Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Isle of Wight Festival - 50 Years Ago

In my novel Miles From Nowhere, our narrator makes a pilgrimage to Woodstock to see his hero, Jimi Hendrix. Like others before me, I have reported and romanticized the festival as an accident of enthusiasm and chaos symbolizing the Hippie era. The following year, though, would be the third of three concerts in England at the Isle of Wight. Three years in a row, thousands of young people flocked to the small island community causing Parliament to pass a special act that would prevent unlicensed gatherings of more than 5,000 people.

The festival was the brainchild of the Foulk brothers who saw a gap in the market for a large rock festival in the U.K. The first event, held on August 31 and September 1, 1968, featured the American psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane as headliners, with support from Arthur Brown, Fairport Convention, and many others. It was considered a success with an attendance of 10,000!

The 1969 festival was much larger with an attendance of about 150,000 mainly due to the promoters securing Bob Dylan to perform. Dylan had been recovering from a debilitating motorbike accident in 1966 and was living in New York's Catskill Mountains, not far from Woodstock. However, Dylan was a no-show at the Woodstock festival in '69, instead headlining the Isle of Wight Festival two weeks later.

The 1970 iteration holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest concert of all time, somewhere between 600 and 700,000 attendees! The five-day event featured a myriad of artists that included Jimi Hendrix, the Who and Joan Baez, straight out of Woodstock, the Moody Blues, Chicago, Leonard Cohen, jazzman Miles Davis, Procol Harem, Ten Years After, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Sly and the Family Stone and Joni Mitchell, who sang her tribute to Woodstock (she wasn't at Woodstock, opting instead to do the Dick Cavett Show. While a success, the enormity of the event and its logistics caused promoter Ron Foulk to say, "This is the last festival, enough is enough. It began as a beautiful dream, but it has got out of control and become a monster. "

The festival was filmed by a 35mm film crew under the direction of [future] Academy Award-winning director Murray Lerner who directed the Oscar-nominated documentary Festival of the Newport Folk Festival. In addition to this film, Lerner has created full-length films focused on performances by individual artists at the 1970 festival. To date, there have been individual films of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Moody Blues, Free, Leonard Cohen and Jethro Tull.

My novels take as their inspiration my experiences, those of others, and the research I've done over a career that began in the late 70s working as an intern for the L.A. Weekly. While I write fiction, there's not a thing within the pages that isn't the truth. Here's a glimpse into the festival in my novel, Calif.:

Daisy Lane in Her Journal: The atmosphere was fantastic, so electric. I was oblivious to the trouble on the hill and just enjoyed the peace and love that I felt around me. Trying to phone home was torture, though, lines a mile long. The other really horrible experience was the Johnnie on the Spots; well, the lack of them. The showers weren’t much better; they were like big tents with no curtains or privacy and only cold water. Didn’t matter though, the weather was great and I had the time of my life being away with my friends listening to amazing bands, The Who, Hendrix and ‘love of my life’ Leonard Cohen, and we were free of parents for the first time ever! And Joni.

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