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FIFTY YEARS AGO - Saugatuck Pop Festival

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  • 10 months later...
On 6/26/2019 at 5:11 PM, walker said:

This year will be the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock. A month or so before Woodstock, West Michigan had its own smaller version called the Saugatuck Pop Festival.  I was there with my hippy girlfriend but the details are hazy.  Like they say, if you remember much about the sixties then you weren’t there.  I do remember I didn’t pay to get in.  Like Woodstock a lot more people showed up than the promoters had planned for, many more than they could handle, so it was turned into a free concert with people coming and going between the concert area and the town at will.  The promoter had hired a biker gang out of Detroit to act as security to keep people that didn’t pay from crashing the gate, but after they decided it would be safer to let everyone in, the bikers had nothing to do but role play.  The bikers weren’t a problem though; they were just jerks.  There was a lot of hippy-dippy role playing in the audience as well.   

It was promoted by the Detroit musician and promoter, Mike Quatro.  Being more of a musician than a promoter he picked an interesting mix of performers; some were old somewhat obscure to most people blues players like John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton, and Muddy Waters.  There were some big acts of the day.  There was the nationally known one hit wonder, Arthur Brown, whose gimmick was to set his afro hair on fire while singing.  There were a lot of what were then local Detroit acts that later became nationally known, like Bob Seger.  The relatively unknown Alice Cooper supposedly played both days but wasn’t an advertised act.  Grand Funk Railroad it is said begged to be included and would have played for free but they were turned down.    

Like I said, I really don’t remember most of the details but researching this just now, the acts were quite impressive although many of them were at the beginnings of their careers and not all that well known at the time.

Here's a poster from the Festival:


Poster's hard to read – here’s a list of the advertised bands:

July 4, 1969 Pottawattamie Beach, Saugatuck, MI

  • The Amboy Dukes (Ted Nugent) 
  • John Lee Hooker
  •  MC5
  • Procol Harum
  • Rotary Connection (Minnie Riperton)
  • SRC
  • Muddy Waters

July 5, 1969 Pottawattamie Beach, Saugatuck, MI

  • Brownsville Station
  • Crazy World of Arthur Brown
  •  Frost
  • Früt of the Loom
  • The Red, White & Blues Band
  • Savage Grace
  • Caste
  • The Bob Seger System
  • The Stooges (Iggy Pop)
  • Big Mama Thornton

As it turned out Big Mama Thornton didn't show.  Too bad, if you want to hear where Janis Joplin got the idea of singing Summertime the way she did, listen to this earlier version by Big Mama:


Thornton was also the author of Ball and Chain, another Joplin hit.


Here's a link to a PDF from the Saugatuck Historical Society about the festival - lots of details I don't remember and photos starting on page 14:  

Saugatuck Music Festivals

And slide down to the comments on this blog to read other people's remembrances of the festival:

Saugatuck pop festival

I had good memories of this, at least what I can remember, but I don't think it worked out well for Saugatuck.  They never allowed another festival and Saugatuck went into a bit of a recession for the next few years and even looked a little shabby for a few years.  The idea of hippies and bikers scared away a good portion of the respectable middle and upper class people with money that frequented Saugatuck in the summer and I think it stayed that way until the week-end hippies grew-up and replaced them in the respectable middle and upper classes.


LATE EDIT: It’s been three weeks since the original post and I’ll add this postscript even though most people who are going to read this post already have but that’s OK because mainly I’m writing this for myself.  I wrote earlier mostly about the music but for me it really wasn’t in the end about the music at all, or the drugs which I never did (if you exclude cheap wine) or many of the other supposed excesses that were reported in the news at the time but weren’t that noticeable on the ground.  What I felt and I think what many people that showed up felt was what Joni Mitchell wrote later in the song Woodstock, “I feel myself a cog in somethin' turning.”  The two years previously had been filled with riots, with assassinations, and an escalating war.  I was twenty-two, I was then in the army reserves.  My day job was as a mailman delivering mail in what were then some pretty rough neighborhoods, including some where rioting had occurred.  Life was pretty intense.  Something just clicked in 1969, young people started coming together in these concerts all around the country that summer in numbers no one had expected and just took over.  A lot of this was just driven by demographics, it was a changing of the guard, the boomer generation was beginning to assert itself and take over.  Mike Quatro, the promoter of the Saugatuck Festival, had only just turned twenty-six himself.  It was really heady stuff to be part of such a big group of people, many you hoped might feel the same way you did about what was going on.  Be clear, this wasn’t some kind of hootenanny, the music was more rage than idealism, these were mostly Detroit bands after all, not folksingers from Greenwich Village.  The likes of Ted Nugent and Iggy Pop, and Alice Cooper aren’t going to be leading sing-alongs about social justice.

I got to wondering after the original post what happened to my girlfriend from the festival.  We broke up a couple of months later.  We ran across each other a few times after that but I haven’t seen her or thought much about her in at least forty-five years.  I thought I was pretty street wise back then.  Even though she was two years younger than me she had me beat.  Compared to her I was pretty naive.  So, I Googled her and up popped her obituary.  She died just a month ago, apparently never married and was still as much a free spirit as she had been back then.

Don’t know anything more I want to add except considering all that’s going on in the world today, it’s past time to push the boomers aside.  Maybe there needs to be some new festivals.                        



Edited by DaveyE
Added my band "Caste" (2nd row from the bottom, far right) We were there!
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