Saturday, November 5, 2016

HOW I STARTED A RIOT 47 YEARS AGO WHILE PHOTOGRAPHING GRAM PARSONS and THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS

PalmSpringsPop

I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out, hence my confession...

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

I went with my new college chum who shared such interests specifically to see Moby Grape (see blog link HERE) and The Jeff Beck Group, the latter an astonishingly adept and charismatic ensemble which included Rod Stewart back when he cared and was actually fun and magnificent alongside future Rolling Stone Ron Wood, all of whom I had witnessed in sheer jaw-dropping awe in San Francisco a year earlier. (Worse confession: no HH pix of the 1968 Jeff Beck Group at Winterland by me. It was the first time I had tried to shoot 35mm natural stage light with my new used Edixa and, with no instructions for this pre-set lens camera except for those in the German language, I botched it.) Both of these bands canceled at the last moment, unbeknownst to us when we embarked for same in a 3 hour tour...

When we got to this outdoor venue, it was my first time attending a show that had blocked off the entire front of the stage from the audience or photographers like me. I was as determined then (particularly given the Jeff Beck Group Fiasco) as I am now to get great live shots, so I just tore down the offending chicken wire, entered the rarefied area and took the following photograph of The Flying Burrito Brothers. (Left to right: the legendary Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, Chris Ethridge and Sneaky Pete Kleinow, all accoutred 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 in the once-blocked off area, and I was jostled terminally away from any further photography. It was truly uncomfortable amongst the new surging throngs, it was quite cold in the desert night air, the two bands we wanted to see had canceled, we'd seen most of the remaining acts, and my friend was starting to get drugsick. So we left. 

But apparently those pushing stagewards continued in their spirit of surging and mobbing, eventually rioting throughout toney Palm Springs all the way to Taquitz Falls Park. It was one of the first instances in utter failure of concert crowd control for festivals ending in rioting, quite some months before the Rolling Stones' Altamont downer 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. This has proven in the long run to be a far more formidable obstacle to great photography than any 8,000 person riot behind me ever was...

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