THE STORY OF……..
To my knowledge, there aren’t that many LOVE Concert Stories. I asked Jay Donnellan if he could remember a couple of stories.
So here’s a story Jay wrote exclusively for The Freedom Man Website……
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 type 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, hitchhiking, 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 me, and George Suranovich and his lady lived in the second house.
I heard the drums fire up at about 9 AM … Oh man, he was wired for this gig too. Those double-kick drums sounded like thunder outdoors before coffee.
So, I felt it was time to break in the two stacks of Marshall Amplifiers that the company brought the night before. I set them up near George, and we started making many rackets. 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 Marshalls. It must have been some fluke thing…or a power surge…. indeed 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 Marshalls doing nothing. The company was kind enough to furnish the amps; it was only right they got the staged publicity. So the rest of the day was just playing and waiting and smoking and playing and waiting and smoking. A few friends came 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 backstage area, not unlike that famous scene from “The Rose” (Jannis J’s story, really). Trailers, 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 the 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 spotlights 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 (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.
Suddenly, there’s a call for us, and 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…. they’re off and running… out of the gate and into “Little Red Book”.
Still blinded by the lights, I first noticed this sound like the ocean getting louder than we were! Then as the lights shifted, I looked out onto 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 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 could hear the cheering and roar overtake us to where we just followed, and they led.
We got out of there pretty quickly, as most of the other bands were doing, due to the instability of the crowd and law enforcement.
It took weeks to decipher everything that had happened so quickly and really feel that whole moment. I believe that gig was one of the last of an era……. What a rush!
Update November 21 2004
This is a screenplay Jay’s working on, a first draft. Jay would love to get feedback from readers for improvement… (his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org)