Wednesday, June 16, 2010

HOW I STARTED A RIOT 41 YEARS AGO WHILE PHOTOGRAPHING GRAM PARSONS AND THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS

PalmSpringsPop
The Palm Springs Pop Festival, April 1, 1969, a music event a tad bigger quantitatively than the more celebrated Monterey Pop Festival of the same era although smaller by many triple digits than the later that summer Woodstock, was peopled by some eight thousand strong in drug-fueled hippie-dancing young souls.

I went with my new college chum who shared my interest in music specifically to see Moby Grape (see my blog HERE) and the Jeff Beck Group, the astonishingly adept and charismatic ensemble belying its solo name which also included Rod Stewart back when he cared and was actually fun + magnificent alongside future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, all of whom I had witnessed in sheer jaw-dropping awe in San Francisco a year earlier. (No pix of the 1968 Jeff Beck Group at Winterland by me: it was the first time I tried to shoot 35mm natural stage light and, with no instructions for my used pre-set lens camera, I botched it.) Both these bands canceled at the last minute, unbeknownst to us when we debarked for same.


When we got to the outdoor venue, it was my first time attending a show that blocked off the front of the stage from the audience or photographers like me. I was as determined then (particularly given the Jeff Beck Group photo fiasco) as I am now to get good live shots, so I just tore down the chicken wire, entered the rarified area and took the following photo of The Flying Burrito Brothers, (left to right the legendary Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, Chris Ethridge and Sneeky Pete) all accoutered in their infamous custom Nudie suits, Gram with cannabis leaves and pills, Sneaky with pterodactyls etc.:
I only got this one shot of The Burritos because suddenly eight thousand people rushed forward to join me and I was jostled terminally from any further photography. It was uncomfortable amongst the new surging throngs, it was cold in the desert night air, the other two bands we wanted to see had canceled, we'd seen the remaining other acts before, and my friend was starting to get drugsick, so we left. But apparently those pushing stagewards continued in their spirit of surging and mobbing, and eventually rioted throughout toney Palm Springs all the way to the Taquitz Falls park. It was one of the first instances in failure of concert crowd control ending in rioting, quite some months before Altamont, and I, dear reader, may be responsible for its inception.

Later I would find access to stage photography limited by far more than chicken wire fencing, instead by micro-managing control freaks associated with the acts, and that has proven in long run a far more formidable obstacle to good photography than any 8,000 person riot behind me.

6 comments:

RetroKimmer said...

Weird with the Flying Burrito Brothers
just did a post on the Altamount Festival and it focused on them too for Deniz Tek's blog. Great story!

Fast Film said...

And here's the link for all readers:
http://deniztek.blogspot.com/2010/06/altamont-stones-and-dark-side.html

Fast Film said...

And a link to this article as well, which will put you at musician Brad Laner's excellent Dangerous Minds ezine http://www.dangerousminds.net/index.php/site/comments/starting_a_teenage_riot_in_the_desert_with_gram_parsons_and_the_flying/

Fast Film said...

For those born a tad later than oh, four decades ago, the FBBs put oldskool country soul into rock (as opposed to pop), with Gram having done so in earlier bands The International Submarine Band (not so well known) and The Byrds (chart-toppingly well known.) But it's hard to be a pioneer: they get all the arrows. Here's my pick for a Youtube introduction. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BITiY8M_oDo which not only shows off their metier but also why all the girls liked Gram.

Anonymous said...


Hi Heather, I was at the palm springs concert in 1969. the cops chased us to the taquits falls. They were in their riot gear and shooting tear gas at us. They instigated the whole thing. I hid behind some boulders and after awhile I came out of hiding and picked up one of the tear gas canisters that they had shot at us. I still have it. next day they arrested me for vagrancy in front of the bank that had a water round fountain in front.cop told me to move on so I moved 50 ft. they arrested me,i was 16. they took me to lake elsinore juvenile hall. actually the concert was a lot of fun. --Bill Elliott

Grant said...

I was 18 and four of us had been camping in Mexico for a week. Just as we were leaving for home in Newport Beach someone told us about a pop festival happening that night in Palm Springs. Since it wasn't too far out of the way we decided to check it out. The Newport Pop Festival happened 8 months earlier and was a great scene so we just expected the same in Palm Springs. It was dark by the time we got there. Walked in and the Burritos were on stage. The vibe in the place was decidedly edgy, not mellow like Newport. We were tired after the long drive from Mexico and decided to split and look for a place to camp for the night. Someone said Tahquitz Falls was the place and gave us directions. Having trouble finding it in the dark we asked some other longhairs on the road about it. They said don't go there, cops are busting people. So straight home we headed. The next day we read about the riots and shooting. Boy were we glad to have skated through like we did. It is so cool to see that photo of the Burritos. It's exactly the same angle to the stage as we were standing, just closer. Man, that was another time and place!

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