By Gini Strobel
The Second Atlanta International Pop Festival, Byron, GA 1970
A couple of weeks ago I posted an article about the 1970 Georgia Rock Festival Commemoration & the long-awaited preview of the feature-length documentary film by Director Steve Rash and produced by Atlanta’s own Alex Cooley. Well, last night I received the opportunity to see a rough cut of the film with a working title of Hotlanta, The Great Lost Rock Festival. Since there was not much background on the film or the 1970 festival, I went into the screening open-minded and without expectations, but I did have questions.
As a product of the 80’s, I wanted to know more about this great 1970 Atlanta rock festival that happened in Byron, GA July 3rd- July 5th. I had a small inkling that my dad likely attended this festival, so of course I asked him, and sure enough he was there! He immediately recalled seeing and hearing Jimi Hendrix play The Star Spangled Banner and seeing the Allman Brothers before anyone really knew who they were. He also mentioned other festival details like sleeping under a car while it poured rain, the hours of traffic that they sat in, and how they didn’t pay a cent to get into this rock-packed festival lineup.
Director Steve Rash (known for The Buddy Holly Story, Can’t Buy Me Love) introduced the film and noted all of the challenges that he and his team have experienced while trying to deliver this footage to the public. From stolen ideas, to miniscule budgets, to expired and damaged film, this project was and is a labor of love for the team driving the efforts to make this film available to viewers around the world. Rash also reminded us that Alex Cooley was the Festival Promoter and that really none of this would have happened without him.
The Documentary included live musical clips from bands like, Grand Railroad Funk, Spirit, Jimi Hendrix, The Allman Brothers, B.B .King, Rare Earth, Chambers Brothers, Poco, Procol Harum, Mountain, Johnny Winter, It’s a Beautiful Day, Ten Years After, Mott the Hopple, John Sebastian and more. All of the performances were mesmerizing and the audience clapped for each individual band. Naturally, the crowd wanted more of the Allman Brothers, B.B. King, and Hendrix. B.B. King had everyone laughing, while Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze” was not nearly long enough to satisfy the appetite. Come to find out, the Hendrix family was very protective of the Jimi Hendrix image and reputation.
What really makes this film special is the time that Rash spends on the festival patrons. With hundreds of thousands of people in an open field with copious amounts of booze and drugs, Rash was wise to capture these moments. You get shots of people skinny dipping, bathing, drinking PBR and Budweiser, seeking shelter from the rain, getting high, participating in impromptu jam sessions, and just really embracing some amazing music. Even the cops seemed more laid back. When the film came to an end, it was kind of sad to see the closing text state that this was the last major rock festival.
In the discussion portion, Director Steve Rash asked the audience how many people attended the festival and more than half raised their hands! I think these folks enjoyed it the most, but music fans across the world would appreciate the raw authenticity of Hotlanta, The Great Lost Rock Festival. While some performances could be shorter, the original music and the historical imagery created a fascinating journey back to 1970 Atlanta. I hope the film and the supporters find a way to make this available to the public. There is definitely an audience that would love to experience Hotlanta, The Great Lost Rock Festival.