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Isle of Wight Festival 1970
Festival poster, listing artists booked to play on the three main days
The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 was held between 26 and 31 August 1970 at Afton Down, an area on the western side of the Isle of Wight. It was the last of three consecutive music festivals to take place on the island between 1968 and 1970 and widely acknowledged as the largest musical event of its time, greater than the attendance of Woodstock. Although estimates vary, the Guinness World Records estimated 600,000, possibly 700,000 people attended. It was organised and promoted by local brothers, Ron and Ray Foulk through their company Fiery Creations Ltd and their brother Bill Foulk. Ron Smith was site manager and Rikki Farr acted as compere.
Political and logistical difficulties resulted in the organisers eventually realising that the festival would not make a profit and declaring it to be "a free festival", although the majority of the audience had paid for tickets in advance, and the event was filmed contemporaneously. The commercial failings of the festival ensured it was the last event of its kind on the Isle of Wight for thirty-two years.
The opposition to the proposed 1970 festival from the residents of the Isle of Wight was much better coordinated than it had been in previous years. The Isle of Wight was a favourite retirement destination of the British well-heeled, and a haven of the yachting set, and many of the traditional residents deplored the huge influx of "hippies" and "freaks". This led to the introduction of sections to the "Isle of Wight County Council Act 1971" designed to control any further large overnight gatherings. Renting a few acres of suitable farmland to hold a music festival had in earlier years been a simple commercial matter between the promoters and one of the local farmers, but by 1970 this had become subject to approval decisions from several local council committees who were heavily lobbied by residents' associations opposing the festival. As a result of this public scrutiny, the preferred ideal location for the third Festival was blocked, and the promoters in the end had no choice but to accept the only venue on offer by the authorities: East Afton Farm, Afton Down, a site that was in many ways deliberately selected to be unsuitable for their purpose. One unintended result of this choice of location was that, since it was overlooked by a large hill, a significant number of people were able to watch the proceedings for free.
Kathy Smith: A Californian singer-songwriter, signed to Richie Havens' label, "Stormy Forest", was well received.
Rosalie Sorrels: Another folk musician, accompanied by David Bromberg on guitar.
David Bromberg: Bromberg was not on the bill, but he performed a set. "Mr. Bojangles" was included on the album The First Great Rock Festivals of The Seventies.
Redbone: Native American pop/rock outfit. On the bill, but did not perform.
Kris Kristofferson: Performed a controversial set. Due to poor sound, the audience was unable to hear his set, and it appeared that they were jeering him. He was eventually booed off the stage. "It was a total disaster," Kristofferson recalled. "They just hated us. They hated everything. They booed us, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Sly Stone; they threw shit at Jimi Hendrix. At the end of the night, they were tearing down the outer walls, setting fire to the concessions, burning their tents, shouting obscenities. Peace and love it was not."
Gary Farr: The brother of Rikki Farr, Gary had been the front man of the T-Bones, an R&B combo that featured Keith Emerson on keyboards. By this time, he had become a solo artist, and his only album, Strange Fruit, for Columbia Records, had been released in 1970.
Fairfield Parlour: They had recorded a single called "Let The World Wash In", released under the name I Luv Wight, which they hoped would become the festival's theme song. They had also previously recorded as Kaleidoscope. One song available "Soldiers of Flesh" on a bootleg vinyl record called "Coca Cola Bullshit"
Lighthouse: This Canadian act performed two sets at the festival.
Taste: Guitarist Rory Gallagher had a blues trio from 1966 to 1970. This was one of their final shows, which was filmed and recorded. An album, Live at the Isle of Wight, was released of their set in 1971. Their set is featured on the Taste: What's Going on - Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 DVD & Blu-ray released in 2016.
Joni Mitchell: Played a controversial set; following her performance of "Woodstock", a hippie named Yogi Joe interrupted her set to make a speech about the people at the festival in an encampment built of straw bales known as Desolation Row. When Joe was hauled off by Joni's manager, the audience began to boo until Mitchell made an emotional appeal to them for some respect for the performers. Contrary to popular belief, Joe was not the man who was ranting about a "psychedelic concentration camp". That was another incident that took place the previous day. After the crowd quieted down, Mitchell closed her set with "Big Yellow Taxi".
Miles Davis: A DVD of his complete set was released in 2004. "Call It Anythin'" was included on The First Great Rock Festivals of The Seventies album.
Ten Years After: British blues rockers performing what was basically a reprise of their famous Woodstock set. Highlights included "I'm Going Home" and "I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes," which was featured on the album The First Great Rock Festivals of The Seventies and the film Message to Love.
The Who: Their entire set, including the rock opera Tommy, was released in 1996 on CD (Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970). Two years later their set appeared on DVD with significant cuts from Tommy and a few other songs (such as "Naked Eye") missing. In addition, the DVD song set order was radically altered to present Tommy as if having been performed at the second half of the concert (with "See Me, Feel Me"/"Listening to You" as the conclusion), although Tommy was performed in the middle of their lengthy set, and the closing title was "Magic Bus", which concluded some Who concerts at that time. A 2006-reissued DVD of the concert retains the altered order, despite having been personally "supervised" by Who guitarist and songwriter Peter Townshend.
Sly and the Family Stone: The showstoppers of Woodstock performed to a tired audience on the early morning of Sunday. However, the audience woke up for spirited renditions of "I Want to Take You Higher", "Dance to the Music" and "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)", which featured Sly on guitar. "Stand" and "You Can Make it if You Really Try" appeared on the album The First Great Rock Festivals of The Seventies. Prior to their encore, another political militant decided it was time to make a speech and the booing audience started to throw beer cans onto the stage. Freddie Stone was hit by a flying can and an angry Sly decided to skip the encore. He did promise a second appearance, but this never occurred.
Melanie: This Woodstock veteran played a well-received set as the sun rose. Prior to her set, Keith Moon of The Who offered her some moral support and encouragement. Not until afterwards did Melanie realise who he was. Her performance of her own song, "What Have They Done to My Song Ma", was included in a 2010 French documentary, spanning the 1970 and 2010 I.O.W. festivals, called From Wight to Wight and first shown on TV station ARTE, on 30 July 2010.
Good News: American acoustic duo.
Kris Kristofferson (second set). Two of his songs from his sets were included on the album The First Great Rock Festivals of The Seventies.
Ralph McTell: Despite an enthusiastic reception from the audience, he did not play an encore, and the stage was cleared for Donovan.
Free: Their set list consisted of "Ride on a Pony", "Mr. Big", "Woman", "The Stealer", "Be My Friend", "Fire & Water", "I'm a Mover", "The Hunter", their classic hit "All Right Now", and concluded with a cover of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads". Although not listed on any published setlist, "Oh I Wept" was also played. The song is audible as background when Rikki Farr is interviewed about drug-warnings, about 26 minutes into the film Message to Love.
Donovan: He first performed an acoustic set, and then an electric set with his band Open Road.
Pentangle: British folk band. A German woman interrupted their set to deliver a political message to the audience.
Jimi Hendrix: Performed in the early hours of 31 August with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass. Throughout Hendrix was beset by technical problems (during "Machine Gun" the security personnel's radio is clearly heard through Hendrix's amplifier). The set has been released on CD and video in various forms. "Power to Love", "Midnight Lightning" and "Foxy Lady" received top billing on the album The First Great Rock Festivals of The Seventies.
Leonard Cohen: Backed by his band The Army, his tune "Suzanne" can be seen in the film Message to Love. "Tonight Will Be Fine" were included on the album The First Great Rock Festivals of The Seventies. In October 2009, audio and video (both DVD and Blu-ray) recording of his set, Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 was released.
Richie Havens: The musician who opened Woodstock closed this festival with a set during the morning of 31 August. As Havens performed his version of "Here Comes the Sun", a cloudy dawn broke after four days of cloudless sky, so he changed the lyrics to "Here Comes the Dawn". Havens' set, which is available as an audience recording, also included "Maggie's Farm" by Bob Dylan, "Freedom", "Minstrel from Gault" and the Hare Krishna mantra.
The First Great Rock Festivals of The Seventies (1971)
This three-LP set on Columbia Records devoted the first disk to Second Annual Atlanta International Pop Festival, and two disks to the later Isle of Wight. Teo Macero is credited as the producer for the Isle of Wight disks. It featured in order billed: Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Ten Years After, Miles Davis, Kris Kristofferson, Procol Harum, Cactus, Leonard Cohen and David Bromberg.
Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival
All the performances at the festival were professionally filmed by award-winning film director Murray Lerner. with a view to releasing a documentary film but due to financial difficulties, nothing was released until 27 years after the event. Finally, Lerner distilled material from the festival into the film Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival which was premiered at a San Jose film festival in 1995 and released in 1997. A CD of the soundtrack was also issued by Castle Communications/Sony Legacy in 1997. The film puts a negative slant on the 1970 event by splicing in footage of violent incidents preceding the festival itself. Chief Constable, Hampshire Constabulary, Sir Douglas Osmond emphasised the peaceful nature of the event in his evidence given to the Stevenson Report, 1971 (submitted to parliament as evidence in favour of future Isle of Wight Festivals). By the end of the festival, the press representatives became almost desperate for material and they seemed a little disappointed that the patrons had been so well behaved.
Other films and albums
A number of other performances were later released on CD, DVD and Blu-ray: