THE LONG STORY
(Getting to the Texas International Pop Festival)
Dennis Tittle, a graduate student in oral history at the University of North Texas in 2004, completed his advanced degree by interviewing a large number of people who attended the Texas International Pop Festival (TIPF) in Lewisville, Texas on August 30 - September 1, 1969, over a Labor Day weekend. In the spirit of John and Alan Lomax, Mr. Tittle has collected more detailed oral histories of individuals attending the Texas International Pop Festival than anyone to date.
Paul, self appointed member of the Press, Sept. 1, 1969 Image © Paul Johnston / Austin News Story Texas International Pop Festival
is an interview of Paul Johnston who attended and photographed the Texas International Pop Festival. It choronicals
his early parents' background, his youth in the sixties growing up in Longview, Texas, his college years at the
University of Texas at Austin and his experiences at the Texas International Pop Festival.
Paul, self appointed member of the Press, Sept. 1, 1969
Image © Paul Johnston / Austin News Story
Texas International Pop Festival
Oral History Collection
Interviewer: Dennis Tittle Date: February 21,
Place of Interview: Austin, Texas
Mr. Tittle: This is Dennis Tittle interviewing Paul Johnston for the University of North Texas Oral History Program. The interview is taking place on February 21, 2004, in Austin, Texas. I am interviewing Mr. Johnston in order to obtain his recollections concerning the Texas International Pop Festival, which was a three-day event that began on August 30 and lasted through September 1, 1969, in Lewisville, Texas.
All right, Paul, to begin the interview, please tell me when and where you were born.
Mr. Johnston: I was born in Longview, Texas, Gregg County, on July 31, 1947.
Tittle: The focus of this interview is, of course, the Texas International Pop Festival, which took place in Lewisville, Texas, on Labor Day weekend in 1969. However, I would like to ask you some questions about yourself to find out who you were then and how you fit into that scene.
The mid-1960s through the early 1970s was a period marked by considerable social, cultural, and political change. Minority groups were fighting the system to establish equal rights; women were trying to break free from their traditional role in American society; many Americans were protesting the Vietnam War and the seemingly unchecked authority of the government; and many of America’s youth were distancing themselves from the society and values of their parents, embracing “free love,” using psychedelic drugs, and reveling in popular music.
Tell me about your parents.
Johnston: My dad was born in 1898 and grew up on a farm in Elijay, Georgia. He told me that he rode five to ten miles to school on a horse. Basically, he worked in the oil fields all of his life. For some of that time, he and his brothers worked as roustabouts. Later on, he ended up working at a refinery in Longview, Texas, for Skelly Oil Company. Because Skelly Oil Company ultimately acquired all of the companies that he had worked for in the past, he ended up working for Skelly for thirty-five years.
My mother was born in 1917 around Corsicana, Texas. She grew up on a farm. She had five sisters and was very family-oriented. She did not marry until she was thirty years old. She wasn’t sure whether she was going to get married or stay [at home] and take care of her mother. My dad at that time was fifty years old, but they got married.
Before she got married, she was a secretary and worked at Kelley Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. One of her famous stories that she used to tell me was about typing up engine orders for engines to be sent to Jimmy Doolittle. [Editor’s note: James (“Jimmy”) Doolittle was a distinguished pilot and combat leader during the Second World War. He led the famous Doolittle raid over Japan in early 1942.]
Later on in Longview, she bought a Merle Norman cosmetic studio and was a businesswoman. She ran that studio for twenty-five years and did very well as a businesswoman.
My dad died in 1984, and my mother died in 1992. Shortly after I was born, I lived in one house with one family, and I had a connection with Longview between the time that I was born in 1947 until the time that my mother died in 1992.
Tittle: Coming out of the Fifties and into the Sixties, tell me how your parents responded to these social, cultural, and political changes that were taking place during this time period.
Johnston: I really don’t recall too much of a response from them, in that Longview, as I remember it--I graduated from high school in 1965--was kind of like a Leave It to Beaver-type of community, at least where I grew up. It was like a Nelson family-type of community. [Editor’s note: The TV sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which aired from 1952 until 1966, featured Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and their two sons. The program epitomized the ideal nuclear family of the time period.] The movie American Graffiti encapsulates what I remember about it. [Editor’s note: American Graffiti, released in 1973, is a film reflecting small-town America on the early 1960s.] So, I don’t remember changes going into the hippie culture or the counterculture in Longview while I was there.
In 1965, when I graduated from high school and came to the University of Texas [at Austin] where I attended from 1965 to 1969, I started being aware of the counterculture movement, the hippies. At the university, it was a very gradual thing. So, I would say that in Longview I didn’t perceive any types of social changes taking place there.
Tittle: In the early Sixties, the Beatles impacted your generation considerably. Tell me what you recall about the Beatles.
Johnston: I recall them being on the news. Walter Cronkite [CBS news anchorman], of course, was a predominant newscaster during that time. I don’t know if it was on his show or not, but it was one of the evening news shows that would come on at 5:00 or 6:00. They were talking about this “invasion” that was going to be brought on by the Beatles. They showed some film footage of the Beatles at the airports or at concerts in England with their long hair at that time. They were saying that they were coming to United States. When they came to the United States, I think that I was aware of them arriving at the airport after seeing news footage. I did see the Ed Sullivan Show when he premiered the Beatles. One of the things that he was noted for was for kind of showcasing some of the premier talent of that era. But I remember the first Beatles broadcast just as I do the Elvis Presley broadcast on Ed Sullivan. So, I remember the Beatles when they came here and were on television.
And then something else that I was aware of was their first song, which was a very popular song, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” I was aware of that because I was aware that the girls liked the Beatles and liked that song. And if the girls liked it, then Paul had better pay attention as to why they liked it. So, I was aware of the song “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The Supremes, at that time, was another group that was popular with a lot of the girls, but I was aware of that Beatles culture just starting there right before I left Longview. “A Hard Day’s Night” was another song that I remember. It was just starting before I came to the university, and then when I came to the University of Texas in Austin and throughout my college career, the Beatles were just on top. Their music was changing as the times changed. Obviously, they were a very talented group.
Tittle: How did you feel about the Beatles?
Johnston: I think that I liked them, and I liked them more and more as time went on because their music changed, and they obviously, to me, had talent to be able to change the types of music that they were playing and not get caught in a rut. So, as time went on, I liked them more and more. At first I was aware of a phenomena or that something was happening. But I really enjoyed them.
Tittle: What was your level of interest in music during the Sixties?
Johnston: That’s strange. If we go back before that into when I was in the fourth through the twelfth grades, I took steel guitar lessons in the community center. Mr. Raleigh Sigler, from Tyler, Texas, would drive over to Longview [Texas] every Saturday morning, and I remember seeing some country and western program, and they were playing the song “La Cucaracha”. But they had a steel guitar on there, and I wanted to learn to play that. So, I took lessons from the fourth through the twelfth grade. What I grew up on was Hawaiian music and country and western music. My parents, along with the relatives, watched Lawrence Welk every Saturday night.
My taste in music was quite different than the average person’s. I did love Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Dean Martin, and a lot of the classic performers of the Fifties. I did like rock ‘n roll. I did like Elvis [Presley]. But I had a little twist because I identified with Hawaiian music, too, which is very strange. I would look at these music covers on the sheets of music that would show some tropical scene, and I would think, “Oh! I want to go to Hawaii [or some tropical islands].”
Tittle: After graduating from Longview, what did you do after high school?
Johnston: What I did after high school was basically go to the University of Texas between 1965 and 1969. I graduated in the School of Business with a major in marketing. The program that I was in was called the Honors Program.
During the summers I would come back to Longview. Most of the time I worked at Gibson’s Discount Center, which was just about the first discount store to start in this area. One of my friends in high school, his dad was the manager of the Gibson’s that had just opened. I became friends with him. So, when summertime came, after I graduated, I asked my friend if he thought his dad would hire me. So, I started working at Gibson’s at $1.25 an hour. That was the going wage then. Before most of the summers, I would send a letter to the manager explaining that I would be there in the summer and [letting him know that] if he had a job for me then I would appreciate it. I didn’t have to job hunt, and I appreciated that.
I had two jobs during one of the summers. The other job was at Snapshots, Inc. I worked there during the week. It was a photo service that went around and picked up film from various drugstores. They would develop them and then take them back to the drugstores. I would go there in the afternoons. Photography was one of my hobbies. It had been for a long time. I would enlarge [photos] in the afternoons. I would take photos that people wanted made into 8” x 10” photos. At night I would put these film canisters on racks. I would be in the dark room, and I would open the [film] canisters up. These racks had clips on them. I would clip the film [to the rack on one end] and put a weight clip on the other end. There would be about six rolls of film hanging from a wooden bar, and I would set it on this conveyor belt that would ultimately go into a vat of chemicals. It would go through the first solution, and then it would lift it up and take it to the stop bath. Then it would take it to the fixer. There was a special wall that they passed between into a heater room to dry. So, at night I would process the film. The people who worked in the morning would then take the film, or the negatives, and make prints out of them. I did that during the week, and on the weekends I worked at Gibson’s Discount Center.
The first year that I worked at Gibson’s, I was at the concession stand, and I had to dip hard ice cream. It was a tough job. We had to clean up the machines and everything. Later on, I was in the camera department. All through my college career, I worked the summers at Gibson’s Discount Center. During the year, at special holidays such as Christmas and Easter, I would usually leave the university and come home to my parents. That’s basically what I did after high school. I went to college, and then I came home in the summers and worked.
Tittle: The University of Texas in Austin toward the end of the Sixties, for Texas, was a little bit more liberal than other colleges. Tell me how you witnessed that on campus.
Johnston: I guess when I first arrived at the university, I really didn’t notice much at all, as far as different points or view, liberal or conservative. I didn’t really know that there was anything different. It was like we were all the same.
But sometime while I was there, I remember seeing the first person with long hair. His hair was longer than the Beatles’ hair. It was shoulder-length hair. I remember thinking, “I saw a hippie.” There were not very many, but I remember that standing out in my mind, just seeing that.
I would say that the guys in the fraternities were generally a conservative bunch of people. They were wild maybe, but also conservative. I would say that the place where I lived, in general, was fairly conservative.
But [in some ways] it was very democratic and very liberal. That was at the co-op [Campus Guild Co-op]. As long as you did your duties, then it didn’t matter what you believed in. We were liberal in that sense. You did your duties, and it didn’t matter what you believed in.
But as time went on and the war in Vietnam heated, war protest started to emerge. Also, I remember that there were farming groups. They generally had to do with South Texas. They dealt with migrant farming issues. There were protests that were going on to better the conditions of the migrant laborers during that time period. [Editor’s note: During the 1960s civil rights movement, Mexican-American leader César Chávez organized migrant laborers and formed the United Farm Workers. The group incorporated boycotts and demonstrations in an effort to improve conditions for migrant labors. The movement was popular in the Southwest.] As time progressed, the war protests heated up.
I remember being in the Methodist Student Center one time. I don’t know if I was playing ping-pong or pool or whatever, but there was a group from the SDS, the Students for a Democratic Society, that was meeting there. I think that I just sat in on the group. They were discussing a protest that was going to happen in the near future, in the next few days or whatever. They were going to participate in it, and they were discussing what they were going to do. I remember the discussion was about nonviolence, but I remember that they were also about: “What do we do if someone flips a cigarette in our face?” As I sat in on that group, I began to realize that it was a protest group and that it was very strange for me to even be in this group. I wasn’t a protestor, and I thought, “What am I getting myself into?” I didn’t go on that protest or anything, but I just somehow happened to be at this meeting.
I began to realize that these people were protesting the war, or protesting something. I’m not really sure what it was. But they were different, and they were standing up for something. It was kind of scary to me in the sense that I don’t think that I would have been a protestor to cause any trouble or get into any trouble. I just thought, “Am I in the right place?” Those were my thoughts.
As time went on, I noticed some of the fellows living at the co-op where I lived. Maybe they would have been out on a protest, and they would come in, and they would have the signs that they were carrying. I was aware that this protest movement was picking up steam and so forth.
At that time, to be in the university, if you were male you had to have a student deferment. You were either in school or you were in Vietnam. When you would register for school at that time--it wasn’t done by computer then--you stood in line and got your classes and so forth, and then you went and paid the registrar the fees. I remember that the first check that I wrote for that first semester there for fifteen semester hours was $100. Anyway, you did that, and then they sent a copy of that to your draft board, which then issued you a student deferment for that semester. You could do the same thing for the second semester. As long as you were a full-time student for a year, then there was a grace period for the summer. It went on that way for four years. So, if you wanted to be in school, then you had to have a deferment. Guys who would get on scholastic probation and would have to go away for a semester or more were very scared because the draft could get them in the time that they were on scholastic probation, or were kicked out. Going to school, in a sense, was a life and death matter. It wasn’t just going to school, but it was a life and death matter.
There is something else that I perceived while going to school between 1965 and 1969. It seemed like the attitude was changing, that if you were to get an education to make a living, then you were a “capitalist pig.” There was something unworthy about that. You were supposed to be protesting or something. I’m not sure what. It wasn’t honorable to think about money.
When I graduated I got my draft notice, and I ended up joining. I was in the service for a little bit less than two years, as it worked out for me. But when I came to the university to take more classes [after being in the service], I noticed the change in those two years between 1969 and 1971. Things, overall, became more liberal. The fraternity guys, who had short hair in the late 1960s, their hair was longer. Maybe it was like the Beatles. It wasn’t like a hippie who had shoulder-length hair, but it was longer. It seemed like it was a little bit more honorable to go to the university and study for some degree so you could make a living.
The third thing that I remember has to do with where you lived. When I started at the university, you had to live in university-approved housing. Basically, you had to live in a “dorm” [dormitory]. I lived in a student co-op. But there weren’t many people living in apartments. You had to be approved by the university. There was the girls’ dorm. During the week, the girls had to be back in their dorm...I’m not sure if this is exactly correct, but the gist of it is. Maybe Monday through Thursday, let’s say, they had to be back at their dorm at 10:00 p.m. On the weekend maybe they had to be back in their dorm at 1:00 p.m.
Tittle: This was the case when you first started at the university?
Johnston: Right. Between about 1965 and 1969 there was university-approved housing. With their rules, they figured that if they could control the women, then they would have the men controlled. There were dorm hours and [designated] times when they had to be back in. What is kind of funny is that right before those dorm hours, as you were walking back from a study center, or academic center, where people went to study, almost like at closing time, the boys and girls were kissing each other, and it was like some of them were going off to war. It was like a farewell. But you would see this on the weekends or at night just before the [curfew] when girls had to be back in their dorms before they were locked up. They had dorm mothers. That was the living arrangement.
Also, as a freshman, basically you weren’t allowed to have a car. Maybe there was an exception if you had to work and you had a work permit or something. You had to be something special. You had to be past your first year, and you had to have a certain GPA [grade point average] before the university would allow you to have a car there. Whenever you had a party that served alcohol, the party had to be registered with some office at the university. You weren’t supposed to serve alcohol to anyone under twenty-one years old at that time. This registering with the university...I don’t know if it was unwritten or what, but it was my impression that registering with the university kind of granted [a level of permission]. [It was like the university was saying:] “We won’t look at your party if you have a [registered] party. The alcohol board will not come and arrest someone who has been drinking underage.” This was not stated, but this seemed to be what you thought was going on. But you had to have that party registered--that was important--or you might get kicked out. That was an era when the university sort of substituted for the parents.
When I came back in 1971--I came out of the military and went back to the university--there was no such thing as university-approved housing. So, people were living all over the place all over the city. Something else that had taken place during that time was the [development of the] shuttle bus system [in Austin]. Because you had to have university-approved housing between 1965 and 1969, basically that meant that you had to live somewhere pretty close to the university. If the housing wasn’t owned by the university, then you had to do something to get it approved. So, you just walked to school. But when I came back out of the service, when they didn’t have this university-approved housing, it meant that you could live anywhere. And because parking was limited, they obviously didn’t have enough parking spaces. So, they had this shuttle bus system. These buses would start off-campus from apartment complexes and things like that and go toward campus; or you would go to some central parking lot like the intramural field that was built. It was a short distance [from the university] for people to park there, so the buses would come by there [and pick up students]. So, they had a system of buses that hauled students around to accommodate this expanded housing and also to maybe cut down on the number of cars. It helped students get to the university. That was a difference that I noticed when I got out of the service.
Also, the hippie culture was in full bloom in the early 1970s. They were the “flower children” [hippies]. In the late 1960s, I remember that the Rag was a counterculture newspaper that was sold on campus. There would be a guy who would be selling it on campus or near campus.
Also, in the 1970s--I believe that it started right in 1970--there was the Armadillo World Headquarters, which was a very unique place where you had the hippie culture and the redneck culture coexisting on evenings with music from Willie Nelson, the Lost Gonzo Band, Michael Murphy, Shiva’s Headband, and bands like that.
Just prior to that...in 1969, when I graduated, I remember going downtown, and there was a Vulcan Gas Company, which preceded the Armadillo World Headquarters. It was a psychedelic music place. So, the psychedelic music was just coming in during 1969, and it was full blown in 1971. The Armadillo World Headquarters was there between 1970 and 1980.
So, that hippie culture between 1970 and 1980 was full blown. It was quite different from 1965 to 1969 when it was more conservative and so forth. It gradually progressed into getting more liberal and [to being characterized by] more protests. After 1971 and until 1980, it was just the hippie culture. It was here.
Tittle: Tell me about the “love-ins.”
Johnston: In general, love-ins at the university of Texas were nothing like whatever you might think of as happening in San Francisco [California]. Basically, there was a band playing, and there might have been some long-haired people gathering and enjoying the music. The [University of] Texas Student Union would sometimes hire bands that would play on the patio or somewhere outdoors at lunch or whatever, and people would get together.
I enjoyed going there and taking photographs. I remember one of the photographs that I took. There was a concrete bench, and there was an elderly gentleman sitting there, and then there was a young person sitting there who had a little bit longer hair. I don’t know if he had hair as long as the Beatles at all, but I remember seeing that and thinking: “Wow! What a contrast! Here is the old Establishment, and here’s the younger generation sitting next to each other, and there’s a band playing!” I climbed up in a tree and took this photograph, and I was just thinking: “Wow! I’ve captured the era!”
Okay, many years later, after I had developed that picture and printed it. I came across that picture, and I was looking at it. My thoughts at that time were such that I had forgotten that “Wow!” idea, and I was wondering why I even took the picture because the guy’s hair was not that long at all. It looked like maybe a younger person sitting next to an older person, and that’s the only thing that I could come up with. But it wasn’t like: “Wow! I’ve captured two different generations here.”
I enjoyed photographing the women at the love-ins, and they seemed to enjoy having their pictures taken, so that was great. The one that I really remember that would fit the classic love-in was taken probably in 1969. There was a new fountain on the east campus called the Geology Fountain. They had a love-in there. There were girls out in their bikinis wading around in the fountain. People were playing music, and there was one guy who was playing what looked like a steel guitar. It was in the shape of a guitar, but it was lying in his lap, and he was playing it with a bar. He was playing it like a steel guitar. That’s exactly the type of guitar that I started learning on. It was a guitar that laid on its side, and you played it with a bar. It wasn’t electrified. He had these mirror sunglasses on, and he was wearing a black cap. He had curly hair. It was shorter hair but longer coming out from underneath the cap. Maybe he had some tattoos. He really looked like a protest musician. I remember taking photographs of him and talking to him. This was after I graduated [in 1969] and joined [the military]. I went in under the Delayed Entry Program, so I was scheduled to go in November 1969. So, I worked the summer in Austin.
I’ll tell you about that. Anyway, I worked here in Austin and stayed here until right before I went into the service. Back to what I was telling you, he had just gotten out of the military fairly recently, and I was telling him that I had joined up. His attitude was, like: “You fool!” (chuckle) I was thinking: “What have I done?” Here he was just getting out and couldn’t believe that I had joined up.
But there was a large group of people wading around in the fountain. Dogs were running, and frisbees were being thrown. Music was playing. That was kind of the last love-in that I photographed before going on into the service. It was basically a group of young folks, generally from around the university area, enjoying music.
Tittle: What kind of clothing were the men and women wearing?
Johnston: Probably it wasn’t too wild. There were some people that you might think of as being hippies in 1969. They were there. But you found all types. I didn’t perceive it as being predominately anything. It was just a mixture of people. When I came back in 1971 and was with a group of people, it was more of a hippie-type of dress. It was more consistent in a group like that versus maybe in 1969 when you had a mixture of all different types.
Tittle: Tell me about the events of the summer of 1969 leading up to you going to the Texas International Pop Festival.
Johnston: All right. When you graduate, it’s like walking across the stage and getting your diploma in one hand and your draft notice in the other. That happened to me.
Before I took my physical [examination for the military], I had an opportunity to go to work in Mexico. One of the interests that I had was scuba diving, and I was a scuba-diving instructor. So, I had this archaeological diving expedition in the Yucatan [Peninsula]. My job was to teach these archaeology students how to dive. I remember when this fellow gave his presentation explaining that he was involved in this, and that’s what he would be doing during the summer. I thought, “Wow! That sounds like a great adventure!” I had been to Cozumel, which is a little island off of the Yucatan, the previous year with the scuba-diving club. I really enjoyed that. I thought, “Man! Can I get in on this expedition?”
Supposedly, we were going to be able to go diving at the sacred well of Chichen Itza. We were going to be at a place called Akumal doing an archaeological survey, and I went up there and asked: “Is there any way that I can get on?” He said, “Yes. You can work for me.”
I met with him in Houston [Texas]. I drove down there, and there were a bunch of guys who were going down there [to Mexico]. Someone was bringing a compressor. We were going to drive all the way to the Yucatan in a car. It ended up that we weren’t going to get to dive the sacred well at Chichen Itza. The finances were not exactly there, so some of the guys backed out. Anyway, there were three of us and a German shepherd dog in the car. Plus, we were loaded down with diving equipment.
We headed off to the Yucatan. I’m trying to think how many hours...I think we drove for three days straight. I can’t remember if it was two days or three days, but we drove straight on through.
Before we went there...the fellow who I was with was a “wheeler-dealer.” He had come back from the service. He was majoring in linguistics, and he had collected all of these shells. We went around to various sporting goods stores...we went to J. Rich Sporting Goods, and he traded this giant Tricdacna clamshell for a Honda electric generator. He sold some other shells to some other collector to get money to go on this thing.
So, off we went, and outside of Mexico City, the alternator went out on the car. We were up in the mountains going out of Mexico City at night, and the lights were getting dimmer and dimmer. These trucks were coming by, and we had to pull off [of the road]. We hooked up the generator, which had a 12-volt outlet, to the car battery and started charging it. We were sleeping, and these big transport trucks were going by. We charged up the battery, and then the next morning we drove on in with the battery going down. We had these mechanics at some place take the alternator out and replace it.
We eventually got down the Merida [Mexico] and met up with the other fellows there. The archaeology students ended up being some Boy Scouts [Boy Scouts of America]. Off we went to Akumal, and on the way we stopped at Chichen Itza and saw the Mayan ruins there. The fellow who was head of the expedition had worked there before, and it was extremely interesting. So, we then went to Akumal, the “Place of the Turtle.” That’s what akumal means. This little place is now a big tourist resort, but we were there during the planning stage.
There was a little house that an architect lived in. It had a shower, a bathroom, and a little bedroom. It had a cistern where the water was collected, and the villagers came there and got their drinking water from this cistern. The Mayan Indians built us a little hut on the beach, and we hung our hammocks there under this thatched hut. I went to sleep at night listening to the ocean on this beach of pure white sand with coconut trees all around.
In the mornings, we would get up and go down the road. It was just a short distance, but there was a Mayan temple in the jungle. Our duty was to do a survey. We hacked away the jungle around this little temple. The artists would measure what the temple looked like, and that was the survey that we would do. At about 10:00 in the morning, there were a lot of mosquitoes, so you had to wear long-sleeve shirts and everything, and it would get too hot to work. So, you would come back, and you would sleep or rest between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. Then we would go back and do it again. Or, we would give diving lessons out in the bay.
One of the side trips that we got to take was to Tulum [Mexico], which is just south of there. It’s another really nice Mayan ruin right there on the seacoast. They had just plowed a road to it. Normally, the only way that you could get to Talum was by air. So, I got ride down there, and we would stop at these little villages on the way. I got to see Talum. One night, one of the fellows wanted to go jaguar hunting with his bow [and arrows]. They didn’t get anything. Xel-Ha was another little lagoon thing that we got to see.
It was just a marvelous adventure. I didn’t make any money. The expedition had to be cut short because of that.
There was one time that we had a flat tire that needed to be fixed, so we went up the road to Puerto Juarez. There I met some Americans, a husband and his wife, who pulled their boat down to the Yucatan every summer. They asked me if I would like to go to Isla de Mujeres. I said, “Yes.” Our tire was being fixed. So, we went of to the Isla de Mujeres, and while I was over there, I got this bright idea that I would go to the dive shop and try to get a job there. I told them about my expedition ending early and that I would like to work there for a couple of weeks. I didn’t speak Spanish or anything, but what I understood was, “Yes, sure. Come back.” The expedition ended, and we were driving back.
At Puerto Jaurez, I hopped off and collected my diving equipment. It was raining. I watched my friends drive off. I really didn’t know a word of Spanish. I waited for the ferryboat. There was a ferryboat to take you over, and there was a drunken sailor [on it] called “Lado.” He and I somehow became pals. He knew Pepe, the place where I was going to stay. I took the ferry over to the Isla de Mujeres. I walked down the street, and I said, “I’m here.” He said, “Fine.” Off to the side of the shop was a room where I hung my hammock. My job was to go out and meet the tourists on the ferryboats when it would come in at various times of the day and try to get the American tourists to come to our dive shop and go out on our dive boat. I did that, and I met some very interesting people while I was there.
[Tape 1, Side 2]
Johnston: Meanwhile, I got set up in my room. One of the interesting people I met was Ramon Bravo, a very famous underwater photographer. He was doing a swimsuit model shoot, so I met some swimsuit models. That was very interesting. They were from foreign countries. I noticed that people from European countries spoke English and several other languages. Their command of the English language impressed me quite a bit.
I stayed there a couple of weeks, and then I ran out of money. So, I sent a letter to my parents, saying: “Send money if you ever want to see your son alive.” (chuckle) That’s not exactly what it said, but that’s the gist of it. I needed money to come home. They mailed me money, but I didn’t have enough money to take my overweight baggage. At the Mexico City airport that night, I was waiting to fly out the next day, and a guy who worked at the car rental place said, “Come home and stay with me and my parents tonight.” He took me home, and I stayed with them. The next morning he brought me to the airport, and then he gave me $10. I went on my way, and my luggage was shipped collect. When I got home, I called the fellow with whom I had been on the expedition. Actually, I called his mother and asked her to come and bail me out. He owed me some money. So, it all worked. It was a wonderful experience.
My mother also told me--I think I was in Mexico at the time--that the draft board might be concerned about me taking my physical. My parents were worried that I needed to come home and take my physical so I wouldn’t get into any trouble. I did that. All of the fellows who I graduated high school with were there four years later. We all went and took our physicals together. That was a strange experience, to see them. I decided to join the military. So, I went in on the Delayed Entry Program because I joined. I selected to go into the military in November .
I came back to Austin to work, and Firestone Tire and Rubber Company--when you’re a [college] senior, you apply and you interview with various companies--was interested in [hiring] me. They said, “Why don’t you work in the garage and get that behind you? Everyone works in the garage and learns that part of the business. When you come out of the military, then you can come and work for us.” So, my first job out of college was “bustin’” tires [changing, repairing, balancing, and mounting tires] at Firestone Tire and Rubber [in the garage at Capitol Plaza]. I worked there until just before I went into the service.
I was working that summer, but one morning while I was sleeping in the study hall of the Campus Guild Co-op, which was the only place that was air-conditioned, a friend came by and woke me up. He said, “Let’s go to the Texas International Pop Festival.” I don’t know, but he may have referred to it as the “Lewisville Pop Festival.” That’s what I understood it to be. He told me that there would be bands there. He had a girlfriend in Fort Worth or Dallas who he was going to go see, and he wanted me to go up there [with him]. He knew that I enjoyed photography. He said, “You can take a lot of pictures.”
I had some film left over from that diving expedition. Because I enjoyed photographing the love-ins, I thought, “Gosh! It might be fun to photograph some hippies and bands.” I didn’t know what it was all about. I just went. He had a Volkswagen “beetle.”
So, we headed up to Lewisville. The festival was at this former drag strip. It may have still been a drag strip [Dallas International Motor Speedway] at that time. That’s where it was located. We pulled in there, and there was a sea of cars. I made my way to the gate there, and it cost a few dollars to get in. I can’t remember if it was $3.00 or $4.00 or what. By today’s standards, it would have been very little.
I had my camera gear with me. I don’t know what exactly it was that I saw, but I realized that a person could get a press pass. So, I told them that I was with the press and that I needed a pass. I asked them who I needed to talk to. They sent me over to this trailer, and I talked to somebody in this trailer. I walked in there, and I told him that I wrote for the Southwest Slate, which was a newsletter for scuba-diving instructors in the Southwest Council Instructors Program (SCIP). I was a SCIP instructor. I told him that they had conventions every year at some location, and that I was there to write about the festival and show that it is a type of event that occurs in the area and to encourage the Diving Instructors Convention to come there the following year. The guy asked me: “What does it have to do with the festival?” I said, “Well, it has absolutely nothing to do with it other than that I am covering an event that is taking place here. We want to bring this convention here, and I am covering it.” So, he granted me this press pass, which was a big button that I wore. I was “pleased as punch” [extremely happy] that I didn’t have to pay.
I think that I went back to the gate. I don’t know if I was looking for my friend who brought me or what, but there were hippies, or longhairs, or whatever outside of the gates and these chain-link fences. I went up to them, and one of them asked me, “Hey, man! Can you give me that press badge and let me get in here free?” Maybe this was my strike against capitalism. Although I was very leery about losing this hard-won press pass, I said, “Please be sure to give it back to me.” I gave it to him. I don’t even think that he had a shirt on. He walked on through and brought the badge back to me. His friends saw that and asked me if I would do that for them. I did that two or three times. For some reason that made me feel really good. Then I took my badge back.
I realized that the press corps had seating right in front of the stage. I don’t know how many feet from the stage it was, maybe ten or fifteen feet, but that ten or fifteen feet, or whatever it was, in front of the stage was for the press. They had bales of hay lined across there. I had access to anywhere in front of that stage. Maybe there were some people who looked like hippies who were with the press, but there I was, in the front of the class, so to speak. I looked back, and there was a sea of people behind me. I couldn’t believe that I got in like I did. I talked my way in, and not only did I talk my way in, but I went right up to the front of the stage.
Then I started taking my photographs. It was a tremendous experience. I didn’t expect anything. I had no preconceived idea of what it was about, but there I was.
Tittle: You were there on which day?
Johnston: I was there on Sunday, I believe. [Editor’s note: After discussing the bands that Mr. Johnston saw at the festival, it was concluded that he attended the Monday performances at the Texas International Pop Festival.] The festival was on Saturday, Sunday and Monday [August 30-Septemeber 1, 1969]. It was Labor Day weekend. We drove up on Sunday. I don’t know what time the festival opened on Sunday. But we got there, and I don’t think that we missed any opening acts on Sunday. I’m sure we got there at noon. It didn’t take that long to drive from Austin. I was there Sunday until it closed down on Sunday night. I don’t know if it was midnight or 1:00 a.m. or what time it was when it closed down.
Somehow, I found my friend, or my friend found me, and he took me to some city park. I had my Yucatan hammock from the diving expedition, and I hung my hammock between two trees at this park. There weren’t very many people there, but I do remember that someone had--I don’t know if it was a Volkswagen or what it was--pulled out some large speakers somewhere in this park, and psychedelic music blasted through the night.
I remember that sometime in the night while I was asleep in my hammock, a car was roaring through the park, and I looked over the edge of my hammock, and I thought that this car was going to come between the two trees. I jumped out of it [hammock], and I guess whoever was driving the car realized that I was hanging in this hammock and that he was about to run through me.
My friend went to wherever his girlfriend lived, and the next morning he came back to the park, and there were two other fellows who were from the same co-op that I lived in. They were with him. I don’t know how they got hooked up, but we all rode back [together] to Austin. So, I was there just one day.
I remember when I was there that evening. I saw a lot of different things, and I can tell you about what I saw during the day and what I photographed and experienced. I do remember that I heard that Janis Joplin had been there on Saturday night, and I really liked Janis Joplin. I would have loved to have photographed her. I remember thinking that I really wished that I had been there Saturday night if I had to just be there one night. For me, I wanted to photograph her. That was a thought. I didn’t know the other performers real well, but I knew that I liked her and regretted that I missed her.
Tittle: Describe for me where you were located in relation to the stage.
Johnston: I was right in front of the stage. The press area was right in front of the stage. The distance between the stage and press area, I couldn’t tell you if it was ten, twenty, or thirty feet wide, but the press area stretched completely across the width of the stage. As far as I recall, it was just a single row of bales of hay, and the press had the right to sit, stand, or do whatever they wanted to do in between those bales of hay and the front of the stage. All of the other folks sat behind the bales of hay.
Where was I located, specifically? As far as just sitting and resting, as I faced the stage, I was over to the extreme right of the press area, or the extreme right on the bales of hay. That was where I sat. But all I had to do to take a photograph was to simply walk wherever I wanted to right in front of stage. I can’t remember if the stage was six feet high or exactly how high it was. It had vertical wooden planks in front with murals or designs painted on them. I could just walk right up to the stage and take a picture. I could go anywhere I wanted to go in front of the stage. Even though I sat off to the side at the right, that’s just where I sat and rested. When I got ready to take a picture, I could go anywhere in there. There were people with the press who were sitting up against the bales of hay, but when you would walk in front of the stage to take your picture, you weren’t stepping over people. There was enough distance there, so people weren’t just right up against the stage front. It wasn’t where you were having to step over other people or where you just had to shoot from wherever you were sitting. You had a complete runway to shoot from. You could be anywhere you wanted to be. It was an incredible feeling.
Tittle: What do you remember from looking back at the audience?
Johnston: I remember that it was a huge audience of people. I don’t know how many. It just appeared to be solid from that point of view. A thought occurred to me at that time: “Gosh! I hope these hippies don’t riot toward the stage! I’ll be crushed to death by a group of screaming hippies!” I was in such disbelief to realize where I was at and that all of these people were behind. I could not believe how fortunate I was. I thought, “Gosh! If something goes bad here, then I’m in a bad spot because I’ll be killed!” That was a thought. I didn’t witness any violence or anything [like that]. So, I was completely safe. It was a good time, and I didn’t notice any discontent at all from my point of view, not anywhere that whole time.
Tittle: What kinds of people did you see there?
Johnston: I saw all types. Like I said, at the university of Texas in 1969, if you were at a love-in, then you would see fraternity people and regular conservative people. You would see some hippies. It wasn’t necessarily one type. That’s kind of the impression that I got at the Texas International Pop Festival. However, I would say that there seemed to be more of whatever you would think of as being hippies. There was more of that type there than there were at the university area. There were a lot of people who had moderately long or short hair. If you look at various photographs [taken at the festival], then you will see long-haired people and short-haired people together. It was a mixture, and maybe there were more long-haired people than short-haired people. But it was a mixture.
Tittle: What about drug use? What do you recall about drug use at the festival?
Johnston: I want to back up for a minute. I have another comment. Besides taking pictures of the performers, I did roam around and take pictures of people, and I was very concerned about not angering them. So, generally, I would ask for their permission.
But there was a couple there that was the American Gothic of hippies. [Editors note: Johnston is comparing the Grant Wood oil painting, American Gothic, to his photograph of these two hippies. The 1930 oil painting is an image of a man and woman who epitomize the Puritan ethics and values of a midwestern couple. Similarly, Johnston’s photograph epitomizes the hippie generation.] He was a very tall, thin fellow with a big bushy afro. He had on striped pants and had a colorful scarf around his neck. She was dressed in a blue tee-shirt, bell bottom jeans, and had long, black hair. I thought that picture just captured it. These were hippies--real live hippies (chuckle). That was them, and it was the greatest example that you could have. They posed for me and enjoyed doing it, and I enjoyed taking their photograph.
Something caught my eye, and I said, “Wow! This is it!” It was like that picture at the love-in of the young man and the older man that I thought captured that moment. It captured the old generation and the new generation [together]. I thought that I had captured the ultimate hippie couple there.
As far as drug use, I don’t think that I noticed anything. Maybe I noticed some strange smells, but I don’t remember. Maybe I was kind of concerned about that while I was there or before I got there. I’m not sure. I was just dumb and happy to be there. I didn’t take drugs, so I probably wouldn’t have known it if it had bitten me. I was just there, and I didn’t perceive in my wildest mind that the people were out of control or on drugs.
The Hog Farm [New Mexico-based hippie commune that had participated at the Woodstock Music Festival] did have a medical tent there, and I understood that if people were having a “bad trip” [negative experience using hallucinogens] that they could go there. I think that I wandered over there and took photographs of maybe the kitchen. I think that I wandered through the medical area, and maybe I saw a few people on cots. But I really didn’t notice anybody out of control or anything like that. I really didn’t perceive that at all.
Tittle: What do you remember about the performances?
Johnston: Again, I just showed up. I knew that there would be some famous people there, but I was really unfamiliar with any of the people. I do recall hearing that Janis Joplin had been there on Saturday and being disappointed that I had missed her. I did recognize B.B. King playing, and I knew about him.
But the others were a new experience. As they introduced them, that’s when I met them. I remember Tony Joe White and hearing his “swamp songs” [Louisiana-style pop music]. That was great. The crowd enjoyed that. There was Delaney and Bonnie. At night I heard Spirit play, and they were a wild psychedelic group. I enjoyed that music, but they destroyed their guitars at the end [of the show]. That was shocking to me to see expensive instruments being destroyed. That was something new. I saw Johnny Winter, the wild, cross-eyed albino hippie, playing. Boy! He was good! I respected his guitar playing. I thought that he was great. He was just like someone from outer space who showed up on the stage. It was like I just saw someone from outer space. I was just all eyes. I didn’t know what to expect, but I enjoyed it. It was just a wonderful experience.
Tittle: Some people have commented about helicopters. What do you recall about helicopters flying above?
Johnston: I have in my mind helicopters flying over the crowd and dropping leaflets advertising something. Whether I actually saw this helicopter or just heard or read about it somewhere, I don’t know. Somewhere in my mind that does exist, but I don’t know if I saw the helicopters or not. I don’t remember.
Tittle: In one of the newspaper articles that I have read, a writer points out the capitalistic nature of the festival’s concessions. What do you remember about the concessions?
Johnston: I guess that, since I talked my way in there, I was price-conscious to start with. But for some reason, I got the impression that the food and drink items were very expensive. So, the thought that I had was “hippies ripping off hippies.” Whether that’s true or accurate, I really can’t say. That’s just a thought that I had. At this point in time, how I ever got that impression, I really don’t know. However I perceived it, I thought that the food and drink items were expensive. To me it was kind of humorous. You think of hippies at that time, when they thought that they were being cheated or that something was too expensive, the comment was made that they were being “ripped off.” In my own mind, the thought of hippies ripping off hippies was ironic. That may have no validity to it all, but that was just a thought that I had. I couldn’t tell you what anything cost.
It’s strange, but I don’t remember what I ate or what I drank. I don’t remember carrying food or water with me. When my friend left me at the campsite that night, I don’t know what I did. I don’t know if I just didn’t eat or drink for a day or what. I don’t remember any of that (chuckle). Anyway, I thought that things were expensive.
What I do remember, also, is that the Hog Farm was there, and they made an announcement that they had free chicken to give out at some tent or kitchen or something. I think that maybe I was hungry at the time, and I thought that maybe I would go over there and find the tent where this free chicken was being given out. I don’t know if I did or didn’t find the tent or if when I got there the food was already gone. But I do remember being hungry and [hearing about] the free chicken and then trying to find some free chicken. However, I never did get any. As I understand it, I think that some business donated chickens to the Hog Farm, and then they gave it out to the crowds.
Tittle: Minnie Pearl had donated 3,000 fried chickens to the Hog Farm to distribute to the festival attendees. In a previous conversation [off the tape], you had talked about a biker organization that you met at the Texas International Pop Festival. Tell me about that.
Johnston: Right. Somewhere in the parking area, there was a group of “bikers” [motorcyclists] that had some pretty neat-looking bikes. They looked to be rough characters. I thought that they looked like really neat people to photograph and that they would make great biker photographs. I was very apprehensive. I didn’t just want to start taking pictures of them and anger them and get beaten up. I was no hero or anything like that.
So, I ambled up there and started a conversation with and basically told them: “Man! I would really like to take your photograph. May I do so?” They were very happy to let me take their photographs. I took their photographs, and I remember in a conversation that I had with one of them that the bike club with which he was associated was the Gypsy Ghost Riders. He gave me his card, or a card, that he had printed. I don’t know if it had his name on the front, but on the back of it he wrote Gypsy Ghost Riders. I think that he wrote his name on that card, and he wrote a mailing address. They were out of Euless, Texas.
I remember taking their photographs. In one of the photographs I took you can see two or three of them sitting there. There was one girl, a biker girl, and I think that there was a black man and another biker. Just a short distance away were some people that were on--I don’t know if they were on Hondas--conservative-looking motorcycles. They had short hair, and they didn’t look like bikers. Maybe they were college students who had motorcycles, but next to them were these bikers who you knew were bikers.
Besides my thrill of taking biker shots, when I see those two groups there, it just illustrates the mixture of people who were at the festival. It’s another aspect. They were different types of bikers, different classes of bikers, and yet there they were just a short distance from each other.
Tittle: Tell me what it was like leaving the festival.
Johnston: I think that during the day my friend dropped me off there, and I think that he stayed for a while. But he left to see his girlfriend or whatever, and he pledged that he would come back at night and pick me up and drop me off at some campsite and then go back to his girlfriend’s and come back the next morning. So, the thought occurred to me: “I hope my friend shows up to pick me up to take me [wherever] and that he doesn’t leave me stranded in Lewisville.” I was wondering how he could find me at whatever time in the wee hours of the morning that this thing shut down. How was he going to find me? I had that thought during the day. I just enjoyed myself and didn’t really worry about it too much, but that thought was there.
But somehow that night, we hooked up, and he took me to the campsite. So, it worked out, as far as actually leaving the festival that night. The next morning, he came by and picked me up, and we drove back to Austin in his Volkswagen. The leaving process was really uneventful except for my slight worries over whether or not he was going to pick me up and drop me off at the campsite and whether or not he was going to show up at the campsite the next morning and take me back to Austin so I could go back to work. It was basically uneventful, as far as the actual leaving part.
Tittle: Looking back on the Texas International Pop Festival, what is it that you got out of the event?
Johnston: While I was there, I know that I enjoyed doing the photography. It was the experience of talking my way in and getting a privileged seat. It was being able to take the photographs. It was being an observer of the counterculture and photographing the people. It was photographing the bikers. I was just taking it in, whether I was photographing it or recording it in my mind. It was an enjoyable experience, and it was not until years later that I realized, at least in my own mind, that something significant had happened there. I didn’t know where in the realm of rock ‘n roll this thing ranked. It seemed Woodstock [the Woodstock Music Festival, August 15-17, 1969, near Bethel, New York] was the ultimate in the pop festival area, at least for United States. It seemed like the Texas International Pop Festival was Texas’s Woodstock. That was the ultimate festival for Texas.
Somehow, I got this impression years later. And in the late 1990s, after I got my computer and got on the internet and started looking for the Texas International Pop Festival on the internet, I found nothing. I wondered why that was. I would look up some of the bands, and there might be a reference that they played there, but you saw no details whatsoever [about the festival] on the internet. I could not understand this.
So, I created a website, I wrote up my memories from attending the festival and doing the photography and felt like it should be out there on the internet. After I did that, people would write me and tell me that they, too, attended. One gentleman had some excellent stories, and I encouraged him to create a website, and he did so. Another gentleman started writing a book and wanted to use some of my photographs. I allowed him to do that. So, another website came on.
As people would write and leave their memories on these websites, I began to realize that, yes, there was something [about it] that was significant in these people’s lives. They were saying what a wonderful event it was in their lives. The mystery was why this had not been out for the general public to read about after it happened. Why this hadn’t been written about, I don’t know, but now it is being written about and remembered by these people. So, my idea that something significant had happened, my thought there is validated by many other people today. I came away thinking that something significant had happened. That’s the thought that I had, and when I wrote it up, it was confirmed by many other people.
Tittle: I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview and for sharing your memories with me.
Johnston: I enjoyed it, and I appreciate the privilege of doing it. Thank you.
© 2004 - Paul Johnston - News Story