Stonehenge Free Festival
The Stonehenge Free Festival was a British free festival from 1974 to 1984 held at Stonehenge in England during the month of June, and culminating on the summer solstice on June 21. The festival was a celebration of various alternative cultures. The Tibetan Ukrainian Mountain Troop, The Tepee People, Circus Normal, the Peace Convoy, New Age Travellers and the Wallys were notable counterculture attendees.
The stage hosted many bands including Hawkwind, Gong, Doctor and the Medics, Flux of Pink Indians, Buster Blood Vessel, Omega Tribe, Crass, Selector, Dexys Midnight Runners, Thompson Twins, Bronz, The Raincoats, The 101'ers, Jeremy Spencer & the Children of God, Brent Black Music Co-op, Mournblade, Amazulu, Wishbone Ash, Man, Benjamin Zephaniah, Inner City Unit, Here and Now, Cardiacs, The Enid, Roy Harper, Jimmy Page, Ted Chippington, Zorch and Ozric Tentacles, which all played for free.
Stonehenge emerged as the most important free festival after the violent suppression of the Windsor Free Festival, in August 1974, and the lack of success in finding a permanent home for the People's Free Festival, after Watchfield 1975.
By the '80s, the festival had grown to be a major event, attracting up to 65,000 in 1984, but it was covered by only brief reports in the mainstream press. The festival was perceived as closely allied to Glastonbury. The 1981 festival, with perfect weather and a fantastic lineup of bands, (see below), was listed as the best free festival worldwide of that year (1981). Some of the attending bands (Thompson Twins, Killerhertz, Hawkwind and the Lightning Raiders) took a break from touring to perform at Stonehenge for no fee.
The 1981 list of bands included Red Ice, Selector, Theatre of Hate, Sugar Minott, Doll by Doll, Thompson Twins, Night Doctor, Merger, Androids of Mu, Deaf Aids, Killerhertz, The Raincoats, Thandoy, Foxes and Rats, ICU Lightning Raiders, Psycho Hampster, Misty in Roots, Andy Allens Future, Inner Visions, Red Beat, Man to Man Triumphant, Stolen Pets, Seeds of Creation, Coxone Sound System Black Widow, Here and Now, Hawkwind, Steel and Skin, The Lines, Waiting for Arnold, Play Dead, Cauldron, Lighting by Shoe, Flux of Pink Indians, The Mob, Treatment, Popular History of Signs, The Wystic Mankers, Elsie Steer and Cosmic Dave.
The festival attendees were viewed as "hippies" by the wider British public (some were, in fact, self-described hippies). This, along with the open drug use and sale, contributed to the increase in restrictions on access to Stonehenge, and fences were erected around the stones in 1977. The same year, police resurrected a moribund law against driving over grassland in order to levy fines against festival goers in motorised transport. However as late as 1984 the police-festival relations were relaxed: just a nominal presence (two police constables) in the car park. On solstice morning people sat on the stones and offered their spliffs to the police below, who politely declined. The right of the Stonehenge festival to occur had been historically contested, and that trend was dramatically resumed in 1985 when English courts banned the Free Festival from being held at Stonehenge. The ruling came so late that some Free Festivallers did not know about it, and several hundred attempted to show up in defiance of the ruling.
Battle of the Beanfield
The ensuing confrontation with police ended in the Battle of the Beanfield, and no free festival has been held at Stonehenge since, although people have been allowed to gather at the stones again for the solstice since 1999.
- McKay, George (1996) Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance since the Sixties, chapter one 'The free festivals and fairs of Albion', chapter two 'O life unlike to ours! Go for it! New Age travellers'. London: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-028-0.
- Stonehenge free festivals 1972-85 - An illustrated History
- Tash's Stonehenge Festival and 'Exclusion Zone' photo galleries
- BBC 2004 Stonehenge 'Festival History' article
- 'Stonehenge Campaign'
- 'Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion' by Andy Worthington (Alternative Albion, 2004)