Thanks Alex for all the great music over the years.
Thanks especially for bringing The Grateful Dead to Piedmont Park.
Starting in 1994, Alex’s Music Midtown, the largest 3 day event in the U.S. ran until 2005, usually in May. With over 100 acts, an average of 300,000 people attended each year. For several years it was actually on The Strip at 10th and Peachtree.http://alexcooley.com/fest-midtown.html
From left to right: Lance, Mark Goodfriend, Schroeder, Lee Shannon & Stevie Parker.
The tent on the right has quite a history of it’s own. It came from a Sears’ store in Denton, TX. Renée & I rode with John Ivey to the Dallas Pop Festival, Labor Day of ’69. We arrived a week or so before it started and needed a place to stay. I’m an Eagle Scout and had no problem with tents, so off we go to the closest Sears’ store to buy the biggest tent they had in stock. The Hog Farm needed a few things, so this guy we called Beethoven, dressed in an orange jumpsuit with beads and a stovepipe hat went with us.
We were quite a sight at the neighborhood mall in Denton. Beethoven found the toy department and proceeds to buy handfuls of less than a dollar toys and gives them away to every child or adult that would take one. By the time he meets up with me in sporting goods he looks like the pied piper with all the people following him around. including security guards. We must have drawn every guard in the store. I was glad to get out of there.
Put the tent up back stage and enjoyed the privileges of shade and almost seclusion in the midst of chaos and the Texas sun. Maybe 75% of the performers shared the tent and refreshments with us, more than I can name or remember. Each musician is a separate story. Maybe more another day….
Brought that tent back to Atlanta, used it in one more Pop Festival, as shown in picture and managed to keep it and use it for 36 years. A lot of camping trips, lot of fishing, lot of family time. Renée and I have three children. All of them learned to play cards in that tent during rainy weather. Good memories.
I grew up in Griffin, GA; a small town south of Atlanta. I had the pretty normal life of a small town boy and as I grew into my teens I began listening to FM rock stations and hanging around with some of the musicians and others considered a little on the “hippy” side Then in 1969 Hampton, GA was invaded by thousands of people coming to attend the First Atlanta Pop Festival. I was working with 2 friends as a field hand at the Georgia Experiment Station for a summer job.
We decided that we would drive over to the raceway and check things out. So we loaded a truck with a few watermelons, other fruit – from the fields we were working, and some beers. (Being natives of the small town we knew where we could get beer, even under aged) and drove over. We were still somewhat naive about this culture but we were probably the hippest people in our town at the time. I guess by the time we arrived at the festival it had become a free concert because we ultimately found ourselves inside the field and walking around with our beer, sampling pot (my first time) and meeting people from all over.
We wound up staying for a very long time as I remember see several acts including Spirit, Janis Joplin, and others. We left late that evening and were the local heroes for having the guts to even go over.
At that time ROTC was mandatory in the high school which meant military haircuts etc. I spent the rest of my summer growing my hair and paying Saturday night visits to Atlanta and the strip. By the time school started in the fall my hair was not all that long, but much too long for the ROTC Sargent. I was advised if I did not cut my hair I would fail the class and could be expelled from school. I saved them the trouble and got with a couple of friends to head to California. Unfortunately we only made it as far as Starkeville, Mississippi before the car crapped out. A local minister helped us get it repaired and we returned to Atlanta.
By now my friends had had enough of the adventure and decided to return to Griffin. I decided to stay in Atlanta where I remained for the best part of the next 5 years or more.
I first visited The Strip on weekend visits from Griffin until the fall of 1969 when I left home. I began to form great friendships and lived in a “Crashpad” on 14th street. I would leave what few belongings I had at the Speckled Bird office for collateral and sell copies for food money. I ate a lot of Krystal burgers during that time because they were the cheapest meal to eat.
I experience acid for the first time at the Donovan concert at the Municipal Auditorium (now an admin building for Georgia State University.) It turned out the be somewhat of a bad trip and I learned quickly I did not like acid much after that.
I had a slight run in with the law and found myself back in Griffin for a while in 1970. But the call of the Byron festival rang out and I traveled there a week early to help build the stage etc. After staying in Byron through the event I returned to Atlanta where I continued to live and hold several short jobs between my “street pharmacist” endeavors.
I was living with several friends in a house on a small street of Piedmont (Mytle street, I think) when we were raided and I was arrested for possession (of less than an ounce of pot) and operating a dive. Oddly enough I wasn’t even in the room with the dope and my name was not on a lease but that did not matter. (I found out later that the GBI had been watching me and my friends from Griffin days.)
I was more careful after that with my drug activity and took various odd jobs. I finally landed a job as a cook at Tom Jones Fish & Chips on Peachtree street between 10th and 11th street. When the manager left town with the contents of the safe one night I was promoted to manager.
That is where I stayed until a bounty hunter came in and took me in for not appearing at a hearing. It turned out that the notice for the hearing had gone to the house I was living in at the time of the bust. I had since moved.
I took a plea bargain and agreed to return home and return to school to avoid jail. By then my mother had moved to Atlanta so that made complying with the law and still hanging on The Strip easy.
What was your best experience associated with The Strip and the hip community?
All the music. Piedmont Park had something happening almost every weekend. And when shows came to town you either got a job as an usher or new someone who did. I saw so many acts at the Municipal Auditorium for the price of a joint.
Second Atlanta Festival in Byron
The summer a friend and I hitchhiked to Washington, DC with a few hits of acid to sell and $50 each.
Later on, nights at Funochios, Richards and Eelectric Ballroom.
I had a few. Bad acid trips, living on the street not knowing where I would sleep or get my next meal, my arrest, beaten up and robbed of a half pound of weed (which I had to work off by selling more for no profit).
A night of depression where I was convinced suicide was a good move. Took 10 hits of acid with a guy named “Angel”. When it kicked in I realized, “this was a bad move.” Was counceled by a guy in the house that, “I shouldn’t worry, the acid itself probably wouldn’t kill me.” He stayed with me through the evening to keep me on an even keel and keep me from freaking out. I never saw the guy again after that. I tend to call him my angel. That was the point where I never took acid again nor considered suicide. I learned that Angel later shot himself on the back steps of Chili Dog Charlies.
Loves lost or let slip away by stupid acts and bad decisions.
Those experiences were the best and worst in my life. When they were up there was nothing like it. When down it could really drepress you. I have used my past as a testimony when working with teens and men in my church.
I always say that I don’t know that I would repeat them but I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world
I went to a house on 14th street with some musician friends one night. There was a concert scheduled for the next day so people were starting their partying early. While in the basement of the house we were passing around joints and listening to some guys playing guitar and singing. I found out the next day it was Duane Allman and other members of the band but I was too high to know who they were the night before.
My street name was “Skinny”, a name that followed me from High School. I weighed about 130 pounds soaking wet and hung around with a 250 pound football player who’s nickname was “Uncle Heavy”. He had a reputation of taking the smaller weaker guys under his wing for protection. And when the counter culture hit Griffin he was right there along with me and others
I am now married to a wonderful woman who grew up in the Decatur suburbs. Her life was vastly different from mine. She grew up with both parents in the typical middle class home. She offered the grounding I needed and the faith in me that made me want to be a better person. We have raised 3 wonderful sons; twins 30 years old and their 27 year old brother. I just became a grandfather to a beautiful boy. I have worked for BellSouth (now AT&T) since 1976 in media and graphics production from multi-image slide to video & multi-media. Mike Payne
We were married 07/07/69 at the “Free Concert” in the park after the 1st Atlanta POP.
Schroeder & Renée
The Piedmont show which actually 2 or 3 days after, Tuesday I believe was the result of politics. According to the Great speckled Bird, “How could we charge $$$ for music … even $13.50 a day.” we had to do something to appease the social uproar over our commercialism. Spirit, CTA, and Delaney and Bonnie stuck around for room and board. And the Dead played for travel, rooms and beer. So yes I was very involved in it as well as the rest of the team.
I remember Pigpen cracking two cases of beer, neatly arranging them on the balustrade around the pavilion, and calmly dosing each one with premium Owsley Acid. Everyone around the pavilion was glowing.
I would love to have a list of the people that attended the FREE concert in Piedmont Park after that Festival with Spirit, Chicago Transit Authority, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends (including Dave Mason and others), and THE GREATFUL DEAD. That was the seminal moment.- Robin Conant
Delaney and Bonnie & Friends start off the afternoon.
Very nice. I can tell you why there was no one there at 1:00PM. The performers who stayed after the last night of the Pop Festival were all invited to “The River House” a rather infamous hippie house on Riverside Drive. Quite a few made the trip, including “The Dead” Those memories are a bit fuzzy, so I’m not sure who all was there. I vaguely remember sitting outside on the ground watching the sun come up and singing folk songs with Jerry Garcia playing acoustic guitar. Seems like there was a bunch of people making music, but I couldn’t swear who was there. John Ivey & Ricky Bear, local studio musicians, lived nearby on the river. They may have been there; possibly Barry Bailey. Barry played a lot with John & Ricky. Studio work and just local jams. This was when “The Joint Effort” was changing its name to the Atlanta Rhythm Section. A PR decision. Anyhow, no one woke up before late afternoon and that threw the free concert behind schedule.
If you hear from John Ivey or anyone else from the River House, please let me know.
(c) 1998 Patrick Edmondson (Excerpted from a longer work in progress)
You have to understand; it was the sixties. Things were different then. In Atlanta there had started to be free concerts held in Piedmont Park. At first they were only for special holidays, then there were concerts nearly every weekend. Soon someone figured out how to “liberate” electricity to the Pavilion and there was some music in the park almost everyday, officially permitted or not.
The quality varied widely from garage bands needing lots more practice to local heroes such as Radar or the unbelievable Hampton Grease Band, to up and comers The Allman Brothers. National acts showed up, too; which brings me to the point of the story I’m setting up here.
I have meant to write this down for a long time. Finally I did on 7/7/98. Days later I checked on the exact date of the concert. It was 7/7/69! (insert Twilight Zone intro here…)
The Atlanta International Pop Festival was held at Hampton Raceway in July 1969. It was such a large crowd – in Atlanta! Lots of famous musicans of that day and all days performed. A great time was had by all.
We were about to leave and saw a guy in a leather jacket. Painted on the back was, “I came from England to hear Led Zeppelin!”. Somehow it impressed us enough to stay to hear the unknown Led Zeppelin close the show; amazing performance!
People began to wind their way slowly back to the campground just lingering in the vibe of the evening, the music, and there being SO MANY HIPPIES; we aren’t alone!
Passing among the crowd were leaflets declaring simply, “Come to Piedmont Park Monday 1 PM”. Another band trying to get started we thought; but we had a feeling…and no one had work or classes Monday afternoon .
Monday about lunchtime we loaded up the Celestial Omnibus with our small circle of friends and headed off to the park, joining lots of other small circles of friends coming together in a temporal free-zone, our community, beginning to coalesce around the park. The Strip was for commerce with straights and all; the Park was for letting your freak flag fly without fear of the attacks still common from rednecks. Here, if only for the moment, weirdness was the standard, and we reveled in it.
The Celestial Omnibus was a hippie VW bus. My fourth bus experience. My first bus experience had been when a fellow Beatle maniac’s mother had agreed to drive the two of us 30 miles to the theatre showing “A Hard Day’s Night” a year before it would drag to our town. We went in a VW van, rare in South Georgia. On the way home we were in dreams of being the Beatles going to a gig; a great time! I thought this was the coolest mother to appreciate how much it meant to the two of us, even if adults sneered at her stupidity in indulging us. It wasn’t normal.
My second “bus” experience was years later. Not too much out of the ordinary happened in Tifton. The expressway was a new link to the outside world bringing the outside world in greater force than old Highway 41. I was killing time waiting on my friend Fred to finish work at the Royal Castle, currently THE In spot for burgers and fries after school, just off Interstate 75. Our band was to practice that night and I was impatient for him to come on.
“Man, you gotta come see these guys! “, a friend rushed in yelling. “A wild old school bus full of crazy people and loud music is stopped for gas next door. Hurry before they leave! You gotta see this!”
We all ran over to see. A commotion seemed to be erupting from this strange old traveling bus that was gassing-up at the Phillips 66 station. The bus itself was colored like a circus vehicle, which was what I had naturally assumed it was since this was still living under the spell of the button-down fifties. Anything so colorful just had to be part of a circus or a fair. And there were certainly people that looked like they were in a circus swarming out of and all over the bus. Most wore these coveralls. People would probably have been scared since they were acting so unusual if they hadn’t assumed from the vehicle and clothes that they were entertainers headed somewhere on the expressway. I just remember these weird expressions and some kind of excitement they generated.
Was it…? I wondered when I later read “The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test”. The chronology seems to fit but I am unsure, it was at least similar minded folks; still it was a seed. I thought how it would be neat to carry your friends in a rolling party.
Christmas after starting college came the third bus experience, Christmas 1968. A VW bus driven by Martin the beatnik gnome, the Cassidy figure in my life, spirited me from home. Friends from college headed to the Miami Pop Festival, living on the fringes. Incredible adventures. I lived them and I barely believe it all.
Now I acquired my first car. A 1959 VW microbus that cost $100 and came with $150 worth of camping equipment, but could barely climb a big bump; my long bus trip begins. With Martin’s mechanical wizardry we gave it a motor and everything else transplant. My part was to paint the bus.
The name in psychedelic bubble smoke letters was “The Celestial Omnibus”. In Senior year English class we had read an E.M. Forster story, “The Celestial Omnibus”, about a bus that literally took you to literary heaven ; it remained corporeal as long as you didn’t doubt , but if you had doubt. It would come crashing back to normal life. That was much the aim I had for this vehicle.
Two fish twirled in the yin-yang replaced the VW circle to lead the way. The driver’s door got the zig-zag man, still hip code then. The opposite side doors got a reclining Mr. Natural with a speech balloon declaring, “Mr. Natural says…”. Fill in your own sage advice if you have any, Mr. Natural said only a fool would follow his advise anyway. We were subtle stealth hippies. We loaded up the bus and headed for the hills of Piedmont, park that is.
Upon arriving at the Park and parking by the Pavilion, we found…nothing happening. A beautiful July afternoon even if it had been a hoax. We were grooving on the park as other groups of our friends and acquaintances arrived. Many folks were left over from the Pop Festival still meandering onward.
The crowd was growing. Drizzling rain was welcomed. A community formed. Someone brought out a giant clear plastic tarp and threw it out for people to crowd under. The edges were tucked down and, this being the sixties, joints came out everywhere. Vision was soon obscured and it became a personal challenge to see how long you could stay before scrambling to the edge, poke out your head and gulp purer air before returning under the plastic.
The rain stopped and on a count the plastic was quickly pulled back at once. A smoke signal was released to Atlanta and everything began to shift.
Lovely hippie women in long skirts swirled and danced through the crowd stopping at various individuals. “Please open your mouth.”, they beatifically smiled. A bit of paper was placed on the tongue & and with a cheery, “Enjoy!” they would sashay away. There were also jugs marked “acidophilus cider” being offered for swigs.
Legend has it that this was a going away party for a certain teddy bear that had to be held a coast away from local authorities. After twenty minutes it was indeed a party with the only music coming from someone’s portable eight-track in the pavilion.
“Make way for equipment!” The crowd was parted so trucks and funky vans could drive up to the pavilion. As they were unloaded we watched for stencils to identify the bands. The Allman Brother’s mushroom, of course; Spirit; Delaney and Bonnie and Friends; the Chicago Transit Authority; The Hampton Grease Band; and some lighting bolt through a skull design.
When our friend Dan, just back from Fran Sanfisco, saw this,
he lazily smiled slyly beneath his round blue-smoked glasses and droopy ended mustache. His laconic drawl informed us, “Ya’ll are in for a treat. It’s the Dead.”
The Dead! San Francisco musicians, emissaries from the Tribes on the West Coast, free, here on a Summer Day in Piedmont Park! The Dead were of our culture, but we really considered them as of us rather than stars, an antithesis to the new culture.
Sixties roadies really worked. From installing the exact setup on varied stages once or twice a day, they evolved the process into balletic precision. Zen masters at work in a dance of their own devising. Barely giving each other a notice, they knew just when to put out a hand needed to help get amps, cords, drums and all into place. Everything seemed to grow almost organically as layer after layer of equipment was installed for various bands.
Soon Glenn Phillips prescient-electronica guitar yelps and Harold Kelling’s sweet melodies wove threads around sonic blues riffs from attacked guitars. Mike Greene, now the president of the Grammies, played and sang sweet harmonies to counter Bruce Hampton’s fabled screamed/sung dada linguistics and insane stage antics. Hampton and Martin had first met when they had been the weird kids at Georgia Military Academy where their parents had sentenced both to do time for being weird; a threat I also received.
With a little help from their friends with the paper and cider, this crowd was really getting into the music driving the musicians to redoubled efforts. Everyone was dancing and strolling about meeting or just smiling at people. Some sat in groups and communed with the music.
The Allman Brother’s blues flowed in accompaniment to a glorious sunset. The multi-rhythms of Berry, Jaimoe, and Butch set waves of energy moving through the people. Duane’s heartbreaking solos merging with Greg’s plaintive vocals touched your soul.
Strange trap set on stage; two big bass drums mounted slanted sideways over the regular trap set. Older bald head, eyes electric- Ed Casady pounded like a spirit possessed wailing the enigmatic Spirit lyrics. “Fresh Garbage” introduced by stepson Randy California’s tasty guitar licks interwoven with keyboards and mingled voices created a feeling like a strange and enveloping tapestry.
Bonnie Bramlett with husband Delaney led a band of friends. The Friends featured Jim Keltner’s horn section and Merry Clayton leading the backup vocal trio. Excellent Gospel tinged southern rock.
The party was in full swing as Chicago Transit Authority’s brass led melodies created “Saturday in the Park” on a Monday evening.
With the night came more magic. Dan got a cot from the Celestial Omnibus and lay in the open with a sign saying “Feed Me.”. Throughout the rest of the evening innumerable paper bits, a few joints, and a few female breasts were inserted in his smile. Gabi and I being purists who endured eating Morning Glory seeds to get to the natural source, passed on over five hits to he and Ronnie.
Now the Dead began to tune. Word spread through the telephone pipeline to the suburbs; A beckoning from the bathhouse pay phones.
As the crowd grew the officers of the law had at first grown tense. Since the crowd was all peaceful and grooving together; a gathering of the tribes, they relaxed.
Love really began to prevail. Dealer’s opened their stores and set phalanxes of joint rollers to work. Cops asked for some of the cider, were warned and tried it anyway. They let pretty women try on their hats. They danced and let people decorate them with flowers and incense. They winked at people passing joints and even took mostly ceremonial hits at first. Cops got kissed. Soon cops were joining the circles around water pipes.
“I can’t do this any more!” yelled one young cop as he tore off his uniform. For his trouble two hippie women soothed him under a hedge by the stonewalls. Giggle, moans, and body parts occasionally protruded from the shrubbery during the rest of the evening.
The Dead began playing I watched a skinny longhaired guy in hanging jeans climb a scraggly elm in front of the Pavilion. He sat on the one branch protruding vertically about 15 ft. from the ground. It didn’t look like it could possibly hold even his weight. We watched in expectation of his imminent descent
The rhythm seemed to get him before gravity. Unbelievably he let go of the main part of the tree and stood erect on the limb. He began to sway with the music and shift from foot to foot. Then he jerked still and stayed as paralyzed for a few minutes. Just as suddenly he began to prance and gyrate wildly breaking laws of physics.
I glanced at him every few minutes from then on. He continued to be a marionette pulled by every chord Jerry played. Finally I looked back and he was gone without a trace. I asked but no one around saw him ever come down…
It was midnight and Dead had played most of the songs for which they were becoming known and they stopped after about three hours. But now more equipment was added to the stage?!
Most of the musicians retook the stage to play with the Dead. Big horn section, background singers, eight drummers, a bass quintet, and Harold Kelling, Glenn Phillips, Duane Allman and Dickie Betts, Delaney Bramlett, Chicago’s guitarist, Randy California, and Jerry Garcia trading and interlacing lead lines.
This was a two-hour shakedown song before they settled into “Dark Star” experimentation. This became a rock symphony full of the once and future hits of all concerned.
About 3:30 AM Jerry’s guys shifted to their closing song. Coda after coda rang into the darkness of Atlanta’s late July night stillness.
The musicians hung out a while. No one wanted to leave and break the spell. We watched the roadie’s performance as they prestidigitate loads of equipment into their small spots within the trucks and vans. When loaded, these spirited away into the night. Only naked bulbs over the pavilion competed with the moon. Light around both seemed to hang in solid Van Gogh visions of colors streaks.
Cops and the crowd felt the shift back almost to the normality we had forsaken for a while. All our faces had been stolen.
We collected our stimulated to satiation group into the Celestial Omnibus. Dan’s face became animated, “Was I right?” He had been. it had been a night to live in memories. We’d forever know that skull split by a lightning bolt.
(c) 1998 Patrick Edmondson
(First published in Smash magazine, Excerpted from a longer work in progress)
Friday July 3rd, 1970 I was working the morning traffic selling The Great Speckled Bird at 14th and Peachtree. There was going to be a Pop Festival that weekend in Byron, Ga near Macon. The first Pop Festival had been wonderful, but the normal hot for a Georgia 4th. We knew middle and South Georgia and knew the heat there was much worse. Most people who lived there spent much of the day somewhere shady or in water. This was to again be at a treeless stock car track outside Macon, currently mayored by “Machine Gun” Ronnie Thompson who had issued machine guns to police in fear of Negro uprising. “Machine Gun” Ronnie was a really unsane belligerent Cracker who really hated hippies, making his county the perfect place for a pop festival. We had been tempted by the stories told by friends from the Zoo. They had been down building the site and told us about the free stage set up way out in the woods down newly bulldozed trails. One of them had a homestead even further back in the woods where he had his dog and was sowing some seeds. We looked at the lineup and really wanted to go, but the tickets were too costly for poor student hippies
I had gotten up early to get to the Birdhouse to buy papers and drive up 14th over Peachtree and parked The Omnibus on the corner by Ga Linen where there was a grassy lawn and big tree. A great spot to work since people would come up and sprawl on the grass under the tree and talk to me.
I was the first hippie cars would encounter driving down Peachtree towards The Strip and I looked the part I had made a belt with silver conchos on a leather strip and leather strings hanging down my leg. I wore it low on my hips over embroidered jeans and engineer boots so the strings swung as I walked. I had made a duck hat, an engineer’s cap with the bill painted yellow. In the front I painted two big white cartoon eyes like Donald Duck. To complete the motif in winter I had a middy blouse from Navy surplus that zipped up tightly under the arm on one side. Some people knew me simply as that duckhat guy.
Being a bit ‘on stage’ brought more money, so I got into it. It was fun to watch the long strings swing as I walked, danced, clowned along the edge of Peachtree. It was a good corner and I made quite a bit of money each day. Driving around town I always kept a load of Birds in my bus and whenever traffic stalled, I’d pull over and work the traffic until it moved or a cop came to roust me. I devoted hours to selling Birds, but working 14th and Peachtree was the best. When traffic lulled I could go climb in the Omnibus, pull the curtains and smoke on a joint as traffic roared by outside. I was just a crazy hippie so many pretended I wasn’t there. It was work, but also fun as I walked along and amused myself in between lights. Somehow some people want to talk to a hippie. Buying a Bird gave them a reason to talk. It was fun to people watch as mini-dramas played out every so often.
I stood at the corner holding The Great Speckled Bird open so people could see the cover. Some cars would pull up and desperately thrust money at me for a paper as cars behind them played a cacophonous symphony. Otherwise I waited for the light then walked along the side of the road smiling. Kids almost always bought a Bird and usually gave me at least fifty cents for a 25-cent paper. Folks wanting you to think they were cool, but usually, and sadly obviously, were not, would either overpay and wave you off or demand exact change as traffic honked. Swingers and narcs tried to buddy talk and ask about obtaining sex and drugs. Closet hip folks would give you a dollar or other big bill and maybe a good joint or some hash for a paper, or as a tip. Girls and gay men flirted and society women were suggestive as they overpaid and were asked if they wanted change. One woman asked if I could get some “Chiba” to smoke then “fuck her like only a hippie could”. I was unsure what either meant and was in love with Gabi.
This Friday before the 4th there was a constant stream of hippies loaded into vehicles. They came from all over in some amazingly colorful and creative vehicles. And they all had the same destination, The Pop Festival. A band in a van full of equipment just going to play the free stage was very excited. Each car was headed to see favorites, whose music blared from tape decks. Each one made me feel more that Byron was going to be a scene for real and we needed to be there.
The final was a big cylindrical trash dumptruck from some unknown town. Totally normal looking except for the drivers were freaks. They laughed and said they were headed for Byron. I said it was a weird vehicle to travel in. They said I didn’t know the half of it and pushed a button. The back lifted up and away as to dump trash. Now I could see a living room set up inside behind a screen. There was a table and chairs by a pole lamp, a couch, a recliner, sleeping bags and supplies. A huge cloud had come out when the back had opened. Behind a screen, two guys sat rolling joints at the table and smoking. They said they were farmers from Indiana taking their wares to market at Byron. I laughed and they winked and lifted a tarp at the rear so I could see the pile of marijuana buds beneath. I exploded in surreal laughter- a dump dopetruck with its own living room, here on Peachtree.
They handed me a few joints and closed the truck before continuing down Peachtree towards The Strip. I now knew we had to at least go down and enjoy the people and the scene. We might even get to hear some music. Clearly Byron, Ga. was where to spend July 4th 1970.
Gabi worked as the manager of a uniform shop near Emory. She was very good at running the store. I was a student who sold Birds, did odd jobs and silk screening, etc. to make a bit of money. My other responsibility was to be sure we had good dope. I looked very out of place in the uniform store around the nurses, but began telling her what I had seen and that I was going for supplies because we had to go to the Pop festival. Soon she was excited and a young nurse was calling her boyfriend wanting to go also.
Let us celebrate the triumph of Byron. WE DID A THING! To understand its nature and its impact, we must see the Atlanta Pop Festival not as a “music extravaganza,” nor simply as an occasion to do all
the dope we wanted to in total freedom, a chance to get naked, and a moment of meditation but – and this is absolutely basic -as a people’s assembly in, of, and for Woodstock Nation, population in the millions, of whom several hundred thousand were gathered at Byron, Georgia. It is the year 2, the second year in the life of our new nation—Woodstock Nation—born on the streets of Chicago in August of 68, baptized in White Lake, New York. the following summer, evicted from People’s Park, educated at Columbia, graduated at Kent State, stronger every day with much more than a chronological growth: a new nation, conceived in the bowels of the Monster and dedicated to the liberation of all the Kirns from all the Spiros. Learning more about How in Byron.
If the idea of us as a “nation” seems, at first, far-fetched, it’s because nations are traditionally defined in terms of contiguous territory with continuous borders. Ours is not—yet. We hold title to no territory, we control no geographic space in Amerika; we live and evolve in significant but very small and widely scattered aggregations of spaces—10th Street Atlanta, Lower East Side. Bay Area, the Commons in Boston. And we are more than this, we have residents our consciousness who can be found in every city, town, hamlet, and countryside from coast to coast. No matter how strong our numbers, pigs riddle even our most secure areas. And every time a billy club comes down on a head in California, all the longhairs across the country, down into the Deep South of Byron, Georgia- we all feel the blow.
So our nation is measured not in square miles but in People. And more than that by mere numbers of people (another dehumanizing form of body count), we are measured by our consciousness, by our commitment, by our dedication to the establishment of new life in the rotten gut of Babylon/monster/Amerika. It is in that way, with that understanding, that it makes sense to speak of Byron as a triumph.
Because Byron was about growth. ‘No one who was there,” blares the billboard for Woodstock (the movie) “will ever be the same again.” More than you know Warner Brothers, more than you know. We came to Byron hopeful but uptight. We left joyful and confident, because not only had we done a Thing, but the way we learned to do it was by the very process of doing it.
As at Woodstock, we were many hundred thousands strong. Some say 5, some say 4 or 3, some say 2 1/2 hundred thousands. In any case, these thousands were confined to 162 acres. If you can imagine cramming the population of Atlanta into a quarter of a square mile, you get some picture of the squeeze. Allowing 75 square feel for each of the 30,000 cars in that area, there remained for all the people present a legal allotment of 11,749 square feel a space measuring roughly 3 1/2 feet square per person. Should we be surprised that “private property” was tresspassed,” or that a “private” club (so labelled to “keep out the ni–ers”) refused even to negotiate for the use of their land and lake?
The Silent Majority of Amerika cannot comprehend either this magnitude (quantity) or of the consciousness (quality) of the people at the festival: nor could they be expected to understand. Our own failures within the New come straight out of the system of values and institutions that grasps these millions in its iron jaws. And so we are just beginning our struggle to break free. We make mistakes. The many failures within this gathering together of Woodstock Nation flow directly from the system which renders the straight world incapable of digging the truth of the event. Our own incompetencies stem from capitalist conditioning from the day we were born in Amerika where you hustle for the dollar and take care of ol’ number one first and foremost. The system has challenged us to take ourselves seriously as Woodstock Nation. Amerika comes on strong; it is powerful- the most powerful empire in the history of our planet -and it takes a shit-load of revolutionary discipline (not Amerikan “discipline”) to maintain and nourish our consciousness of a citizenship distinct from Amerika. We are conditioned to remain ignorant. Conditioned to be specialists in a capitalist industrial system where everyone has his “place.” Trained to call in an “expert” when something goes wrong, channelled into brain factories instead of (also) being taught that our hands and heads will work creatively it we use them, educated into the inability to repair our automobiles, build fires, or find our way out of the woods.
Pampered in and by an obscenely affluent society, we overlook the real fact that the economic resources of Woodstock Nation are pitifully small: Woodstock/Atlanta is an economy of scarcity, not of affluence, and in that respect we resemble people’s China more than we might at first glance. At the festival, this showed in our wasting of precious water, our squandering of money that could and should have gone to the festival (not the promoters, but “us)
Music drew us, constant music, a three-day bath in the sounds that have given us back our bodies, freed them from the tyranny of our “do-don’t” Minds. We came as passive consumers, whose only responsibility for the success of the festival was to pay $14, just like –dig it- Disneyland. Only it didn’t work out that way. 80-90% of the people gathered did not have tickets and had no intention of buying them at the gate. Either because they could not afford them or because they figured sooner or later they could force the promoters to proclaim a “free” festival.
Thursday night and all day Friday that’swhere it was at: us (the people) against them (the promoters, who threatened to cancel the festival if enough tickets were not sold to cover their “losses”—that was Thursday night). Action creates reaction, and the rumor (later reported as fact by the Atlanta Constitution) that bikers had been hired to tote shotguns to keep people without tickets out triggered militant “plans” (which were as strategically moronic as they were ideologically heroic) to tear down the fences and liberate the music.
Both sides were off the mark. The people were naive, the promoters functioning out of ignorance, greed, and/or fear. Had the Cosmic Conspiracy not intervened, I don’t know what would have happened, I don’t know how the battle of the gate would have turned out. But massively and dramatically at three crucial moments, the cosmos took on a vanguard role. First the heat. It was so goddam hot that it was difficult to get beyond one’s personal survival, let alone get juiced up about storming the gate or guarding it. Because it was hot, and because of our imprisonment in a consciousness of affluence and greed, we were unaware that we were selfishly wasting a precious resource—water. Water. Water poured over people from 5 gallon cans “just to cool off.” Water running from barrels onto the ground as people washed their hands and faces under the spigot. Water turning to mud as folks drank directly from the hose, diverting that water from those barrels. Water flowing 9 o’clock Friday night at a measured rate of a gallon and a half per minute -the sole source for 15,000 in our campground.
But by then it had rained, so that the people who had crowded like cattle to the showers now fled to thier tents to escape the biggest, most democratically distributed, treeest shower available most but not all. Some had learned. So that the surge to the gate—reversed. So that the land (not to speak of the people) cooled. So that the lines at the water barrels disappeared; the precious resource could be conserved, could gain on the thirst of a refreshed people. And the music—stopped. Into which stepped the promoters. Using the rain as what could only be called a transparently lame excuse, Friday night’s music (only) was declared “free.” Having thus lured us back witli B. B. King, however, the promoters laid on their larger audience basically the same riff as the night before: we need bread. Basically the same— they wanted everybody to pay—but still different: $1 a day, they said, would see them through.
It never happened. Saturday we finally made it inside the fence. There was time to take showers, now about half inoperative, but hot naked freaks were standing quietly in line, holding each other’s clothes—again we were learning. There was a hole in the inside fence, which previously herded people to the rear of the concert site. Standing there was a dude with a money pail; outside had been a people’s propagandist with a bullhorn. Period. Economic coercion and accompanying threat of violence had vanished. Even the bikers seemed relieved;
Inside the people were very together, especially . considering the fact that by now the outside world knew the “concert” was “free” and there would be a lot of straight people coming in to dig our music. The rain came again, this time to loosen the crowd up, to drive the straights for shelter. We stuck it out until the rain had served its purpose. Night had fallen but the fireworks people launched a red sun, that hung in the sky, growing brighter for maybe 30 seconds before it set. WE DID A THING!
And we learned that music is just as important to us, no more, no less, as our own blood, for music is the blood of Woodstock Nation-it flows through all of us— as crucial to our survival as dope, which gets us high, inspires us, strengthens us, communizes us; and as water.
We came to Byron believing that music should be free, that it should be the occasion for no one making a profit, hoarding thus the scant resources ofWoodstock Nation. But we learned that while nothing is without its price, selling us our music was precisely and exactly the same as selling us our water would have been.
The promoters evidenced that kind of growth on Saturday when the stage announced that all dope dealers were being asked to give 10% of their bread—and concessions 25%. Now DIG. That procedure is national, wethepeopleofwoodstocknation levy the following taxes. Enforcement? That, of course, did not happen— this time—but it could have, and next time it might. Suppose, for instance, four hours after these announcements, the ir had resounded:
Okay now, we’ve had four righteous dealers pay their dues, so here’s what we ‘re gonna do. If those four guys, and we remember who you are, will come up here now, we ‘II give you a stamped receipt. Any other dealer who comes across will also get a receipt. And people, ask your dealer to show you his receipt when you buy your next hit.
A s for the concessions, well, they don’t seem to have gotten the message, so let’s try this. We know you’re thirsty, so we’re not going to ask you not to buy drinks. We are, however, going to suggest that you Don’t Buy Coke-until Coke comes across. If and when Coke pays up, we’ll ask you then to patronize only them, until Pepsi gets religion. You dig?
And we would dig, even though that did not happen this time-this time
So now we know where we are. One nation conceived in concert and dedicated to the proposition that we are One. Our music is not for sale; no amount of money can “buy it.” For we are our music, as much as it is us. And our music, it turns out, is not free; it costs us our lives.
As the Jefferson Airplane sings, “Our life’s too fine to let it die.” Nor will it die. But we must understand that in order for our life to live, we must destroy Ameri-ka. Our room to live, to build our own cities, towns, festivals, industries, must be chipped piece by piece or seized all at once from those pigs who now call their lakes and clubs “private property.” Our life, our stoned, rhythmic energy will endure (and grow) only through constant, ceaseless struggle—total war against Amerika. All your private property is target for your enemy / And your enemy is- We. WE.
Moreover, our life’s too fine to hoard it the way the pigs hoard their wealth, so we shall grow, we are growing. As we drove up freak-lined 1-75, the spirit of the festival drifted up the road like lingering marijuana smoke; At first, I noticed, we freeks banded together in the right-hand lane, slowing down traffic so that the sisters and brothers could safely catch and give rides, while the straights took the left lane, eyeing us curiously. But the further up the road we went (the longer the straights had to get used to us), the friendlier they became; one lady waved first; another dude passed six hitchhikers-and picked up the seventh.
And the kids of the straights? We lured them from our psychedelic cars with Vs answering their own that they subersively flashed from the back seat of the family car on a Sunday drive.
At our exit, I held my hat out the window, waving to a carload of freeks movin on up the road. Sad that for us the festival had ended; but joyous in the bonds that link my family with literally hundreds of thousands of other families from coast to coast—we sleep “free” in Vermont, California, Oregon, Georgia, every state in the Union, under the freek flag of Woodstock Nation. STP.
Carter has started a central place to collect people’s memories.
Lots of good stories and you can add your own about the festival. There is an area for special moments, too.
Were you at The Free Stage? – Carter Tomassi’s has the only photos of which I am aware. It was a long bulldozed trek into the woods. It had sprung up dealer’s camped with signs. Many of the performers played here also. Much more up close and personal. We were unable to loacate its whereabouts in the now built up area. Memories?
We would like to collect your Atlanta stories at this site. Next time you’re deep in meditation about the 1970’s please feel free to send over any stories you remember. We hope to add on memories and pictures from as many people as possible.