Toronto Pop Festival, June 1969

Toronto  Pop Festival, June 1969
Authored By John Nicholson

This festival was held at Toronto's Varsity Stadium from noon to midnight on June 21 and 22, 1969 and is not to be confused with the show later in the year where John Lennon's ‘Live Peace In Toronto” was recorded, though that was put on by the same people. This was, in effect, a dry run for that show. Tickets were $6 a day or $10 for both days.

At the time Toronto was very much in the throes of the emerging flower children hippie culture which probably explains why there were ads for the festival which offered to exchange tickets for actual bread. Beautiful. I mean, I know it sounds bonkers in today’s credit card crazy world, but the era was full of such small but lovely gestures towards a less harsh world. Some actually took up the promoters on their offer, prompting the gig’s said business manager Ken Walker to say, "I can't bank it, so I guess I'll have to eat it".

He, along with 22-year-old John Brower, who was described as the festival's "producer and talent scout" were the people behind the show. "We plan on doing this as an annual event," he said. "We are thinking right now of maybe doing an event in the fall."

That event would be the Rock 'n' Roll Revival in September 1969 and featured that famous performance by John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band. 

The line-up across the two days was Al Kooper, Blood, Sweet and Tears, Carla Thomas and The Bar Kays, Chuck Berry, Dr. John the Night Tripper, Elephant's Memory, Eric Andersen, Johnny Winter, José Feliciano, Motherlode, Nucleus, Procol Harum, Robert Charlebois, Ronnie Hawkins, Rotary Connection, Slim Harpo, Sly and the Family Stone, SRC, Steppenwolf, The Band, The Bonzo Dog Band (didn’t show)The Edwin Starr Band, The Stone Soul Children, The Velvet Underground, Tiny Tim. Alice Cooper wasn’t scheduled to play but did. It’s funny how Chuck Berry played so many of these festivals, cranking out the old hits for the hippies. 

A very strong bill indeed and splendidly eclectic, as festival bills always tended to be before we were all so keen on categorizing music by genres. Sly Stone topped the first day and Steppenwolf the second. Johnny Winter played on Friday and by Sunday was back in California for another show, which does sound a tad exhausting. 

This festival is reported by some as being life-changing and the moment they turned on to the scene, baby. I guess in those days, a festival or gig was the only way to meet up with likeminds that were otherwise very scattered, so it must’ve been mind-blowing to see thousands of other people who were into what you were into especially if you lived in a very straight, non-groovy place and previously felt very isolated. We forget now how less connected we all were back in the day and thus how important gigs and festivals were, both musically and culturally.

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