LIFE Magazine: August 14, 1970
A FESTIVAL OF LIFE DIES AT POWDER RIDGE
When the music stopped
Dragging their baggage Indian-style in a travois, disappointed rock music fans leave Powder Ridge festival site after the canceled concert."
The days are warm now, and the sound of the electric guitar is heard in the land. While the elders migrate toward such traditional vacation spots as mountain and fairway, the wandering Woodstock Generation goes in search of its own kind of rock and grass. But more and more it is finding hippie holy music drowned in a cacophony of bad vibrations - injunctions, greed, violence. The world of the rock music festival, which last year was an explosion of peace, has this year turned rancid. "All the kids are on the road with knapsacks," says impresario Bill Graham, who began it all with the early rock concerts at his Fillmores, East and West. They are "going from one disaster to another."
A case in point was the much-heralded three-day extravaganza scheduled at Middlefield, Conn, a fortnight ago—the festival that never was. Eighteen big-name acts had been booked, tickets sold at $20, a 300-acre ski resort outside the town of Middlefield (pop. 4,500) made ready and a throng of 50,000 was expected. Nearly a week ahead of time knapsacked, scraggy festival habitues began sifting in—despite the fact that the town fathers had obtained an injunction against the festival as a "public nuisance" and the promoters were barred from Powder Ridge. The promoters, with several hundred thousand dollars already committed, took the case to the state supreme court which upheld the injunction—on Friday, the very day the music was due to start. The dismal downward spiral of frustration was well under way.
A drug-filled waterpipe dream beckons this wide-eyed festivalgoer. The pipe, which are said to give a bigger high, were passed around at Powder Ridge.
Some 30,000 kids settled in anyway, figuring even a busted festival was pretext enough. The police, facing up to the explosive power of that many kids in one place, wisely decided against trying to herd them out. Instead they simply sealed them off, eyeing matters closely enough to be able to pick up twenty pushers (one with $13,000 in profits) on the way out. Inside the minicity, anything went. The kids, deprived of the distraction of music, made it a festival of boredom, drugs, sex and nudity. So the townspeople had their public nuisance anyway.
In the end, confronted with the frequent pathos of bedraggled, exhausted, hungry, penniless boys and girls—who were astonishingly polite —the inhabitants of Middlefield relaxed their hackles and helped out with food and water, even money. One man sent in 1,000 cheeseburgers.
But if Powder Ridge was a pothole on the rock-festival road, there have been enough other craters to make it look like a road to ruin. Rock festivals have become something that brings out the worst in everybody. Vast crowds create vast expectations. Rock bands demand three to five times more than their normal fees to play at a festival, with huge down payments whether the event is canceled or not. Sometimes performers take their money and do not even show up.
And sometimes even a rumor that they won't show can cause an eruption such as occurred in Chicago's Grant Park, when a volatile crowd rioted and prevented Sly and the Family Stone from performing.
Some kids, feeling more and more exploited, make a fetish out of getting in free. At outdoor concerts near New York City, they threw ropes and grappling hooks over a wall and swarmed in like firemen. Political radicals managed to commandeer the stage at a concert on Randalls Island in New York and tried to turn it into a rally. The festival producers, faced with vast costs, the freeloading crowds they cannot control, and the almost inevitable resistance of local authorities, are very dubious about future festivals. Some of the kids, however, insist that Powder Ridge isn't the end of anything—"We'll come together in large groups because that is our life-style," says one. True, there has never been an audience quite like the Wood-stock Generation, but it may have to look pretty hard to find itself a show again.
A wide open market for bad trips
A customer takes his acid with a chaser, while his friendly supplier looks on approvingly.