Jul 18, 2013

June/July 1970: Festival Express in the news

[This is the third in a three-part series of Festival Express articles.]


A group of Toronto promoters will stage the biggest pop festival in Canadian history Saturday and Sunday - if it doesn't rain.
If it does, the men behind Festival Express '70 at the CNE grandstand will collect insurance from Lloyds of London that protects them against "inclement weather."
The insurance "costs an arm and a leg," according to Ken Walker, one of the organizers. So do the tickets.
They're going at $16 for both days at the gate - $14 in advance - the highest price ever charged for a rock concert in this city.
But even at those prices, the promoters expect about 30,000 people both days. About 10,000 people have already bought tickets, they claim.
The series of concerts is being organized by Eaton-Walker Associates, the company responsible for the Toronto Rock Festival last fall and the Toronto Pop Festival last summer, and Maclean-Hunter Publishing Ltd.
The promoters originally planned to stage a concert in Montreal today, then pack some 17 bands into a special chartered train for the two concerts here on the weekend, then on to Winnipeg and Calgary for performances there.
The Montreal police squelched that idea when they decided they didn't want 30,000 people at a rock concert on St. Jean Baptiste Day, the traditional day for riots in Montreal.
Instead, the train will leave Toronto Monday morning for the trip west.
Bands booked for the series read like a Who's Who of pop music - Janis Joplin, The Band, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, The Great Speckled Bird, Mountain, The Grateful Dead, and strangely tucked away among the rock and blues bands, jazzman Miles Davis, who will give one performance Sunday.
The Toronto concerts are scheduled to begin at noon, and run for 12 straight hours.
The promoters have laid out a total of $900,000 in expenses - $500,000 of that in talent fees - but they expect to get it all back and hope to turn a tidy profit of about $250,000 on the whole series.
However, they won't get the money without hassles. A group of 15 radical organizations, headed by the May 4 Movement from Rochdale College, is protesting the high prices for the concerts and demanding that 20 per cent of the gate receipts be turned over to them for day-care centres, a bail fund, and equipment for "people's parks."
They have circulated a leaflet urging people who can't scrape up the price of admission to crash the gates, and they've promised to have hundreds of supporters at the CNE on Saturday to help them do it.

(by William Dampier, from the Toronto Daily Star, June 24 1970)

(Details on the Toronto concerts are here: http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2013/07/june-27-28-1970-festival-express-toronto.html )

* * *


WINNIPEG - Festival Express, the cross-country touring rock music show, ran into little problems Wednesday, but promoters of the event took a "financial beating".
Only about 4,600 people paid to attend the 12-hour show, well below the expected 20,000. The promoters, Eaton-Walker Associates of Toronto, estimated the cost of bringing the show to Winnipeg at nearly $180,000. Estimated gate revenue was about $55,000, of which about $7,000 goes to Manisphere.
Police reported no violence, no arrests and few bad trips during the show, which ran nearly 14 hours.
A planned gate crash by the New Democratic Youth failed to materialize.
A group calling itself the University of Winnipeg Libertarian Club distributed pamphlets urging young people to reject the demands for a free festival, saying the slogan "make it free" actually meant "make others pay for it."
The show, which included performers such as Janis Joplin, Ian and Sylvia, The Band, and Bonnie and Delaney, left for Calgary for performances July 4 and 5.

(from the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, July 3 1970)

* * *


Calgary has just spent two days as the rock music capital of Canada.
It appears that the city, with a little cleaning up and some help from its uniformed friends, might just recover.
Thousands of young people are on the roads out of town today in an exodus as peaceful as the weekend rock festival that brought them here.
Despite scuffles between gate-chargers and police, Festival Express was every bit as "cool" an event as optimists had hoped during the tense weeks that preceded the show.
Most of the credit has to go to Calgary police who spent their time inside McMahon Stadium bouncing babies instead of teens and looking the other way at some open use of alcohol and drugs.

The only times the police had problems were when they had to keep the Festival Express from turning into a "free" show for gate-crashers. Saturday, and again Sunday, hundreds of determined young people made spontaneous attempts to fight their way in through the stadium gates and wall panels.
Using carefully-rehearsed techniques, city police motorcycles met the charges, separating the crowds into smaller and smaller groups until no crowd remained.
Verbal abuse from the angry young people who couldn't - or wouldn't - pay the $14 price of admission was heavy, but there was little physical contact. Only two people were taken into custody, one for pulling a motorcycle officer from his machine and the other for abusive language. Both were released after "cooling off."
Only a handful made it over the walls: too few to test promoter Ken Walker's tough pledge that the festival would end if the gates were crashed.
It was a line Mr. Walker, of Eaton-Walker Associates who are co-promoters of the show with Maclean Hunter Ltd., held even when Mayor Rod Sykes attempted to intercede for the crashers Sunday afternoon.

With about five hours of the festival to run Sunday, Mayor Rod Sykes tried to persuade Mr. Walker to open the gates to several hundred young people outside the stadium.
"These kids had been extremely well behaved all weekend, and I thought it would have been a fine gesture for Mr. Walker to give them free admission at that time," the mayor said today.
"We had a fairly heated discussion and while Mr. Walker's associates were in agreement with the idea, Mr. Walker was apparently in a mean mood because he had lost money on the venture."
Mayor Sykes was also disturbed by a rumor, originating from an unknown source, that the city police were opposed to throwing the stadium open.
He said the police had not been involved in any decisions of that kind and praised the discipline they had shown during the festival.
Mayor Rod Sykes praised city police for their courteous attitude during the two-day event.
"No other city in Canada has been able to put on anything like this without seeing a lot of serious and ugly violence on the part of agitators and also on the part of the police.
"Our police can be very proud of the way they have handled the festival," the mayor said.
The promoters have declined to say just how big the peaceful crowd inside the gates was for each of the 12-hour shows Saturday and Sunday. Public relations representatives made claims that Sunday's crowd was "over 20,000," but more conservative sources suggested a figure of 9,000 for each show.
The crowd, except for rare moments when a lull in the music let them hear the shouting and banging on the stadium wall panels, remained oblivious to the trouble outside.
Inside, the policeman was a "cool guy" who strictly followed a pattern of not interfering with the crowd in any way. So good was the police image that, on one occasion, when two youths began yelling "pig" at an officer they had the crowd turn on them.
A large part of the image came from the common realization that the police were following a "hands-off" policy on drug and alcohol use.

The 90 to 100 uniformed officers inside the stadium largely ignored wine and beer drinking and the odor of burning marijuana. Some sources estimated that as many as one of every three people in the crowd were using some kind of drug. Drug Information Centre personnel on duty reported that everything from LSD to cocaine and morphine was circulating in the packed playing field.
So open was the use of drugs that, when announcer Terry David Mulligan made a half-joking appeal for "some grass for the stage," he was answered with a shower of marijuana cigarettes.
The openness apparently lulled some young people into a false sense of confidence. Before Saturday night had ended, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - whose undercover agents were circulating in the crowd - had arrested four persons on charges of trafficking. One was reported to have had more than $2,000 on him when he was arrested. There were no charges, however, of possession.

Drug problems were comparatively rare. Of the 150 people treated in the Drug Information Centre's Tranquillity Base during the two days, only 69 involved drugs.
And these, centre staff stressed, were usually minor problems caused by mixing the drugs with too much excitement and 80-degree sunshine, and too little food.
The most serious case involved the use of amphetamine (speed) drugs. A young man, unconscious from an overdose and haemorrhaging from an ear, had to be taken to hospital for treatment Saturday.
For the promoters, it was a successful finish to an otherwise dismal tour. The show, in both Toronto and Winnipeg, drew only a fraction of the predicted attendance.
In Calgary, the last stop for Festival Express, the scene was much better.
"Calgary," local organizer Don Lloyd said Sunday, "was the only city to meet its financial obligations."

The show here, he suggested, managed to make enough to "break even," something that didn't happen in either Toronto or Winnipeg.
The show was successful in non-financial terms as well. It verified the promoters' - and the mayor's - claim that it was going to be a "cool" scene. Although a great deal of adverse attention was focused on the show's coming, with residents in neighborhoods near the stadium forming vigilante groups to protect property, there were no complaints filed about damage or trouble outside the grounds.
Today, McMahon Stadium is empty. The performers have left and the young people are hitching their way to other places.

(by Jacques Hamilton, from the Calgary Herald, July 6 1970)

* * *  


The threat of organized gate-crashing failed to materialize as assaults on McMahon Stadium were limited to two brief spontaneous mass actions and numerous individual expeditions. 
Only about 15 people got in Saturday when a crowd of approximately 450 ripped two metal panels off the stadium wall, and a confrontation Sunday evening between police and close to 1,000 young people failed to get anybody into the stadium despite charges at the gates that involved sporadic violence and scuffling.
There were no arrests in either incident as police returned gate-crashers to the outside or held them until they "cooled down."
For most part, the estimated 1,500 people who spent the weekend listening to the music from outside the southeast gate were involved in their own festival.
"It's really so good out here. There is a lot of energy," one young man said. "But if we could get this group together with that group inside, then it would be really out of sight."
It was the persistent restlessness of the outside group to join those inside that caused the only city police arrests at the festival as seven young males....were taken into custody for disorderly conduct when groups crowded around the gates.
In one incident, a police officer was kicked.

Many young people got in by climbing the walls at the appropriate times and hundreds more - according to festival organizers - gained free entry Saturday through abuse of special privilege cards. (A tightening of regulations Sunday prevented the use of most cards by more than one person.)
Both police and festival organizers had feared a possible repeat of the Toronto experience a week earlier where 2,000 young people - apparently organized - attempted to break into the festival there.
But a concentration of police manpower around the outside perimeter of the stadium and the use of motorcycles and police dog units thwarted most actions before they got out of hand....
[Details on the break-ins follow; the crowd pulled metal panels off the wall & some ran in or vaulted over the wall before being driven off by police.]
The young people - some as young as 9 and 10-year-olds - circled the stadium a second and third time before settling down to listen to the music.
"Did Jack get in?" a girl asked when the procession passed her.
"Out of sight," she said.
At another point a youth called to two friends: "Hey, I thought you two were going to get in this time."
And the grim reply: "So did we." ...
[The police were reinforced on Sunday.]
About 6 p.m. Sunday the crowd outside the gates started making their own music - with bongo drums, tin cans and sticks - and began to sing and chant.
At 6:30 up to 1,000 moved over to the nearby southeast gate and tried to force their way through - still singing and chanting. Police were able to hold them at bay....
[Motorcycle police dispersed the crowd. One man who pulled an officer off a motorcycle, and a "young lady who repeatedly screamed obscenities at an officer," were taken into custody & later released.]

Most of those outside the stadium, however, spent their time listening to the festival music - lounging on the grassy slope, standing in groups or sitting on the roofs of their various buses and vans.
"A lot of people are going to be sorry they paid to get in," said one young man from Ohio, perched atop his van and clutching an American flag with the stars replaced by a peace symbol. "I mean you can hear everything from here."
The only problem, he said, was non-existent washroom facilities....
[A nearby service station opened its bathrooms for use, but "by Sunday the men's facilities had become stopped-up from over-use."]
Despite such inconveniences - which also included long line-ups to get refreshments from one of two coffee wagons - many people agreed it was possible to enjoy the weekend without the high price of tickets.
Among these was a 30-year old Calgary computer programmer who was stretched out on the grass with his wife and four-month-old son.
"Why buy a ticket?" he asked. "It's nice right here. We can hear the music and we have a nice sunny place to sit."
But for most, inside was the place to be.
Whenever one emerged from an exit with a pass - to allow re-entry later in the day - there was always a sea of hopeful faces and eager hands waiting to claim your pass if you should decide not to return.

(by John Gibbs, from the Calgary Herald, July 6 1970)

This issue also includes an accompanying article, "Few Crimes Committed At Weekend," in which the police chief expresses relief that "'our biggest complaints for the festival concerned noise. We made only 10 arrests in all categories of crime for the two-day event. There were no complaints from the home and business owners in the McMahon Stadium area about any damage to property. As far as our men were concerned, the only trouble they had in the stadium vicinity came from a number of attempts at gate-crashing, but they were handled without any of the trouble other cities had.' ...Chief Kent added that because of crackdowns in the last week on drug problems in the Calgary area the stadium was relatively drug free."
Another article, "Banff Police Crack Down On Drugs," notes that there was a police blockade of car inspections for drugs "aimed primarily at vehicles heading east for Festival Express Calgary."

An article from the November 11, 1970 Toronto Globe & Mail - "Called 'Scum' By Mayor, Promoter Says" - has more details on the clash between Walker & Sykes:
"Toronto promoter Ken Walker, who said Mayor Rod Sykes had called him "Eastern scum" yesterday, said he was neither drunk nor under the influence of drugs, as the mayor had said, when they clashed at McMahon Stadium on July 5....
He said that during the festival he was exhausted after six days without sleep but that he finally exploded under a "torrent of abuse" from the mayor, who accused him of "trying to skim" the young people of Calgary.
The festival ran July 4 and 5, and attracted 10,000 to 12,000 people each day.
Mr. Walker said that at one point he had torn up the mayor's festival pass and told him to leave the stadium. Mr. Sykes had said the story of his pass being torn up was a myth.
Mr. Walker's dispute with the mayor began after the mayor asked that young people outside the gates be let in free.
The mayor had testified that "this animal (Walker) came to this city to try to make a fast buck."
Mr. Walker said the Festival Express lost $500,000 in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary, about $150,000 of it in Calgary."

* * *


TORONTO - The promoters of the recent Festival Express train which organized stadium-type pop festivals in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary lost $350,000. Although final figures are not yet available, a publicist for the Express said that only about 60,000 had attended the Express - including a claimed 37,000 in Toronto, 4,500 in Winnipeg and about 20,000 in Calgary. The Express was marred from the start by youth demonstrations.
It had been produced by Ken Walker, Thor Eaton and George Eaton, the latter two promoters being part of the Eatons merchandising family.
Originally, it had been intended for the Express to start out from Montreal, but city authorities vetoed it at last minute. Legal action is apparently being considered by the promoters.
The Express then started from Toronto, where most of the demonstrations took place. There were ugly scenes between police and protesters attempting to break into the CNE stadium without paying. Eventually, the police asked the promoters to organize a free concert in an adacent park.
Several thousand pop fans watched the free festival, and enjoyed free food and drinks supplied by Polydor Records, through the foresight of Alan Katz and Lori Bruner, two company executives from Montreal. Polydor boosted its image enormously by the gesture.
In Winnipeg, the Festival was simply a disaster. It drew only 4,500. Calgary was a brighter scene for the promoters, but the damage had already been done.
The original budget for the Express was reported to be $900,000, with gross receipts only reaching $500,000.
Most of the loss was suffered by the MacLean Hunter publishing company, who had invested heavily in the project.

(from Billboard, July 25 1970)

* * *


TORONTO - "Financially, it was a write-off; but it was a helluva good party."
Ken Walker, who admits he promoted last summer's rock-'n'-roll-on-rails Festival Express for the money, was glibly philosophical later about his train trip from Toronto to Calgary that turned into a costly ride.
"The question was not how much I was going to make, but how much I was going to lose. If I wanted to impress anybody, I'd staple my financial statement to my back."
His plan was to bring Janis Joplin, The Band, The Grateful Dead, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, Sha Na Na, Eric Anderson and more to 200,000 people in five cities.
When they tore down the stage in Calgary, only 60,000 rock freaks had paid $540,000 in admission - barely enough to cover the cost of the talent alone.
"The train had some romance and appeal to it," said Walker, who promoted and made money with the Toronto Pop Festival two years ago.
"Historically, it brought nations together. Rock music brings kids together, so we just combined the two."
When Walker and George and Thor Eaton, of the department store family, first got in touch with Canadian National Railways in Toronto, officials shook their heads and said it couldn't be done.
"They nearly choked when I gave them the order, five sleepers, two lounges with 110-volt service for jamming, a diner - they wanted to give them a cafeteria car - three flatcars and two 150-ton diesels."
The price?
"Under $100,000." Including nine waiters.
A $500,000 talent budget was handed to Dave Williams, who used to work for Apple Records in New York, and he filled it with the greatest collection of rock, folk, and blues musicians Canada had ever seen.
Then things started to go wrong.
Empire Stadium had invested about $900,000 in artificial turf and "they didn't want it to melt," so Vancouver had to be scratched.
Nervous city fathers in Montreal hurriedly cancelled the 12-hour show there because it clashed with St. Jean Baptiste Day celebrations, and Walker was left with dates in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary.
"Montreal was afraid some fanatics were going to bomb it," he said.
In Toronto, the May Fourth Movement, a group of Yippies and Maoists who want to liberate everything from men's washrooms to the city jail, tried to storm the gates of CNE Stadium.
Police and young people were injured and there were anything but good vibrations.
"When we got to Winnipeg, people were scared out of their minds by what went down in the papers.
"Parents were saying: 'Hold it. You're not going to anything where there's dope, wild riots and death.'"
The one-day stand in Winnipeg drew only 4,500 and was upstaged by the Manitoba Centennial appearance by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his cabinet.
The May Fourth Movement branch was also on hand in Calgary.
There was only a token attempt at gate-crashing on the last day, but it was enough to make Walker furious. He had three of the demonstrators arrested outside McMahon Stadium.
"How do they expect us to do it for nothing? The performers want to get paid, I want to get paid, the stadium wants to get paid, the cops want to get paid.
"They say it's their music. Well, it's the performers' music first and my music second. They play it and I bring it. Then it's their music.
"I'm providing the entertainment - I'm not on a crusade."
The whole incredible trip was filmed from Toronto to Calgary, on and off the train, but unless Walker comes out with a Festival Express sequel to Woodstock, few people are going to know what went down between stops.
"It'll take another $350,000 to complete the film and the sound track is worthless without it.
"If worse comes to worse, I'll have the greatest eight-track stereo home movie in the country. I may just print it up and send it to the people on the train." 

(by Michael Bennett, Canadian Press, from the Winnipeg Free Press, October 24 1970 - the article also ran in other papers such as the Vancouver Sun.)

Thanks to Pairdoc for the articles.


  1. These articles include no Dead content whatsoever.

    They fill out our picture of the finances of the Festival Express, and also illustrate the problems of using newspaper reports to learn about rock shows.
    In Winnipeg, there was barely a flicker of interest. The two lengthy articles about the Calgary shows not only don't say a word about the shows, they don't even mention the bands, instead being entirely devoted to a paean to the Calgary police, and detailed accounts of drug use & gate-crashing.
    It's no wonder an exasperated Walker imagined parents reading the papers and saying to their kids, "You're not going to anything where there's dope, wild riots and death."

    A couple small points:
    It's a surprise to read that Miles Davis was supposed to play at the 6/28 Toronto show. Presumably he didn't, and this was just promotional puffery. (Although, given the poor level of coverage of these events, you never know... We don't even know what the actual lineups at each city were.)

    The brief Billboard article credits a couple Polydor Records executives with providing free food for the Toronto park shows; elsewhere Walker, the promoter, said he'd paid for the free food. Details are murky!

  2. A later report says, "The press mentioned Miles Davis as an expected performer multiple times prior to the concert, but he did not actually perform."

    However, a couple weeks later on 7/10/70, Miles Davis opened for the Band at the Hollywood Bowl!
    Robbie Robertson remembered that the audience wasn't ready for Miles. "It was like a horror experience in the audience, and our job for the rest of the evening was just to kind of cool everybody out again."
    (Across the Great Divide p.248)

  3. Some more finds -

    This has the lists of the performers at each city, from the programs -
    (The same 12 headliners played all the shows, but the openers were different at each city. For instance 10 Years After & Traffic only played Toronto, and Sha Na Na only played Calgary. The list is incomplete, though - we know the Flying Burrito Brothers played Calgary, but they're not on the list; and the NRPS joined the Dead in at least Calgary.)

    This is the text of a promotional flyer for the Toronto shows -
    (It has some comments on the Montreal cancellation and how cool a city Toronto is.)

    This is a long account of the Winnipeg show by John Einarson, written last year -
    (15 acts in 14 hours...)

    It would be nice to find other personal memories of the shows. These are difficult to find!