After Zappa, Sly and the Family Stone took the stage and brought the house down. Starting their set at 2 a.m., another e-rockworld reader remembers that the band was "awesome" and had "me and my friends up dancing."
But things went downhill as Sly's usual frenetic performance continued. The soaked fans were getting colder as nighttime wore on, and bonfires were started on the infield, using the wooden folding chairs as fuel. Promoters issued several warnings to the crowd, to no avail.
The Sun described the chaotic end: "The festival drew to an inglorious close as Sly and the Family Stone exited abruptly and the stage hands began clearing the stage. Someone heaved a chair at them and a girl stood forlornly shouting, 'We ain't leaving,' at the departing crowd."
Because of the commotion on the infield and the rain delay, The Savoy Brown Blues Band did not perform.
News footage of the Laurel Pop Festival characterized the bonfire as a "riot" and ran on Baltimore and Washington TV stations the next day. Promoter Street thought the whole thing was blown out of proportion. "There were only about 40 or 50 chairs burned," he said. "The way it appeared on TV, it looked like chaos. When we looked at the books, it didn't look that bad, maybe about $100 worth of damage." He also boasted that the festival "grossed about $85,000 and the talent cost them $55,000."
Although The Laurel Pop Festival was envisioned to be an annual event, with the concerts growing every year, Street's partner told The Sun they would not return the next year. "They can have it," said Scott.
The Washington Post did not have a full-time rock critic in 1969, so it used general assignment reporters to cover these events. The Laurel Pop Festival was covered by none other than Carl Bernstein, who three years later would cover the Watergate scandal with his partner, Bob Woodward. In a pompous and wordy review, Bernstein blasted everything from the performers to the then-current state of rock and roll.
"The weekend's Laurel Pop and Burn Festival … provided some demoralizing insights into the state of rock music today and the people who are producing it," he wrote. Bernstein did not try to hide his disdain for the performers, writing: "Of the 11 acts that appeared, only three — Johnny Winter, Al Kooper, and the Mothers of Invention — are first-rate artists. As for the other eight, perhaps one or two (Sly and the Family Stone and Led Zeppelin) were mildly interesting, if not musically original. … The groups — Jethro Tull, Jeff Beck, Ten Years After, and Led Zeppelin — all were wildly acclaimed by the audience and have best-selling albums, facts that make it unpleasant to contemplate where rock is going."
To Bernstein's credit, in an interview with the Washington City Paper in 2001, he admitted his mistake.
"I really missed it on Led Zeppelin," he said. "I get Led Zeppelin now. I love them. But, boy, did I not get that band then. I'm ashamed. But what can I say? You get to be wrong once in a while."
History Matters is a monthly column rediscovering Laurel's past. Information for this story was found at the Laurel Historical Society's John Brennan Research Library. Do you have old pictures or stories to share about a historic event in Laurel? Email Kevin Leonard at firstname.lastname@example.org.