Jul 15, 2013

June 27-28, 1970: Festival Express, Toronto


Plans for a million-dollar series of rock festivals to be held this summer in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary, were announced by Eaton-Walker Associates working in co-operation with Maclean-Hunter Ltd., at press conferences held simultaneously in the four cities yesterday.
Festival Express 1970, a train rented from Canadian National Railways, will start in Montreal on June 24, with a show at the Autostade on the Expo ground, and will roll into Toronto to present two 12-hour rock and folk concerts at the CNE stadium, June 27 and 28, beginning at noon and ending at midnight.
On the train, which will have the Festival Express logo on the front of the engine (the logotype is a white bird flying on a series of blue circles) will be performers - The Band, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, The Great Speckled Bird (Ian and Sylvia), Buddy Guy, Eric Andersen, James and the Good Brothers, Ten Years After, Sha Na Na, Tom Rush, and more - plus all their equipment, and a Canadian film crew, which will make a movie of the modern-day wagon train.
The train will stop in Winnipeg July 1, for a one-day show at the Winnipeg Stadium, then continue on to Calgary, for two days, July 4 and 5 at McMahon Stadium. Ken Walker, one of the producers, said it was impossible to get the stadium in Vancouver, since the field is covered with Astro-Turf, a type of very expensive artificial grass made of plastic, which wouldn't stand up to the wear and tear.
The train's 12 cars include two engines, one diner, five sleepers, two lounge cars (one for jamming), two flat cars, one baggage car, and one staff car. Travel on the train is being restricted to performers and technicians. "We have been flooded with requests from performers to be on the train. There are just too many people wanting to come along," said Walker. "The performers like the idea of the train. They normally travel by plane, so it's like a scenic tour for them. We're making the movie on the train, to give different glimpses of the performers off stage. But the performers don't want to be hassled on the train."
Bill Hanley of Boston, who did the sound for last year's Toronto festivals, will bring his own organization to Canada to take charge of sound facilities in each city.
"We're having the shows in stadiums," said Walker, "because stadiums are easy to get to, there are washrooms and facilities for food, and security precautions."
Local acts from each city will be added to the shows. Tickets are $9 a day in advance, $10 at the gate for one day; $14 in advance, or $16 at the gate for the two day shows. All the major headliners will appear in the one-day shows, but on the two-day shows, with extra acts added, they will double up, to a total of 30 acts. Budget for the performers is $500,000.
Walker said that Festival Express 1970 is not associated with Peace Festival 70, although there is a similarity in the logos.
They expect to sell 50,000 seats in each city.

(by Melinda McCracken, from the Toronto Globe & Mail, May 1 1970)

(The Montreal show was later canceled - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festival_Express )

* * *


All was quiet at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds this morning as the travelling Festival Express rock concert drew to an end and weary young people prepared to camp on the grass.
On Saturday the Festival Express got off to a rough start when about 2,500 young people protesting against admission prices of $14 and $15 attempted to crash the gates at the grandstand and clashed with police.
Ten policemen were injured, one of them suffering a broken nose when hit by a brick, while others were treated for bruises, suspected concussion and cuts. Police arrested 18 people Saturday on charges including assaulting police, causing a disturbance, mischief, common assault, carrying an offensive weapon, and theft. Yesterday nine more were arrested on charges of causing a disturbance, having liquor in a public place, and possession of marijuana.
Early this morning [Monday, June 29] two concerts were still in progress, one at the grandstand and the other - free - at nearby Coronation Park.
Many of Saturday's gate-crashers - inspired by the left-wing May 4 Movement - were successful in their attempt to "liberate our music" and got inside the gates despite the phalanx of Metro policemen on foot, a mounted detail and motorcycle officers.
But it was a free rock concert in nearby Coronation Park - arranged with the help of entertainers from Festival Express - that finally cooled the boisterous crowd outside the stadium. Police said that had it not been for the free concert, the situation would have been much worse.
Those who attempted to crash the gates and open the concert to everyone viewed it as a political issue. They felt $14 and $16 for the two-day festival was too expensive and accused promoters of the show of being "hip capitalists out to rip off the highest possible profits from our culture."
Police also felt the gate-crashing was politically fomented. Deputy Police Chief Jack Ackroyd said: "It's too darned bad that thousands of kids have their fun threatened because 2,500 allowed themselves to get steamed up over a political issue."
When the disturbances at the gates died and the poor man's concert at Coronation Park started, the stadium settled down to a peaceful rock scene with a crowd of about 12,000 sprawled on the football field and scattered through the stands absorbing the pulsating music, among other things. Organizers estimated about 40,000 attended during the two days of the festival.
Police turned a blind eye to sweet-scented smoke - much the way they treat the hip flask at football games. Trailer, a volunteer organization that helps people freaked out on bad drug trips, reported about 650 bad trips.
At one point the crowd was cautioned over the loudspeaker system not to take the white acid (LSD) that was going around because it was a bad lot. A doctor at Trailer said some of the patients showed minor symptoms of strychnine poisoning, but it could not be confirmed whether it was strychnine or over-reaction to LSD.
Along the Trailer was a first-aid station set up in a dressing room under the grandstand. Several persons were treated for minor injuries by the volunteers. A spokesman for the St. John Ambulance said that the organization treated about 60 persons, with two of the injuries being suspected fractures. A police spokesman said two persons were believed to have been stepped on by police horses.
Trouble broke out at about 11:30 when the gatecrashers first attempted to get into the concert. About 100 were successful in getting in Gate 3 before police sealed off the entrance. Police then shut all gates on the north side of the stadium and concentrated on keeping the crashers off fences and buildings.
Despite police cordons, several youths managed to get into the stadium, one way or another. Police said many of the crashers threw pepper in the faces of pursuing police, temporarily blinding the officers.
Many of the youths suffered cuts to their hands from barbed wire along the top of the fences. There were other reports of persons trampled unconscious in rushes at the gates, but police were unable to confirm these reports.
Police seized a unloaded revolver, a 5-inch knife, and an 18-inch tire iron on Saturday. Yesterday they seized a length of motorcycle chain.
Using both horses and motorcycles, the police attempted to divide and disperse the crowds outside of the stadium. Would-be gate crashers were forced off fences by mounted police using riding crops. The young people retaliated by attempting to scare the horses with firecrackers and missiles.
The crashers shouted: "All we are saying is give peace a chance. Make it free - rip it off. Save the trouble, let us in." In literature that was distributed, they received directions on how to get in without being "busted" and Eaton-Walker Associates, promoters of the show, were accused of making a profit of more than 30 per cent.
David Walker, an official in the company, estimated that only about 350 broke into the stadium. But those who had crashed the gates boasted that they numbered more than 2,000.
The promoters arranged for the free concert, which acted as a safety valve for the Festival show, and top-billed performers - including Ian and Sylvia and the Great Speckled Bird, The Grateful Dead, and James and the Good Brothers - played at Coronation Park. Other groups from Toronto - including January, The People's Revolutionary Concert Band, Si Potma and P.M. Howard - also agreed to play at the free concert.
Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead and Metro Police Inspector Walter Magahay were instrumental in getting the free concert set up. Before the Coronation Park concert was organized, Magahay attempted to get the promoters to lower the price.
"Your problems are my problems," he said over a police loudspeaker. "I will speak to these people (the organizers)...whether they decide to go along with it, that is their prerogative. My position is completely neutral."
Insp. Magahay later announced that while he could not get prices lowered, a free concert had been arranged. As word of the free concert spread, the crowds began to disperse, many of the people heading off in the direction of the park.
Mark Whalen, who works with Festival Express, explained Coronation Park as "a free concert, man, that's all." He said the promoters had given "some help" but the performers donated their time and in many cases their equipment.
The park concert went on until 4 a.m. yesterday. Many spent the night in the park, curled up in sleeping bags, on the grass, or rolled in blankets.
Many who spent the night at Coronation Park had left the stadium when the police cleared it out after the last set of the Festival at about 12:30 a.m.

(from the Toronto Globe & Mail, June 29 1970)

There are also a few accompanying pictures, one of dancer "Sherry Faith Slonim, 18, enraptured by the music and sunshine;" one captioned: "From the roller-coaster tracks, one can see the inside of the CNE stadium. Here, police constable shoos non-paying youths along the track and down;" and one captioned: "Surveying the debris, two policemen stroll across the empty field early Sunday morning, while the free festival aross the street rocks on."

There is also a short accompanying article, excerpted here:


Tucked away in the dressing rooms under the CNE grandstand, the drug emergency clinic did brisk business during the weekend as the Festival Express crowds listened to music in the stadium above.
At first, things were quiet.
The clinic team was put together by the Queen Street Mental Health Centre and included doctors, nurses, and psychiatrists from across the city backed by volunteer workers from Trailer and other organizations.
Their speciality is "head problems" - bad trips and drug crises of all kinds - but when the crowd led by the May 4 Movement rushed the stadium on Saturday morning, the first flow of customers brought unexpected problems - ankles swollen from police horse kicks, bruised arms and shoulders and hands cut by barbed wire on the stadium walls.
The team treated the injuries and before long a worker was able to say, with relief, "OK, we're back in the head business."
They were indeed. Between midday Saturday and dawn Sunday, the clinic handled about 650 people with drug problems, mostly bad trips, mostly LSD. About 30 people ended in one of the city's hospitals, but the rest were cared for on the spot - tranquillized, "talked down" from their high anxiety levels and helped to rest and sleep it off.
The figures are not precise but they are fairly accurate. Medical records were kept but by dawn yesterday everyone was too tired to count the record cards. That could come later.
A drug crisis centre in rush hour is a busy place.
In medical jargon it is called "an unstructured setting" but that only means it looks chaotic, not that it is.
When you watch for a while, a pattern becomes clear and you see that there is a flow, much like an assembly line, and that it is very professionally organized. And at times it can be very noisy.
A bad trip is basically stress and anguish and a lot of kids shout and scream and weep and moan.
Some have to be held down for the tranquilizing Valium to be administered. One man Saturday needed 11 volunteers to hold him still.
But mostly it is quiet and the kids file in, apprehensive, and lost.
Names are taken, oral Valium handed out and recorded, and a hand-holder is assigned to help the user through his crisis. Peace. Next please...
...[There were] four doctors, each from a different hospital, 10 senior nurses (three who know the ropes and seven who are learning them, very fast) and the volunteers.
All in all, a long, exhausting but fairly straightforward weekend. No serious problems - nothing that couldn't be handled, and a lot of kids who are glad there are such professional people in the head business these days.

(by Norman Hartley)

* * *


The wind on the lake had died down, and the big, soft, blue searchlights had come up. The sweet, acrid smell of cannabis hung over the 25,000 blanket-wrapped flower children in CNE Stadium just as the moon was going down on Festival Express '70 early this morning.
Janis Joplin gazed out over the crowd and kind of summed the whole thing up.
"Man," she croaked, "I never expected this of Toronto. You're really looking beautiful, man."
And indeed they were. Soaring firecracker stars split the darkness and sparklers twirled like pinwheels over the sea of 37,000 wall-to-wall bodies that had gathered over the two days to hear $1,000,000 and 24 hours of the biggest pop talent package ever to hit Toronto.
When it was all over 240 policemen had made 29 arrests and were left with nothing to do but watch the crowds file silently out into the morning.


It was a happy ending for a pop festival that had started nearly 36 hours earlier on a note of violence as 2,000 youths led by the leftist May 4th Movement stormed the gates trying to get in free.
They threw rocks, garbage cans and pepper at more than 160 policemen, injuring nine and provoking police to a series of mounted and billy-swinging counter-attacks.
Crowds of them hurtled hoardings and barbed wire fences chased by police and opened two gates from inside, letting in a rush of gate-crashers. Police estimated 350 crashers on Saturday, but the crashers themselves set their number at 2,000.
Once inside, they set up a chant to let the others in free. It was joined by 18,489 who had paid to get in, and gentle, bearded folksinger Eric Anderson had to cut his set in the middle with a shrug of apology that it wasn't his fault.


Jerry Garcia, the guitarist of San Francisco's Grateful Dead, came onstage asking the youngsters to cool it.
Then Police Inspector Walter Magahay talked the promoters into staging a free 24-hour "rehearsal" at Coronation Park on the lakefront opposite the CNE where bands could donate their time to play for the would-be crashers who didn't have the $10-a-day, $16-a-weekend price of admission.
More than 6,000 swarmed to the park by 7 p.m. when the equipment was set up and Ian and Sylvia, James and the Good Brothers, and the Grateful Dead started the rehearsal off.
Another 6,000 swarmed over after Saturday night's official concert end and camped out on the grass listening to the jamming that went on under the stars until 4 a.m.
"It saved the day," said Constable John Sagar, one of Metro's new "mod squad" community relations officers in charge of Coronation Park, who wore a yellow T-shirt with a peace symbol on it. "It took one heck of a lot of pressure off."
Despite a police force beefed up by 80 men, by Sunday the festival was a study of warm calm and the red-and-white Canadian flag with the peace symbol in the centre that had wafted over the crowd like an ensign seemed suddenly to the point.
John Scott Foley, 22, of Buffalo had been charged the previous day with indecent exposure after abruptly proclaiming in mid-crowd, "The body is beautiful," and then stripping. Now he was back, this time frugging frantically for anyone who would watch, with his pants on.
Drug deals were made in the open and kids were blatantly asking strangers for LSD. But police made not a single drug arrest.
Inspector Magahay won the respect of many fans by remaining calm even during the gate-crashing, when he told them: "Things are getting a little rough. We don't want this kind of aggravation, and neither do you."
There was some applause along with jeers of "oink, oink," clenched-fist salutes, and a rain of stones, bottles and cans.
Later Magahay said he had simply used "good old common-sense."
"I'm strict, but I'm fair as well," he said. "I can really lay it down if I have to."
Dave Ruskin, 19, a Detroit student, said: "When I saw the cops being hit and blinded by pepper, I just felt sick.
"This was one time I was on the cops' side. They went out of their way to help the festival."
The Trailer bad-trip depot set up in a basement locker room under Stairway 16 reported Sunday a "light day" compared to Saturday's 650 drug casualties.
Brian "Blues" Chapman of Trailer estimated 400 bad trippers and cases of sunstroke were treated, most of them talked out of their nightmare journeys, only two or three sent to the hospital.


Festival promoters vehemently denied early radio reports that the festival had been a financial flop, proclaiming it, before final attendance figures were in, "a financial and operational success."
The two-day gross was estimated at just under $500,000 - total cost of the 21 groups who were signed to play here, in Winnipeg July 1, and Calgary July 4-5, where the festival proceeded by train after the show early this morning.
About half of the festival's total population were estimated to have come from out of town, from as far away as Montreal, Vancouver and Florida.

(from the Toronto Daily Star, June 29 1970)

* * *


Up until 11:29 p.m. Sunday, Festival Express '70 wasn't worth the $16 admission the promoters were charging to get into CNE Stadium.
And then in one brief hour everything changed. It was worth that much and more to see and hear Janis Joplin, long-haired, swivel-hipped Janis Joplin sing with the insistence and power of a pile-driver and generate enough personal electricity to light up a stadium all by herself.
She came on stage last night at the end of a long hot day, in front of a crowd that was weary from listening to good bands for more than 11 hours, and with one song she turned on all of the 24,000 people in the park, and maybe a few sails out in Lake Ontario as well.
She's really that good.
There's nothing subtle about her. She's a shouter and a stomper, and she sings loud, heavy, powerful rock and roll, backed by a strong band - four-fifths Canadian - that knows how to drive and ride right along with her.
On the up-tempo tunes like In the Midnight Hour or Try A Little Harder she was all furious activity and power; on the gutsy down-and-dirty blues like Get It While You Can that are her trademark she was pure, painful sex.
Either way she was a natural force, as impossible to ignore as a hurricane.
Apart from Janis Joplin, the two-day pop extravaganza wasn't a failure, but it wasn't a $16 show either.
Until the New Riders of the Purple Sage appeared at 9:00 p.m. the day had been deadly.
Pop festivals never seem to get off the ground until sundown anyway, and the bands working in the first six hours Saturday were wasted.
Robert Charlesbois, the Montreal rock-chasonier who performed so successfully here at the rock festival last summer, gave a good performance that was largely unappreciated, and folksingers Ian and Sylvia, feeling their way into a new idiom with The Great Speckled Bird, must have felt they were playing incidental music to a mass picnic.
Another Toronto band, James and the Good Brothers, filled in briefly after Delaney and Bonnie and Friends cancelled their scheduled appearance because of an unexplained "accident" and "plane hassles," but the crowd was left to wander unoccupied for almost two full hours.
The New Riders injected the first signs of life when they started with their country-style almost hoe-down music. The crowd started dancing when they played Honky Tonk Woman, and stayed on their feet through Working Man Blues, I Don't Know You, and Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.
Jerry Garcia just stayed on stage when the rest of the New Riders left, and took over with The Grateful Dead.
They gave a great foot-stomping, pounding, hour-long set, the audience with them all the way, dancing and singing with the first hint of joy and happiness in the whole long hot day.
When they left the stand, all sweaty and tired, they had earned every nickel of the $10,000 the festival promoters paid them.
The Band, normally one of the best groups that can be booked anywhere, anytime, seemed anti-climactic after The Grateful Dead, perhaps because of the length of the day - 12 hours is a lot of pop for the most devoted fan - and perhaps because they play much the same kind of music: heavy, dense, complex rock.
They were good, the way any group of professionals with their years of hard experience on the round of one-night stands and honky-tonk bars is good, but they didn't give the kind of inspired performance that earned them their top name.
Sunday was a vast improvement. Mashmakhan from Montreal started the afternoon right and the crowd reacted well to their subtle but driving sound, and Tom Rush kept it together with a couple of gentle ballads that were more hymns than pop songs.
Delaney and Bonnie had them literally dancing in the streets when they made their belated appearance, particularly with a song called Where There's A Will, and the Little Richard medley they did as an encore.

(by Bill Dampier, from the Toronto Daily Star, June 29 1970)

Another brief story in the 6/29/70 Daily Star also summarizes the festival, mostly repeating the other articles:
"Metro police cool off rock festival gate-crashers"
A sympathetic policeman and the Metro Police Mod Squad cooled a confrontation at CNE Stadium when more than 2,000 youths protesting admission prices tried to storm the gates of a two-day rock festival Saturday...
...But Inspector Walter Magahay and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead arranged for a free concert in nearby Coronation Park and [the] crowd filed off quietly.
The Mod Squad, a group of police detailed to work sympathetically with youth, and other officers were praised by young visitors from the United States for their cool-headed handling of the situation...
...[Promoter] Ken Walker, 26, admitted later he had considered calling off the show when the violence began.
"If the rioting had gotten worse," he said, "I would have stopped the whole show and got on my train and proceeded to Calgary and Winnipeg," where the festival will play next...

(The headline in this issue: "U.S. troops pull out early, Cambodia shaky and uncertain."
The story goes, "All U.S. troops were out of Cambodia today... They left behind a shaky Cambodian government which has watched the Communists take control of the entire northeastern sector of the country in the past few days... Today Nixon was working on the final details of a 'victory' statement he planned to deliver...")

Thanks to Pairdoc for the articles.


  1. Some interesting points in this review.The Riders get a good review which rarely happens at these festival type events and the Dead's set was considered the highlight even though they were followed by the legendary Band who had 5 Canadian members.Then again the author stated that the two groups "play much the same kind of music:heavy,dense,complex rock".I can't imagine a scenario where the the Dead and The Band sounded even vaguely alike in a performance setting.I also don't understand the Dead playing only an hour as I thought the shows were stretched to two days so as not to shorten the performers sets.

  2. Yes, I was also surprised the writer was unimpressed with the Band, considering the level of their performances in the Festival Express film (though those could've been taken from other cities). And the earlier bands that day must have been really uninspiring if NRPS was the first band to excite the crowd!
    An hour is a short time for the Dead, nonetheless there were around 20 bands playing in the two days, which each day would mean about 10 bands in 12 hours. NRPS did not even have their own album out yet, so they would've still been considered an appendage of the Dead, giving the two of them probably close to two hours.
    It's also possible that the shows were required to wrap up by 12:30. It appears that the Dead played an acoustic set in the park round 7 pm, then went back to the stadium where NRPS started at 9 pm. The plan could've been for the Band to go on at 11 or so. (The next night, headliner Janis came on at 11:30.)
    A Rolling Stone article on the tour mentions that at Winnipeg, the Band played a short set that they were unhappy with - on that one-day stop, the sets must have been even shorter, though probably just the "top" bands played that day. (Janis did the last set again, at each city.)

    One curious thing about the last article is that, in focusing entirely on the bands, the writer doesn't explain why the second day was so much better than the first - not even mentioning all the crowd problems & delays on the first day (the crowd chanted to let the crashers in, one performer had to stop playing, the show was interrupted for speeches, etc). Maybe he knew that would be covered by the other article. The audience was much more peaceful on Sunday, though, which would've made for a more pleasant show regardless of the bands.
    The Rolling Stone article says that on Saturday 6/27, "the atmosphere was extremely tense... It had affected the stage presentation, which was sometimes slow. And it had affected some of the music...kids clambering on stage trying to politicize the event were yanked off... When the Dead played, a kid came onstage and pointed to each member of the Dead and shouted, 'You're all phonies, you and you and you...'"

  3. I would like to find other articles covering the shows in Winnipeg & Calgary.

  4. I finally found some articles from Winnipeg and Calgary, posted them on my blog. http://gratefulseconds.blogspot.com/2017/10/a-canadian-guide-to-festival-express.html
    Thanks again for this piece and the dead essay book on these shows. You are the oonly one to correctly identify the July 4-5 dates