Atlanta International Pop Festival (1970)
The second Atlanta International Pop Festival was a rock festival held in a soybean field adjacent to the Middle Georgia Raceway in Byron, Georgia, from July 3–5, 1970, although it did not finish until near dawn on the 6th. It was the only successor to the first Atlanta Pop Festival, which had been held the previous summer near Hampton, Georgia. The event was promoted by Alex Cooley, who had helped organize the '69 Atlanta festival as well as the Texas International Pop Festival.
Like 1969's Woodstock festival, the event was promoted as "three days of peace, love and music." Tickets for the festival were priced at $14. Also like Woodstock, it became a free event when the promoters threw open the gates after large crowds outside chanting "Free, free, free. Music belongs to the people" threatened to overwhelm even the biker security crew the promoters had hired. Crowd estimates for the festival varied widely at the time, and still do, ranging from 200,000 to 600,000.
Construction crews worked at the festival site for over a month prior to the event’s opening day building the main stage, two spotlight towers atop soaring tree-trunk tripods, an eight-foot tall plywood fence surrounding the entire 24-acre audience seating area, and other facilities. A separate, much smaller stage – the “Free Stage” - was also built some distance away in a wooded camping area to accommodate impromptu performances by mostly local Georgia musicians who wanted to play during the festival, and many did - including The Allman Brothers Band. During the construction phase, the band Wet Willie performed for the construction crew in their camp near the main stage. The festival sound system was supplied by Hanley Sound of Medford, Massachusetts, and a rear-projection light show was provided by The Electric Collage of Atlanta, both of which had provided similar services at the first Atlanta Pop Festival the previous summer.
Temperatures at the festival were sweltering, surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day. Nudity and drug use were widespread, but local law enforcement officials, who knew they were vastly outnumbered, stayed outside the festival gates and employed a general ‘hands-off’ policy towards most festival-goers during the event’s duration. However, Georgia’s colorful governor, Lester Maddox, who had tried repeatedly to prevent the festival from taking place, vowed that he would do whatever it took to block any similar event in the future.
- The Allman Brothers Band
- B.B. King
- Ballin' Jack
- Bloomsbury People
- Bob Seger System
- Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys
- Chambers Brothers
- Goose Creek Symphony
- Grand Funk Railroad
- Hampton Grease Band
- Hedge & Donna
- It's a Beautiful Day
- Jimi Hendrix
- John Sebastian
- Johnny Jenkins
- Johnny Winter
- Lee Michaels
- Mott the Hoople
- Procol Harum
- Rare Earth
- Richie Havens
- Savage Grace
- Ten Years After
- Terry Reid
- U.S. Kids
- Memphis State University cast of ‘’Hair’’
Jimi Hendrix performed at around midnight on the Fourth of July to the largest American audience of his career, presenting his unique rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to accompany the celebratory fireworks display. The Anunga Runga Tribe of the musical HAIR, which had performed for two weeks in April 1970 on the campus of Memphis State University, were the last act to perform, following Richie Havens, who opened his set at dawn on Monday morning (July 6) with his version of "Here Comes the Sun."
Not long after the festival, little-known country singer Paul Wilson recorded a song called “Hippie Invasion” about what he considered to be the seamier side of the festival crowds, which was released on a 45 rpm record by Country Town Records. In 1971, Savage Grace, one of the bands who performed at the festival, released their second album, Savage Grace 2, which contained “Macon, Georgia”, a song they had written about some of their festival experiences. Also in 1971, Columbia Records released a triple-LP record album called The First Great Rock Festivals of the Seventies, featuring tracks by numerous artists recorded live at both the Second Atlanta International Pop Festival and the Isle of Wight Festival. Jimi Hendrix’s festival performance was recorded and most of it was later released as one of the four CDs in a 1991 box set called STAGES. The set featured one live performance from each of the four years of Hendrix’s short but high-profile career. In 2003, The Allman Brothers Band released a recording of their festival opening and closing performances, Live at the Atlanta International Pop Festival: July 3 & 5, 1970. In February 2014, Columbia/Legacy released a 4-CD box set, True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story, which features three tracks recorded live at the Second Atlanta Pop Festival, two of which were previously unreleased.
The promotional poster for the festival was one of three such posters designed by artist Lance Bragg to advertise the three successive pop festivals promoted by Alex Cooley: the first Atlanta Pop Festival and the Texas International Pop Festival, both in 1969, and the Second Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970 – all of which featured a similar design motif. The posters for both Atlanta festivals are featured in the book The Art of Rock, which states, “The success of large-scale festivals, like the two Atlanta International Pop Festivals… helped create a new image for Southern rock.”
On September 15, 2012, a ceremony was held near the site of the festival to unveil and dedicate an official historic marker commemorating the event. The marker text reads: “In the 1960s, as American culture changed rapidly, new forms of music and performance emerged, including large outdoor rock festivals. From July 3–5, 1970, the Second Atlanta International Pop Festival, one of the largest such events anywhere in the world during that era, took place in a field 600 yards west of here. Over thirty musical acts performed, including rock icon Jimi Hendrix playing to the largest American audience of his career, and Macon’s Allman Brothers Band on their launching pad to national fame. Officials estimated that the festival drew several hundred thousand young people to Byron that weekend. Organized by renowned Atlanta concert promoter Alex Cooley, it remains one of the largest public gatherings in state history.” Official sponsors of the marker were the Georgia Historical Society, the Byron Area Historical Society, the Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association, The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House, and Hittin’ the Note. The marker dedication ceremony was hosted by festival site landowner Tim Thornton, and featured Cooley, Byron Mayor Larry Collins, officials of the sponsoring organizations, and a crowd of festival attendees and fans. Geo-coordinates for the marker are: 32° 40.1′ N, 83° 42.517′ W
Also on September 15, 2012, the first audience test screening of a full-length documentary film on the festival was held in Macon, GA, by the film’s director, Steve Rash. A second test screening was held two nights later in Atlanta. The film features performances by most of the major musical acts appearing during the festival, as well as significant coverage of festival attendees, local residents, and the many other activities that swirled around the festival. Rash is re-editing the film based on feedback received during the screenings, and plans an eventual public release.
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- West, Kirk (11 September 2002),Liner notes, Live at the Atlanta International Pop Festival: July 3 & 5, 1970
- Abram, Malcolm X. (Summer 2000). “Byron Pop, 1970 – Woodstock, Middle Georgia Style”. Hittin’ the Note – Issue #29.
- Alvarez, Eugene. (Summer 1992). “Byron, Ga., Became ‘The Woodstock Of The South’”. Georgia Journal.
- Beeman, Paul. (1970-07-05). “Byron Festival Free To Most Of 200,000”. Atlanta Journal and Constitution.
- Santelli, Robert. Aquarius Rising - The Rock Festival Years. 1980. Dell Publishing Co., Inc. Pp. 216-218.
- Marvin, Carolyn. (1970-07-05). “Bikers Twirl Chains, Halt Festival Gate Rush”. Atlanta Journal and Constitution.
- Santelli, Robert. Aquarius Rising - The Rock Festival Years. 1980. Dell Publishing Co., Inc. Pg. 270.
- Collins, Howard. (1970-07-06). “Drums Hit Final Beats As Pop Festival Ends On Sour Finance Note”. The Macon Telegraph.
- Beeman, Paul. (1970-07-05). “Byron Festival Free to Most of 200,000”. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, pp. 1A & 10A.
- Richard L. Eldredge FOR THE JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, Arts & Entertainment: "What a splash: Recalling Georgia's 'Woodstock'"., The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 07-04-1995, pp E/07.
- Whittaker, Dave. (1970-06-20). “Pop Festival Ticket Sales Running Ahead”. The Macon News.
- Beeman, Paul. (1970-06-28). “Hippies Working? And They Don’t Bite! – Mid-Georgia Prepares For Festival”. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution.
- Alvarez, Eugene. (Summer 1992). “Byron, Ga., Became ‘The Woodstock Of The South’”. Georgia Journal.
- Marvin, Carolyn. (1970-07-04). “200,000 Swelter At Pop Festival”. Atlanta Journal and Constitution.
- Merrill, Hugh. (1970-07-07). “Maddox Asks Ban On Music Festivals”. Atlanta Journal.
- Santelli, Robert. Aquarius Rising - The Rock Festival Years. 1980. Dell Publishing Co., Inc. Pg. 222.
- Concert Poster
- Mankin, Bill. We Can All Join In: How Rock Festivals Helped Change America. Like the Dew. 2012.
- Hippie Invasion, b/w Poison Gas. Country Town Records (PRP 23702), Middle Ga. Music.
- Savage Grace 2. 1971. Reprise Records (RS 6434).
- The First Great Rock Festivals of the Seventies. 1971. Columbia Records (G3X 30805).
- STAGES. 1991. Reprise Records (9 26732-2).
- Live at the Atlanta International Pop Festival: July 3 & 5, 1970. 2003. Epic/Legacy (E2K 86909).
- True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story. 2014. Columbia/Legacy (88883 74085 2).
- Grushkin, Paul. The Art of Rock. 1987. Cross River Press, Ltd. Pp. 390-391.
- Kulkosky, Victor. (2012-09-19). "Byron Pop Festival Gets Historic Marker". The Leader Tribune, Peach County, GA.
- Thornton, Tim. (2012-09-05). “Marker, Film to Honor Byron Pop Festival”. The Leader Tribune, Peach County, GA.
- Alex Cooley
- The Electric Collage light show
- Earl McGehee's photos of the Atlanta Pop Festival - 1970
- Dennis Eavenson's photos of the 2nd Atlanta Pop Festival
- Ric Carter's photos of the 2nd Atlanta Pop Festival
- Carter Tomassi's page of festival attendee memories
- Facebook group on both Atlanta pop festivals
- The Strip Project's chronicle of the festival
- Hippie Invasion by Paul Wilson – audio file archived at Atlantatimemachine.com