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San Francisco International Pop Festival 1968

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By 1968 the whole world knew that San Francisco was Freak Central. Bus tours would patrol the streets, treating the long-haired weirdoes like some sort of zoo exhibit.
Long time residents will tell you that the age of hippy idealism had already peaked, probably in late ’66, early ’67. However, while this may be cultural true, the fact was a lot of SF bands were just getting their wings and creating wonderful music. So this festival in Alameda Fairgrounds in Pleasanton brought together some great bands for a superb 2 days of music on 26th and 27th October 1968. As far as I can tell, no pop music was played. I love how these early events are so often called ‘pop’ festivals, mostly because the word ‘rock’ was only just getting embedded into popular culture and still not in wide use. Seems hard to believe now.

As ever with such events, recollections are a little hazy due to recreational activities of a herbal kind, but it seems as though these are the bands that played, give or take a few local outfits. Lee Michaels, Buddy Miles Express, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Canned Heat, The Grass Roots, Deep Purple, Procol Harum, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Iron Butterfly, Jose Feliciano, The Chambers Brothers, Rejoice, Mad River, Johnny Rivers, Aum, Fraternity Of Man, Loading Zone, Womb. Some say Janis, The Who, Moby Grape and Jimi also played, but the pre-festival posters don’t list them.

That’s a pretty good line-up and reports suggest the standard of music was high throughout. Many parents even brought their kids and sat in the fairgrounds grandstand chatting, while the kids got their groove on in front of the stage. Beautiful.

“Oh don’t the kids look groovy, Martha? Wanna get wide with a toke on this while we lose our minds to Deep Purple?”

“Mmm, don’t mind if I do, Billie-Jo.  Gotta have something in my box to cope with the PTA meeting, man.”

Many reports say how great Jose Feliciano was. I’ve noticed that from 68 to 70, this is a recurring report about the blind acoustic noodler. Many times he seems to have enthralled his audience with virtuoso guitar playing, but with a mellow vibe. Perhaps when you’ve had your mind fried by Iron Butterly playing In-A-Gadda-Da-Via for an hour, a bit of Jose brings you down softly.

Over 40,000 turned up across the two days and it seems to have been a very easy-going, laid back event with none of the aggression and politics of later festivals. In fact, in general, the festivals held in the San Francisco area, down as far as Monterey, seem to have all had a good vibe to them up until the dark days of Altamont. But that was still over a year away, and the San Francisco International Pop Festival 1968 maybe showed what the future could have been.

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