Celebration of Life – The Forgotten Festival

By Jeffrey Greenblatt

A quick primer of well-known music festivals from the late 1960′s/early 1970′s might looks something like this – Monterey Pop, Woodstock, Altamont, Summer Jam and the Atlanta International Pop Festival. Much like today’s saturated festival landscape though, there were dozens of fests that didn’t quite have the cultural impact – for better or worse – as the ones mentioned. In the June of 1971 an ambitious eight-day music festival called the Celebration of Life was set to take place in McCrea, Louisiana, a town located on the east bank of the Atchafalaya River. The lineup was as impressive as they come with roughly 70 acts set to perform. The bill featured the likes of Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, the Beach Boys, Ike & Tina Turner, Sly & The Family Stone, B.B. King and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Some 50,000 (with a reports of up to 150,000) concert-goers descended onto the small Louisiana town, only to find themselves dealing not only with brutally hot weather, a lack of food, water and medical facilities, but also strong local opposition to festival. Oh, and not to mention the fact that promoters were scrambling to get permits, build the stage and had essentially lied about the bill, not actually booking many of the bands – just advertising that they would be there. Yet some 40-plus years later, the story of this ill-fated disastrous fest is barely a footnote in music history.

All in all only seven of the 27 acts that were advertised actually showed up. Chuck Berry, Stephen Stills, WAR and John Sebastian were among those that performed, with the festival shutdown after its third day. A new 25-minute documentary called McCrea 1971 by Nick Brilleaux and Scott Caro is set to tell the tale of this somehow forgotten festival. 

For more on the Celebration of Life Festival, check out these two blog posts for a detailed description of what went down.