THE BEST LITTLE WOODSTOCK IN TEXAS
Love, peace and music came to Lewisville for 3 unlikely days in 1969
Reprinted with permission of The Dallas Morning News
By Russell Smith / Pop Music Critic of The Dallas Morning News
Oh, how quickly we forget.
Two weeks after Woodstock, on a Labor Day weekend not quite 20 years ago, Lewisville reluctantly hosted the Texas International Pop Festival. It was a benign skirmish in the war between the hippies and "the Establishment' during the long, hot summer of 1969 -- not to mention the wildest weekend in Lewisville history.
The three-day music festival had the Lewisville mayor at odds with his police chief, some of the townfolk felt scandalized, and conservative Dallas newspaper writers went ballistic.
The lineup of performers was amazing. It included Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, B.B. King, Chicago Transit Authority, Canned Heat, Sam and Dave, Nazz, Ten Years After, Grand Funk Railway, Herbie Mann and a dozen other name acts.
Today, the woman who answers the phone at the Lewisville Chamber of Commerce says none of this rings a bell.
"Twenty years ago?' she says. "I'm only 19.'
She canvasses the office for help, settling on the person who's been there the longest (12 years). He has indeed heard of the Texas International Pop Festival. But that's all. The chamber suggests a call to one of the local newspapers.
"What's a pop festival?' asks the sweet lady who answers the phone at the Lewisville Daily Leader. She kindly defers to City Hall, where a surveyor who's lived in Lewisville for 19 years provides directions to a field that once was a racetrack, the burial ground of all those '60s vibes.
The only sign of life in 1989 is a brand-new Bennigan's.
"I wish it had never occurred,' says Sam Houston, who was the mayor of Lewisville from 1969 to 1973. "It certainly caused me nothing but misery and everybody in Lewisville nothing but misery. A few of the businesses may have prospered as a result of it, but the majority, it hurt them, I think.'
Now a state district judge in Denton County, he has no fond memories of Lewisville's little Woodstock. "Not a one,' Judge Houston says.
"He was a real gentleman about the whole thing,' festival organizer Angus Wynne says of the former mayor. "In fairness to him, he was really concerned about his community and kind of picked up on the whole Woodstock propaganda thing that had been promulgated through some of the horror stories that the conservative press was spreading.'
"People thought, "Here are these awful-looking kids, unchained, turned loose, torn from the pages of Life -- out there fornicating and smoking dope and generally having a good time.' '
The Texas International Pop Festival attracted 120,000 people from all over the country -- mostly hippies -- during its three days on leased grounds at the now-defunct Dallas International Speedway. (The site today is slated for a residential development, with a canal wide enough for residents to drive their boats straight from home to the lake.)
Besides a 30-act musical roster, the festival became a carnival of earthy and sometimes dubious delights: from hippie vendors and a brotherly emphasis on sharing, to pot-smoking, LSD and, over at Lake Lewisville, very public skinny-dipping.
Mr. Wynne, who had been at Woodstock a couple of weeks before his own festival, says the Lewisville event had the same communal spirit.
"It had that real anything-goes feeling,' he says, "where everybody was looking out for each other. It was real serene -- "Brother' this, "Brother' that.'
"It sounds real corny to describe it like that, but that's the way it was.'
"The thing is,' says Judge Houston, "we had a very volatile situtation. Lewisville was a very small town (less than 8,000 residents) . . . and we did not know what was coming. I learned about it in July. The people who had the racetrack had already leased it out to the pop festival people, and it had already been pretty well solidified.
"We had no ordinances we could use to stop it,' he says. "Frankly, we didn't realize what it was until . . . reporters started calling us from all over the country and asking us what we thought about it.
"Woodstock had occurred just a little bit before, and it didn't take us long to learn about what we had on our hands.'
One young man died of heat prostration at the festival and more than a dozen were arrested for drugs outside the festival grounds. Judge Houston says the worst situation was at Lake Lewisville Park, where skinny-dipping flower children attracted gawkers from far and wide, causing many a traffic jam and culture clash. A rodeo had hit town the same weekend.
While news stories from the time told of residents charmed by extremely polite hippies who mowed their lawns for free and sang to their children, Judge Houston was less taken with the visitors.
"If that happened, it was the exception rather than the rule,' he says. "The bunch out at Lake Lewisville Park was rowdy. . . . Plus, (there were) the people coming from out of town to observe the nude sunbathers and the goings-on in general.
"And,' Judge Houston says, "there were all different groups. There were very conservative people who came out there to be with very liberal people, and it was just very volatile. . . . Anything could have set off one of the worst riots this country has ever seen, in my opinion.
"But it didn't happen, thank heavens.'
"I have no money, but it makes no difference,' a young man told a reporter on the festival's second day. "We all share what we can. All this waiting can be uncomfortable, but look around -- there is no pushing, no shoving and not much impatience.
"If someone has food and you don't, they'll share it. That is what this is all about.'
Lucy McCall, now a Taos, N.M.-based herbalist and "a grown-up flower child,' was 17 when she spent three days at the Lewisville festival.
"There was a lot of room,' she says. "Woodstock, I heard, was packed. This was a big field, and people were dancing all over the place.'
"What I encountered was love and peace and having one good time,' she says. "The people were very good and kind. I didn't see much violence there; I wasn't around any. There was a lot of metaphysical what-have-you and artistic this-and-that. It freaked Dallas out completely.'
Ralph Adams, then Lewisville's outgoing police chief, took on the job of handling security at the festival.
"Good scene,' he told the crowd on the final day. "I can't say too much good about you people. You've shown the elders something that they've hated to be shown for a long time.'
Perhaps one reason for the peaceful, easy feeling at the Texas International Pop Festival was the fact that liquor wasn't sold on the grounds. If there was any violence, the media never got wind of it.
Not that everyone was getting high on life, mind you.
"It was all soft,' Mr. Wynne says. "Psychedelics and pot, I believe, were the prevalent stimulants of choice.'
"I think probably everybody was stoned,' says Ms. McCall. "But back then, the drug scene was not as sordid as it is now. Cocaine and heroin and speed have become a serious problem in this country.'
Drug use, Mr. Wynne says, "was probably more evident then, because here you were out in the middle of a field. People were less self-conscious about it than one would be in a closed environment where you might offend someone.
"Most of the people that were out there were of that emerging generation that participated in it or for whom it was not a big deal,' he says. "So it was relatively easy going on that score.'
The promoters, Mr. Wynne says, had an agreement with the city that no uniformed police officers would enter the festival grounds. An informal "peer security' force was known as "the Friends.'
"There was no policeman kept out of there,' says Judge Houston today. "They were in there, I think, in plainclothes. . . . (But) we didn't have a large enough police force to do anything.'
"If anything bad had really happened, there would have been only one thing to do, and that would have been to have the governor call in the National Guard. I don't think there were enough police in North Texas to take care of it.'
"I would trust those people (the festivalgoers) with my life,' Police Chief Adams declared at the time.
"He got to know everybody pretty well and got to understand the so-called hippie point of view,' says Mr. Wynne. "He was immediately convinced that these were not bad people, that they were real easy to get along with and that, despite the long hair and the hippie look, they were just ordinary folks. And they all liked him a lot.'
Editorialists at The Dallas Morning News were having none of it.
"Young people assembling to hear music is one thing. Young people assembling in unspeakable costumes, half-naked, bare-footed, defying propriety and scorning morality is another,' fumed an editorial headlined "Nausea at Lewisville.'
"Who and where are their parents? Where do these young people get the money to loaf around the country in their smelly regalia?'
The short piece closed with the assurance that most kids were "where they ought to be -- mowing yards, working at part-time jobs and preparing for useful lives.'
Mr. Wynne points to that kind of talk, along with higher-than-anticipated security and insurance costs, as factors that helped investors lose "probably $100,000 on the thing.'
"Parents were led to believe that it was gonna be a real horror show down here,' he says.
"I can't say this was the most organized thing in the world, either,' adds Mr. Wynne. "There were loose ends flapping all over the place, as you could imagine from a bunch of young guys that had never done anything like this and were trying to pull it off in record time.'
When it was all over, the participants, the police chief, some of the residents and even the disapproving media sang the praises of the Texas International Pop Festival. No serious problems had arisen -- and such good manners, too.
"When all these kids came to town,' says Mr. Wynne, "they went so far out of their way to be nice to the residents. They would mow their lawns and call them "sir' and "ma'am' and pick up their trash.
"That was part of the mind-blow thing that went on here. People expected all these folks to be real nasty, and here they were handing them flowers, just as polite as they could be. It disarmed them totally.'
It took years for Mr. Wynne, who has worked in the promotion and management end of the entertainment business for much of the last 20 years, to get the festival behind him. First, there was the lost money to recoup, and then a lawsuit filed (unsuccessfully) by some area farmers who said their property had been devalued. He now heads Wynne Entertainment in Dallas.
It seems to bother him a bit, the notion that the gentlemanly Sam Houston felt hoodwinked, taken advantage of by the Texas International Pop Festival and its organizers.
Says the judge: "I just understood that you had to be reasonable in a situation like that. There were some things that you could do and some things that you couldn't.
"Everybody's rights certainly had to be looked out for, but, on the other hand, our main job was to protect the city of Lewisville.'
"I don't know whether "hoodwinked' would be the correct word,' Judge Houston says. "I just think that, once we learned about it, we didn't have enough time to do anything about it. And that was probably contrived.'
Standing in the empty field that would have been the backstage area on Labor Day weekend 1969, Mr. Wynne is amazed that no trace remains even of the racetrack where his pop festival was held.
A young man flying remote-control airplanes nearby in the open spaces off I-35 says he's heard of the Texas International Pop Festival.
"Yeah -- Jimi Hendrix played there, right?' the kid says en-thus-ias-tically, if erroneously. "Man, he was the best.'
"I get more people that bring up the subject,' Mr. Wynne says, "and they all have their favorite festival stories. I won't say it was a turning point, but it happened at a time in people's lives that was generally a turning point of some sort, because of all the sociological and political changes that were going down.'
It keeps coming back to Judge Houston, too. Like a bad trip.
"I hope it's another 20 years before somebody calls me again,' he says.
PHOTO(S): 1.(The Dallas Morning News: Gary Kanadjian) It was not
"the most organized thing in the world,' says promoter Angus Wynne. 2.
(The Dallas Morning News) The Texas International Pop Festival, with 30
musical acts, drew 120,000 people from all over the country. Staged at
the now-defunct Dallas International Speedway, the event scandalized
some residents but won over others, including the police chief. "Good
scene,' Ralph Adams told the crowd on the last day of the festival. 3.
(The Dallas Morning News: Richard Michael Pruitt) Canned Heat was only
one of the top names at the festival. Other stars included Led Zeppelin,
Janis Joplin, B.B. King, Santana, Ten Years After and Sly and the
Family Stone. 4. (The Dallas Morning News: Joe Laird) Some who
attended the festival not only came by bus, they lived on one. 5.
Poster from the Texas International Pop Festival (DMN) CHART(S):
Lewisville Pop Trivia ;
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