The Atlantic City Pop Festival

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The Atlantic City Pop Festival Original Flyer The Atlantic City Pop Festival Original Flyer

August 1, 2 & 3, 1969

There is no doubt that the most remembered musical event of the year 1969 was Woodstock.  It not only made national, but international headlines.

However, there was a concert event that took place just a couple of weeks prior to Woodstock that was actually a much better live music experience. The Atlantic City Pop Festival was also the very first large scale festival on the east coast. It still gets no credit for not only pioneering such a concert events but for doing it right.

While there were some minor issues with off and on rain (I don’t remember it ruining any performance), the theft of some merchandise and a few did try to climb the fences, but for the most part this was a very well organized event. Perhaps you have to be totally disorganized to get real attention.  Woodstock was certainly a mess compared to the AC Pop Festival.

The event was put on by the Electric Factory Concerts of Philadelphia under the guidance of Larry Magid.  In his book “My Soul’s Been Psychedelized – Electric Factory”, Larry points out that things went smoothly for the most part thanks to the Buckminster Fuller designed stage that rotated like a turntable.  This allowed groups to set up while another group was playing.  When one act finished the stage just rotated and the next act was off and running. 

And what a great line up of acts!  Virtually no one missed the no shows (Crosby, Still & Nash and The Moody Blues were initially listed as being on the bill) with so much star power. Check out this weekend of music.

Friday:

Chicago, The Chambers Brothers (who ended the night with people dancing to “The Time has Come today”, Iron Butterfly, Joni Mitchell (who walked off stage after a song claiming that no one was listening), Procol Harum (did a sensational version of “A Whiter Shade of Pale”), Mother Earth (lead singer Tracy Nelson did goose bump versions of “Mother Earth” and “Down so Low”,  AUM. Booker T & The MG’s and Lothar & The Hand People.  Johnny Winter (couldn’t play because of equipment problems)

Saturday:

The Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival (one of the hottest groups in the world at the time), B B King, Tim Buckley, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Byrds, Lighthouse, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Hugh Masakela, and The American Dream (the only local band to play who shared stories with me about what was going on back stage - it was one big party).

Sunday:

Janis Joplin and The Full Tilt Boogie Band (she never sounded better doing “Try” and a “Maybe”), Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention (who were not happy about going on at four in the afternoon, but you would never know it from the great set they did), Canned Heat, 3 Dog Night, Santana (making his first east coast appearance with Janis Joplin and Mama Cass introducing him as their favorite band), Buddy Miles Express, Dr. John (in his night tripper persona spread his gris-gris magic dust all over the audience), Joe Cocker, Buddy Rich, Sir Douglas Quintet (Leader Doug Sahm called the AC POP Festival the best festival he ever played) and Little Richard (who played on a white grand piano). 

I wasn’t present for the entire three days (I had to be on the air), so this is as close to a complete list as I can find.

You got all this great live music for $6 a day or $15 for the entire weekend!  It attracted a total of 110,000 rock fans for the entire weekend. That comes to an average between 30-40 thousand tickets for each day.  The only real bummer was that no one recorded the event on tape or on film with sound.  It is a real shame because it is unlikely such an undertaking will ever be done today.


July 2018 Update: A 30-minute YouTube video of a news crew that had some concert footage (with sound) was posted then deleted (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOTsYV6Wvf0). It was the only known video with sound of the festival that is known to exist at this current time. If the original or another source is found we will post it here!

For video without sound, see here.

July 2019 Update: The Atlantic City Press put together an extensive photo gallery of the event that can be found here.

 

14 comments

  • Comment Link Patty Alexander Wednesday, September 25, 2019 posted by Patty Alexander

    When I hear people talk about Woodstock I have to tell them but do you know anything about the Atlantic City Pop Festival that was about 2 weeks before Woodstock and the majority of musicians were there first. Most never heard of it. My husband and I drove from Philly Saturday morning. It was awe inspiring to see how many people were there. We stayed until the gates closed but had no place to stay that night - until we ran into friends who were able to sneak us into there room for the night. Ok if you are 6 months pregnant and its hot as hades its uncomfortable but seeing Janis Joplin the next day was and still is the best thing that ever happened to me. I don't know if anyone remembers but the vendors ran out of food and there was no water so later on that Sunday they brought out water trucks on the track and if you were lucky enough to be near the fence you could climb up and sit just waiting for the truck to reach you and spray water all over you. I'll never forget that. While I was cooling off my husband at the time was talking to performers as they came off the stage - I think one was Edgar Winter (Johnny's brother). It was a wonderful weekend and well worth the long trip we had to make that night back to South Carolina.

  • Comment Link Gus Sunday, August 25, 2019 posted by Gus

    I have just returned (This past Sunday, August 17, 2019) from having attended the 50th Anniversary of the WoodstocK Music FESTIVAL. It was held in the village of Bethel, New York, at the museum and permanent structure marking the original site. I attended it wih my girlfriend Luane who is now my wife of 42 years. Yo years and two weeks prior to that August date we both attended an equally amazing "Pop Festival" at the racetrack in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

    I attended all three days of Woodstock 1969. We actually arrived just prior to its first full day and we left the day after its last day in JULY 1969.

    I have always enjoyed reading about both festivals since they have become a major part of the history of my life. I was a bit disappointed after returning from the 50th of Woodstock after I watched a Public Televisision interview of a Syracuse University professor who mades some comments which I could not accept as fact, truth or as actual history.

    Brefore I comment aabout the Atlantic City Pop Festival, I will pause and react to what I actually know regarding Woodstock 1969. Perhaps it was some kind of spiritual journey for many people, but I wonder how that could have been true at the outset since up to the day when the first fan walked into Yasgur's Farm, the site, time, location, art and music venture were still in question. So, I tend to believe that most fans prior and at the beginning of the Festival were the same reason my girlfriend and I were there; the music.

    To the young people reading this , please understand, six dollars for one show was not necessarily dirt cheap for the times. My college friends and I, who was but 21 years of age and was still employed at my summer job lifeguarding at Risden's Beach in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. tended to wait till there were multiple acts to be able to fork over fifteen , tenty or more dollars. Also, who was not goint to want to buy a ticket that would allow you to see old and newly minted acts for pocket change? Santana (whom we barely knew), same went for Joe Cocker and Chicago Transit Authorty and the Santana Blues band? The more hip among us did know Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchel (who sat at her black piano and started to sing and play until she noticed we were not really paying attention...I don't remember what exact words she used, but she tried to quiet us, but then got up and commented something about us not listening and self respectfully left the stage. Someof us knew Judy's work and liked uit, but a piano singer in such a loud crowd surrounded by the wide space of a race track was not cutting it.

    Not that we were rude. The crowd was as respectful and as cooperative in Atlantic City as it was in Bethel', New York's Woodstock. There were some inique moments for me and my sweetheart. It was at that festival that I first witness any degree of crowd surfing when one short thin guy walked over the crowd who propped him up with their open hands. I believe Janis Joplin was singing at the time. He approached the stage bent toward Janis offered her and handed her a lit marijuana joint which she took and promptly crushed into her blouse and put it out. She never smoked any of it. Janis's bottle of Southern Comfort was standing on stage, but I never saw her drink from it either. I was sitting very close to the stage and two things were evident The Giant speakers were very loud and lo and beholds , a little person (midget or dwarf crawled into one of the loud speakers and listened in there until falling asleep (passing out?) . Also, right behind Janis Joplin was the molst beautiful slim Grace Slick who wore a satin scarf and remained quiet and mesmerized as Joplin belted out her primal screams The magical Janis Joplin had her in a spell. I am sure these two ladies had heard of each other but noit necessarily heard each other live (yet).

    I want anyone who cares as a historian and purist, that I am faithfully trying to not remember what I did not witness. I will only report on what I witnessed and about what I remember accurately, vividly and authentically. No need to elaborate on such real magic.

    Our last day, we heard Little Richard close the show with the song We're gonna have some fun tonight. Luane andI dance across the parkinglot and into our car as Little Richard sand his magical closing song.

    As to other singers, I had already owned Joe Cocker's album, but I did not know much about him. I had not previously seen his spastic, expressionistic, arma-stretching and tongue stretching raspy voice performance.

    By the way, although tied dye shirts were being sold on the Jersey Shore boardwalk, it was not till I saw Joe Cocker at the Atlantic City racetrack Pop Festival that I saw anyone wearing one. And, as it happened, I had not yet heard Woodstock being mentioned, but when Joe Cocker ended his performance he said "See you in two weeks at the Woodstock Festival!" We did not know what a "Woodstock Festival" was, but we promised ourselves we would damned right go there. Joe invited us.

    My wife (girl) was by the stage prior to Frank zappa getting on stage and he stepped on her toe. That's kind of cool. We were afew feet from the stage and his face was so sertous as he plated. I had imagined, from f=his name and froim his band's name that he'd be weird. He wasn't. He was a musical mater genius. There was a sketchy scant merchant's area with the roofed racetrack where I heard the Santana Blue's Band introduced and I returned to my seat. I had forged a college press ID with my name on it and I sat with the news journalists and photographers.

    As for me, I did bring a camera, but only took about four photos which were not very good.

    Another memory that might be of interest was that as I was walking the Point Pleasant Beach New Jersey Boardwalk, a young man with pig tales (something I was starting to see more frequently) approached me to ask how he could get to Atlantic City Hitch hiking. This wa a day or two prior to the Atlantic City Pop Festival. I told him the best way to get rides To Atlantic City (we all hitched rides at the time) was by way of Route Nine South. I knew someone was bound to take him all the way. HERE WE GO AS TO THE COINCIDENCE) While I was listening to Chicago (The Chacago Transit Authority) band, the guy with the pigtales who I had sent off to AC hithiking, was blowing a trumpet on stage with the group Chicago. It turned out that that guy was a member of the band and had been hitch hiking his way to the festival area.

    As a personal aside: It rained little, it was hot but not too hot, another girlfriend of mine was in attendance and months later I received a copy of a photo she had taken of words some guy had written on his military jacket back. It read: Eyes that have seen you, can not forget the beauty that is you." I sent her a copy of that photo enlarged to her years later. Yeah, I used to be a guy once.

    Another memory: Out of respect to my girlfriend's mother ( Luane, my wife now) I drove to and from Toms River to Atlantic City and from Atlantic Cuity to Toms River - all three days so that all would be respectful and proper. I did almost drive over a kid sleeping in a sleeping back in the open field where I had parked my car. Someone screamed for me to stop! Stop! "There's a guy sleeping behind your car." I stopped in time and I would have killed the kid since it was so dark.

    The only souvenirs of my visit to the Atlantic City Pop Festival were the four photographs, two pins from the festival sporting a PEACE Sign and the actual mimeographed handout of the acts that were playing that day. I brought it show people at the 50th of Woodstock. They photographed it with their cell phones. I thoroughly enjoyed B.B. King playing "The Thrill is Gone."

    To think that Woodstock was two weeks away and I already heard Janis Joplin sing TRY. The Butterfield Blues Band and Booker T and the MGEES were amazing. To see Procol Harum sing Whiter Shade of Pale...God help me Jesus. It would be the first time I would hear the Chambers Brothers sing TIME HAS COME TODAY, but it would not be the last. A year later in college I would be drinking wine with the Chamber Brothers in their Newark State College dressing room and the drummer would hand me a drum stick after an extended version of Time Has Come.

    There were about 110,000 young people in Atlantic City those three days. No violence (some mischief), but respectful to the artists and their blessed genius. I still have my ticket. Wanna go? Woodstock, Monticello, White Lake, Bethel NEXT.

  • Comment Link Marion Wickersham Thursday, August 15, 2019 posted by Marion Wickersham

    This festival is the most outstanding musical memory of my youth and really to this day. Have been to many high profile festivals in my 66 years but this one brings me the most joy remembering. Can't go back but grateful for this site preserving the memories for me.

  • Comment Link J.J. Tuesday, July 30, 2019 posted by J.J.

    I was there at 17 years old with a crew from Falls Church High School, including the Turkey guy mentioned above, a guy about 6'8". Not only was Turkey also on film at Woodstock two weeks later, but the opening scene of the movie with the two girls with long blond hair riding on horseback were also from Falls Church High School, Ginny Pomeroy and Carol Randall.

    What a great time we had at Atlantic City, camping out in tents nearby. Two days we rushed the fences and climbed over to get in free for sport. The other day we were getting ready to climb the fence when we saw a commotion going on at a side gate, and we wandered over there. There were a bunch of guys carrying band instrument cases, and telling the gate guard they were a band called Santana and were to play in a few hours. The gate guard said he never heard of them and would not unlock the gate.

    Eventually some manager came over to the gate guard and ordered him to unlock the gate. By this time, we are friendly with the band, so we lend a hand and help carry in their instruments to backstage and help them set up, and get to stay backstage for the rest of the night.

  • Comment Link Jim Wilgus Tuesday, July 30, 2019 posted by Jim Wilgus

    I was there. My father took me, I was 12 years old. My Dad had a pass to get in, he worked for the NJ Horse Racing Commission that's where he got the free passes. My Dad was in his late 30's and grew up listening to big band music, so this was a bit of a surprise for him. He loved it! We went for all three days, as we were living close by at our summer house in Brigantine, so we were able to leave then come back the next day well rested and ready to go.
    Procol Harum were outstanding, as were Chicago, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin,Mother Earth,Dr. John, and Frank Zappa.
    When the Chamber Brothers jammed to their great song Time Has Come Today, the whole place was mesmerized.
    I don't know why this event wasn't recorded, as I would love to hear these great live performances again. I've seen crappy bootleg lp's before, but never anything worth buying.
    I also went to Woodstock a couple weeks later with my older cousins, so 1969 was a pretty special musical adventure for me.

  • Comment Link Tom Morgan Wednesday, June 26, 2019 posted by Tom Morgan

    What a great event. I was fifteen and came with a group of friends from Pittsburgh. Highlights for me were Procol Harum, Chambers Brothers (I was right next to the stage looking up at them while they played The Time Has Come Today), Santana (they blew me away), BB King, Canned Heat, Janis Joplin (my friend and I were standing near the stage; she rolled up in her limo and asked us for a light; later we could see her backstage drinking her Southern Comfort before her set). I watched Frank Zappa punch some drunk guy who had clambered onto the stage while FZ was in the middle of a solo. Knocked him off the stage as I recall. I remember being puzzled that Joanie Mitchell didn’t finish her song. (I’m a different T. Morgan, by the way, from the host of this site.)

  • Comment Link Jim Cartin Thursday, August 2, 2018 posted by Jim Cartin

    49 years ago still have original poster and program

  • Comment Link marion wickersham Sunday, June 10, 2018 posted by marion wickersham

    Nothing takes me back to my youth then memories of this Festival.... Went with a dear friend of mine who even tho we are now 65 years old are still friends (since 12 years old) and just remembering that weekend brings all the joy of being 16 again

  • Comment Link Gary Monday, January 15, 2018 posted by Gary

    A memorable act not mentioned here was the 3-piece Hendrix-like band from SF, Aum. At the end of his set, the lead guitarist/singer jumped off the very high stage and everyone stood up to see where he landed, but couldn't tell. Joni Mitchel's place in the line-up was poorly thought out and placing her in between two high energy acts was a mistake. I was given a "piece pill" by by a guy called Turkey(same guy outside the Porta-Potties in the movie Woodstock). He told us it was a 2-way hit so my friend and I split it. It was really a 10-way hit of PCP, Yuk! Fortunately, the third guy in our party didn't do any and found me under the stage, blind and dry-heaving. I don't remember much else, except walk back to camp w/ the Chambers Brother's Time Has Come Today echoing thru-out the infield. I seem to remember that I saw Iron Butterfly, especially the fire pots, but I don't see any mention of them. Maybe it was an hallucination.

  • Comment Link Skeeter218 Monday, November 21, 2016 posted by Skeeter218

    I was there from Friday morning till Monday and it was unlike anything of today. The one thing I remember is the water fountains were all turned off and water was hard to find. A lot of acid and weed and music was great. I don't remember people selling stuff like today. I had a airline blanket and no money but I always found someone willing to share a bowl of food. out in field people were sleeping and dancing which was a good time in it self. No trouble or fights just a good buzz and good music was all we wanted. I overslept the day when my friends left for WOODSTOCK. And I think I am glad I did. This has been a great memorie

  • Comment Link michael premet Sunday, October 2, 2016 posted by michael premet

    I was there late sat. nite & sun. absolutely amazing.i was 16. worked in ac at sheldons shoes, & actually posted the itinerary on telephone poles in july . I was rewarded with 2 hits of some really good acid! shame it didn't get the recognition it deserved.i sure remember it!

  • Comment Link Tracy Soska Thursday, July 21, 2016 posted by Tracy Soska

    So glad I made this one, and got off too late from work to get to Woodstock before they shut the roads down. This festival was truly the greatest music experience of my now almost 65 year life. Thanks for the website and remembrances. With no recording, I feel a little guilty about how luck I was to get to hear this. Yeah, Joni, was pain walking out on us. We were just a bit high, and we liked your music...what little we got to hear. Lothar and the Hand People - what a great Moog synthesizer! Chambers Brothers got us hopping. Janis stopped the rain. Just memorable. The AC Pop Festival never gets the credit for what it did. The word of mouth about how fantastic this festival was got that huge crowd to Woodstock. Never would have happened with out this tremendous lead in.

  • Comment Link WM Monday, May 30, 2016 posted by WM

    Hi Ginny, at the very end of the story T. Morgan writes "The only real bummer was that no one recorded the event on tape or on film with sound. It is a real shame because it is unlikely such an undertaking will ever be done today."

    There is a silent video on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ja5JvThzeWE. In the comments section it is also (sadly) confirmed: no recordings or bootlegs of the music are known to exist.

  • Comment Link Ginny toal Friday, May 13, 2016 posted by Ginny toal

    My husband often talks about his experience there. Is there any recording on cd etc that I can purchase for him

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