On Nov. 28, 1969, three months after Woodstock, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane and others in that historic lineup came down to Florida for another three-day music festival. The Palm Beach headliner was the Rolling Stones, who six days later would headline the infamous Altamont Speedway Free Festival where four people died, one by stabbing.
Perhaps being historically sandwiched between Woodstock and Altamont is why few seem to remember the Palm Beach Pop Festival (officially, the Palm Beach Music & Art Festival; aka, “Woodstock South”). It’s a shame considering the festival’s all-star lineup — which also included the Chambers Brothers, The Byrds, and Steppenwolf (but notably not Jimi Hendrix) — and the outlandish reports of official local resistance to the influx of 50,000 “long hairs”. Check out this excerpt from a 2009 Palm Beach Post article.
Then-Palm Beach County Sheriff Bill Heidtman vowed to make life miserable for the free-loving, pot-smoking, anti-establishment youngsters who were coming to the Palm Beach Pop Festival. He threatened to herd alligators toward the crowd, gathered on a grassy field at the Palm Beach International Raceway. And he promised to dig out fire ant colonies and relocate them at the venue.
And it wasn’t a warm welcome in another sense: a cold rain swept through over the weekend and turned the grounds into a mud pit. The stouthearted slept atop their cars, but many packed it in and left, so that only about 3,000 people witnessed the Stones’ closing performance.
Despite the hitches, the Palm Beach Pop Festival is yet further substantiation of South Florida’s place in rock and roll history. There was Jim Morrison’s Miami Incident, The Beatles’ Ed Sullivan debut (filmed in Miami Beach), and, 41 years ago today, there was the Palm Beach Pop Festival. While the first two are famous (or infamous) events, the Palm Beach Pop Festival seems just about forgotten.
You can learn more about the concert at palmbeachpopfestival.com, which features photos taken by Ken Davidoff, the festival’s official photographer. Also, check out this news report from the run-up to the festival. “The kids are coming,” says the reporter. “Critics warned it would be an uncontrollable orgy.” No wonder so many people showed up.