Remembering the Atlantic City Pop Festival on its 45th Anniversary

A poster from the 1969 Atlantic City Pop Festival
A poster from the 1969 Atlantic City Pop Festival

Currently celebrating its 45th anniversary, Woodstock Music & Art Fair at Max Yasgur's 600-acre farm in New York’s Catskills – August 15 to 18, 1969 – is certainly the best-known and most widely regarded rock festival of our time. Still, it can’t beat the three-day event which occurred weeks before Woodstock and featured many of the same acts: the Atlantic City Pop Festival – August 1 to 3 in 1969 – at the Atlantic City Racetrack.

The Atlantic City Pop Festival was organized and booked by the original founders of Electric Factory Concerts – Larry Magid and brothers Herb, Jerry and Allen Spivak, all pioneers of the Philadelphia music scene - and famously modeled after the Miami Pop Festival that same year. At a cost of $15.00 for the entire 3-day weekend, audiences were witness to latter-day icons such as American Dream, Jefferson Airplane, Dr. John, Janis Joplin, BB King, Joni Mitchell, Booker T. & The M.G.s, Arthur Brown, Tim Buckley, The Byrds, Canned Heat, Chicago Transit Authority, Little Richard, Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, Procol Harum, and even swing drumming legend Buddy Rich amongst the performers. Johnny Winter was there, but couldn’t perform due to equipment malfunction; Crosby, Stills & Nash never showed up for their slot during the fest, with Nash rumored to have had polyps.

How and why the Atlantic City Pop Festival was overshadowed by Woodstock’s fame, then and now, is anyone’s guess. The audience members who have recounted memories of the East Coast’s first true rock explosion seemed to have had a stone soul groove that weekend in '69.  "I remember a lot of fringe, a lot of long hair, and that Janis Joplin wouldn't stop cursing," says Peter DelloBuono. "It was a great time."

Perhaps it’s time for music scholars to rediscover this historically significant event. To that end, our sources tell us that an event commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Atlantic City Pop Fest is currently in the works for September.

Photo courtesy of Herb Spivak

Posted on Friday, August 1, 2014