Winter Festival for Peace, Madison Square Garden, New York, 1970

Winter Festival for Peace, Madison Square Garden, New York, 1970
Authored By John Nicholson

A fundraising gig for a specific cause is commonplace today but it was not always so, especially in the rock and roll world. But 18 months before The Concert For Bangladesh came the Winter Festival For Peace held on Wednesday Jan 28, 1970 at Madison Madison Square Garden

This was one of the first times major acts came together and donated their performances to aid a specific social/political agenda. Organised by Sid Bernstein and Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul and Mary fame) everyone played for free and all proceeds of the event would go to the Vietnam Moratorium effort. Sid Bernstein was a legendary concert impresario who had brought the Beatles to America and one of the good guys who sided with the hippies in being anti-war. “Peace was important to me because I’d seen the ugliness of war in Europe, having served in England, Germany and Belgium. It was people killing people. That’s why I got involved in the peace movement.” Seems fair enough.

The five-hour festival was due to run 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. and featured Harry Belafonte; Blood, Sweat & Tears; Dave Brubeck; Richie Havens; Mother Earth; Peter, Paul & Mary; The Rascals; The Cast of Hair; Judy Collins, and Jimi Hendrix & his Band Of Gypsys.

Something for everyone on that bill. With tickets costing between $4 and $7.50 and the Garden’s 50,000 capacity at the time, over $300,000 was raised. Amazing money, really. 

However, it went down in rock history because Jimi, who was closing the show walked off stage after just a couple of numbers. Reporter Steve Bloom takes up the story. 

“The set began with “Who Knows.” After a ten-minute jam, the band took a brief break, then veered into “Earth Blues,” which featured a blistering guitar solo. The song faded out and Hendrix wandered off stage. “It seems as though we’re not quite getting it together, so just give us a little more time because it has been hard,” one of the band members told the anxious crowd. “Just bear with us for a few minutes and we’ll try to get something together … Like I said we’re having trouble. I don’t know what is the matter. Jimi wants to go down and so, like I said, if you can bear with us, if you can understand where the whole thing is at, we can try something later.”

And with that, after 23 minutes, Hendrix and His Band of Gypsys exited the stage. They never came back. Years later it would be revealed that Hendrix was having a bad acid trip.”

For any rock fan at the time, while this might have been disappointing, it wasn’t massively unusual. Bands and musicians, off their face on one thing or another, would often fail to show or crash and burn before the show was over. It was all part of the scene and people largely took it for what it was: part of the lifestyle. We loved these musicians and this music and understood that being out of it sometimes was all part of the trip that brought this wonderful music to our ears. 

The Winter Festival was followed by a less successful Summer Festival again with a stellar line-up and both are very much a bookmark in the political history of rock and roll.

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