Summer of Love Music Festivals:
Woodstock, Altamont, and Laurel?
By Kevin Leonard
In July 1969, Laurel hosted a two-day pop festival at the race course, attended by 15,000 fans, that offered an incredible lineup of some of the biggest pop performers of the year, and ended in controversy. Three of the acts went on to play Woodstock the next month, and a fourth was scheduled, but they broke up right after the Laurel Pop Festival. In fact, seven performers or groups who played at Laurel are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and two have received the Kennedy Center Honors.
The second night of the festival started late because of rain and as the night wore on, the soaked fans built a bonfire out of some wooden folding chairs to ward off the cold. The media reported that a “riot” closed down the festival and future plans to continue in Laurel were scrapped.
This article is a follow-up to a 2012 "History Matters" column Kevin wrote for the Laurel Leader. You can read that original column by clicking on the image above. BALTIMORE SUN
These two were very early arrivals. The race track is in the background. These are the wooden chairs that were burned. E-ROCKWORLD.COM
The first night was kicked off by blues guitarist Buddy Guy, a Hall of Fame and Kennedy Center Honoree. He was followed by the gospel group the Edwin Hawkins Singers, who were enjoying huge success with their single “Oh, Happy Day.” The next act was Al Kooper, the ex-lead singer of Blood, Sweat & Tears. Jethro Tull, whose first album “Stand Up,” released a few months earlier, was the number 1 album in the UK, was next. They were followed by Johnny Winter, who would also perform the next month at Woodstock.
Finishing the first night’s set was the headliner, Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin was in the midst of their first world-wide tour, and had been the opening act for The Who a month earlier at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Led Zeppelin, a Hall of Fame group, was also a Kennedy Center Honoree. The power cut off Led Zeppelin in mid-song but Robert Plant kept singing until the power was restored.
Led Zeppelin’s official web site has a page devoted to their performance at the Laurel Pop Festival.
Led Zeppelin at the Laurel Pop Festival. LEDZEPPELIN.COM
Fans on the second night had to wait out a rain delay. At 10:00 p.m., the Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, took the stage. The Jeff Beck Group was on their fifth U.S. tour and scheduled to play at Woodstock, but the band broke up shortly after their performance at Laurel and cancelled. The Jeff Beck Group, Stewart, and Wood are all in the Hall of Fame. The next act was Ten Years After, another Woodstock performer. They were followed by The Guess Who, riding a huge popularity wave with their #1 single, “These Eyes.”
Next up was the Mothers of Invention with Frank Zappa, another Hall of Famer. The Washington Post’s review of the festival said “Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention kept their freak show to a minimum (which is still hilarious) and concentrated on music-making that combines great rock, classical influences, jazz brass, and 12-tone dynamics into beautiful sound.”
Sly and the Family Stone, another Hall of Fame group and Woodstock performer, took the stage and brought the house down. They started their set at 2 a.m. and had people up dancing. But things went downhill as Sly’s performance continued. The bonfires were started on the infield, and promoters issued several warnings to the crowd, to no avail.
Because of the commotion on the infield and the rain delay, the Savoy Brown Band did not perform.
The late Bruce Remer, who hosted the web site BR’s Classic Rock Photos (at the now defunct e-rockworld.com) was a high school student attending the Laurel Pop Festival. There are stories on his web site from attendees describing how they wandered backstage, with no security in sight, and mingled with the performers. Remer and his friend Tom Beech snapped away with Kodak Instamatics backstage.
Kevin and Pete with Bruce Remer, who attended the 1969 Laurel Pop Festival. PHOTO: RICHARD FRIEND