Experience the Isle of Wight Festival 1970, which became likely the single largest event of the original hippie era.
During the late 1960s and early 70s, the high points of the counterculture in the U.S. were marked by large gatherings, first at the "Human Be-in's" in San Fransisco during 1967 and later at music festivals like Woodstock in upstate New York in 1969.
The U.K.'s answer to these gatherings was the Isle Of Wight festival, originally held from 1968-1970, the last of which was such a huge event — attracting more than 600,000 people by some estimates — that it arguably became a victim of its own success. For three years, thousands of young people descended upon the small island tourist community, causing Parliament to pass a special act that would prevent unlicensed gatherings of more than 5,000 people.
The festival was the brainchild of the Foulk brothers, two enterprising locals who saw a gap in the market for a large rock festival in the U.K. The first event, held on August 31 and September 1, 1968, featured the American psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane as headliners, with support from Arthur Brown, Fairport Convention, and others. It was considered a success with an attendance of 10,000.
The 1969 festival was much larger with an attendance of about 150,000 mainly due to the promoters securing Bob Dylan to perform. Dylan had been recovering from a debilitating motorbike accident in 1966 and had been living in the Catskill mountains, not far from Woodstock. However, Dylan was a no-show at the Woodstock festival in 1969, but instead headlined at the Isle of Wight Festival only two weeks later.
The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 was the biggest and the most dogged by difficulties. The size of the preceding year's festival led locals who opposed the gathering to force the 1970 event to be held on a different site, on the West of the island, at Afton Down.
The new location was less than ideal, with strong cross-winds making it hard to hear the music at times, leading to performers like The Who having to loan some of their speakers to beef up the PA. As well as this issue, the presence of a large hillside in front of the stage field had the unintended effect of allowing thousands more people to attend and see the event for free. Attendance swelled immensely over the festival's five days with some estimates placing the total as high as 700,000 people — a number far greater than even Woodstock.
Those who attended the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 got to see some legendary performances from musicians like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joni Mitchell, and The Doors. In spite of this, a sustained campaign from wealthy locals, paired with huge organizational challenges, resulted in the festival ending as a financial failure, failing to turn a profit, and being declared a free event.
No attempt to revive the festival was made until 2002, this time as a smaller and much more commercial event. Nevertheless, the larger and less financially successfully original festivals were culture touchstones that, much like Woodstock and a small group of other iconic events, encapsulated the free spirit of its time.
For more on the Isle of Wight Festival 1970, check out this video: