Janis Joplin Highlights a Surprisingly Good 'Summer Festival for Peace' at Shea
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August 13, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 33
By Don Heckman
If anybody out there is looking for a convenient, already-built set for a film of Kafka's "The Castle," I've got just the thing -- Shea Stadium. Endless ramps that lead nowhere in particular, mysterious passageways, sudden twists and turns that lead from grubby kitchen areas into stark daylight. It's even equipped with guards who have an innate feeling for Kafkaesque logic: "Press room? Well, now I heard something about a room like that once; why don't you try going up that ramp over there and then down the other side to level C and then take the elevator up to the fourth level. But then you better ask somebody when you get there."
For Kafka -- terrific. For the Summer Festival for Peace? Ha. But what were the alternatives? Yankee Stadium? The problem compounded. The old Worlds Fair Pavilion? Supposedly it has leaky roof panels. Randalls Island? Guess again. And so on. What it comes down to is the fact that there really aren't that many places one can get a permit for (in this summer of no-go music festivals) that are large enough, or secure enough, to hold 40,000-50,000 people. So, Shea Stadium it was.
Not -- as it turned out -- that all the space was really needed. To say that 20,000 or so attended is to make a generous evaluation. Meaning, I suppose, that the problem was less one of finding an appropriate stadium than of finding one soon enough so that the program could be publicized sufficiently to draw a good-sized audience. As Al Aronowitz has rightly pointed out in his Friday piece in the Post, the Summer Festival for Peace show was just about as fine a collection of talent as anyone has ever seen in the New York area. The price was right and it was a beautifully clear sunny day in August. Yet the upper levels of Shea were as empty as Spiro Agnew's head.
How to explain it? Inadequate publicity? Yes, of course. But that can hardly be the full story. More pertinent is the fact that kids seem more interested in hanging out, smoking dope, tripping, mouthing vague homilies about brotherhood, peace, love, community, etc., than in starting to take some effective actions toward making brotherhood, peace, and the rest into something more than the fantasies of lazy, camping-out summer weekends. (Does that sound like an indictment? Yes, indeed. But it's only a beginning. Stay tuned for future installments.)
Needless to say, those who made it out to Shea got their money's worth. John Sebastian, the Rascals, the cast of "Hair," Johnny Winter, Janis Joplin (in a dynamite surprise appearance that started such rhythmic foot-stamping from the crowd that the stands were vibrating a full five or six inches with every beat), Pacific Gas and Electric, Steppenwolf, Creedence Clearwater, Paul Simon, Ten Wheel Drive. I've left out many, many others, since some 20 acts were scheduled and a few surprise personalities appeared, as well. But over a 12-hour span it can be difficult to keep one's critical faculties tuned while stumbling confusedly around Shea Stadium, from the upstairs press facilities to the third base dugout to home plate to the performers' dressing rooms. No matter. Everyone I saw performed at least as well as I've ever heard them, and some overreached even their best efforts. Programs like this do that to performers. The proximity of other major talents, the worthiness of the cause, the general feeling of togetherness -- all these seem to come together to help the artists get it on; and they do.
Peter Yarrow did his usual back-breaking job of holding everything together, calming occasional ruffled feathers, playing a song here and there to make time for the stage crew (unheralded, but god did they work hard), and in general sustaining the energy and momentum of a program that could easily have ground to a halt -- despite the presence of such dynamite talent...
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