Wednesday, June 16, 2010
HOW I STARTED A RIOT 41 YEARS AGO WHILE PHOTOGRAPHING GRAM PARSONS AND THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS
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.