Atlanta Pop ’70, Fifty Years On

Posted: June 30th, 2020 | Filed under: Music, Ruminations | Tags: | No Comments »

This Independence Day marks the half century anniversary of the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival. 

The following memories of mine were written and published a decade ago on the occasion of the event’s 40th anniversary. They have been edited, and updated, though my memory of that time long ago far away is absolutely no better on its own than ten years ago.

Which is why I reached out to a few friends who were at the festival, and, I’ve included the memories of those who responded and have any somewhat cogent recollection at all. They are added in italics. c d k 

Captain Canada and The Mailman.

It’s fifty years gone this Fourth of July weekend since those nicknames were bestowed upon my pal Stephen and me at the Atlanta Pop Festival.

Many if not most of the memories of that magical interlude have long been lost in the daze of time. But this I can say for sure. We came upon those identities honestly.

As for the rest of that weekend outside Byron, Georgia, the tales told here are probably true, but perhaps not. Only the synapses of my and pals’ hippocampi know for sure. And they’ve long since lost most if not all connectitude to that time and place.

Stephen was The Mailman; I, Captain Canada.

The sordid details: We knew in advance there was going to be triple digit Fahrenheit at the festival. So the day before we left, we purchased pith helmets at Big Deal Lucille’s, our name for an army surplus store downtown. If such a chapeau provided protection for long lost Stanley Livingston in Africa, we presumed such would work for us.

I went with basic khaki.

Stephen opted for that light grayish blue with maroon straps that we’ve come to associate with the United States Postal Service.

So hot was it that the very first day down there, we, along with our traveling companions Don and Merrily, sought respite in the nearest body of water. Which lake or stream or pond — frankly I can’t recall — we found by following the gaggle of hippies on hoods of cars all headed, they said, as if guided by a stoned Trip Tik in that direction.

When Stephen jumped in the not so deep, pith helmet firmly in place, one bleary-eyed bather adroitly observed, “It’s the Mailman.”

Firmer monikers have been borne of lesser tales.

The origin of Captain Canada is somewhat more convoluted. The statute of limitations having lapsed, the story can be revealed. With haste and for the last time, so we can move on.

The day before we departed Louisville, our friend Becker needed help moving from one furn apt. to another. Among the items he intended to discard was a flag of Canada. Which artifact I commandeered, immediately tying about it about my neck like a cape.

That’s but the germination of the nickname.

One person I ran into, Captain Canada. Lo and behold, he knew how to party. H.K.

Which sobriquet flowered fully on the first night of music at the festival. (Caveat: The imagery that might manifest from the description of the following interlude is not for the faint of heart, grannie or youths under the age of majority.)

That weekend marked my first experimentation with psychedelics. When the mescaline kicked in, it started to rain a bit. At which point it seemed an eminently logical to my then “experienced” mind to fully disrobe. No matter that we were sitting in throng of several hundred thousand. It struck me as the natural thing to do.

Besides, I didn’t want my clothes to get wet. I had hand fashioned with a magic marker a “Who is Ron Dante?” t-shirt which I thought too clever and pithy to not be able to wear again once the showers had abated.

From such reasoning, wackier tales have been told.

The inclemency didn’t however prevent me from wearing my Canadian flag cape, which I did for the entire festival. Or, that pith helmet. From which point on, and for several years thereafter, I was known to a few as Captain Canada.

Enough of that.

 * * * * *

Admittedly I am finding it difficult to accurately describe how wonderful and fun that weekend was. The ascendent experience is proving to be beyond sensible description.

When I’ve attempted to do so through the decades, I have reverted to this.

The Atlanta Pop Festival is something outside the timeline of my life.

It is as if it was all a dream, so fantastic, so unreal, so joyous was the moment.

It was one of those once in a lifetime situations that I am proud to say I made it through and had the time of my life. H.K. 

The flip side: It was not the same for everyone.

I don’t remember it particularly fondly. I slept in a ditch. A.B.

But most loved it.

My major impression of it was that it was HOT and HUMID. Nudity was not only a cultural expression, but almost a matter of comfort. Everyone focused on the music, the experience, and yes, truth be told, recreational drugs. There was plenty of all. A.A.

The performers included the following whose music I do recall if only to a limited extent. Jimi Hendrix, who played with fireworks filling the sky behind him on the 4th of July. The Allman Brothers Band, including a jam with Johnny Winter. The Chambers Brothers. (For which set, I stood directly in front of the speakers, as a result of which stupidity, the hearing in my right ear has never fully recovered.) BB King. Grand Funk Railroad. Hampton Grease Band. Ten Years After.

Among the groups that I have no or only vague recollection hearing: Procol Harum. Poco. Terry Reid. Ravi Shankar. John Sebastian. Mountain. Spirit. Ginger Baker. Chakra. Cactus. Gypsy. Bloodrock. Captain Beefheart.

What fascinates me is how few who attended, myself included, speak of the musical moments.

I remember so little about the music, except the Allman Brothers and the Hampton Grease Band with frontman Bruce Hampton. I was so spent by the time Hendrix hit the stage, I retreated to my little campsite. Were there fireworks? A.B.

So, what do I remember? The Main Stage, a local band called the Allman Brothers. I remember being blown away listening to Duane Allman play guitar for hours off stage after the set. My second memory is being awakened in the middle of the night on July 4 by the sounds of Jimi Hendrix playing the opening licks of the Star Spangled Banner. I sort of remember some other great performances — BB King, Mountain, Bob Seger, Richie Havens comes to mind. A.A.

The unfortunate thing about the festival is I don’t remember a whole lot because I was tripping the whole time. But I do remember Hendrix playing the national anthem on the Fourth of July, woke up fireworks going off and said to myself, “Fuck, man.” H.K.

The tuneage was more a nucleus around which this grand, garish carnival evolved, an excuse for the gathering of southern tribes.

The sounds were a backdrop to the experience. A.B. 

 * * * * *

Considering the entire experience, I do have an acute feeling of personal evolution. After graduating from law school a couple of months before, I had taken the bar exam the weekend before the festival, didn’t think I’d had passed it since I frankly hadn’t studied much.

Thus I hadn’t a clue what was in store for the rest of my life.

It was your classic pivotal moment at the onslaught of adulthood.

So, hey, let’s go get stoned and rock.

I’d lived at home with my parents until my senior year in law school. My growth had thus been stunted. So my socialization abilities were still in their early stages.

Hey. let’s mingle en masse and talk jabberwocky.

So, without getting too awfully philosophical, I’ll just offer that this eminently eye-opening weekend fostered a sense of freedom and wonder and creative possibility which I hadn’t previously conceptualized.

 * * * * *

Mostly it was just a load of damn fun.

As for specifics, there are but a few I remember.

An interlude where I handed a merchant enough Uniform Commercial Code razzmatazz in the middle of the night that he cashed a personal check for some biker dude. Which black leathered hulk expressed his appreciation by telling me he had my back in case I needed something taken care of during the festival.

Not wanting one blistering afternoon to walk all the way to the water spigot a mile away, I, much to the chagrin of Don and Merrily, filled our thermos with $3 worth of Pepsi.

My gang arrived on Thursday, the day before the festival itself began. So, we avoided all the traffic delays, and found a camping spot away from the stage area, right at the edge of a grove of trees.

Camped next to us was a group, which included a gal who wore a wig the whole weekend in that  awful heat, because she didn’t like the color of her hair after dyeing it. How antithetical to the whole counter culture ethos, I thought at the time. Her buddy turned me onto Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac for the first time.

There was another somewhat bucolic spot where many settled on the other side of the stage.

“We camped in the pecan grove. Because the trees were lined in rows, it was kind of like being the suburbs.” K.S. 

While listening to some band, there was a couple having sex the next blanket over, with the girl shouting in ecstasy “Ooooooooh, the stars!” While her head was resting on my lap. Trust me, it felt as odd at the time as it sounds now.

Running into a couple of fellows from Louisville. One was the younger brother of Marc and Bruce, a couple of high school contemporaries of mine. The only thing I remembered about him was that he’d been a Putt Putt champion years before. He had hitchhiked with his GF over to the festival from Athens, where he was attending UGa. We shared some herb.

The other was a fellow a couple of years older than me, whom I’d known from back home. The last time I’d seen him was when he was a at Vanderbilt, and I was visiting as a HS senior. It was at a Joey Dee and the Starlighters dance at skating rink, and he, in his cups, was was attempting to regale a some sorority sisters. We shared some herb.

The pathway from our camping spot to the stage, lined with hundreds and hundreds of people selling drugs.

Lots and lots of topless and totally nude women. Alas, none of whom were inclined to fall prey to my not so considerable charms.

Wendy What Went Wrong*

* An acquaintance from home brought along a date he barely knew for the weekend. Her name was Wendy. If you’re too young to get the extrapolated nickname, ask your aunt who saw the Beach Boys in the early 60s.

Laughter. Early. Often.

Juicy peaches bigger than my fist for a nickel.

The Heat. And I’m talking temperature not cops, which were essentially nowhere to be seen.

The Chambers Brothers doing “People Get Ready.”

Hendrix playing the “Star Spangled Banner” at midnight — or thereabouts — on the Fourth.

The Allman Brothers Band, whom I’d never heard of before. Particularly, “Every Hungry Woman,” during which I was drawn closer to the stage — with Wendy What Went Wrong alongside — as if it were a siren call. They were to become My Band.

I also remember not hearing Duane Allman jam the Thursday night before the official start of the festival, on a second small stage across the road in the middle of the woods. Listened to a band or two that I didn’t know. They kept announcing that Sky Dog Allman was coming to jam. I’d never heard of him. I tried to wait to hear what the fuss was about, until I crapped out, and trundled back to our campsite.

The Hampton Grease Band.

Through my own personal haze, trundling back to our campsite on the final morning, while Richie Havens sang “Here Comes The Sun” at sunrise.

Frankly, sadly, that’s about it for the music.

One friend remembers an act other than Hendrix, the Allmans or Hampton Grease Band.

“Mountain.” K.S. 

 * * * * *

It’s not like I/ we weren’t paying attention to the songs. It’s just that the entire experience was so overwhelming, that there was so much sensory input, so many diffused interactions that the music was but one element. An important one, but just one of many nonetheless.

I guess it’s fair to ask, beyond the fact that it was a super time, if there were any cultural imperatives to be learned from Atlanta Pop?

Well, yes. One, there is power in numbers.

Law enforcement was basically non existent. Byron had a couple of part time cops, I believe. A number of state troopers were sent to the scene. Governor Lester Maddox wanted it shut down, but that wasn’t going to happen.

I’ve read that nobody was arrested, despite the drugs and nudity. There were just way more of us than them that weekend. Besides it was a ferociously peaceful gathering. (Apparently there was a brouhaha about opening the gates and freeing up the festival. It passed me by. We actually bought tickets in advance. $14 for the weekend.)

Pepsi doesn’t quench thirst like H2O.

Nobody had a clue who Ron Dante was? Nor much cared*

*FYI, he was the studio guy responsible for The Archies. That’s right, “Sugar, Sugar.”

Pith helmets are an effective way of protection from the sun.

Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman — both of whom died within fifteen months of the festival — were the best. I’m grateful that I heard them in person when they were still around. And that I remember at least some of their playing there.

Plus, I can now, forty years after the fact, lord it over today’s guitar fawning “youngsters.”

I also recall not having to deal with too much traffic on the way out.

We waited until Monday, and it didn’t take long to get to the Interstate. Not far from Byron, we stopped to eat at a KFC.

After that meal, I got in the back of Don’s family’s station wagon to close my eyes for a bit during the ride home.

Next thing I remember was being aroused in front of my apartment back in Louisville.

With a smile on my face.

— c d kaplan

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