Newport '69 Pop Festival, Devonshire Downs, Northridge, Calif.

 

So as I remember, it was a hot So. Cal day and the air was full of excitement. I had been really excited for about 3 or 4 days.
Everyone was going to be there....
I mean everyone. I was living on a little ranch about 10 miles from the venue which was a huge outdoor kind of place where they put on County fairs and horse races and I think there was a race track for cars as well. The kind of place you see in old movies with cows and chickens and pie cooking contests and kids, cotton candy and ferris wheels.
Today would definitely be a change from all that. In the surrounding towns, the streets and shops were full of hippies, bright colors and beautiful girls, hitch hiking , walking, getting there how they could. It looked like a scene from Woodstock or San Francisco, however the San Fernando Valley was much less familiar with this kind of scene. One would think that being so close to "L.A.",
they would have seen it all ..maybe so, but not in this quantity.

The little ranch was home for my wife Eileen and I and in the second house, George Suranovich and his lady lived.
I heard the drums fire up at about 9AM
...Oh man, he was wired for this gig too. Those double kick drums sounded like thunder out doors before coffee.
So, I felt if was time to break in the two stacks of Marshall Amplifiers that the company brought by the night before. I set them up near George and we started to make a lot of racket. Boom, there goes one amp in a little smoke ring. The other did quite well for a while, but then silence. Well, so much for the Marshall's. Must of been some fluke thing...or a power surge....surely Clapton didn't have this problem. Well, back to my trusty Benson amp that, when the gig came, we set up in the dark beside the two Marshall's that were doing nothing. The company was kind enough to furnish the amps, it was only right they got the stage publicity. So the rest of the day was just playing and waiting and smoking and playing and waiting and smoking. A few friends coming by.. Then Arthur and Frank...and waiting and playing and smoking some more.

We loaded the gear and headed down there in the afternoon only to head into this un-Godly traffic jam. Finally we got there, showed the passes and drove through the extra large crowd that was forming. We got the sense that this was going to be big.

Behind a massive, high and really long stage , was a roped off back stage area not unlike that famous scene from
"The Rose" (Jannis J,'s story really). Trailers and people and piles and piles of gear all compacted into a small, living, breathing city. Hey John, Hey Lee.... a few faces that were identifiable as friends and a whole lot of confusion, laughter and mayhem.
And of course everyone was just waiting and playing and smoking and tuning........Some normal confusion about line up
and bang...the thing started.
We could see nothing of the crowd from back there and now the security kind of had everyone locked in that area.
The roar that went up from the crowd was to say the least....really huge. I've never experienced anything like it.



I can't remember the actual order, but it was just one great act after another. I believe they split the stage so one act could set up while the other played. I remember Credence Clearwater and Joe Cocker and who knows who else as it all became a blur. It does something to your head, this kind of crowd...you kind of leave the body behind.

Now it's night and the crowd is getting out of hand. Helicopters are circling directly overhead with spot lights aimed
down and someone on the P.A. is trying to settle down a large group of people who have scaled the chain link fencing and as he does, the fencing collapses on top of the paying crowd. Someone shoots a flare at the helicopters...potential mayhem and nobody's in control. The party crashers who couldn't get in were breaking down the perimeter fencing and the police (who were dumber than a bag of hammers), thought it a great idea to keep stirring things up with their helicopters and force presence.

Well, somehow the music prevailed and as the acts continued the audience got more into the music and less interested in the other situations ,
which of course just ran out of steam , became more or less peaceful and joined the party. I think the promoters just gave up trying to keep people out..why not...they had sold all their tickets anyway.

All of a sudden, there's a call for us and up we go onto the dark stage. Plugging and tuning and switching, smoking and warming up nervous hands.
Then the last song for the band before and a short introduction...and....there off and running...out of the gate and into "Little Red Book".
Still blinded by the lights, the first thing I noticed was this sound like the ocean getting louder than we were! Then as the lights shifted I looked out on to a real sea of people... 300,000 heads stretched as far as one could see...moving and dancing and smiling. The roar was deafening.....
It was actually hard to hear the beat over that energy. I know my eyes teared and it was almost hard to play for a minute while we all adjusted.
Then it moved into that great performance dream state where you just kind of watch it all happen in slow motion... next song...next song...out of the fog and into solo mode....next song...then the encore "Singing Cowboy".... and then........bang...it's over.
It feels like one brief and powerful sprint.
Only later at Arthur's, when we were listening to a boot tape from that gig, could we relate to the intensity of the moment.
We actually could hear the cheering and roar overtake us to where we just followed and they led.

We got out of there pretty quick, as most of the other bands were doing, due to the instability of both crowd and law enforcement.
It took weeks to decipher all that had happened so quickly and to really feel that whole moment. I believe that gig was one of the last of an era.......What a rush!

J. Donnellan

 

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