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A lot of festivals, especially in the early days, were some shade of chaotic but by hook and usually by crook, the freaks managed to put something on for the assembled crowd. But at Mexico’s first rock festival of the era, this was very much not the case.
It had all seemed fine until a few days before it was due to be held in the Bullring on 13 October 1968. Maybe the fact so many bulls had been slaughtered there was bad ju ju.
The festival was slated to feature the Animals, Iron Butterfly, Patchwork Security Blanket (great name!), the Collectors, the Chicago Transit Authority and the Yellow Payges; however, the Animals and Iron Butterfly never played.
The gig was being promoted by someone called Professor Blum, a one-time symphony musician. I presume he was one of those straight classical music guys who dropped acid in 1967 and decided rock and roll was the way forward, daddio.
Three days before the show, the police tried to cancel the gig and put out vibes that it was all off. This was sneaky because there was no reason to call it off and they were simply tried to suppress the number that would attend. It worked. The stadium had a 27,000 capacity and only 4,000 tickets had sold at $3.50 and $4.50. So on the day, the place looked all but empty. No vibe.
Then the cops started hassling people at the border - Tijuana being just across from California - and that slowed down the arrival of equipment and bands.
It all started at 11am, with the promoters giving press - many had made the trek from Los Angeles - with champagne and orange juice. Nice. OK hardly anyone was there but maybe it could be a groove anyway. Patchwork Security Blanket and the Collectors played but then everything stopped for what seemed like hours. Iron Butterfly arrived but there was no money to pay them, so they left. Chicago managed to play a set in the middle of the afternoon. But the police arrived batons drawn and began wandering around being generally menacing. Clearly, intent on making the whole thing such a drag that everyone would split.
After Chicago had parped their splendid jazz-rock there followed another long wait. With no Iron Butterfly, a band called Yellow Payges played covers of Beatles tunes to dwindling interest. While they performed The Animals equipment arrived, having been held up at the border. But the band was absent, also held up on the road.
By 7.30pm after over two hours without music, everyone was fed up. Finally Eric Burdon arrived with a couple of Animals and management, rather comically, by then, their equipment had been taken away again on the presumption the whole gig was a bust. According to Eric’s autobiography, he got on stage to tell the crowd that Mexico was famous for beautiful women and great pot, and this did not go over well with the local police who presumably liked neither.
No-one could face sitting through more Yellow Payges cover versions, so the remaining audience went home and, after an extended wait, the press got back on the bus that had brought them from LA.
It was later called "one of the biggest fiascos in pop festival history that left enough of a black mark that any future pop festival in Mexico is unlikely."
What became of Professor Blum is lost to history but I like to think he’s out there somewhere, in his dotage, recalling the day he put on one of the most shambolic festivals of the era, and absolutely no-one believing him.
“I’m tellin’ ye, man, the Butterfly split ‘coz there was no bread.”
“Yes, of course they did Prof, now take your medicine, there’s a good chap.”