These days Coachella is a big deal, but for 10 years after this 1969 festival, there were no permits issued for anyone wanting to hold out door music events in the Palm Springs area because of the trouble it caused.
Back then, the SoCal desert town was small place of some 20,000 people. The Palm Springs Pop Festival was held in April 1969. On the bill were the likes of Procol Harum, The Doors, Canned Heat, John Mayall, Savoy Brown, Steve Miller, Ike and Tina Turner, Eric Burdon and the Animals, the Flying Burritos Brothers, Lee Michael, Moby Grape, Buddy Miles Express, the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. All pretty cool music to listen to in the hot desert. Timothy Leary was introduced before Procol came on stage “Keep it going, smoke it, get it on,” he said, giving the peace sign. You can just imagine that, can’t you? Buddy Miles drums didn’t show up and John Mayall suffered a power cut. But the music is reported as being of superb quality.
The smell of incense and Mexican pot was thick in the air. Students had come from San Diego and Los Angeles en masse, hoping to buy tickets for the two concerts that were sponsored by Los Angeles FM stations as part of the two-day pop music festival. The first concert was held three miles east of Palm Springs in Cathedral City at the Sunair Drive-In. The marquee at the theatre read: Tuesday only Palm Springs Pot Festival from 6 to Midnight “Come high and stay high.” Groovy, baby. Back then changing a letter ‘p’ to a letter ‘t’ probably seemed like a really radical act.
The day of the event, ticket holders were let in and throngs of others stood outside hoping to get past the gates and into the venue. More than 5,000 concert-goers filled the drive-in. Those who could not get in broke holes in the fences and pushed in to see the bands and revel in the music. This despite the fact that ticket prices were just $4.50 The second night, April 3, at the Palm Springs Angel Baseball Stadium, law enforcement teams kept the peace by securing the stadium after the 3,500 long hairs were let in.
All around the sleepy desert town students and freaks hung out and got it on. There was public nudity and the having of carnal relations in the open air. Well, it was all very shocking and the locals didn’t like it one bit. The local paper called it “a hobo jungle” though I’m willing to be few actual hobos were there. Mostly it was middle-class college kids looking to get high and get laid. Crowds began forming outside the concert and the crowd, which became a mob and spilled across the street to the service station on the corner of Ramon Road and Sunrise Way. The police formed a line with the owner of the service station, and he shot and killed a 16-year-old male youth in what authorities later deemed self-defence. Sound familiar? Uh huh. A 20 year old girl was also shot. This wasn’t how it was meant to be.
Rolling Stone reported one festival-goer as saying, “We’re the new breed,” proclaimed Mike Henderson, 22, of Long Beach. “Sooner or later we’re going to take over the country. Then we’ll be able to do what we want to do, and we’ll have a peaceful planet” That was a lovely sentiment, Mike. Let’s hope it comes true one day. A Riverside Press-Enterprise editorial of April 9, 1969, concluded: “The week has gone, but a bad feeling lingers on.” The Palm Springs Pop Festival 1969 turned out to be severely ungroovy.