The Denver Pop Festival was a three-day music festival promoted by rock promoter Barry Fey (Feyline) on June 27-June 29, 1969 which was largely overshadowed by Woodstock two months later. Unlike the free-form happening in upstate New York, the Denver festival had the full support and local resources of a major city, taking place in Denver Mile High Stadium. There were high expectations for the Festival; it was commonly called the “First Annual” Denver Pop Festival. The peak attendance was estimated at 50,000.
Denver officials actually cooperated to a remarkable degree with Fey in the latter’s preparations for the upcoming three-day festival, which was anticipated to draw a large influx of young people from out-of-town. The city provided a campground at West Sixth Avenue and Federal Boulevard, where the Metro Denver Urban Coalition arranged for water trucks and portable toilets. The campground even ran shuttles to the downtown festival site at Mile High Stadium, home to the Denver Broncos football team.
Sixteen bands were scheduled to play. The Jimi Hendrix Experience would top the bill on the festival’s third and final day. More than 10,000 fans were expected each day. Bill Hanley of ‘Monterey’ and ‘Miami Pop’ festival fame would take charge of the sound system, while Chip Monck (later of Woodstock fame) would MC the Denver festival. Tickets were priced at $6 per night or $15 for all three nights. Fortunately, Denver’s weather cooperated for the outdoor festival. Yet the unprecedented scale of the event, and forces loose in America’s streets, seemed to conspire against a smooth operation. As Leslie Gorham Haseman recently put it: “It was peace, love, dove, until ’69.”
Alan Cunningham of the Rocky Mountain News wrote that “Denver’s ‘first annual’ Pop Festival blasted off into a three-day orbit of screaming and wildly vibrating animal sounds Friday night before more than 8,000 outlandishly clad and thoroughly delighted young fans.”
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Just how thoroughly delighted were the young fans?
“A 19-year-old Denver youth sitting in the stands got so carried away with it all that he stripped to near-nothingness. As the crowd cheered his emancipation, two unsmiling police officers cut his evening short by escorting him outside. Police.. .said he was later charged with indecent exposure [and] said he told them he had ‘just conquered the world’ by taking his clothes off.”
Reported Jim Fouratt in Rolling Stone: “Outside, however, the one petty incident needed to rile the protectors happened: A flying bottle hit a cop’s helmet; a chase resulted in the arrest of a zonked-out black dressed in an orange jump suit; sirens blared while the P.A. system played ‘Street Fighting Man’ on stage, and the scene was set for Saturday.”
Zephyr onstage at the Denver Pop Festival June 1969
Herbie Worthington: “I don’t remember what we did that afternoon; we’d just hang out and talk… I was down the hotel lobby and these girls walked up to me, out of nowhere, and they just said, ‘Could you introduce us to Jimi Hendrix?’ And I said, ‘No. I don’t know him.’ I went back to Jimi’s room and I said, ‘Jimi, there’s these girls down there that were asking about you.’ And he said, ‘Where are they?’ And I said, ‘I told them I don’t know you.’ Jimi went like: ‘Oh man!’”
In the meantime, far more serious matters were about to unfold. Noel Redding remembered in his book Are You Experienced? that someone asked him in Denver if he was still with the band -”It did my head in. I was uneasy enough about our future, but this rumor just blew me away”.
Noel Redding playing live at the Denver Pop Festival 1969
Frank Zappa is credited by some with inventing the audience wave during his set. He actually selected sections of the stadium (audience) to each make different odd sounds and gestures. He then composed a “tune” on his “crowd instrument”.
Throughout much of the festival, a crowd gathered outside the venue and demonstrated against having to pay to hear the acts. They also tried to breach the gates and security fences. The Denver Police were forced to employ riot tactics to protect the gates.
On the second day the battle between gatecrashers outside the stadium and the police suddenly affected those inside. With a combination of shifting wind and re-thrown canisters, tear gas suddenly swept over the crowd. The seats emptied into the concourses and onto the field.
Ticket prices were $6 per day, or $15 for all three days (Fri, Sat, Sun). On Sunday, after all possible tickets had been sold, the promoter announced from the stage that he was declaring it a “free festival”.
Performers At The Denver Pop Festival June 27-29 1969
* Big Mama Thornton
* The Flock
* Three Dog Night
* Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
* Iron Butterfly
* Zephyr (with Tommy Bolin)
* Johnny Winter
* Tim Buckley
* Creedence Clearwater Revival
* Rev. Cleophus Robinson
* Joe Cocker
* Three Dog Night
* The Jimi Hendrix Experience (final performance together)
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