The Vancouver Pop Festival, August 1969

The Vancouver Pop Festival, August 1969
Authored By John Nicholson

The Vancouver Pop Festival 1969 was a rain-drenched festival held across three days at the Paradise Valley Resort in Squamish, British Columbia, a 90 minute drive north of Vancouver. Held August 22-24th, a week after Woodstock, this was one of those gatherings which began to hammer the nails into the coffin of the counterculture dream.

It was a decent-looking line-up of bands and though it has been claimed that the Grateful Dead didn't perform but Jerry Garcia biographer Blair Jackson disputes this, and speculates the Dead took the gig to move on from their perceived poor performance at the Woodstock festival a week earlier.

MC for the event Terry Mulligan remembers seeing someone banging their head hard against a stage supporting post in time to Little Richard's music, presumably freaked out on some narcs. It doesn't help the mood when someone is furiously hurting themselves. 

Richard then proceeded to anger up the bikers who were supposed to be the security team, causing a near riot. Loads of other bikers gangs showed up for a showdown. Bad vibes all round.

One attendee said "It was like every outlaw motorcycle gang in the Pacific Northwest came to this thing….The bizarre part was when Little Richard came on. All these bikers right up front. …Little Richard was mincing it up big time, and questioning their sexuality while flaunting his. It rained a lot and it was cold."

The promoter expected to sell 30,000 tickets for each day but only sold 15,000 for all three days, so it was far from overcrowded, which some people loved, but generally the vibe was down. But as is the way with a lot of festivals, some reported the weather good and the gig hassle free, others that it was pissing it down and fights broke out all over the place. 

Someone went into town and bought a load of umbrellas and cleaned up selling them. Other reports have a guy rolling and selling joints in tent and doing brisk business. There was almost no police presence

The toilets backed up, people were ripped off, fights broke out and the bands wanted their money, but the promoter Bert Gartner didn't have any money, or not enough, largely because he'd only sold those 15,000 tickets and most of those people had gone by the third day, sick of the bad weather, fighting and sodden conditions.

The promoter managed to leave by helicopter, narrowly avoiding being lynched by the stage crew and sound engineers, none of whom got paid. Sounds like a last chopper out of 'nam, deal.

With a good sound system, the music played was reported to be very good, with the Chambers Brothers and Flying Burrito Brothers excelling. Also interesting to see Love playing their first gigs in Canada. The Guess Who were on fine rocking form and you can even see a clip of Joni playing if you search for it on YouTube. The local paper singled out Alice Cooper for praise and suggested "they were really going places." Yeah, the groovy dude was right.

This whole event lost so much money and was such a sour, horrible experience for many, that it deterred anyone else from putting a similar event in the region for years.

The Chambers Brothers
Canned Heat
Alice Cooper
Crome Syrcus ( I think you've spelt that wrongly, lads)
Flying Burrito Brothers
The Grass Roots
Grateful Dead
The Guess Who
Joni Mitchell
Taj Mahal
Brownie McGhee
The Rascals
Little Richard
Merrilee Rush
Strawberry Alarm Clock
Sonny Terry

Scroll To Top