|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Music Festivals|
An overview of the Australian scene, 1970-75
The heyday of the
Australasian rock festival
was brief, falling almost precisely within the five year period between
January 1970 and January
1975. The history of
Australian rock festivals is dominated by the four famous Sunbury
festivals held between 1972 and 1975, but although there were in fact
at least a dozen
other large festivals held over that period, Sunbury continues to
dominate the public perception of these events. Another notable fact is
that while these festivals were
significant events and historically very recent, most
were poorly reported at the time and have been even more poorly
documented since. There remains much work to be done in collecting,
recording, organising and analysing this information and as time passes
it becomes ever more pressing to capture for posterity as much as
possible about this fascinating aspect of our social history.
Over the last couple of years, we've been able to collect a considerable amount of information, and as a result we can reasonably claim that our "Festivals" section is arguably now the best resource on this subject that is currently available. It has been a fascinating and rewarding collaboration and we owe a debt of thanks to many people. We must above all acknowledge the pioneering work of the late Adrian Rawlins, whose 1983 book Festivals in Australia: An Intimate History is a key source, since Adrian attended many of these festivals and compered several of them. Thanks are also due to Ian McFarlane, whose Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop is another invaluable source of information about rock festivals, as it has been for so many other entries on this site. Special thanks go also to Terry Stacey, who has provided important information about long-forgotten events like the Meadows Technicolour Fair, and who has also very generously contributed his own first hand recollections festivals at which he performed, as well as his unique photographs of those appearances from his collection. We also thank Tim Gaze, Greg Quill and all the members of the Rock'n'Roll Scars mailing list and the many other people who have so generously contributed their memories and much additional information.
1. The rock festival downunder
There were at least a dozen major music or music-related festivals staged in Australia and New Zealand between 1970 and 1975; as far as we know all but one of them were staged in NSW, Victoria or South Australia.
Sunbury is the best remembered and best documented; of the others little else is currently known beyond the name, the location, approximate dates, and a few major acts who performed there. Detailed information about about the promoters, the contractors who provided sound systems, lighting, staging and other facilities. sites, dates, ticket prices, performers and attendance is hard to find and will require further research.
The major festivals of the 1970-75 period which he have so far identified are:
If there's a common thread, it's the fact that almost none of these festivals was an all-round success. Some, like the pioneering Myponga Festival in South Australia, were successful from an artistic standpoint. But only one -- the first Sunbury Festival in January 1972 -- was both a critical success and successful enough financially to enable it to become an annual event.
Most local rock festivals resulted in major financial losses, and almost all were marred by perennial rock festival problems -- bad organisation, inadequate services and facilities, bad weather and crowd problems, usually related to excessive alcohol consumption.
There had been outdoor concerts in Australia and New Zealand in the 1960s -- some of them quite large -- but (as far as we know) these were usually free, one-day, one-off events. There were a few regular or semi-regular fixtures, notably the free pop concerts staged as part of annual civic celebrations like Sydney's long-defunct Waratah Festival or Melbourne's Moomba. Moomba was the largest of these, and on at least two occasions the Moomba concert drew crowds that were big by any standard, and huge in the Australian context. The Seekers' Moomba performance in 1967 set the Australian record for the largest crowd ever to attend a single Australian public event -- over 200,000 -- and that record still stands today. The Masters Apprentices' headlining appearance in 1969 was also impressive, drawing over 110,000.
Concerts in that period commonly had multiple acts on the bill -- indeed, this was a standard practice in the Sixties. Likewise, many tours by overseas artists were "package tours" with as many as half a dozen international acts plus local supports. There were also frequent local multiple-bill special events, including promotional concerts staged by radio and TV stations and notable one-off events such as The Twilights' star-studded farewell concert in Sydney in 1969. There were also regular multi-act competitions, the largest, longest-running and best known of course being the famous Hoadley's Battle Of The Sounds, which ran from 1966 to 1972.
The development of the rock festival as a public event was due in large measure to the staging of two seminal festivals held in the USA in the summers of 1967 and 1969. The festivals staged in Australia and New Zealand in the early Seventies were strongly influenced by these two pioneering events, and by the technical developments in sound reinforcement that made them possible. The two focal points for the development of the rock festival phenomenon were the Monterey International Pop Festival held in California in June 1967 and the Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music held in upstate New York in August 1969.
These two events provided powerful sources of inspiration, conceptually, logistically and spiritually. They proved that a large-scale, multi-act outdoor rock festival, held over several days, could work -- it was both technically possible and immensely attractive to very large audiences. These festivals also proved conclusively that rock music was not just a teenage fad -- it was a durable and growing social phenomenon that could (and did) attract audiences across a wide demographic range and in vast numbers.
2. Selective Amnesia: music festivals, the media and history
The cavalcade of stars and 'hippy-trippy atmosphere of Monterey might seem remote from the "suck more piss" decadence of Sunbury, but one feature that both festivals share is that we (and generations to come) can undertake detailed reviews, and make analyses and judgements about events these unique events because they were comprehensively recorded and filmed.
The old truism that 'history is written by the victors' has been given a new twist in the age of film and video. We are fortunate to have such marvellous technology at our disposal, but it greatly influenced the cultural importance that has been attached to these events. The existence of film or video footage of a certain event will automatically confer greater historical 'weight' to it, regardless of its relative importance, and in a world now dominated by the audio-visual media, it is inevitable that events which can be reviewed through recordings and film/video footage will inevitably accrue a much higher historical profile than events for which no such records exist.
A perfect example of this problem came to light during 2002. As we were researching some of the entries for the Festivals section I was amazed to learn, from musician and rock historian Terry Stacey, about a major Australian music festival which was held in South Australia in 1972, at exactly the same time as the Sunbury Festival -- the Meadows Technicolour Fair.
Sunbury '72 is renowned as the archetypal Aussie festival and three decades later the Sunbury bandwagon is still rolling profitably along, commemorated by soundtrack albums, videos and DVDs and given high prominence in almost every book or article written about Australian rock. Yet the Meadows Technicolour Fair has been almost completely forgotten, in spite of the fact that it drew 30,000 people -- only 5000 fewer than Sunbury itself. This was no mean feat given the competing schedules and the distance from the more populous eastern capitals.
Meadows was by all accounts an artistic and organisational success, and featured a host of top Australian acts (many of whom played at Sunbury as well). The major difference to Sunbury was that the Meadows bill included respected international solo performers Tom Paxton and Mary Hopkin (her only Australian tour) and one-hit wonders Edison Lighthouse (who replaced no-shows Mungo Jerry).
Arguably, the crucial difference between these two festivals was that, like Monterey, Sunbury became and remained famous specifically because it was filmed and recorded. Regrettably, as far as we know, the Meadows Technicolour Fair was not filmed.
John Dixon was on hand to film Sunbury in all its gore and glory, but the events, sights, sounds and atmosphere of Meadows are presumably now lost to history. There were also others on hand at Sunbury -- Ian Meldrum, Billy Thorpe and Michael Gudinski -- who were able to actively prosecute the cause of Sunbury's centrality in the years to come, and their propositions could be convincingly supported by access to Dixon's colourful footage.
There is no question that Sunbury was an important event, but it's curious that it's been declared as the watershed event of Seventies OzRock without any other evidence being considered. Meadows was evidently was not as influential in the long term, but it's difficult to accept that it should be totally disregarded.
Sunbury proved that an all-Australasian festival could work, but should Meadows be excluded from the history books simply because it doesn't fit the favoured theory? Meadows arguably demonstrates that local acts could be at least as powerful a drawcard as international names. Hopkin, Paxton and Edison Lighthouse were the only international stars on the bill -- and none could seriously have been be described as major stars, even at the time -- yet the Meadows Technicolour Fair still managed to draw 30,000 people.
It seems incredible that a
of almost equal size and importance to Sunbury has been consigned
to the dustbin of history. But the fact remains that until the
publication of Terry Stacey's article about it on MILESAGO earlier
this year, the festival had never been mentioned in any writings
about Australian popular music since the day the Meadows Technicolour
Fair ended. Like a number of other inconvenient facts, it has to
all intents and purposes been written out of Australasian rock
III. Monterey: Peace, Love and Flowers
The world's first rock festival was staged in California at the height of the 'Summer Of Love' in June 1967. Although Monterey was the world's first music festival to feature rock music exclusively, the idea of large-scale outdoor festivals held over several consecutive days was not new. In America, the famous three-day Newport Jazz Festival had began in the 1950s and had provided some immortal moments, including fabled performances by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk and Muddy Waters, among many others. So too its sister event, the Newport Folk Festival, which was an annual fixture for the folk movement during the early Sixites, until it was poleaxed by Dylan's watershed electric performance in 1965. Following that model, there were also regular folk and jazz festivals on the west coast, held at Monterey in California.
But these events were relatively small and to some extent limited by the nature of the music they featured and by the way it was disseminated to audiences. The event which created a new schema for the large outdoor music festivals was the legendary Monterey International Pop Festival held over the long weekend of June 16-18, 1967.
According to music writer Rusty DeSoto, pop histories tend to downplay the importance of Monterey in favour of the "bigger, higher-profile, more decadent " Woodstock Festival held two years later. But, as he notes:
"... Monterey Pop was a seminal event: it was the first real rock festival ever held, featuring debut performances of bands that would shape the history of rock and affect popular culture from that day forward. The County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California ... had been home to folk, jazz and blues festivals for many years. But the weekend of June 16 - 18, 1967 was the first time it was used to showcase rock music."
Next to The Beatles' momentous first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Monterey was arguably the single most important musical event of the Sixties and it set the template for every festival that followed, although none ever quite managed to recapture its magical combination of time, place and people.
Monterey was a big event even by today's standards -- daily attendance peaked at 50,000 and over 200,000 people attended across the three days. Yet there were no deaths, no injuries, no overdoses, no violence and no arrests -- in fact the Monterey Deputy Chief of Police was quoted as saying "We've had more trouble at PTA conventions".
The festival was a triumph of organisation and cooperation, setting a standard that few subsequent festivals have ever matched. And it was doubly remarkable achievement, given that nothing quite like it had ever been staged before.
producer): "I'd been in the music business since l957, and
had worked every kind of hall as a manager. I was all too familiar with
how acts were treated: The dressing rooms were toilets, there wasn't a
restaurant open by the time the show was over, the accommodations were,
'Oh, I'm sorry, the guy forgot to make them,' and all the rest.
So our idea for Monterey was to provide the best of everything -- sound equipment, sleeping and eating accommodations, transportation -- services that had never been provided for the artist before Monterey ...
... We set up camp, brought in a construction crew, established a communications center, and assigned a crew armed with walkie-talkies to canvass the entire Fairgrounds.
The transportation crew we organized included not only cars and drivers for all the acts, but scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, whatever else it took to get around. We had cleanup crews, and an arts committee to oversee the booths and displays.
We set up an on-site first aid clinic, because we knew there would be a need for medical supervision and that we would encounter drug-related problems. We didn't want people who got themselves into trouble and needed medical attention to go untreated. Nor did we want their problems to ruin or in any way disturb other people or disrupt the music.
If someone got in trouble they were taken care of as quickly as possible. Dr. Bowersocks of Monterey was in charge of the on-site medical treatment center. In an interview, he said the volunteer first-aid team there was years ahead of its time, citing the one-on-one rapport and communication techniques employed to cool out concert-goers who were freaking out due to ingested substances.
We established our own security, supervised by David Wheeler. With Wheeler as the liaison, our security worked with the Monterey police. The local law enforcement authorities never expected to like the people they came in contact with as much as they did. They never expected the spirit of 'Music, Love and Flowers' to take over to the point where they'd allow themselves to be festooned with flowers."
Almost every aspect of The Monterey International Pop Festival was a "first". Although the audience was almost all white, Monterey's bill was truly multi-cultural and crossed all musical boundaries, mixing folk, blues, jazz, soul, R&B, rock, psychedelia, pop and classical genres, with a line-up that put established stars like The Who, Simon & Garfunkel and The Byrds alongside groundbreaking new acts from the UK, the USA, South Africa and India.
The festival launched the careers of many who played there, making some of them into stars virtually overnight, including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix (already becoming a sensation in the UK and Europe but totally unknown in the USA), Laura Nyro, Canned Heat, Otis Redding, Steve Miller and Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.
It was of tremendous significance, in those troubled times, that Monterey was a racially integrated bill that featured white and black performers side by side. Among many debuts, Monterey was the first time that soul star Otis Redding performed in front of a large and predominantly white audience and his appearance there was instrumental in breaking him to the general pop audience.
Monterey was also the first high-profile event to mix acts from major regional music centres in the U.S. -- San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Memphis and New York -- and it was the first time many of these bands had met each other. It was a particularly important meeting place for the bands from the Bay Area and L.A. who had tended to regard each other with a degree of suspicion (Frank Zappa for one made no secret of his low regard for some of the 'Frisco bands) and until that point the two scenes been developing separately and along fairly distinct lines; Big Brother & The Holding Company, for instance, were barely known outside the Bay Area and Monterey was their first major out-of-town performance.
An unfortunate footnote to the event was it one major no-show -- the last minute cancellation by The Beach Boys, who were also closely involved in arranging the festival. opinions vary, but an appearance at Monterey, performing their newer repertoire like Good Vibrations, might have been a crucial step forward in their transition from surf-pop pinups to serious rock band. But we will never known because, tellingly, they were forced to cancel because of problems arising from Carl Wilson's draft resistance. Sadly, the group copped a lot of flak during and after the event and it was not until the Big Sur Festival in 1970 that they began to make up the ground they lost by missing Monterey.
Monterey also marked a significant changing of the guard in British music. The Who and The Animals represented the UK, but The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were conspicuous by their absence -- The Beatles had by then retired from touring and The Stones were unable to tour America due the recent drug busts of Mick Jagger and Keith Richard. Paul McCartney was on the Festival board (he was instrumental in having Jimi Hendrix added to the bill) and rumours abounded that "The Fabs" were there in disguise, a hope no doubt fuelled by the sight of the Brian Jones. Despite his own pending drug charges, Jones attended on his own, wafting through the crowd, resplendent in full psychedelic regalia, and appearing on stage briefly to introduce Jimi Hendrix. As it transpired, it was two more years before The Stones toured again, by which time the unfortunate Jones was dead; The Beatles never toured again. Meanwhile The Who leaped into the breach and became the top UK touring act of the period.
One extremely important aspect that is rarely acknowledged is that Monterey was also the first true rock benefit concert -- all the performers played for free, and 30 years on the Monterey films, photos, recordings and other materials still generate revenue for the non-profit MIPF Foundation.
Another first was the festival's sound system. It was designed and put together by Abe Jacobs, who started his career doing live sound for San Francisco bands, and went on to become a leading sound designer for the American theatre; among his many achievements were the innovative sound systems for the original New York stage productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. Although technical information is limited, Jacobs' Monterey sound system was a key factor in the festival's success and was greatly appreciated by the artists -- in the Monterey film, David Crosby can be seen remarking "great sound system" to band-mate Chris Hillman at the start of The Byrds' performance. Nothing like it had been attempted before, as festival organiser Lou Adler recalled: "... we started from scratch. When we moved into the Monterey Fairgrounds ten days before the festival, nothing was there, not even a proper stage to house the kind of amplification that was coming in. We had to build the speaker systems right on the site."
But beyond any other
single most important feature of Monterey was the organisers' most
brilliant and far-sighted decisions -- to engage Wally Heider's mobile
studio to record all the performances on
eight-track tape, and to engage noted filmmaker D.A
Pennebaker to film the entire proceedings, capturing those magical
moments for posterity, thus ensuring Monterey's
immortality. We must be forever grateful to them for this, and
it was a an enormously fortunate conjunction. In Pennebaker (who
made the legendary Dylan doco Don't Look Back) they
had not only the best documentary film-maker of his time but someone
with a genuine interest in and understanding of popular music -- and
access to newly-developed portable
16mm colour cameras equipped to record synchronised sound.
4. Woodstock: Selling The Dream
In his Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop Ian McFarlane suggests that:
"... Woodstock, in particular, was an important manifestation of the hippy philosophy of peace, love and harmony through rock music. In Australia, the effect of Woodstock was two-fold. Firstly the naivety of the 1960s was cast aside. As Clinton Walker put it, Australia's new progressive bands were engendered with a sense of where they could take their music, of stripping away old inhibitions, of exploring their roots in order to expand their horizons. Secondly, it allowed young and enterprising, if inexperienced, promoters the opportunity to make their mark on the industry."
As noted above, I would suggest that Monterey, not Woodstock, was the true source and the most successful manifestation of the philosophy of "peace, love and harmony through music". Monterey was a seminal event because it proved that the concept of the rock festival could work beautifully, and could create an event of major importance. Ironically, few have ever acknowledged that Monterey was virtually the only time that this concept was enacted with complete success. Virtually none of the festivals that followed ever matched its unique combination of great music, good vibes and superb organisation.
Woodstock is touted as being the greatest of all rock festivals, but I don't accept this. I believe that Woodstock exerted the influence it did, not because it genuinely embodied the Monterey ethos but because it was so extraordinarily successful at marketing that ideal -- even though the actual events of Woodstock stood in direct opposition to everything that Monterey represented. The Woodstock promoters and their collaborators -- notably Warner Brothers, who released the subsequent film and soundtrack album -- had no hesitation in cynically co-opting the Monterey 'spirit', using it to doctor Woodstock's image, and allowing them to market Woodstock products on an industrial scale.
Whether Woodstock helped to cast away of the naivety of the 1960s is debatable -- arguably, it merely helped to exchange one form of naivety for another. It did encourage young and inexperienced promoters to make their mark on the industry but, unfortunately, most of their enterprising was done at the expense of the the audiences and the performers. The regrettable fact is that Woodstock set a standard followed by most of the Australasian rock festivals -- that is, they were poorly organised, badly run and were financial failures. Audiences routinely had to put up with woefully inadequate facilities, and few Aussie musicians ever received payment for their festival performances.
Woodstock was touted as "three days of peace, love and music" but for the most part this was mere hype. Even a cursory look at the events before and during the festival show that Woodstock exemplified exactly what went wrong with so many subsequent Australian rock festivals -- that behind the 'cover-story' of the hippy dream lay greed, exploitation, shoddy organisation and fly-by-night operators out to make a fast buck.
Unlike Monterey, Woodstock was explicitly organised as an profit-making venture, and although it teetered on the brink of financial ruin for some time, it eventually made its stakeholders many millions of dollars in the years that followed.
Ticket rip-offs were just one of the scams that lay concealed beneath the hype. Woodstock's initial ticket price was to have been $6 for a one-day ticket and $24 for a three-day pass -- but the promoters upped the price of one-day tickets to $8 -- a 33.3% increase -- only days before the festival began. When the crowds began to arrive it became obvious that the numbers massively exceeded the promoters' original expectations, so they wisely decided to avoid any confrontation by declaring it a "free festival". This apparently magnanimous gesture made for great publicity but what few realise is that no attempt was ever made to refund the 186,000 tickets, worth $1.1 million, that had already been sold. In fact, that would have been impossible -- by the final day of the festival the promoters, Woodstock Ventures, were almost $2.5 million in the red.
The artists at Monterey had all performed for free, but the fees paid to Woodstock's headline acts were at the time the highest ever paid in the USA for rock acts, and the effect of this 'golden carrot' was a major increase in the fees charged by top-line acts. Because of their unknown status, Woodstock Ventures at first found it impossible to book many of the big-name acts they wanted on the bill. Their answer was to simply reach for the chequebook, forking out at least twice what most acts were usually paid in order to secure the names they wanted.
Jefferson Airplane, for example, usually charged around $5000 per show, but they were paid $12,000 for their Woodstock appearance. And despite having set a maximum fee of $15,000 for any single act, Woodstock Ventures finally secured their key booking -- Jimi Hendrix -- with a whopping $32,000 fee. Even then, they cheerfully lied to the other acts, telling them that this was for two performances, so that they would not ask for more money.
Logistically, Woodstock was the polar opposite of Monterey. Compared to careful planning and virtually seamless organisation of Monterey, Woodstock was little short of a complete debacle and it was a tribute to the patience and cooperation of the crowd -- and the seat-of-the-pants ingenuity of the festival staff -- that the three days passed without a major incident.
The preparation for the festival was a comedy of errors. Site after site was examined and rejected until the original site, at Walkill, NY, was selected. But as soon as it had been chosen, Woodstock Ventures found themselves engaged in a battle royal with the residents and the local council, who were bitterly opposed to the idea. After a fierce legal dispute, Walkill Council banned the festival and the site had to be changed barely two months before it was scheduled to begin. The final site at Bethel, on the alfalfa farm owned by Max Yasgur, was found virtually by chance.
Aside from its the once-in-a-lifetime roll-call of rock stars, the most famous aspect of Woodstock was its unprecedented size. With crowd estimates ranging from 400,000 to as high as 600,000, Woodstock was (and probably remains) the single largest gathering of its type in history. But the reality behind the oft-quoted crowd figure was that the promoters had drastically underestimated how many people would turn up and when the festival began they were caught flat-footed -- in fact, they were so unprepared that the festival almost didn't go ahead.
By the evening before the festival was due to begin, over 200,000 people had already arrived -- twice the expected number; by Saturday the crowd had grown to a staggering 500,000. Woodstock had been planned for an expected audience of 50,000 to 100,000, but faced with a crowd of this size, the available facilities proved hopelessly inadequate. Many of those who were lucky enough to actually make it into the site soon found themselves marooned in the vast sea of people and most had to sleep where they sat. Within hours the portable toilets were were overflowing and unusable. Vendors profiteered ruthlessly on food and drinks. The hard-pressed medical team treated more than 5,000 people for minor injuries, alcohol intoxication and drug-related problems like overdoses and LSD 'freakouts'. Two people died of drug overdoses and a third was killed when a tractor overturned on him. Incredibly, though, a generally peaceful spirit prevailed and there were no incidents of serious violence.
It's doubly remarkable that over 500,000 people actually made it to the festival site, because it's been estimated that at least one million more missed the festival, stuck on the roads leading into the site that became hopelessly choked with traffic as crowds flocked to the site from all over the country. Much of the blame for this was laid on the local law enforcement, but the basic cause was the promoters' failure to liaise effectively with the police, and the traffic chaos was only exacerbated by irresponsible non-stop promotion of the festival through the media.
The flood of people trying to get to Woodstock caused a massive traffic jam that backed up traffic for miles in every direction on the roads leading to the site. Many of those who made it close enough simply abandoned their cars and walked in. The gridlock was so bad that the promoters had to charter helicopters to fly the performers in and out. The festival's famous opening performance by singer Richie Havens was arranged on the spot, because the scheduled opening acts were unable to reach the site in time. Havens was unprepared but he coped brilliantly -- his famous song Freedom became the festival's unofficial theme, which was rather appropriate, since it was literally improvised on the spot.
One of Woodstock's biggest problems proved to be a recurring stumbling block at later Aussie festivals -- the weather. Held near the end of an unsettled summer, Woodstock famously copped the full force of a fierce gale that halted the proceedings halfway through its second day. The storm at one point threatened to topple the stage, drenching it with rain and putting the lives of cast and crew at risk from electrocution. The hapless crowd were exposed to the full force of the storm, which of course instantly reduced the audience area to a fetid quagmire. Then, when the weather cleared on Sunday, the crowd was scorched by a blistering late summer heatwave.
The sound system was another glaring contrast between Monterey and Woodstock. At Monterey, Lou Adler had engaged an experienced concert sound engineer, Abe Jacobs; his system was custom-made for the event and worked perfectly. The task of organising the Woodstock sound system fell to one of the four partners in the Woodstock Ventures company, Michael Lang, and his friend Stan Goldstein. Goldstein, Woodstock's coordinator of campgrounds, had been one of the organisers of the 1968 Miami Pop Festival.
To put together the sound and lighting system, Lang and Goldstein approached 24-year-old Alan Markoff, the owner of a local hi-fi shop, The Audio Center, in nearby Middletown. In typically haphazard fashion, they picked his name out of the Audio Engineering Society Magazine because Markoff was the only Woodstock-area resident listed. Not surprisingly Markoff was stunned when Lang and Goldstein bowled up and gave him the brief -- to create a sound system from scratch for an outdoor festival that they expected to attract somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people. In fact Markoff thought they were "nuts" and it was a tribute to his organisational abilities that the Woodstock sound crew succeeded as well as they did. Much of the credit for this must go to the unsung hero of the Woodstock sound system, veteran Boston sound engineer Bill Hanley, whom Markoff wisely selected as his chief engineer. Hanley and his crew did their best, but as powerful as it was, in the event the PA proved barely up to the task and it broke down on several occasions.
What saved the festival from total financial disaster was that Woodstock Ventures was able to strike valuable deals for the film and soundtrack rights, and in the long run these proved to be very lucrative indeed. Yet even this was a huge gamble. They had to beg for a $100,000 advance from Warner Brothers to pay for the film stock, and the film crews (including a young Martin Scorcese) worked for free, having been promised a 'double-or-nothing' payment -- if the festival movie was a success, they would be paid double the usual rate; if it failed, they would get nothing. Luckily for all concerned, the Woodstock movie and albums made millions.
Another irony was that only two of the four Woodstock Partners benefited from the festival profits. Six weeks after it finished, Joel Rosenman and John Roberts bought out Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld for just $31,240 each.
But the backstage dramas and
dirty deals remain unknown
to most people and Woodstock has since taken on an iconic and highly
idealised status that has very little in common with the reality of
those three days in August.
5. "Check, One, Two" - Festival Sound Systems
Monterey and Woodstock were also important milestones for one of the key practical concerns of festival production. Curiously, this is a feature which is almost entirely overlooked in the histories of this period -- the development of high-powered, high fidelity public address systems and instrument amplification.
In the Sixties most pop concerts were held in relatively small indoor venues, with capacities of a few thousand at most. Large outdoor concerts were rare for the simple reason that sound systems able to accept multiple instruments and microphones, balance the inputs, and project the sound to big audiences over a long distance had simply not been developed.
In the studio, pop groups and producers were able to capture a reasonable facsimile of the sonic images in their heads, but on stage live concerts were mostly a hit-and-miss affair. Instrument amplifiers were still a comparatively recent development, designed originally to enable electric guitars to be heard against the volume of the louder instruments in an acoustic big band setting. Until the advent of high-powered equipment in the late 60s, most guitar amps were only about as powerful as the average domestic hi-fi amplifier of today. It was rare for bands to have a PA of their own; singers simply plugged a microphone into whatever house PA there was -- on the rare occasions that there was one -- -- but more often than not they simply plugged into a spare input on one of the guitar amps and made the best of it.
The changes that led to the rock festival began in the mid-60s, spearheaded by The Beatles, Cream and Jimi Hendrix. Simply because of their gigantic popularity, The Beatles started the trend towards big outdoor and stadium concerts with their legendary US tours of 1964-66. The zenith of their touring career was undoubtedly their historic Shea Stadium concert in New York in August 1965, which set a new world record for the largest concert crowd ever up to that time -- 60,000 people.
The choice of such large stadiums as venues was obvious and purely practical -- The Beatles' colossal popularity made these venues the only viable option, and of course sports stadiums provided an ideal means for promoters and band alike to earn the maximum take in the minimum time. Fortunately the USA was well-equipped in this respect, with large sports arenas in almost every major city.
Stadium venues neatly solved the problem of putting the greatest number of bums on seats in the shortest time, but when The Beatles were touring the world rock music amplification was still in its infancy, and the limitations of the technology soon became glaringly obvious. The puny guitar amplifiers and PA systems available to The Beatles proved utterly inadequate when ranged against combined lungpower of tens of thousands of screaming teenagers. As anyone who went to those shows can attest, the fans rarely heard a note over all the screaming, and since there were no onstage "foldback" monitors at the time, the band usually couldn't hear themselves either. It's a tribute to their musicianship that they sounded as good as they did ... but for the audience, that was probably of secondary importance compared to the sheer thrill of just being there and seeing them!
When The Beatles undertook their final world tour in 1966, they were using the most powerful guitar amplifiers then available to them -- the Vox 7120, 4120 and 'Super Beatle' models -- each of which which was rated at a mere 120 watts. They were usually obliged to sing through the whatever house PA systems there was in the various arenas and halls in which they performed. Other than the introduction of transistorised amplifiers, these house PAs had barely advanced since the 1930s; they were very low-powered by today's standards, probably only a couple of hundred watts at most, and they provided poor fidelity, being designed only for commentary and announcements.
Interestingly though, on the Beatles last tour of the United States in 1966 they were supported by Boston band The Remains, and their presence provided both a telling example of the technical problems the The Beatles faced and a pointer for the future, as Remains member Barry Tashian recorded in his journal:
sound company from
Boston (Hanley Sound) drove to Chicago to do the show with us. They
pulled their truck right into the Amphitheatre,unloaded,and set up
their state-of-the-art sound equipment right beside the in-house
P.A.system. What a joke! The in-house stuff was so archaic next to our
powerful amps, good mics, and Altec "Voice of the Theater" speakers.
Right before the first show, Brian Epstein looked at the two sound systems and decided that The Beatles should go with our system. So, The Beatles hired Bill Hanley to do the sound for part of the tour!"
Hanley Sound was of course run by the same Bill Hanley who went on to build the PA system and was chief sound engineer at Woodstock. The legendary "Voice of the Theater" speakers he used at this time were made by Altec-Lansing. These were the only commercially available theatre speakers approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and after their introduction in the Fifties they became the industry standard. Altec-Lansing dominated the cinema, theatre and concert sound reinforcement market in the Fifties and Sixties, until the introduction of a new range of loudspeaker systems by their greatest rival, JBL, the company set up by Altec-Lansing's founder, James B. Lansing, in 1946.
JBL speakers had been an integral part of the rock sound since 1955, when their D-130 speakers were selected by the Fender company for their amplifiers. JBL transducers were also a major component in the Woodstock sound system and in Seventies they were at the heart of the state-of-the-art sound systems created by the influential US east coast firm, Clair Brothers, whose PAs were the system of choice for major touring acts including Elvis Presley. The three-way PA system that Roy Clair brought to Australia in 1970 for the Blood, Sweat & Tears tour was to have a major influence on the direction of sound reinforcement in this country and on the history of our leading PA supplier, Jands.
With the meagre sound reinforcement available to them, it's no wonder that The Beatles were constantly drowned out by the wall of noise from their thousands of screaming teenage fans. Faced with these problems, as well as the many other extreme pressures that touring involved, they rapidly tired of live performance; eventually they gave up touring entirely and retreated to the studio in late 1966. It's very unlikely that The Beatles would have continued touring even if they had been able to get hold of better equipment, but it's still ironic that one of their major problems was the inadequacy of their sound reinforcement, and that they gave up touring just as a new generation of much more powerful sound systems was being developed.
The very same year that The Beatles withdrew to the studio, the first "Slave" PA amplifier was created by the great British audio engineer Charlie Watkins, founder of Watkins Electric Music (WEM), inventor of the famous WEM Copicat echo machine (Hank Marvin's secret weapon) and the maker of the equally famous WEM amplifiers, PA and concert sound systems.
Beginning with the Windsor Blues Festival in 1967 (where Fleetwood Mac premiered) Watkins provided the PA systems for some of the most famous UK concerts of the late Sixties, including Cream's farewell performance at the Albert Hall and The Rolling Stones' famous free Hyde Park concert in 1969. Watkins' 100-watt Slave amps were designed as portable modules that could be connected in series to step up the power as required. At one large outdoor show Watkins had fifty Slave amps hooked together, providing a whopping 5000 watts, the most powerful PA system ever heard in Britain up to that time.
Over the next three years sound reinforcement made great strides as the feeble PA amps, rudimentary mixers and simple column speakers were replaced by more advanced designs. In May 1967 Pink Floyd premiered what was claimed to be the world's first quadraphonic concert sound system. As Charlie Watkins developed his WEM PA systems and amps in the UK, similar advances were being made in the USA. In 1967 Abe Jacobs created the innovative and much-praised PA system for the Monterey Pop Festival.
The next major breakthrough came in 1969 with Alan Markoff and Bill Hanley's huge system for the Woodstock Festival. Prior to Woodstock, the idea of providing quality concert amplification for a crowd of even 50,000 people would have been considered fantastic.
Alan Markoff: "They wanted me to design a sound system for 50,000 or so people. They said there could even be 100,000, might even go to 150,000. There had never been a concert with 50,000; that was unbelievable. Now, 100,000, that was impossible. It's tantamount to doing a sound system for 30 million people today."
Creating a system for the anticipated 100,000 patrons was at the very outer limit of what was technically possible at the time and not even Markoff himself knew whether it would work. Nothing on the scale of the Woodstock system had ever been attempted before. Fortunately, Markoff brought in probably the only other man in America besides Abe Jacobs who could have pulled it off -- Bill Hanley, of Hanley Sound, Boston. The rig that Markoff, Hanley and their team put together was the biggest and most powerful PA system ever created up to that time -- so powerful that, even at the amplifiers' lowest setting, the sound output would cause intense physical pain for anyone standing within 10 feet of the stacks!
As it turned out, the Woodstock crowd was over 500,000, and the sound system did its job -- barely. It failed completely on several occasions, but it worked well enough for long enough to prove that it would soon be practical to make sound systems that were bigger and more powerful than anything previously thought possible. Even more importantly, Woodstock proved beyond doubt that rock music could attract vast audiences numbering even into the hundreds of thousands, and in so doing it ushered in the so-called "Festival Era".
Within a couple of years concert amplification had made huge strides and by the early '70s groups had access to large, very powerful, portable multi-channel mixing desks and PA systems, as well as lighting rigs of ever-increasing size and complexity -- systems that could easily project sound and create lightshows for an audience of tens or even hundreds of thousands. To supply the demand a whole new sub-industry of PA hire companies sprang up. In Australia the best known name is undoubtedly Jands.
The other crucial development in concert sound was the new generation of high-powered amplifiers developed in the late 1960s in Britain by rival engineers Jim Marshall and Charlie Watkins. The radical new guitar style introduced by Jimi Hendrix was inextricably linked with the development of the Marshall amplifier.
Hendrix's dynamic stage act demanded a rig that was at once very powerful, very reliable and very tough. After blowing up innumerable Vox and Fender amps on his early tours, Hendrix was desperate for gear that would stand up to his demands. He requested a new rig from Jim Marshall that could handle the high power and blitzkrieg volume that his playing style required, as well as being able to handle the rigours of touring and the physical punishment Hendrix often dished out to his equipment. The result was what is now a rock icon -- the legendary "Marshall stack".
For Charlie Watkins, the key client was supergroup Cream. Like Hendrix, they soon became famous for the unprecedented volume and power of their sound equipment, which was custom-made for them by WEM. Their patronage soon had other major groups like The Stones and The Who beating a path to Watkins' door.
Aussie and Kiwi manufacturers followed these leads and the new wave of Oz music that took to festival stages in the 70s was powered by locally-made PA systems and amps designed and built by companies like Lenard, Jensen, Strauss and Jands.
The PA system for Australia's
first rock festival at
Ourimbah was supplied by Lenard,
who also provided the PA for the landmark 1971 tour by Free, Deep
Purple and Manfred Mann. Sadly, Lenard went out of business in 1972,
although their amplifiers and PAs were of great importance to the
industry from the late 60s until the company's demise. In the NSW
market, their place was taken by Jands, who soon became the leading
local company in this field and who provided PA and lighting systems
for many major local and international touring acts.
The paucity of information about topics such as the sound systems and lightshows at Australian rock festivals is symptomatic of the lack of information about so many aspects of Australian rock history. The full lineups for many of these festivals, their running order, the attendance figures and much else besides is yet to be recorded in any detail. We hope that this section of Milesago will provide a starting point for that effort and act as a catalyst for further research.
References / Links
Festivals in Australia: An Intimate History (D.T.E. Publications, 1983)
"The Way to Monterey: Kicking Off the Summer of Love"
(note - this link is no longer active)
"Remember A Day: An Analysis Of Over Twenty Years Of American Rock Music Festivals"
International Pop Music
Timeline of Audio/Video Technology
Rhino Records -
boxed set -