History was made in 1969 at the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York. But that cultural touchstone may not have happened were it not for a South Florida resident who dreamed up a rock festival in Broward County 15 months earlier.
Michael Lang – the 24-year-old Coconut Grove head shop owner who brought us Woodstock – produced the Miami Pop Festival on May 18 and 19, 1968. He had never done anything like this before, but after putting together a team of people and a stunning lineup, he landed Gulfstream Park in Hallandale for the two-day event, 50 years ago this month.
Lang hooked up with New York promoter Hector Morales to line up the talent – and what talent it was. First and foremost was Jimi Hendrix. Mel Lawrence, who worked with Lang on both East Coast festivals, lists others in Woodstock: The Oral History: “The Miami Pop Festival we did had probably the best lineup of any show in the sixties (before Woodstock), everyone from Jose Feliciano to the Iron Butterfly to Chuck Berry to Marvin Gaye to Joni Mitchell to the Three Dog Night.” Frank Zappa was also there.
From the same oral history, compiled brilliantly by Joel Makower, Lang talks of those days in Coconut Grove. “The shop became a kind of center for the whole little movement that was going on down there. We started a little newspaper and we started having concerts in the local park and things like that, and that’s how we got the idea for the Miami Pop Festival. It was kind of quick – it was like two and a half weeks from inception to production.”
Lang and company worked through Criteria Sound in South Florida, which built three stages on flatbead trucks for the Hallandale Beach event. It drew 25,000 fans.
Anyone who’s seen films or documentaries about Woodstock knows about the rain. Lang notes that the Broward show occurred in the midst of a 30-day drought. Unfortunately, “the morning before the show they went out into the Everglades and seeded the clouds. That was our first experience with rain.” Many acts were rained out on May 19.
These big musical events seem glamorous now, but it is good to remember that “head shop owners” and people who might frequent them were then a distinct minority. And they were not all that appreciated. Lang was chased out of his Coconut Grove shop by police sometime after the 1968 show.
Nevertheless, Lang recruited many from his Miami Pop organization to help make the Woodstock dream a reality.
Stories abound on Miami Pop, but one of the oddest surely is the fact that Lang’s team recruited art students from the University of Miami. Among their contributions: Nine-foot-high Blue Meanies behind the hedges, other imaginary Beatles characters in the parking lots and even large replicas of milk containers lying on their sides with the spouts open, each spacious enough for 40 people to walk in the shade.
Monterey Pop and Woodstock have their movies. When will our own get one?
HistoryMiami Museum’s “Miami Rocks: The Miami Pop Festival, May 1968,” will feature rare photographs by Ken Davidoff, as well as archival footage and artifacts. The exhibition runs from May 18 to Sept. 30, at HistoryMiami, 101 West Flagler Street, Miami, 33130. Visit historymiami.org, call 305-375-1492 or contact the museum at email@example.com for more details.