Friday, July 31, 2009

Atlantic City Pop Fest Billboard Press AC Story

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Deborah Olin may have been only 13, but she had her parents' OK before she, her friend Nancy and some guy named Billy hitchhiked their way south from Brooklyn, N.Y.
All she knew was that there was some kind of music festival in New Jersey, near Atlantic City, and while her parents felt reassured that her older brother would be there to watch over her - not that she ever saw him that weekend - they did give her one timely bit of advice.

"Don't drink from open containers," she remembers them warning.

At the same time, Barbara Steinman - now Barbara Kornbluh - Atlantic City High School class of '68, got her parents' permission to take their car east from Vineland - although she had heard of it, she did not really know exactly where the Atlantic City Race Course was - while 17-year-old Carole Monday, Mainland Regional High School class of '69, piled into a convertible with six friends and headed west.

"Fifteen dollars? How could you pass up that deal?" Monday said. " A lot of us were told we couldn't go - and we went anyway."

Among her fellow Mainland grads was Dennis DiOrio, now the owner of DiOrio's Circle Cafe in Somers Point.

"We never had anything like that before," DiOrio said. "That was the first time we ever experienced anything of that nature. ... It was just a terrific event."

The neighbors were blindsided.

"This thing came to town like the aliens had landed," said Joe Stafford, of Egg Harbor Township. "The future had arrived at their doorstep, and they didn't know what to do."

And no sooner did it all happen, no sooner did it end, before it all seemed to vanish.

Go ask Alice, I think she'd know...

The three-day Atlantic City Pop Festival was held from Friday to Sunday, Aug. 1 to 3, 1969, at the racetrack in Hamilton Township - although a rare original poster, finally tracked down by Ed Galm, of Maryland, after 30 years of searching, proclaims that the event was in "Atlantic City."

Not only are the posters almost impossible to find, but even images of advertisements, programs and tickets have been difficult to track down. Everyone said they had some kind of memento - but it was in a box somewhere, maybe in the attic, maybe in the basement. Somebody else must have something, right?

As for photographs, forget it. All the original pictures in The Press of Atlantic City's archives have disappeared, just like the original files in the race course's collection. There is almost nothing available online, either. There are 19th century events with more photo documentation than the Pop Festival.

Of course, there is another reason why the event seems to have drifted from memory. Just a few weeks later came another rock festival outside Bethel, N.Y. You may have heard of it. It was called Woodstock.

It featured many of the same acts as the festival in Hamilton - but this time there was a film crew on hand.

So all that's left of the Pop Festival, apparently, is the memories of those who were there.

Oh won't you come with me, and take my hand ...

The festival kicked off with a set from Iron Butterfly - "(They) played 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' for like three hours," said a slightly exaggerating Olin. "I remember thinking, 'When is this going to end?'" - followed by Procol Harum, Chicago and Santana. And Joni Mitchell, kind of.

"Joni Mitchell couldn't handle it," recalled Sherri Tunis, of Linwood, Pa. "She walked off."

"It wasn't a real good fit," said Ira Craig, of Maryland. "They put her in between two rockin' groups, and she burst into tears at one point and left the stage. I felt really bad for her."

Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, B.B. King and The Byrds performed Saturday - "One would clear out, and another would come on," said Vonnie Clark, of Absecon - and Joe Cocker, Canned Heat and the Mothers of Invention appeared Sunday.
And then there was Janis Joplin. "She blew everyone away," said Tunis, while Kevin Quigley, of Voorhees, Camden County, said he got onto the stage to see her - but for sheer vivid imagery, we turn to Kornbluh.

"We got right upfront and saw her no more than three feet away," Kornbluh said. "I still remember her in her hot pink outfit, sipping Southern Comfort. She had high, strappy shoes with rhinestones on them, and she sang 'Me and Bobby McGee.' I'll never forget that as long as I live."

Regarding the Southern Comfort: "She downed that whole thing," DiOrio recalled.
The crowd was mostly peaceful at what The Press called a "freedom binge,"attracting an estimated 40,000 on its final day. As for the temperature, however, Olin recalled that "you could smell the heat."

Track worker Quigley remembers dousing concertgoers with mist from the water wagon - although others tried a different tack.

"A few people decided to jump in the lake," he said. "If they knew what was in the lake, they wouldn't have done that."

As for any, um, enhancements?

Kornbluh: "You could smell the pot, but nobody I knew did LSD."

Tunis: "We were probably sharing a few things that were illegal."

Olin: "You didn't have to smoke. You just had to breathe in the air."

As it turned out, both Tunis and Kornbluh were banned by their parents from attending Woodstock two weeks later - although Tunis did not mind.

"I was quite the little hippie chick at the time," Tunis said, "But guess what? I didn't like dirt that much."

In the end, said Kornbluh, you cannot remove the festival from the greater context of the '60s.

"You turned on the news, and you all you saw was Vietnam and killing at dinnertime," she said. "(The festival) was about young people in search of a good time. ... The music wasn't angry, it was just anti-war - peace, love, sex and rock 'n' roll."

And then it was gone.

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