Schaefer Music Festival at Harvard Stadium, 1970
by Glenn Holland
It was a year after Woodstock and the spirit of the 60’s continued to race through America like a locomotive. Music festivals sprung up everywhere and Boston was no exception. As a 19 year old, I found myself as one of four people running the Schaefer Music Festival at Harvard Stadium during the summer of 1970 under the supervision of consummate New York concert promoter Ron Delsener.
Harvard Stadium is an amazing structure built like a behemoth horseshoe made of brick and stone. The massive stage was built twelve feet off the ground on the playing field with a sound system and a light show that had no equals. The stage was placed in the “U” shaped part of the stadium and faced an area comprising 14,000 seats of the 30,000 plus seat structure. Tickets for each show were a whopping $2 (a one day pass at Woodstock was $6.50)!
If Woodstock was any indication, the stage was literally set for a successful summer of rock, folk, R&B, blues, jazz, and a little pop. Something for everyone. But would music fans actually show up for the 16 shows that occurred every Monday and Wednesday. There seemed to be a buzz being generated throughout Cambridge and the surrounding area in anticipation of the festival.
June 22, 1970 was the first show. Bob Dylan’s backup band, The Band, was to open the festival. They had already exploded on the scene with their debut album Music from Big Pink and their platinum-selling self-titled follow-up. Advanced ticket sales seemed to be doing well but we still had no idea how the public would respond. The Band arrived early in the afternoon decked out in the typical colorful attire of the era, performed a flawless sound check, and we all simply waited for evening. Showtime was 8 p.m. but by 6 p.m. we had our answer. Pandemonium!
Thousands of people of all ages, but mostly our generation’s beloved hippies, paid the $2 to see the show. It sold out in minutes. Hundreds more surrounded Harvard Stadium wanting to get in to see the show. Craving to see their favorite band and not wanting to pay the “man” for what they felt should be free, these masses stormed the high wrought iron gates and climbed over bypassing the security and the cops.
This was the story throughout the summer for each performance. Each show was sold out but hundreds, sometimes thousands more, would jump the fences and cram into the stadium to see their favorite artists: B.B. King, Ray Charles, Ten Years After, The Four Seasons, The Grateful Dead, Tina Turner, John Sebastian, Van Morrison, Johnny Mathis, The Supremes, Janis Joplin (she was gone just six weeks later), Tom Rush, among others.
It was the summer of love all over again (but without the rain). Throngs of people enjoying the cool summer air, grooving to the music of the ages, and getting high! It was a summer I prayed would never end. The artistry, the artists, the insane backstage area, the groupies, the drugs, the party atmosphere, and the adoring crowds (always on their best behavior, except for an occasional overdose), made a profound impression on a 19 year old who was trying to figure out his own path. It was a uniquely creative era coupled with a powerfully tumultuous moment in history that, as confusing as it was, I wish every human being could have experienced. Maybe each generation has a similar type of experience but I can’t imagine that that’s true.
The 60’s and early 70’s were something else altogether. So I want to give a big shout out to my generation and say thank you to a place I will always call my home… Boston.
Published on May 8, 2016