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Isle of Wight Festival Turns Slightly Discordant Print-ready version

by Bernard Weinraub
New York Times
August 31, 1970
Original article: PDF

ISLE OF WIGHT, England, Aug. 30--Carrying rucksacks and bedrolls, thousands of young men and women engulfed this normally sedate island of chalk cliffs and cricket fields this weekend for an outdoor pop festival that reached a peak today in a surge of dust, music, and litter.

Late this afternoon, some 250,000 people packed the sun-drenched, 200-acre festival site on the western tip of the island to hear such performers as Tiny Tim, who led the crowd in singing "There'll Always Be England," the Voices of East Harlem, and Joan Baez, the star of the festival.

Sherri Segel, a 21-year-old coed from Berkeley, bit into a charcoal-roasted ear of corn and said: "The Isle of Wight is something you had to be at if you're in Europe and you're young."

Shelters Put Up on Hills

She gazed at the blue and orange tents, teepees and houses of polyethylene and straw bales that covered the parched hills facing the stage. Nearby, two blond University of Iowa students stepped hesitantly past the rows of frankfurter and popcorn and yogurt stands.

"We were in Italy and everyone was going to the Isle of Wight," said Jane Lawrence of Ankeny, Iowa, stopping and watching the international swarm of young men and women whose ponchos, caftans and crumpled velvet capes whirled dust. "Here we are. I'm confused. I'm a little scared. I hope it doesn't rain."

It didn't. For three days, the site on this diamond-shaped island off England's south coast that was a favorite spot for Queen Victoria was a sunny surrealistic blue--a blur of balloons and flags and marijuana smoke and policemen with Alsatian dogs and macrobiotic food stalls and garbage and melon rinds and electric guitars and sporadic fistfights.

Mood Turns Sullen

By today the mood of the festival had turned sullen and edgy: There were more than 120 narcotics arrests. The festival owners complained of losses that may reach more than $200,000. Dozens of youths began tearing through fences and corrugated iron barriers to avoid buying weekend tickets costing $7.

Weary young men and women boarded ferries at such island towns as Ryde and Yarmouth for trips to Portsmouth and Lymington to get trains to London. "There's a dankness and gloom about this festival," said a 24-year old London artist, Robert Johnson, waiting to board a ferry at Yarmouth. "No one's sharing their food and cigarettes. People are up tight and are staying in not very friendly groups."

At the festival site, where bearded, long-haired security men found youths selling curry powder for marijuana and saccharin for L.S.D., several performers found difficulty facing the audience.

At one point, the blond, fragile guitarist and composer Joni Mitchell was interrupted by a youth who rushed on stage to shout that the three-day festival should be free. The bearded youth was pushed off stage quickly, but hundreds in the audience shrieked: "Let him speak," and started clapping in unison.

' I Got My Feelings, Too'

Miss Mitchell spoke in a quavering voice. "Look, look I got my feelings, too," she said trembling. "It's very difficulty to lay something down before an audience like this. Please."

She then began singing her composition, "Woodstock," and later returned to several encores.

Last year's two-day Isle of Wight pop festival highlighted Bob Dylan and drew 130,000 people. This year's fans were lured by numerous stars, including Miss Baez, Miss Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Jethro Tull and The Doors.

This year, as last year, the festival was organized by five young impresarios who own the producing company called Fiery Creations.

"At the moment we will never organize another Isle of Wight festival," said one of the organizers, 21-year-old Peter Harrigan, who estimated losses at present as high as $220,00. "We're all very disillusioned."

Last year the festival earned a modest $24,000. Part of the losses this year were attributed to the high fees of performers and the more than 20,000 to 30,000 fans who heard the concerts free, sitting on the hills facing the site.

The festival drew a mildly contradictory response from the 95,000 residents as well as the middle-aged British tourists who arrive at the rate of 400,000 a week during the summer.

"Well, I just think they're marvelous," said Mrs. Maureen Hopkins, who was selling containers of milk today to a line of youths at a grocery store on High Street in downtown Yarmouth.

Nearby, her husband, Brian, sold pounds of apples and pears to groups of youths. "Some of the older folks moan and groan and say the island is going to pieces because of the young people." he said. "What nonsense. Business is three times better for just about everyone this weekend. How can we complain?"

"I'll never forget," said Calum Archibald, a 23-year-old Scottish engineer, as the crowds began to leave in the chilly afternoon. "There was a sweetness to it, a kindness to it. I'll never forget."

Several feet away, 19-year-old Mary Drysdale of Washington, stood in line for a bus and shook her head. "I could have heard better music on my stereo set," she said, frowning. "Don't tell me there was any kindness or sharing or love at this festival. It was cold, man, cold and I didn't like it one bit."

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