Northridge, Calif. – Once again violence has severely mauled the face of rock, with several hundred persons injured in rioting outside Newport ’69, what probably was, in attendance, the world’s largest pop festival.
Because of this violence, and perhaps as much as $50,000 in damage done to neighborhood homes and businesses, the Los Angeles police commission has launched a full investigation. It could result in new city policies on the granting of concert permits and certainly means there will never be another rock festival held here.
Over 150,000 attended the three-day series of concerts – featuring Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Winter and the Rascals among the 33 acts – and for most of those visiting this suburban Los Angeles community, the only bummer was the festival itself. They were not aware of the bloody violence erupting outside the gates. For them there was only the last logjam of humanity that made the festival like attending a high school reunion in a closet.
The producers of Newport ’69 – no relation to the folk or jazz festivals in Rhode Island – spent $11,000 on hurricane fencing and it was this fence that hundreds of youngsters stormed, rather than pay the $7 admission cost. Gatecrashers the first two days caused only minor incidents, but early Sunday afternoon all hell broke loose.
As was true in another southern California festival, in Palm Springs Easter week, a small minority of youngsters can be blamed for initiating the trouble, and police can be faulted for reacting too brutally.
The kids threw bottles and rocks and the police randomly slashed out with batons, causing blood to stream freely. (Those injured were as young as 14.) Teenagers swarmed across a nearby shopping center, causing nearly $10,000 in damage to two gas stations, an equal amount of damage to apartment houses, another $1,500 worth of vandalism at a grocery store. While police demonstrated a sure-fire way of halting a kid – approach him at a dead run, grabbing him by the back of the neck, slamming him head first into a parked car; then club him when he’s down.
(This technique was shown in terrifying clarity in newsfilm on two networks that night.)
As all this was happening, thousands of youngsters continued approaching the festival fairgrounds and this, coupled with a roving band of several hundred members of the Street Racers – a bike club hired by the festival as an internal security force – only complicated matters even farther. By mid-evening, about 9 PM Sunday, the gates were opened and those remaining in the area were admitted free. By then, however, an estimated 300 had been injured – 15 cops among them – and another 75 had been placed under arrest, about half of them on charges of assault with a deadly weapon against a police officer. Other charges ranged from drinking in public to possession of drugs.
Next day, the city began to bellow and grunt.
Michael Kohn, police commission president, said this group undoubtedly would present the city council with recommendations for a new ordinance to enforce more rigid controls over concerts and similar events.
City Councilman Robert Wilkinson said extra police and overtime cost to the city was $35,000 “and we haven’t even begun to figure the damage to city property.” Wilkinson represents the Devonshire Downs area, where the festival was held.
And local residents were shouting about the number of young people using their pools and camping overnight in their flower beds.
While the entire area – several blocks in all directions – looked as if ten garbage and trash trucks had collided in the middle of a windstorm.
Even disregarding the violence and vandalism (as impossible as that is), the festival was anything but festive. The producers, Mark Robinson and Paul Schibe of Mark Productions, tried hard, spending thousands of dollars on ground cover and other facilities, but it just wasn’t enough. For a few thousand who were positioned close to the huge stage it might have been the musical trip of the decade, but for the vast majority it was a nightmare.
Traffic to and from the fairgrounds was nearly impenetrable and parking severely limited, forcing thousands to park on distant residential streets. Hundred-foot lines formed outside an insufficient number of stinking, overflowing portable toilets. The sound system was totally inadequate, however good it might have been, with nearly all the 50,000 or so present each day beyond the reach of the speakers. There was also a droning public address system echoing through a nearby strip of temporary psychedelic shops … while overhead there was a constantly circling police helicopter (dubbed “the Blue Fist” from Yellow Submarine by master of ceremonies John Carpenter). Sometimes there were two helicopters, drowning out the likes of Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Visibility was similarly limited. Even those near the 10-foot high stage couldn’t see well because of crowding and the height of the stage itself. For most of those present, the stage was so far away you knew where the acts were only because that’s where most people were facing. Lighting and camera towers obstructed vision more.
Even for those who were close enough to hear and see, some of the acts were bad – including Jimi Hendrix, who provided a listless set, told the audience it was a “teenybopper crowd,” and left to a smattering of applause. (It might be added that Hendrix was paid $100,000 for the gig – a sum he did not ask but was offered by the promoters, and which put some other performers uptight.)
The biggest bummer of all was the enormity of the thing. Even though the fairgrounds was the size of a small airfield, the mammoth number of bodies jammed together over much of it and scattered along the perimeter made it look look (and feel) like the railroad station scene during the burning of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind.