At that 1969 Fourth of July event 50,000 to 60,000 young people listened to the top acts in rock music of that time: Janis Joplin, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Joe Cocker, Led Zeppelin, and one lesser-known band that would later become a household name in the genre: Chicago Transit Authority, later known just as Chicago.
The children of the 1960s would not let them leave without a huge party to send the era packing and welcome the new decade of the 1970s, whatever that was going to be.
It had been a tough year for the college-age students of the day.
The school year, at The University of Georgia, was marked by a Vietnam War protest on campus and, in the aftermath of the shootings at Kent State University on Monday, May 4, starting that Wednesday there were two days of a thousand or so students marching and protesting, at one time breaking into the administration building to confront the University President Fred Davidson to demand school be shut down for a few days. The board of regents actually closed all university system schools for two days, although actually just about no one had attended class on Wednesday at UGA, effectively shutting the school down.
So, at the end of the decade of the sixties, with everything seemingly in turmoil the kids headed to Byron, Ga., intent on placing a bookend on the decade.
A friend of mine and I headed to Byron on Wednesday, July 1 with our $14 tickets, the festival actually starting on Friday, July 3. It was a good thing we left early; by Friday people were barely able to get in or out.
We set up a tent in a field about 100 yards from the raceway and got ready for whatever the weekend would bring. I don’t know why but we took along three large coolers in which we had big blocks of ice that lasted the whole time. We made a lot of friends by allowing people to get water out of the drain plugs of our coolers. For food we had stocked up on SPAM, Vienna sausage, crackers and bread.
The crowd scene was a great mix of hippies, college students, Hell’s Angels and farmers who just happened live around there. When I describe it as “anything goes” I mean it to the most extreme meaning of the phrase.
A few things stand out in my mind about that weekend. First is how calm the local sheriff and state patrol officers were. There were laws being broken all over the place — people deciding it was clothing optional, locals trying to keep people from jumping on the hood or trunk of their cars to ride the quarter mile to the only bath facility around, a small river. Of course drugs flowing like water. There was also a tent set up at the concert for medical emergencies and it was very busy.
And, finally, it was HOT … 100 degrees … Middle Georgia July HOT.
On the music side there were not as many super acts as had been at the first festival in 1969. Janis Joplin did not make it and was dead in November. The Chambers Brothers and B.B. King were certainly a hit. Jimi Hendrix played the “Star Spangled Banner” on the night of the Fourth of July for what seemed like two hours — then was dead in August. Wow!
However, the big hit was the group from up the road in Macon, Ga. — the Allman Brothers Band. They never looked back after that summer.
The crowd was so big the promoters opened the gates to all and it became a huge free concert, my $14 ticket becoming nothing more than a piece of paper.
Unfortunately for me , I stepped on a metal tent peg and sliced my foot open, so I hobbled around for a couple of days, not able to swim in the stream to cool off for fear of infection. There were thousands of people swimming and jumping off the bridge, where a state patrolman stood watch.
The only warning I remember him issuing was “you girls can’t keep coming up here naked and jumping off.” The girls showed total respect, coming up onto the bridge in bathing suits that they then removed, placed on his shoulder and jumped.
I totally respect that officer to this day. He was, and I hope still is, one hell of a man.
We finally headed home on Monday, with blocks of ice still in our coolers, and readied ourselves for the next school year. Where do you buy a 50-pound block of ice today?
Things seemed to settle down after that summer. I can’t explain it, but it did.
It is hard to put into words how going from the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 to the Atlanta Pop Festival at Byron, Ga. in 1970, in my case from age 12 to 20, influenced the rest of our lives. Growing up in the sixties, as I’ve said before, was never dull!
Please, if you went to the festival share your stories with our readers; if you have pictures, please send along.
Thanks in advance, and thanks to the readers who responded to an earlier column, below.
—Burgett H. Mooney III
Roy’s was tops in the 1950s
Just read your article on ’50s drive-ins where teenagers hung out.
Roy’s Little Drive-in/Dive-in was a popular place to hang out, especially with the radio station booth atop the restaurant building. In ’55, I had a ’48 Plymouth sedan and we double/triple dated in it a lot. Filled the trunk with guys to sneak them into the Cedar Valley Drive-in theatre
Later, up-dated to a ’50 Pontiac Coupe. Sadly, we just buried an old classmate that we hung-out with from that era, a 1958 Armuchee High graduate.
Thanks for the memories.
And in the 1960s, as well
I read your column in the paper today and wanted to add my memories. Your column was good but you failed to mention some of the best cruising places; my buddies and I always started out at Roy’s on Dean Street, where Ben Lucas had a radio studio on the roof of the restaurant. He played the most popular songs of the era every night, I believe it was called the “Talk of the Town.” You could request a song for your special girlfriend. (and to the best of my memory Roy’s had the first drive-through which you could order your burger and fries).
After that we would then circle the Chow Time on North Fifth Avenue, then it was on to the Dari-Delite. From there we would go to the Krystal on Shorter Avenue and then we might cruise Broad Street, then back to Roy’s.
How long we stayed at each place depended on how many girls we could get to talk to us. For me, those were the best of the good old days. I would have loved for my sons and grandchildren to have had those kind of days.