When organizers of the Monterey Pop Music Pageant introduced plans for a multi-day occasion in June 1967, there have been loads of skeptics. Nobody had ever executed something on this scale for rock bands. However regardless of horrible sound, lackluster viewers facilities, and dodgy sanitation, the competition was a success, due to some nice performances from Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, The Mamas & the Papas, Otis Redding, and extra. The period of the rock competition had arrived.
Festivals started bobbing up like mushrooms, some legendary for good causes (Woodstock) and dangerous causes (Altamont). Others like Glastonbury (est. 1970) and Roskilde (est. 1971) grew to become annual occasions that proceed to today. Some have been forgotten solely. The Strawberry Fields Pageant falls into this latter class.
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Strawberry Fields was conceived as Canada’s reply to Woodstock, an occasion for the age of Aquarius. Sadly, it didn’t prove that manner.
John Brower was the promoter of the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Pageant at Varsity Stadium in downtown Toronto on Sept. 13, 1969. That present grew to become well-known for that includes John Lennon’s first efficiency exterior The Beatles (one thing that contributed to the band’s break-up) together with the infamous Alice Cooper chicken episode, all captured on movie by documentarian D.A. Pennebaker.
Though the present was virtually a monetary catastrophe, Brower needed to escalate issues for the summer season of 1970.
He secured Mosport Park, the auto racing facility close to Bowmanville, Ont., for Aug. 7-10 — one yr after Woodstock — and went about reserving bands. Now that he had a strong relationship with John and Yoko, the plan was to current the occasion because the Toronto Peace Pageant with the couple performing as official hosts.
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However Brower instantly bumped into hassle. Permits to carry the competition had been mysteriously and repeatedly denied. It wasn’t till paperwork had been declassified in 2007 that we discovered that the RCMP was spying on John and Yoko over drug use and their radical political opinions. John most likely wouldn’t have appeared anyway, on condition that by the point the competition rolled round, he was mired within the aftermath of the Beatles break-up and the beginning of his solo profession.
With Mosport apparently out as a venue, Brower made plans to maneuver every thing to a 100-acre strawberry farm close to Shediac, N.B., therefore the identify change to “Strawberry Fields Pageant.” However Brower was as soon as once more denied the required permits, with native officers making noises in regards to the space being overrun by anti-Vietnam, dope-smoking hippies who could be fornicating on the entrance lawns of native constituents.
After an aborted try to maneuver every thing to London — extra allow denials — Brower got here up with a plan to current the occasion as a motorbike race that includes some “up to date leisure.” Pageant? What competition? Nothing to see right here.
It labored. Canadian authorities had been fully faked out for months. Nonetheless, this got here on the expense of downplaying the artists Brower hoped to herald — in Canada, anyway.
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Most promoting was executed exterior the nation. Folks in New York state and throughout the jap seaboard of the U.S. had been promised a weekend of “love, solar, and sound” whereas Canadians had been bought one thing a couple of race with some incidental musical performances. Considering that they’d be the star attraction, a motorbike racing physique agreed to stage a contest, unwittingly offering some official cowl. In the meantime, Brower signed about two dozen acts for the weekend and bought tickets for $15.
Alice Cooper was introduced in, as was Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, and Grand Funk Railroad, together with Woodstock vets Mountain, Melanie, Ten Years After, and Sly and the Household Stone. Canadian content material got here from Lighthouse, Syrinx (an experimental digital band), and Crowbar. Led Zeppelin and Leonard Cohen had been marketed as showing, however neither confirmed.
Simply days earlier than the competition was to start, the ruse was found. Ontario’s then-premier John Robarts got here out in opposition. Native RCMP apparently screened movie clips that includes hippies — American ones, largely — going nude, doing medicine, and usually being hippies.
Involved about safety and well being points, Ontario’s legal professional basic sought an injunction to cease the competition. On Aug. 6, hours earlier than the music was to start out, the injunction was denied by an Ontario courtroom, which discovered no grounds on which to cease the competition from occurring. Brower additionally made assurances that the Dependancy Analysis Basis could be readily available to supply medical assist for any drug overdoses. Recreation on.
Followers swarmed the grounds, numbering someplace between 75,000 and 100,000 individuals, 1000’s of whom got here from America. Many a whole lot had been turned again on the border as a result of they couldn’t produce enough identification. Just a few jumped the border fence.
As soon as the music began, nonetheless, things went well. Right here’s some fan footage shot on silent eight mm movie.
Yorkville Sound dealt with the audio utilizing the world’s first 24-channel mixer. Not solely was the whole competition recorded, however a movie was additionally made. For some purpose, although, that movie and the official recording of the performances have by no means been launched. All that exists are some residence motion pictures, just a few dangerous bootleg recordings, and TV information footage from the CBC.
And as for the motorbike race? The official physique withdrew as soon as it came upon the reality, so there by no means was a race. Nonetheless, a few racers did take to the monitor for one lap simply to fulfill the guarantees spelled out in Brower’s settlement.
Regardless of being a profitable, peaceable, and fast presumably even a worthwhile enterprise, Strawberry Fields was a one-off factor. And since documentation is sparse, Canada’s Woodstock has slipped largely into obscurity, regardless of the nice bait-and-switch story of the way it got here to occur.
Can we perhaps discover that movie and soundtrack?
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for World Information.
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