The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival
was held on August 26
. It was held on Afton Down
an area on the Western side of the Isle of Wight
. It was the last of three consecutive music festivals to take place on the island between 1968
. It was widely acknowledged as the largest musical event of its time (until Summer Jam at Watkins Glen
in 1973), greater than the attendance of Live Aid
and Rock in Rio
. The Guinness Book of Records
has cited its attendance as 600,000, this is just above the organisers' estimate of 500,000.
The Isle of Wight Festivals had already attracted a massive reputation in 1968 and in 1969 by attracting acts such as Jefferson Airplane, T.Rex, The Move, Pretty Things, Joe Cocker and Bob Dylan (in his first performance since his 1966 motorcycle accident) and The Who in its foundation years. The organisers Fiery Creations (apparently alias brothers Ronald Foulk and Raymond Foulk) were determined to make the 1970 event a legendary event. In this aim they enlisted the mercurial talents of Jimi Hendrix. With Jimi confirmed artists such as The Doors, The Who, Joan Baez, and Free willingly took up the chance to play on the Island. The event had a magnificent but impractical site, a strong but inconsistent line up and the logistical nightmare of transporting 600,000 on to the Island with a population of less than 100,000. The aftermath and commercial failings of the festival ensured it would be the last event of its kind on the Isle of Wight for thirty-two years.
The Difficulty of Finding a Suitable Venue
The opposition to the proposed 1970 Festival from the residents of the Isle of Wight was much better co-ordinated than it had been in previous years. The Isle of Wight was a favourite retirement destination of the British well-heeled, and a haven of the yachting
set, and many of the traditional residents deplored the huge influx of 'hippies
' and 'freaks'. Renting a few acres of suitable farmland to hold a music festival had in earlier years been a simple commercial matter between the promoters and one of the local farmers, but by 1970 this had become subject to approval decisions from several local council committees who were heavily lobbied by residents' associations opposing the festival. As a result of this public scrutiny, the preferred ideal location for the third Festival was blocked, and the promoters in the end had no choice but to accept the only venue on offer by the authorities, Afton Down
, a site that was in many ways deliberately selected to be unsuitable for their purpose.
One of the problems of enclosing an open space to create a restricted access arena to hold a concert is communication access to essential services. When huge numbers of people are concentrated in one place it is essential to provide adequate access to food and beverage outlets. In 1969, most of the outlets ran out of supplies. They could not be re-supplied because the sea of people prevented the vans and trucks from making timely deliveries. The food and drink were at the site in sufficient quantity, but the people could not get to them. The promoters designed an ingenious solution to this problem for the 1970 Festival. They planned to have a secure route between the food and beverage warehouse (a huge tent) and a multitude of outlets, serving both those inside the arena, and those outside in the sprawling campsite that surrounded the arena. This sensible plan depended on having a double-walled arena. Supply trucks could then service all the outlets from inside the wall without fighting the crowds. This plan might well have worked in a flatter environment, but the final approved venue was at East Afton Down, nestled right up against the Down, which offered a clear vantage point for hundreds of thousands of people to overlook the whole arena. From the side of the Down, the benign and practical purpose of the double wall was not obvious, and the arena under construction looked to many of the early arrivers more like a prison or concentration camp than a rock venue, and ill feelings festered rapidly.
The Artists and Their Performances
- Arrival- Played on August 28. Their set, which included a Leonard Cohen cover was well received.
- Andy Roberts Everyone
- Joan Baez- Played on August 30. Her version of "Let It Be" can be seen in the film Message To Love.
- Cactus- Played on August 28. Two songs from their set were featured on the LP The First Great Rock Festivals Of The Seventies.
- Chicago- Played on the night of August 28. Their set, including "25 or 6 to 4," "Beginnings" and "I'm a Man" was a highlight of the night.
- Leonard Cohen- Played on August 30. Backed by his band The Army, his tune "Suzanne" can be seen in the film Message To Love.
- Miles Davis- Played on August 29. A DVD of his complete set was released in 2004.
- Donovan- Played on August 30. He first performed an acoustic set, and then an electric set with his band Open Road.
- David Bromberg- Bromberg was not on the bill, but he performed a popular set on August 26. He was the guitarist of Rosalie Sorrels, who played her set before his.
- The Doors- Their August 29 set was shrouded in darkness due to Jim Morrison's unwillingness to have movie spotlights on the band. Their performances of The End and When The Music's Over are featured in Message To Love.
- Emerson Lake and Palmer- Although many people have thought that their August 29 set was their debut, this was actually their second gig. Pictures at an Exhibition, which featured the Moog synthesizer was the centerpiece of their historic set. Commercially released as Emerson, Lake and Palmer Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 in 1997.
- Family - Played a set on August 27.
- Free- Played a set on August 30. Their set list consisted of "Ride On A Pony", "Mr. Big", "Woman", "The Stealer", "Be My Friend", "Fire & Water", "I'm A Mover", "The Hunter", their classic hit "All Right Now", and concluded with a cover of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads".
- Good News - This American acoustic duo opened the show on August 30.
- The Groundhogs - English rockers played August 27.
- Gilberto Gil- Representing the Tropicalia movement, the Brazilian musician played on August 27 to a frenzied audience.
- Gary Farr - The brother of Rikki Farr performed on August 27.
- Richie Havens - The musician who opened Woodstock closed this festival with a set during the morning of August 31. As Havens performed his version of "Here Comes the Sun," the morning sun rose. Havens' set, which is available as an audience recording also included "Maggie's Farm" by Bob Dylan, "Freedom," "Minstrel From Gault" and the Hare Krishna mantra.
- Heaven - English answer to Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears played on August 30 following Good News.
- Black Widow- Played on August 27.
- Howl- Played on August 26.
- Terry Reid- His set on August 27 has been commercially released.
- Voices Of East Harlem- Their August 28th set received several standing ovations. Not actually a band, but a bunch of singing school children from Harlem. They had one studio album.
- Hawkwind- They did not actually play the main stage, but did perform in a tent called "Canvas City."
- Jimi Hendrix- The star of the festival performed in the early hours of August 31st with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass. His set has been released on CD and video in various forms. In the beginning Hendrix had technical problems, which at one point during Machine Gun involved the security's radio signal interfering with his amp's output.
- Judas Jump- The openers of the festival performed on August 26.
- Jethro Tull- The band that preceded Jimi Hendrix. Their set is featured on Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970.
- Kris Kristofferson- Performed a controversial set on the night of August 26. Due to poor sound, the audience was unable to hear his set, and it appeared that they were jeering him. The audience welcomed him back for another set on August 30 which was successful.
- Tiny Tim- Performed on August 29, and his rendition of "There'll Always Be an England" can be seen in the film Message To Love.
- Lighthouse- This popular Canadian act performed two sets at the festival. One on August 28, and then another on the 29th.
- Ralph McTell- Performed an acoustic set on August 30. Despite an enthusiastic reception from the audience, he did not play an encore, and the stage was cleared for Donovan.
- Melanie- This Woodstock veteran played a well-received set on August 29. Prior to her set, Keith Moon of The Who offered her some moral support and encouragement. Not until afterwards did Melanie realize who he was.
- The Moody Blues- A popular British act and veteran of the 1969 festival played a set on August 30. Their rendition of "Nights in White Satin" can be seen in Message To Love.
- Fairfield Parlour- Performed on August 28. They recorded a single called "Let The World Wash In" (released under the name I Luv Wight) which they hoped would become the festival's theme song. (They had also previously recorded as The Kaleidoscope.)
- Pentangle- British folk combo performed on August 30. A German woman interrupted their set to deliver a political message to the audience.
- Procol Harum- Performed on August 28. Frontman Gary Brooker commented that it was a cold night.
- Pink Fairies- They did not actually play the main stage, but did perform in a tent called "Canvas City."
- Taste- Legendary guitarist Rory Gallagher had a blues trio from 1968 to 1970. This was one of their final shows, which was filmed and recorded. An album was released of their set in 1971.
- Ten Years After- British blues rockers played on August 29, which was basically a reproduction of their famous Woodstock set. Highlights included "I'm Going Home" and "I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes," which was featured in Message To Love.
- Supertramp- Performed on August 27. Their debut album had just been released a month prior to the festival.
- Tony Joe White- Performed hits including Polk Salad Annie on August 27. His drummer was Cozy Powell.
- Joni Mitchell- Played a controversial set on August 29. Following her rendition of "Woodstock", a hippie named Yogi Joe interrupted her set to make a speech about Desolation Row. When Joe was hauled off by Joni's manager, the audience began to boo until Mitchell made an emotional appeal to them for some respect for the performers. Contrary to popular belief, Joe was not the man who was ranting about a "psychedelic concentration camp". That was another incident that took place the previous day. After the crowd quieted down, Mitchell closed her set with "Big Yellow Taxi"
- John Sebastian- The showstopper of the Festival performed an 80-minute set on August 29. During his set, Zal Yanovsky, former Lovin' Spoonful guitarist, made a surprise guest appearance.
- Shawn Phillips- American folk musician performed an impromptu solo set following John Sebastian.
- Sly & The Family Stone- The showstoppers of Woodstock performed to a tired audience on the early morning of August 30. However, the audience woke up for spirited renditions of "I Want To Take You Higher," "Dance To The Music" and "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," which featured Sly on guitar. Prior to their encore, another political militant decided it was time to make a speech, and the booing audience started to throw beer cans onto the stage. Freddie Stone was hit by a flying can and an angry Sly decided to skip the encore. He did promise a second appearance, but this never occurred.
- Kathy Smith- Just voice and guitar, this American singer went down well.
- Rosalie Sorrels- Another folk musician. David Bromberg was her guitarist. Sorrels played on August 26.
- The Who- Their entire set, including the Tommy rock opera, was released on CD (Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970). Years later their set appeared on DVD with significant cuts from Tommy and a few other songs missing. They played on August 29.