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Two weeks before what would become the world’s most famous music festival, The Woodstock Music and Art Fair, another massive pop gathering took place on the East Coast. The Atlantic City Pop Festival drew upwards of 100,000 to the Atlantic City Race Track in southern New Jersey. Many of the acts who played would take their same set up the Palisades Parkway and New York Thruway to Woodstock, including Santana (mistakenly introduced here as “Santa Anna”), Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Joe Cocker.

The weather was good for most of the weekend, except for some light rain in the evenings that provided puddles and ponds for the unwashed. The police were mellow and looked the other way over the course of the festival, allowing a peaceful, positive mood for the masses.

Comedian and songwriter Biff Rose opened the show and was shortly thereafter pressed into service as the M.C., covering for Joni Mitchell, who abruptly left the stage in tears because the crowd would not give her respectful silent attentiveness. Her departing words were, “I just sang the same verse twice and nobody even noticed… I can’t go on.” Crosby, Stills and Nash were also scheduled to play on the opening Friday, but cancelled due to polyps on Graham Nash’s tonsils – though his tonsils worked just fine later on at Yasgur’s Farm. The Chambers Brothers filled in and set the crowd dancing with “Time Has Come Today.” Johnny Winters also was scheduled for the opening day, but was unable to perform because his equipment never arrived. Santana, though awkwardly introduced, supplied a riveting set – their first ever on the East Coast. The opening night ended with a thunderous version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly.

By Saturday, organizers didn’t bother checking tickets, as the flow of people was simply too great. American Dream warned crowds not to take “the purple pills.” Tim Buckley succeeded where Mitchell did not, mesmerizing the crowd with just a second guitarist and bongo player on accompaniment. Jefferson Airplane played hard and heavy with a “lava-lamp” backdrop. But Creedence Clearwater Revival (just called “Creedence Clearwater” on the promotional materials) were the revelation of the weekend, with a set that many called the best of the weekend.

Sunday saw a surly Frank Zappa play a set of instrumentals, apparently peeved about the crowd’s indifference to Mitchell. Janis Joplin was the day’s highlight, with a stellar fireball of a performance – this after she first entered the stage and was taken aback by the rampant nudity in the crowd. She quickly disappeared backstage and reemerged with a big bottle of Southern Comfort for courage. Joe Cocker drew a huge reception, as well. Rumors of Jimi Hendrix making a surprise appearance proved unfounded. Little Richard closed the festival with an electrifying performance, despite oncoming rains. By the time he threw his sequined jacket into the crowd, the mass of humanity was spent… but strangely energized. Many of them began, immediately, to migrate north, where they would make history in a certain Catskills field.

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