May 3, 2013
55 of 65
The summer of 1969. I was 21 and it seemed a good time for rock and roll. Everyone remembers the Woodstock Nation as summer wound down in August. Heck, I remember it and I was over a thousand miles away. The first major concert event that year was much closer to home, though. It was the Denver Pop Festival held the last weekend of June.
I was delivering mail that summer. Having a real job, making a real salary was nice after my part-time minimum wage job at the library during school. While I needed to save for the next school year, I could afford a little entertainment. The Pop Festival tickets were $6 per day. I could afford that.
The performances began on Friday night at Mile High Stadium. I did not go that night, so I missed Frank Zappa inventing “the wave” as he “conducted” the audience. On Saturday, the first part of the show was in competition with a loud demonstration outside the stadium. This time the crowd was not protesting the Vietnam War, it was protesting the price of the tickets. Music should be free, said the demonstrators.
The second act that night was a Boulder band, Zephyr, which featured vocalist Candy Givens, who was every bit as good as Janis Joplin, and guitar legend Tommy Bolin. Bolin later played with The James Gang and Deep Purple. During their set, the protestors outside broke through security fences and began rushing into the stadium. Police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd. As I look back, breathing that gas was more memorable than the music. Order was finally restored and we heard Poco, Johnny Winter, Tim Buckley and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
I didn’t know what to expect on Sunday night. All the concert tickets had been sold. The promoter, wanting to avoid any more demonstrating and rioting, announced from the stage that the remainder of the festival would be free. Anyone not having tickets was allowed to sit in the South Stands, where they could hear the music, but could not see much. The highlight of that night was Jimi Hendrix. During his set, Hendrix announced that it was the last show for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which was disbanded immediately afterward.
One thing I enjoyed about delivering mail was that working hours were usually 7:00 am to 3:30 pm. The sun stayed up for hours after I finished work, giving me the opportunity to hike, bike and enjoy the warm days. Often I would go to Boulder to hang out with friends in the evening. Among those I enjoyed seeing were two women named Connie and Joanne, who shared a house and were my co-workers at the library. In early July, a friend of Joanne’s came to visit her for several weeks from New York. All these years later, I can’t remember his name. I will just call him “John,” because that might have been it.
So soon after the Pop Festival, we discussed rock music quite a bit. John was a big fan of the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, a group of mostly Juilliard-trained classical musicians who found they could make more money with electric guitars than with their cellos and oboes – but they included all of those instruments in their performances. By coincidence, that group had a concert scheduled in Denver, so John and I attended – the girls did not want to go. The juxtaposition between the different musical styles was interesting.
Although my life was pretty calm, I could not help but observe the weirdness across much of the country. Continue reading