Originally published in the Milwaukee Journal • Monday, July 28, 1969
Those who went to the Midwest Rock show at state fair park for music and fellowship had to settle mainly for fellowship Sunday.
A driving, off and on rain (mostly on) forced the show promoters to cancel seven of the ten featured performances, leaving the audience of nearly 9,000 persons to do their own thing.
Most of the audience stayed in the grandstand area despite the fact that bands were playing for less than half of the eight hours they were there.
They danced and they clapped, they huddled under blankets together, they ran barefoot with their hands high in the air.
If these were efforts to make the rain stop, they didn’t work. The rain continued and left the last day of the festival in a soggy, confused mess.
The harder the rain fell, though, the closer Milwaukee’s hip community moved toward its ideal — brotherhood and peace.
The rain began as Joe Cocker soulfully howled his way through a Bob Dylan song. Even as the tarpaulin blew away above him he continued and the drenched crowd snuggled closer in front of the stage for warmth.
The song ended, but the power of the music which brought these people here, hung on.
After a two hour intermission while technicians scurried around the stage area trying to protect equipment from the rain, Johnny Winter brought his own Texas blues to the fair grounds in a 45 minute performance which was greeted with thunderous approval from the remaining crowd.
Jeff Beck, Jethro Tull, the Jim Schwall Blues Period, Motor City 5, and the SRC did not appear as scheduled during the evening.
With his long white hair and black leather outfit, Winter didn’t seem the type to wail B. B. King’s southern blues. But he added a touch of the heavy electric sound and some new tricks on his slide guitar to bring new life to early rock ’n’ roll tunes.
At times, he even seemed to be jamming with himself, playing in a high pitched treble and then echoing the sound with a more mellow tone a split second later.
During the long wait for the rain to let up members of the crowd put on their own show with water fights, cheer leading, mock bull fighting and even calisthenics.
A six inch layer of water settled on the track in front of the stage.
Sunday afternoon, while the sun was still out, Frisbees and beach balls sailed across the track. Balloons bounced through the crowd on the trace and in the grandstand behind the track.
Some people played tin can soccer in the rain, others skipped rope at one end of the track.
“You couldn’t tell by looking at them,” one state fair policeman said, “but I’ll tell you I’d rather have these people than a fair crowd any way. They are really very polite.”
Police reported no trouble inside the grandstand area. Officers managed to casually look the other way while marijuana joined circulated through the crowd, and in fact spent most of their time looking the other way.
Although festival promoters estimated that more than 40,000 had paid to get in over the weekend, thousands more managed to sneak into the grandstand area by climbing over fences and eluding the friendly “peace” patrol that has been set up to handle crowds.
When regular police entered the area to stop the gate crashers, a chorus of boos drove them away.
“The problem is just too much action.” the festival promoter said as he watched five more slip in. “We try to keep them out, but you can’t watch them when you’ve got this kind of music.”
Immediately outside the track, about 1,000 campers pitched tents to house them through the weekend. On Saturday night, nearly 200 tents had sprouted on the campsite and between them the ground was covered with young people who only had a blanket.