In the first half of 1970, plans were afoot for a festival in Middlefield, Connecticut. So here’s a quiz question: what was so special about the July 1970 rock festival at Powder Ridge Ski Area, which was attended by around 30,000 people?
Answer: the event was cancelled. The establishment got pretty wise, pretty quickly after Woodstock and the fun of 1969, and local communities mobilised to prevent tens of festivals in 1970. Festivals were seen as political events, and one such that could not get its legal injunction was Powder Ridge, which had booked Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Sly Stone, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, Chuck Berry and others. But the mere fact that the event wasn’t going ahead didn’t stop the promoters from promoting it.
30,000 souls were not going to let such inconveniences as a cancelled festival spoil their weekend and turned up anyway, leading to one of the most heroic displays of mass public drug-taking the continental US had ever seen. Without the distractions of bands to see – with the exception of a few local outfits like Melanie.
Drugs, lots of bad drugs, were the order of the day, with dealers hawking their wares untroubled: “Buy a tab of acid and get a shot of heroin free”, they shouted. You don’t get that in Boots.
Festival medic William Abruzzi was treating 50 freaking out trippers an hour amid scenes of considerable wigging out. Connecticut – not exactly known as a party state – hadn’t seen anything like it. When the Black Panthers got involved to protest the 1970 BP trials that were taking place in New Haven, it was clear that this wasn’t your average festival. When people started dumping drugs into the barrels of drinking water, plots were being lost left, right and I-can’t-feel-my-face centre.
Powder Ridge was potentially a really cool place to hold a festival but the manner of it’s failure both in business and political terms began to make the case, much for strongly, for festivals to be run professionally and profitably. And in that, the road to the 21st century festival sponsored by The Man, had already begun to be walked.