigan in general was quite the state for rock n roll shows and festivals from 68 - 72.
The Grande Ballroom scene had been a proving ground for so many bands and really was the counterculture hub for those years, though it closed in 1972.
But where there's money there are always hustlers and there was a vibe in freaksville that Michigan had its fair share of dudes looking to exploit rock n roll for a big pay day. In truth, this could be said of most states. Ok perhaps not in the wide open skies of Wyoming, but you get my point.
So many people saw that if you could rent some land or a venue for $10,000, pay some bands $40,000, get in 20,000 long hairs all paying $5, you could clean up 50k in a day.
For this iteration held on Sunday May 30th 1971 at Michigan State Fairgrounds, the line-up was Brownsville Station, Bob Seger, Boz Scaggs, Detroit, Edgar Winter's White Trash, Johnny Winter, Mutzie, The Allman Brothers Band, The Früt, The J. Geils Band, The Sunday Funnies, Tin House.
That’s a damn fine list of bands but by all accounts, it wasn’t the happiest of shows. I found this report of proceedings in the Ann Arbor Sun by a writer called Joe Tiboni and it really captures the flavour of times, I feel. So sit back and take it away, Joe.
“The second Detroit Rock and Roll Revival took place in Detroit last weekend and it seems to have stirred up quite a row. Even Bill Milliken seems to be getting into the act, saying there was massive drug traffic, and because of this there will be no more festivals held in the State Fairgrounds. This may not be an altogether bad thing, for at least it will stop the Eastown Boys from ripping off the people with yet another Rock and Roll Revival.
The Rock and Roll Revival was a pretty ugly thing. A good deal of the blame has to rest on the shoulders of the promoters, Eastown Productions. It seems that they didn't really care much for the people's well being, as the facilities at the site were simply awful. Toilet facilities were completely inadequate, with one john each. Worse yet, there was only one water fountain in the whole site.
Cleverly enough, these were all located right next to the first aid/bad trip tent, which caused an incredible hassle with long lines snarling the first aid area all day. There were however, plenty of fast-buck vendors selling enormous amounts of skonk (great word! - Johnny) food, hot dogs, pop corn, coca-cola, and popsicles, with the Eastown getting a cut. ft was very obvious where the promoter's priorities lay.
The rest of the site contained some more treats, too. You had your choice of sitting on scorching hot asphalt, or in dust and dirt an inch deep. There were no public phones at the site either, well there were, but they were outside, and you had to pay to get back in.
The renta-cops, straight from the Eastown, were fairly friendly, but no help at all, since they had no Information about anything, and were only there to prevent crashing and protect property. You only have to have been to one concert in Oughton Park to realize how little the people's interest were taken into consideration.
At one point Brownsville Station ended a killer set by dedicating Link Wray's Rumble to John Sinclair as they had done two years ago at the Original Rock and Roll Revival, and a lot of people got up on their feet, screaming and dancing.
But a lot of people there were on a Death Culture Trip. I found a sign after the show ended Sunday that said "Free Sparklers with one hit of Goofy Grape Acid," they probably gave Green Stamps too. There was also incredible amounts of bad dope. Everything from bogus Reds, that didn't do anything, to the perennial THC/PCP ruse.
Lots of people were also hurt, or otherwise fucked up (flipped out) by firecrackers and sparklers. People were doing weird shit like throwing M-80's and sparklers into the crowd, shooting Roman candles at people, weird shit like that. About the weirdest, boguest thing about the whole thing was the downers. Maybe it comes from living in Detroit, but there were so many downer OD's that the MASH (Medical Assistance for Sick Hippies) people had them spread all over the floor, with a couple of people checking pulses and breathing, and trying to keep them awake. (Normally downer OD's are dealt with one on one. )
I can't give enough praise to the MASH people, for they did a great job handling flip-outs, as well as patrolling the crowd, bringing in OD's. Without them, God knows how many brothers and sisters would have died. I'm not sure what makes people take downers, I guess it's the same thing that makes people shoot smack, but it's really weird to see them at an outside, summertime, Rock and Roll show.
People have got to realize that death drugs only trap us deeper into the death culture that makes us take them in the first place, if we get our shit together, we can put an end to the Eastown Boys, and all the rest of the Death Culture. We'll never do it if we're downed out though. Death to the Death Culture and All Death Drugs. Life To The Life Culture! Stay High!”
Joe sounds like a cool guy and if he's still with us, I bet he still digs his rock and blues. Rock on, Joe.
But his insight into the times is an important one for all of us students of the history of rock and roll and festivals. The nascent scene, just 3 or 4 years old by ‘71 wasn’t always the love, peace and flowers nirvana that we’d perhaps hope it might be, (though sometimes it absolutely was and those festivals live on as ideals to live up to) but neither was it the corporate branded Big Biz of nowadays. Shows like this were still very much the wild west medicine shows of rock n roll, with schemers and grifters trying to squeeze money out of the public, one way or another.