Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Isle of Wight Festival 1970

The third Isle of Wight Festival was held on August 28, 29 and 30 1970. The last of three consecutive annual music festivals held on the Isle of Wight and is still the largest music festival ever held in the United Kingdom The Guinness Book of Records listed it as the largest recorded gathering of human beings, its published figure of 600,000 attendees supported by British Rail, who operated the only ferries to the island and who reported carrying that number more visitors than would have been normal during that period.

The festival was promoted by Fiery Creations Ltd, a company owned and operated by the Foulk brothers, Ron, Ray, and Bill. Their two previous festivals on the Isle of Wight in 1968 and 1969 had been both successful and commercially profitable events. The headline acts in 1968 were Jefferson Airplane and T. Rex. The 1969 festival, starring Bob Dylan (in his first public performance in several years following a supposed motorcycle accident), was held only one week after the original Woodstock Festival and attracted approximately 250,000 people. The third festival was intended to be bigger and better organized than either of the previous two events, because the promoters had learned many valuable lessons from the preceding events, and did not intend to repeat any of their previous mistakes.

Unfortunately, the world had changed by late summer 1970, and several forces conspired against the promoters, preventing the event from being anything but a commercial disaster, and ensuring that it would be the last event of its kind in the UK for many years - even though for most of the audience it was an unforgettable experience.

The difficulty of finding a suitable venue

The opposition to the proposed 1970 festival from the residents of the Isle of Wight was much better coordinated than it had been in previous years. The Isle of Wight was a favourite retirement destination of the British well-heeled, and a haven of the yachting set, and many of the traditional residents deplored the huge influx of 'hippies' and 'freaks'. Renting a few acres of suitable farmland to hold a music festival had in earlier years been a simple commercial matter between the promoters and one of the local farmers, but by 1970 this had become subject to approval decisions from several local council committees who were heavily lobbied by residents' associations opposing the festival. As a result of this public scrutiny, the preferred ideal location for the third festival was blocked, and the promoters in the end had no choice but to accept the only venue on offer by the authorities, East Afton Down, a site that was in many ways deliberately selected to be unsuitable for their purpose.

The venue itself

One of the problems of enclosing an open space to create a restricted access arena to hold a concert is communication access to essential services. When you have huge numbers of people concentrated in one place it is essential to provide adequate access to food and beverage outlets. In 1969, most of the outlets ran out of stuff to sell. They could not be supplied with sufficient consumables, because of the sea of people everywhere, preventing the vans and trucks from making timely deliveries. The food and drink were at the site in sufficient quantity, but the people could not get at them. The promoters designed an ingenious solution to this problem for the 1970 festival. They planned to have a secure road running between the food and beverage warehouse (a huge tent) and a multitude of outlets serving both those inside the arena and those outside in the sprawling campsite that surrounded the arena. This sensible plan depended on having a double-walled arena. Supply trucks could then service all the outlets from inside the wall without fighting the crowds. This plan might well have worked in a flatter environment, but the final approved venue was at East Afton Down, nestled right up against the down, which offered a clear vantage point for hundreds of thousands of people to overlook the whole arena. From the side of the downs, the benign and practical purpose of the double wall was not obvious, and the arena under construction looked to many of the early arrivers more like a prison or concentration camp than a rock venue, and ill feelings festered rapidly.

The mood of the fans

1969 and Woodstock had been the last hurrah of the 'Love Generation'. The peace and love movement that began in San Francisco in 1967 was on its last tired legs at Woodstock, and 12 months later the mood of many of the attendees had become much more cynical and militant. Activists, particularly from France, were incensed that the festival was not intended to be 'free' and felt that the double-walled arena was a clear example of an oppression of the masses that should be resisted and smashed, so that the musicians could play for their fans untainted by the demands of exploitative capitalists. The fact that their artist heroes were demanding much higher appearance fees than ever before and insisting on cash guarantees in advance was not what the naive idealists among the fans wanted to hear, and many of them made concerted attempts to destroy the walls of the arena while they were still being constructed.

Many of the people who came to the Isle of Wight that weekend had not purchased their tickets in advance, rightly assuming that there would be a limitless supply on site. When they arrived, they found they had two choices: they could camp out on the hill overlooking the arena and, thanks to an impressively effective sound system, enjoy the music from there for free; or wait until the promoters gave up trying to make anybody pay to get in, at which point they could freely join the few paying customers inside the arena. Many did both.


According to the official program of the festival: