Remembering The Great Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival Of 1970

After the hardworking staff posted this memo from a New Yorker editor adrift in Red Sox Nation, splendid reader Steve Stein commented about his own displaced experience years ago in Cincinnati:

I did 7 years in Cincinnati (well, Dayton, ’76-’82) and followed the Reds (never a fan, thanks, Marge) during my deepening disaffection with the Yankees. Absolutely HATED Riverfront. And that hate was just intensified with my experience at The Who concert in Dec ’79. That tragedy was caused by the crowd, but exacerbated by the geometry of the area between the Riverfront Coliseum and the stadium.

Which reminded the hardworking staff of its own experience at the 1970 Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival in Riverfront Stadium’s predecessor, Crosley Field.

Among the featured acts: Grand Funk Railroad, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, Mountain, and Iggy Pop and the Stooges.

Brian Powers of Cincinnati’s City Beat wrote a great retrospective for last year’s 40th anniversary.

Among the highlights:

Without a doubt, the one contribution that the Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival gave to Rock history was capturing on film for posterity the performance of a young Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the godfathers of Punk Rock.

The footage shot by WLWT cameras shows Iggy, then 23, performing the songs “T.V. Eye” and “1970.” He dives into the audience, gets lifted by the crowd and then stands upright, held up by a sea of hands. He’s shirtless with his taut muscles exposed to TV viewers and every face on the field turned toward him.

Iggy later said at that moment he thought that possibly he was Jesus Christ. The next moment, Iggy received a large jar from an audience member and proceeded to smear peanut butter all over his bare chest and face, then threw huge globs of the jar contents out into the crowd.

The Stooges’ record company would later distribute photos from the performance, and it remains the defining image of Iggy Pop. (Check out Steven Rosen’s story “Pop Goes Cincinnati” for more about the 1970 music festival and a look at Iggy’s famous photo.)

The late Stooges guitarist John Asheton had a different memory of their set: “All I remember from that was the big video camera guy didn’t care about anyone on stage. I had to follow him, his wires were hooked up to my lead cords, and he’s dragging my fuzz tone and wah all across the stage. For me that was a pain in the ass.”

Another notorious Rock moment documented for the nation’s viewing happened during Alice Cooper’s performance. Cooper leaned down close to the edge of the stage, holding up a pocket watch to the crowd. He began attempts to “hypnotize” audience members, repeating the phrase “Bodies … need … rest.”

At that moment an accomplished marksman in the crowd lobbed a whole cake at Cooper, hitting him square in the face. Maintaining his cool, Cooper proceeded to take a handful of the cake and slap it right back into his own face. Again and again he repeated the gesture, smearing it in good.

One highlight Powers omitted: During Mountain’s set, some oversmoked longhair jumped on stage and started flinging his hair around, which got tangled in Leslie West’s guitar. West proceeded to jerk him around like puppet timed to the music. It was painful and artful at the same time.

Powers also wrote:

Despite the large presence of police, there was marijuana smoke in the air and pills being passed around in the stands. Several arrests were made, but for the most part both sides remained friendly.

The hardworking staff remains grateful for that.


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15 Responses to Remembering The Great Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival Of 1970

  1. Steve Stein says:

    Sounds heavenly. Alas, Crosley was but a pleasant memory by the time I got there.

    In contrast, my memories of Riverfront Stadium as a concert site – the KOOL Jazz festival in ’82 (Al Jarreau, George Benson, Herbie Hancock, Maynard Ferguson,et al): The stage was set up in CF. No seats allowed on the field. So the BEST seat was at least 200 feet from the stage. Completely ridiculous. Good concert, but the WORST venue ever.

    One thing about that Who show incident – a week later, the Grateful Dead played Indianapolis. The police were prepared for the worst – there would be NO repetition of the Cincinnati scenario; their presence was epic and super-strict. They really weren’t prepared for the difference between a Who crowd and a Dead crowd, though. Trying to herd 5000 peaceful stoners and keep them in their seats was like pushing the ocean. It would have been comical if it weren’t for the circumstances.

    Baseball parks as concert sites are not ideal, but Fenway seems to have gotten this right, especially for smallish shows. Setting up the stage over the bullpen, facing the bleachers works pretty well. The bleachers are so big you can fit over 10K people for a concert, seating them in the RF grandstand (approx sections 1-4) and the RF and CF bleachers.

  2. Al says:

    I don’t see any positives to watching a concert at Fenway Park with the stage set up over the bullpen with seating in the bleachers. The only thing that accomplishes, in my mind, is to be able to make the claim that it was in Fenway. I’d much prefer a stage set up over the infield, with attendees sitting in real seats in the grandstands. I’m sure damage to the playing field is a heavy concern.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      Thats where they were in Cinti – in the infield. Spectacular.

    • Steve Stein says:

      The problem with that in Fenway is that the grandstand is not particularly deep. (Part of Fenway’s charm is that even if you sit in the LAST row of the grandstand, you feel close to the action.) If they set the stage that way, I bet you would have FEWER good seats. available.

      If you look at the 3rd picture in the gallery here you can see how the bleachers can accommodate a fairly large crowd:

      (And if you look at the 7th picture, you can see me in the chorus. Love that Götterfunken music!)

  3. Curmudgeon says:

    Pop? Isn’t that what Ohioans call soda?

  4. Pingback: Remembering The 1979 Cincinnati Who Concert | Campaign Outsider

  5. waywardbill says:

    I was at the Cincinnati Pop Festival the police were anything but congenial. It was a little more than a month after the Kent State Massacre. There were skirmishes outside on and off all day. Police cars were overturned and torched. The concert set up was the stage was in the outfield and the Cincinnati Reds didn’t want the audience on the field. There were give and take fights for the turf and the audience eventually won the field. If the audience hadn’t stolen the field there would have never been the footage of Iggy and the Stooges with the audience. Also that the end with Traffic the Cincinnati Police lined up in front of the stage and tried to one step forward, one step forward the audience out of the ballpark. It rained bottles and cans on them the front line put up their batons only to cause shard of glass to pelt the line behind them. It wasn’t pretty. The hippies who got arrested for drugs sales in and out of the venue all exchanged their clothing while in a holding cell. The cops couldn’t identify anyone from their reports and they were all released with no charges. The music was awesome but the day wasn’t as congenial as painted in this article.
    Peace, Pot, Politics,
    Wayward Bill Chengelis
    Chairman, US Marijuana Party

    • Rick Michael says:

      Pretty much the way I remembered it also. They didn’t want the crowd on the field but, as I recall, it was the last event before they tore down the stadium. I remember power being cut just as Traffic began. Steve Winwood shouted some choice words about turning the F**king lights back on…..etc. Which they did. Don’t remember raining bottles till after the concert was all over. Amazing concert.

      Ricky Recordo

  6. Pingback: Remembering The Great Cincinnati Summer Clothing Exchange of 1970 | Campaign Outsider

  7. markcamos says:

    A buddy of mine got his head cracked open with a police baton. (To be fair, we were successfully crashing the gate at the time.) We got in with two girls and had a great time (except for his bloody headache.)

    I seem to recall that it was a great show – but my memory of it is a bit fuzzy…

  8. michael a lacy says:

    Powers, you’re an idiot. Cincinnati isn’t Dayton dumb ass

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