THIS DAY IN HISTORY:
AUGUST 24, 1969
Woodstock is the most famous rock festival of 1969, but there were a bunch of other ones, from the Atlanta International Pop Festival to the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival and the Seattle Pop Festival. The Seattle festival drew 50,000 people over three days with a lineup that included Led Zeppelin, the Doors and the Guess Who. So promoter Bert Gartner decided one might work north of the border, and staged the Vancouver Pop Festival at Paradise Valley near Squamish on Aug. 22, 23 and 24. On paper, it looked promising, with a lineup that included the Grateful Dead, Chicago, Little Richard, Love, Alice Cooper, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Canned Heat, Poco, The Guess Who, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Taj Mahal, The Grass Roots, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Rascals, The Chambers Brothers, Merry Weather, Motherlode, Merrilee Rush and Crome Syrcus. But the Grateful Dead never showed up. And neither did the throngs of rock fans Gartner had anticipated. Vancouver Sun writer Eileen Johnson wrote “the music was excellent, the sound system worked fine, the weather couldn’t have been better, the light show was a delight, and there were so few people at the Vancouver Pop Festival no one could have suffered from overcrowding.” Johnson noted Gartner had hoped to attract 30,000 people, but got 15,000, which made the $ 200,000 festival a financial disaster. The event also had a weird vibe, because a ton of bikers showed up. “It was like every outlaw motorcycle gang in the Pacific Northwest came to this thing, and me and my two buddies from Surrey,” recalls Dave Chesney, who attended the event. “It was unbelievable. The bizarre part was when Little Richard came on. All these bikers were right up front. I think he came on after Alice Cooper, and Alice Cooper stunned the bikers into a state of hysteria. “Then Little Richard came on and poured gas on the fire by taunting them. “I thought, ‘ We’re all going to die here.’ It was bizarre. You’ve got to remember it was 1969, and Little Richard was mincing it up big time, and questioning their sexuality whilst flaunting his.” Somehow Little Richard escaped unscathed. But the Vancouver Pop Festival lost so much money there wasn’t another local event like it for years.
The Flying Burrito Brothers perform at the Vancouver Pop Festival on Aug. 24, 1969. The festival was a financial disaster for organizers.