Setlist History: First Major Rock Festival on the East Coast

Fifty years ago today, hippies and music lovers on the east coast gathered for one of the most electrifying events of 1968. It was on the last December weekend (28-30) of the year when Gulfstream Park, a horse race track outside Miami, hosted the Miami Pop Festival. The festival drew an astounding 100,000 fans over the three winter days. The fest took place just a year after Monterey Pop Festival and a year before Woodstock. Strangely enough, this festival had no relation to the first Miami Pop Festival of May 1968, aside from the fact that they both transpired at Gulfstream Park. The earlier two-day festival was rained out on its second day, making it a fairly unsuccessful affair. The December 1968 Miami Pop Festival ultimately became known as the first major east coast music festival at the time. Some of the most influential artists in modern music played there such as Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Berry and Joni Mitchell.

Grateful Dead - "Turn On Your Lovelight" (Miami Pop Festival, 12/29/68)

Artists like Richie Havens, Steppenwolf, The Turtles, Iron Butterfly, and Three Dog Night, and others were included as well in the fourteen daily acts that appeared on two different stages. How much did this cost, you ask? Try an incredible seven dollars for each day. Miami Pop 1968 featured both a “Flower Stage” and a “Flying Stage,” each functioning concurrently. The festival was an innovator in utilizing a dual-stage setup, later to be found in just about every music festival we know of today. One of the coolest things the festival offered, besides great music, was a celebratory comic book highlighting several of the headlining musicians that performed. Once again, an idea that feels so ahead of its time.

Grateful Dead's setlist by

What about the music? Joni Mitchell called for her lover Graham Nash along with Richie Havens to perform Dino Valenti's "Get Together." The Grateful Dead invited the crowd onstage to dance along to their seven-song-set. The ‘Dead opened with a twelve minute cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s "Turn on Your Lovelight." They turned to several original tracks afterward like “Dark Star” and “The Eleven,” before closing out their set with a cover of “And We Bid You Goodnight” by The Pindar Family & Joseph Spence. Bluesy-rock act, Pacific Gas & Electric, showcased their song, "Are You Ready” at the fest. It later became a commercial hit for the group when they released their third album, Are You Ready in 1970. Bassist Jack Casady of psychedelic rock act, Jefferson Airplane, played on stage with fellow psych-rockers, Country Joe & the Fish for their set.

When you look back at the artists that performed, from blues, to rock, to R&B, it was remarkable in its delivery of diversity. Unfortunately and for disappointing reasons, there were no subsequent Miami Pop Festivals. In a February issue of Rolling Stone magazine, the publication declared the festival, "a monumental success in almost every aspect, the first significant - and truly festive - international pop festival held on the East Coast.” The Miami Pop Festival set the stage for future music festivals on both the west and east coasts to follow suit in the years to come.

Check out our most recent Setlist History pieces on Led Zeppelin, Leonard Cohen, One Direction, Paul McCartney, Jim Morrison, Metallica, 30 Seconds to Mars, and U2.

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Last updated: 23 May 2024, 18:23 Etc/UTC