The grandstand at state fair park was strangely quiet Monday. The first Midwest Rock festival — three days of the loudest and perhaps best sound Milwaukee has heard — was over.
Musically it was interesting, but, more important, it was an event, a bit of Milwaukee history. Never before had so many here had a chance to hear so much live rock for so long.
2 Days of Rain
There were 12,000 fans at the blues accented windup Sunday, bringing the festival’s official three day total to 41,000. There also were 3,800 unofficial visitors who used fake tickets or vaulted fences, festival officials said. The festival is believed to have broken even financially and talks already are underway for a second festival in the area next years.
If misery loves company, fans loved misery. Rain soaked the festival Saturday and Sunday.
The rain stalled the bawling of the electrified music but was the occasion for varied sports. Youths engaged in water fights, jumped rope, played beachball, sent Frisbees flying and chanted “p-e-a-c-e” and obscenities.
At a happening of this sort, the audience deserves a review as much as the music — perhaps more so since the sound of all the groups is far better on records than live. Rock festivals have been held all over the nation this summer and are more in the nature of a scene than a concert.
Scene Is Peaceful
The throngs generally skirted any hassle with the few troops of the establishment that were keeping an eye on things. The fans were too busy concentrating on what it was all about: Socializing, dancing in the rain, merging into the music and the community to which they feel they belong.
Music of the so-called underground variety is perhaps the strongest common bond of today’s youth, their main channel of communication.
To the older generation, the size of the throng must have come as a surprise — that many “hippies” the east side doesn’t have.
With ticket prices of $5, $6, $7 a day it was obvious that most of them weren’t penniless runaways. Many of the older (that means twenties) portion of the audience work and are “straight” five days a week, but on weekends their hearts belong to the love movement.
Festival a Revelation
For many, the festival must have been a revelation. Never had there been so large a gathering of the clan. It was a park filled with bell-bottoms, a display of the conformity of nonconformity.
The music that drew them, however, was not conformist but experimental. Rhythm and blues today are a constant questing, an innovative willingness, a merging of all that is new with some of the best of the old.
No longer is rock sound created by two oversimplified guitars, a drum and a grunter. Now there are flutes, organs, saxophones, cellos, trained vocalists.
As well demonstrated Sunday by the various groups, rock is no longer just a budding, throbbing beat. Now there are long breaks of pure jazz sound, plenty of solos, softness and gentleness for soft and gentle topics, angry and electronic pulsations for angering and electric issues.
There’s still plenty of the bouncing and jouncing around on stage that reminds one of the theatrics of professional wrestling — the MC5 has a very obviously choreographed one-two-three kick, all fall down, squirm in ecstasy, spring up for applause.
And then there’s vocalist Johnny Winter . . . at a rock festival. Rock? It’s pure, coal black blues. Perhaps it’s meant as satire, as commentary on what’s happening today, for Winter is an albino. A sound so black from one so white.
The festival illustrated that rock is no longer rock but something else, as yet nameless. Whatever its name, it emphasizes the old rock sound for use as common ground, as a starting place, and mixes in jazz, folk, the oldest oldtime blues, and amazingly clever adaptations of bits of classical.
It is the beginning of an entirely new musical thing. Beginnings are always young and perhaps that’s why the young have adopted it as their own.