Mar 27, 2018

June 27, 1970: CNE Grandstand, Toronto


"...and unrest was replaced by discontent."

 . . . There will never be another Woodstock. This is a reality which few people seem capable of accepting. It is a reality brought upon our counter-culture by its own technocratic children.
In an age of frozen food, pre-prepared anything you might wish, and programmed individually, the counter-culture has failed to live up to itself and has sold out to pseudo-Woodstock nations presented by hip capitalists who know that the electric freak will usually fork over 15 to 20 dollars to hear what "they think" is "their" music.
A perfect example of pre-programmed Woodstock, hip commercialism, Express in Toronto.
Generally, I have always enjoyed rock music when it is presented live and in great quantities. Having missed Woodstock I have been searching for my own individual Camelot whereby all is togetherness, happiness and music.
Being a bit quixotic, I have been searching for my windmills for a long time. So you can understand that when I began receiving rumors to the effect that this Festival Express thing up in Toronto was going to turn out to be another Woodstock (and remembering the same type of rumors that had been circulating last year about Woodstock) with two or three hundred thousand kids absorbing music, sunshine and each other. Anyway, I contacted my Sancho and fled into the deeply blued cotton filled horizons of Canada.
Well, what it turned out to be and what I had hoped it would be were two completely different things. And as a result of the ensuing events, I have firmly decided to hang up my well-worn stash bag and retire from the festival circuit for good.
It's really a shame that a good thing had to be spoiled by hip capitalism at its finest. Like an assembly line during the Industrial Revolution, rock "promoters" have set up a musical assembly line. It produces prefabricated Woodstock nations (on the minute scale, of course) which flaunt themselves under the guise of the musical "revolution."
Assembly line-rock festivals have a number of highly similar characteristics. Like some poorly written epic drama, each festival contains (sort of like an army survival kit): two or three promoters who are Capitalistic pigs (to quote an oft used phrase), a group of kids fucked up on drugs or trying to get fucked up on drugs, security problems like you were inside a prison camp trying to see the commandant, two light towers that are placed almost exactly like those at Woodstock, a stage that looks slightly the same, sound work by Hanley, thousands of kids all trying to be on stage with the performers, and if you are in an upper class rock festival area, you get to have the pleasure of having road vultures work as your security men, etc., etc.
Now, if you put all this together, hype it up through advertising, rumor, whatever, you will have what we had up in Toronto. 
Also, almost as predictable as the constant shouts for more (an encore is generally always given by the group as a regular part of their act) you have the stigma known as the gate crasher. Every festival has them, and every festival generally succeeds in deterring these people's attempts.
In Toronto, the practice of gate crashing had reached its organized best. An organization known as the May 4 Movement organized the international gate crash at the Toronto festival. As was to be expected, security and gate crashing didn't mix. About 27 people were arrested, many injured by the police who used horses and wrestling, they had no guns in their holsters, and very few seemed to have clubs.
Many people did get in, but the hassle that derived from the mess to make it a futile and needless waste of blood and energy.
One really good thing that did result from this excess of people (about 2,000 to 4,000) in the stadium area on the outside was the organization by the Grateful Dead of free concerts over in Coronation Park. At one point it was estimated that about 5,000 people were at this free festival.
After the continued hassle with security forces and whatnot, the promoters of the festival seemed to think that it would be cool to make this festival an imitation of the Woodstock nation festival created last year.
So what they did during the act changes was play through the huge sound speakers the Woodstock album. This really made everybody happy and gay. I mean here we were in the middle of a rock festival, so why not make believe that we have gone back in time and are at Woodstock, I mean what's the difference if we think we all can dig ourselves and how cool we really are?
Anyway, after suffering through all this pretense and inane tripe, we had nothing left to really enjoy except the pure essence of anything like this - music.
So no matter what anybody tells you about how cool and far out it was up in Toronto, it was about as far from Woodstock as anything could ever be.
At Woodstock the people were together, the music was free and easy, the grass and woods were wet and soft, the pastures stank with cow shit, the peace officers actually kept the peace, and the whole world was watching.
At the Festival Express in Toronto, we had thousands of small groups digging the shit out of each other, but nobody else; no togetherness whatsoever, music which cost plenty, security which was absurd, horseshit from the horses used by the police in crowd control, plastic grass on the field and an asphalt track if you were lucky, and very few people seemed to care what was happening at Toronto, that is until violence occurred, and we all know what violence freaks this country has for its respected citizenry.
The children of the technocracy had once again had a meeting, only this time they numbered only 20,000 and they blew it. [ -- ] negative charge from the people inhabiting the counter-culture and what ensued was sad but true. The only thing that keeps us together as a culture right now is our music, and the only thing that kept Toronto from being a real waste of time and energy was the music.
Music is what they had all come to hear and music is what they heard. It flowed from the delicately balanced sound machines perched high atop towers entangled in a maze of electrical wire.
This high energy event had cost the promoters almost $500,000 in talent fees. The array of talent that showed and played still [ -- ]
There were many moments in this two day montage of musical mania. Much of what happened musically is blurred after the passage of a couple of hours. Yet, those moments that do survive are ones which will survive for a long time in one's memory.
The "New Riders of The Purple Sage" made a rare and very successful appearance. This group is composed of members of the Grateful Dead and some Garcia and Mickey Hart.
Garcia was an absolute joy playing his steel pedal guitar. Especially on the steel pedal version of Saint Stephen.
This group should prove to be a method of perpetrating [sic] one of the finest groups on the American scene. The Grateful Dead have been making faint noises of splitting up. At least it seems that Pigpen is no longer with the group. That distance which can be seen in such groups is appearing within the Dead and yet they play on, and will do so for a long time under the guise of the Grateful Dead or the New Riders of the Purple Sage.
As for the Dead, their moments in this concert will last for a long time. The images of Garcia flailing the notes from his guitar with Phil Lesh pumping away on his bass and all the other Dead meshing together for one final flurry of "Turn On Your Love Light" are burned on a brain already numbed with fatigue, dope, and constant music.
After the furious conclusion of the Dead set we had the harsh folk/western/country sound of the Band. The high point of the Band set came when the group launched into a version of "The Weight". Garth Hudson the mountain organist preambled this song with a ten minute off key/on key organ solo. Robbie Robertson's guitar work improves with age and experience.
The other memorable set came from the newly reformed Traffic. Long since the first demise of Traffic we have seen Steve Winwood in a number of roles. He has coupled with Blind Faith, and Ginger Baker's Air Force, but he has found his way home again with his reaffirmation of faith in his old group, Traffic. Minus Dave Mason, Traffic as it stands now contains Chris Wood and Jim Capabaldi.
The set started out on a rough note, namely Wood playing the electric piano familiar to Mason. But then the group came together with Winwood's vocals bouncing off the people and walls of the stadium.
Of particular interest was the guitar work done so little by Winwood. Always an underestimated guitarist, Winwood ranks up there with the best, his guitar is gentle and his riffing calculated. His sounds are flowing, gentle and well-meaning, and seemed to stop the fatigue-worn crowd from squirming and make them just sort of sit back and let the music bathe them in a night purple glow of thought and sense.
As far as the music goes, the Festival Express was the success it had claimed it would be. If it hadn't been for the people the whole affair would have really put anyone's head in a fine, fine place.

(by Joe Fernbacher, from the Spectrum, Buffalo NY, 2 July 1970)

Thanks to Dave Davis. (Lovelight from Calgary 7/4/70)


  1. It's funny reading such early backlash to the overly commercial festival scene. What would Joe think of 2018?

  2. The Spectrum was the student newspaper of the University at Buffalo. This particular article was very badly printed, with lots of typos, some lines repeated, & some parts of sentences missing, which may explain the lack of grammar in spots.
    It's rare to find a Festival Express report from the point of view of a young attendee - usually the newspapers just focused on crowd problems, police activity, etc, and ignored the music.

    This is a good example of an end-of-the-sixties piece lamenting that the dream has died, the ideals have vanished, and now we're in the horrible seventies.
    Fernbacher seems to be irritated by the whole idea of a festival, or at least, the experience of being at one. He holds up Woodstock (from a year earlier) as being like a golden age, a magical Camelot of good times - while admitting he hadn't been there - but now he grouses, "There will never be another Woodstock...the counter-culture has failed."
    His main complaints about the Festival Express seem to be: 1) there were promoters, 2) there were lots of kids on drugs, 3) there were gate-crashers & cops, and 4) it was patterned after Woodstock, but was just an uncool imitation, not the real thing. Hence, the whole thing was just a commercial hype, the capitalist pigs ruining what could have been a glorious festival. Just what he has in mind as the ideal festival arrangement (peace, grass, love, togetherness) is vague, but he's infuriated when the Woodstock album is played on the PA: "pretense and inane tripe." The whole experience is something to "suffer through," "a real waste of time," though it would have been great "if it hadn't been for the people." I suspect if he had been at Woodstock, his account of that wouldn't have been so glowing.

    I gather he probably heard a lot of complaints about the promoters up in Toronto, which he shares - he admits on one hand they spent over half a million on the bands, but still protests that the festival cost too much, that it was in a soulless stadium instead of out in nature, that it was too much like other professional "assembly line" festivals. But he doesn't sympathize with the gate-crashers either. In fact he doesn't seem to sympathize with any other festival-goers, criticizing them as self-congratulatory drug-addled kids who think they're "cool and far out" but have really "sold out" by enjoying this pre-programmed commercial event.
    Unfortunately it seems he didn't check out the free park shows - perhaps he would have enjoyed himself more, and they would have been closer to his ideal.

    But he admits that the music was great - which after all is "what all had come to hear" - and that the festival was a musical success. It's interesting that he cites the New Riders as one of the standout bands in the two-day festival (and he only names four bands as memorable). His reporting is somewhat questionable - I doubt the New Riders played a pedal-steel version of St. Stephen, and I wonder where he heard Pigpen was "no longer with the group"? Particularly when Lovelight was his single favorite moment of the festival...
    He calls the Dead "one of the finest groups" in America, praises them for organizing the free park concerts, predicts they'll play on for a long time, and calls Garcia's pedal-steel playing "an absolute joy." It's probably the result of misprinting lopping out a line and mangling the New Riders' lineup, but Garcia (like Pigpen) is on a one-name basis here, readers expected to already know him - other musicians get their full names printed.