The Forgotten Festival
This entire summer, pop culture has been inundated with Woodstock nostalgia. Warner Home Video got the ball rolling back in June with a deluxe DVD edition of Woodstock, featuring the four-hour director's cut of Michael Wadleigh's Oscar-winning 1970 documentary and yards of bonus footage in a box designed to look like a fringe jacket.
Rhino Records followed a few weeks later with Woodstock 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur's Farm, a six-disc monster with performances by most of the artists who appeared that rain-soaked August weekend in upstate New York — Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe & the Fish, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Grateful Dead — with stage announcements like Chip Monck's famous "brown acid" remarks.
Rolling Stone weighed in with a portfolio of conveniently unearthed "lost" photographs, and The New York Times devoted most of the front page of its August 9 Arts & Leisure section to Jon Pareles's commemorative essay.
"It was as much an endpoint as a beginning, a holiday of naiveté and dumb luck before the realities of capitalism resumed," the paper's chief pop music critic wrote. "Woodstock's young, left-of-center crowd was quickly recognized as a potential army of consumers that mainstream merchants would not underestimate again."
Oh, there's more. Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee's based-on-a-true-story comic memoir, Taking Woodstock, opened across the country last weekend, and various books and television remembrances have been popping up for weeks.
All this product, literally hundreds of dollars worth, is enough to make an old hippie choke on his or her love beads. But another significant Aquarian anniversary is about to pass with hardly a nostalgic peep from the media — this one a lot closer to home.
Labor Day weekend 1969, scarcely two weeks after Woodstock, thousands upon thousands of hippies and shorter-haired young people from across the South and Southwest descended on another outdoor musical gathering. This one, held at the Dallas International Motor Speedway — a racetrack on the shores of Lake Lewisville in Denton County — was the Texas International Pop Festival.
Texas Pop's attendance was quite a bit smaller than Woodstock's, an estimated 120,000 to 150,000 compared to anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000. But it was still a lot of folks, perhaps the largest public gathering in the state to date. In Got No Shoes, Got No Blues, an unreleased film about the festival, one onlooker sizes up the masses of people around him the only way he knows how: by comparing it to a football game.
Texas Pop's smaller size probably worked to its advantage; the festival was not plagued with the traffic, hygiene and overcrowding problems of Woodstock. There were no fights, and the dozen or two arrests were mostly people trying to sneak in. The fences held, keeping the festival from becoming a free-for-all like in New York.
It didn't rain, which made a world of difference, and exactly one person died from heatstroke. Exactly one person was also born at the Speedway that weekend, proving yet again that God has a very interesting sense of humor.
But in many other respects, the two festivals could have been identical. Yes, there were plenty of drugs and nudity at both. But, notes Richard Hayter, who runs the Web site www.texaspopfestival.com and is working on a book about the festival, the doctors who showed up expecting to treat a bunch of overdoses all weekend instead wound up mostly patching up people's cut bare feet.
Many performers — Joplin, Santana, Sly & the Family Stone, Canned Heat, Johnny Winter, Incredible String Band, Ten Years After and Sweetwater — barely had a chance to unpack their road cases from Woodstock. Appropriately, Texas Pop swapped the folky strains of Havens, Baez and CSNY for a heavy blues element: B.B. King, Freddie King, James Cotton, Delaney & Bonnie, Sam & Dave and Tony Joe White all played, B.B. King all three days. Texas Pop marked Santana's Lone Star debut, and fell at the end of the first U.S. tour by a band of brash young British blues-rockers — Led Zeppelin, who "brought the house down," Hayter says.
One more thing Texas Pop had in common with Woodstock was that financially, they were both disasters. The main promoter, Angus Wynne heir to the Six Flags amusement-park empire and his partners, one of whom had produced that summer's Atlanta International Pop Festival, lost around $100,000 on the Texas festival, a 1985 Dallas Morning News article reported.
Probably the most remarkable thing about Texas Pop is that it happened at all. This was Texas in 1969. The narrative of Got No Shoes, Got No Blues juxtaposes images and interviews from the festival with a typical cowboy-hatted, pickup-driving redneck who, as he sips from a can of Pearl, listens to a Dallas radio talk show decrying Texas Pop as an example of "hippie hypocrisy" and moral ruin. A Morning News editorial about the festival spells out the establishment's opinion in no uncertain terms.
"Young people assembling to hear music is one thing," it begins. "Young people assembling in unspeakable costumes, half-naked, barefooted, defying propriety and scorning morality is another. Who and where are their parents? Where do these young people get the money to loaf around the country in their smelly regalia?
"The great majority of youngsters in this area are at home where they ought to be, mowing yards, working part-time jobs and preparing for useful lives," the editors conclude. "In the meantime, the lewd and loose in Lewisville will swing and sway. They are to be pitied."
The Texas Pop Festival may have occurred in Woodstock's shadow, and may not be getting nearly the amount of retrospective hosannas, but it hasn't wilted. Hayter runs an active Texas Pop Yahoo! discussion group; lately there's been talk on there of some sort of reunion event. He compares the festival's relative lack of anniversary attention to Farrah Fawcett dying the same day as Michael Jackson, but he and others who were there don't need a bunch of CDs, DVDs and articles to remind them of that weekend, because that weekend has never left them.
"I get a lot of mail and e-mail from people who went," he says. "A lot of people say that festival changed their lives — that from that weekend on, they completely did an about-face. I've talked to a lot of people who were in the service, and had either just got out or were on leave or whatever, and it just completely changed their outlook. I think that's the biggest thing."
1031 E. 24th
Houston, TX 77009
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.