24–27 June 1971
The Celebration of Life, held in June of 1971, brought well over 60,000 attendees from across the United States to McCrea, Louisiana, a small crossroads town situated along the Atchafalaya River.
While festival planners initially offered a wide array of musical acts and attractions, several adverse factors including local uproar, an expensive legal battle, and the disruptive summer weather common to southern Louisiana wreaked havoc on the eight-day schedule of events and contributed to shortages of food, water, and medical facilities.
Chuck Berry, It’s A Beautiful Day, the Amboy Dukes, Stephen Stills, and others performed throughout the evenings, while festival-goers spent their days scoring drugs, seeking shelter from the intense heat, scavenging for food, or risking the deadly current of the cool Atchafalaya River.
In addition to the crippling legal quagmire surrounding the festival, rumors of police brutality and a number of accidents, including the drowning deaths of at least four people, have negatively influenced public perception and memory of the Celebration of Life.
Following in the wake of the Altamont Speedway Free Concert and the Powder Ridge Rock Festival, events similarly plagued by logistical difficulties and tragedy, the failed Celebration of Life represents the end of the golden age of the rock festival culture of the late-1960s, which had been ushered in by the earlier successes of the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock.
Musicians have aimed criticism at the promoters, while organizers and local officials have directed the blame for the festival’s failure against each other. McCrea 1971 does not attempt to pinpoint the source of the perceived failure but instead seeks to objectively document the experience of those in attendance.