August 6, 1970: Festival For Peace at Shea Stadium

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There went Rhymin’ Simon off the stage at the Peace Festival after three songs and a chilly reception

Held on the 25th Anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic weapon on Hiroshima at Shea Stadium, the New York Mets baseball park in Flushing, Queens, it was not quite a bomb itself. There is very little documentation of the event and its available details are hazy at best.

Yet the Summer Festival for Peace was notable for both the first solo concert appearance by one classic rock star and last live performance by another. It was also the first major rock concert for a political cause – opposition to the Vietnam War – and the first musical event at Shea following the 1965 and ’66 shows there by The Beatles.

The all-day concert boasted a fairly star-studded line-up, as can best be ascertained: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steppenwolf, the James Gang, Miles Davis, Johnny Winter, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Herbie Hancock, Dionne Warwick, the Rascals, the cast of Hair, Pacific Gas & Electric, Ten Wheel Drive, Poco, Sha Na Na, Richie Havens and the Turtles. (Jimi Hendrix is rumored to have played but likely didn’t.) Accounts say its emcees were John Sebastian (who also played) and Peter Yarrow, and that the latter helped organize the concerts. It’s also said that everyone played for free; this a year after some were contracted for rather substantial fees to play Woodstock.

The stage was set up at second base and the audience was in the stands. Only a reported 15,000 of its 25,000 tickets were sold (though Shea had 56,000 seats). The crowd is said to have been more interested in drinking beer, smoking pot and digging on the music than rallying for peace. It was in the flight path of nearby LaGuardia Airport and the engines of low-flying jets competed with the PA system.

janis pearl

It was the last concert appearance ever by Janis Joplin, Not many details beyond that can be immediately found.

Simon & Garfunkel, riding high with “Bridge Over Troubled Water” enjoying a six-week run at #1 on the Hot 100 earlier in the year, were asked to perform. Simon decided to appear solo. “He was not received all that warmly,” Yarrow recalled (quoted in the book Fire and Rain by David Browne.) After some in the crowd began to boo while he played “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” Simon finished the song and left the stage. (He would triumphantly return to Shea in ’83 with Garfunkel.)

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Also booked was Big Brother & The Holding Company. The band’s former singer Janis Joplin was in New York City a few days earlier to appear on The Dick Cavett Show. She announced that she would be joining her old band at the concert. An account in the Village Voice merely reports as a parenthetical that it was 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.” (The same reportedly happened during Creedence’s set; it’s unclear which of the two bands closed the show.) Joplin also reportedly sang “What the World Needs Now” with Dionne Warwick at the concert. It was one of her last public appearances and concerts, as she died just two months later in Los Angeles.

It was only 47 years ago that this concert took place, yet its details are already fading into the mists of history.

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17 Comments so far

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  1. JOHN
    #1 JOHN 1 January, 2017, 09:30

    I JUST WAS WATCHING THE HISTORY OF JANIS JOPLIN AND REMEMBERED SEEING HER AT THIS CONCERT. I WAS ONLY 14 YEARS OLD AT THE TIME, BUT IT WILL BE ETCHED IN MY MIND FOREVER. WHAT A GREAT SHOW IT WAS AND I DIDN’T REALIZE THAT JANIS DIED ONLY 2 MONTHS LATER.

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  2. DonWPB
    #2 DonWPB 14 January, 2017, 23:20

    I will never forget that day. I had just turned 17 two days prior and my older brother took me and my friend along with his girlfriend. It was my first live concert ever. What a way to start! We say front row along the third base line and watched all the acts enter and exit. The place was not crowded at all and you could pretty much sit wherever you wanted. It’s hard to remember all the performers that day but the article hit on almost all. John Sebastian definitely started the day as host and Peter Yarrow also emceed during the 14 hour show. And I definitely remember how the upper and lower decks were bouncing up and down at times, unlike any Mets game I’d been to so many time before. It was almost scary to see. It was truly a memorable day and I’m so glad I was there.

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  3. Ken D
    #3 Ken D 16 March, 2017, 17:58

    I photographed this event. You can see my photos at http://www.oldrockphoto.com/shea.html

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  4. Jeffa
    #4 Jeffa 17 March, 2017, 20:24

    Creedence definitely ended the show. Steppenwolf before them. Both had the stadium shaking. I thought the upper deck was goung to collapse! Janis performed before dark and was amazing!!!

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    • Margo
      Margo 27 April, 2017, 18:55

      I’m pretty sure Tom Paxton performed early in the day.

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    • Scott
      Scott 9 August, 2017, 09:52

      What do you remember about her performance? What didshe sing? was she with Big Bother or Full Tilt?

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  5. Bloomdude
    #5 Bloomdude 17 June, 2017, 09:30

    I was there. It was a mini-Woodstock. Sebastian opened the show at noon. Havens was a early highlight; he had the stadium rocking. I don’t recall Paul Simon being booed. The final three acts were Big Brother with a special appearance by Janis, Steppenwolf and Creedance. Much has been written about the smallish crowd – the stadium was half full. But for those of us who were there, it didn’t matter. The Summer Festival for Peace remains the greatest concert I ever attended. I don’t think it will ever be topped.

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  6. Mild53
    #6 Mild53 11 July, 2017, 21:00

    I was there…Creedance definitely closed the show. At one point they stopped the show and asked the crowd to stop dancing as the 2nd tier was bouncing up and down in rythmn. Perhaps Paul Simon didn’t play long – but he played long enoough for me to scurry up to the highest seat in the farthest corner of the stadium to listen to “America” with my babe and to watch the traffic on the roads below “singing” along.

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  7. Grimm
    #7 Grimm 5 August, 2017, 15:43

    In 1970, I won, FROM WNEW-FM Radio Station (102.7), a 3-day pair of Tickets to my 1st ever Concert, which was at Randall`s Island 23 weeks prior to this Shea Stadium one..
    At 16 years old, I was hooked, and bought 4 tickets to this Festival of Peace…Janis Joplin came on just as it was getting dark, and, as I remember it correctly, (I hope), they put the Stadium Lights on during her performance..she stopped singing and asked them to turn the Lights off..she wouldn`t sing until they did, and they eventually put the Lights out..this next part in my memory is schetchy, but I seem to remember that they put the Lights back on not too much longer after that, and I think she stopped again and started cursing at the Stadium lighting crew…can anyone verify my Memory of this?

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    • fred
      fred 13 August, 2017, 05:33

      I remember her telling ng the crew to turn off the baseball lights cause she want to be able to see the crowd

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    • Dee
      Dee 2 September, 2017, 09:04

      I was there too and yes they did turn the lights on during Joplins performance and the crowd started screaming that they can’t see so she stopped singing and said something like ” They can’t see.:I ain’t singing unless you turn off those f**king lights!”

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  8. Mike L
    #8 Mike L 7 August, 2017, 03:27

    Wow. First time I’ve ever heard of this concert and I must say I’m so jealous of the kind folks above who attended. This is why I always wish I’d been born 15 or 20 years earlier. I’ve seen a ton of great shows in my time but wasn’t old enough to catch all the 60s stars that I love so much.

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  9. Scott
    #9 Scott 9 August, 2017, 09:54

    Why didn’t anyone record this?

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  10. Georgie
    #10 Georgie 1 September, 2017, 20:30

    I went with a friend to see the concert. I thought Peter Paul & Mary were there to MC. A stage was at second base & the crew from Fillmore East would push the bands equipment up on the left side of the stage & push the previous bands equipment off the left side. It was very efficient. I was sitting in front of the stage but a long ways from it. I had brought my binoculars with me so I could see good. I really don’t remember anyone drinking we were all sitting in the stands so people weren’t talking to one another that I could see. The early act that I liked the best was Al Kooper. He played a concert piano & only had a drummer with him. Al was fantastic, I never heard of him before. I wanted him to keep on playing & not stop. The drummmer took off his shirt, it was hot that day. After Al finished the drummer stuck around to see the other acts instead of leaving.

    The binoculars were a great help. I didn’t see anyone close to the stage & maybe that’s why there wasn’t many pictures of the concert. Back then hardly anyone had a telephoto lens, actually not meany people had 35 mm cameras. As for Paul Simon he followed a group called Ten Wheel Drive. This was an all out loud rock band. When Paul got on the stage I’m pretty sure he wasn’t introduced at all, he just played & I don’t think very many actually knew who he was. He wasn’t booed but then there wasn’t applause for him either. Remember he followed a high energy rock band. He was obviously unhappy & got off the stage. An MC came up & told the crowd who he was & then the crowd applauded & Paul came back to play for us. It was just a misunderstanding. ShaNaNa was great & I liked the fact that they were at Woodstock. Dionne Warwick I thought had amazing legs.

    I wanted to see Steppenwolf play but it was getting late & my buddy was getting kind of sick from the noise & the heat. I don’t remember getting anything to eat while we were there. I do remember seeing Janis getting on the stage & her hair was dyed green. The binoculars helped out for me to see her that good. It was like she just jumped on the stage without any introduction. I remember telling someone near me it was Janis. I thought she wasn’t singing so much as screaming, & I was a fan of hers. I had her first album on a reel to reel tape. I didn’t get to hear Born to Be Wild because my friend had enough & we left before the concert was over. I don’t remember Miles Davis, but back then I didn’t know who he was. I wish I had written down as it was happening that day so I wouldn’t have to rely on a faulty memory. At least I was there & it was an unbelievable day. George from Ormond Beach

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