Signs Of Leonard Cohen: 1970 Strawberry Fields Festival – 3 Days Of Love, Sun, & Sound But No Leonard Cohen

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Note: Originally posted Nov 20, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

More 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour Eccentricity

The poster above and those in the gallery near the end of this post promoted the August 7, 8, and 9, 1970 Strawberry Fields Festival held at Mosport, Ontario at which Leonard Cohen was listed as an act but did not perform.

The oddest element of this event may be that Leonard Cohen was somehow absent from the festivities; with the off and on involvement of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, its two venue changes (which brought the Festival back to its original site), concerts masquerading as a motorcycle race, … the Strawberry Fields Festival nee Toronto Peace Festival would have fit well into  the weirdness that was the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour.

The story of the Strawberry Fields Festival of 1970 as related in Wikipedia follows:

John Brower along with John Lennon and Yoko Ono had originally planned to host the “Toronto Peace Festival” at Mosport Park in July 19701 but they ran into numerous roadblocks and their plans were dashed when their application for the necessary permits were denied. Without John and Yoko, Brower moved forward with plans to host a festival in Moncton, New Brunswick, named the “Strawberry Fields Festival”. Again, local politicians intervened and revoked various permits so Brower shifted the location back to Mosport Park in Ontario only this time he thinly disguised the event as a championship motorcycle race featuring “some contemporary entertainment.” [Note the copy in the 5th image describing the event.] The festival was advertised in Canada as the “First Annual Strawberry Cup Trophy Race”. To avoid public and political scrutiny, the musical entertainment aspect of the event was downplayed in advertisements and the festival was not promoted heavily in Canada.

The audience has been estimated at between 75,000 and 100,000 people. A three day ticket for the festival sold for $15.00.

Both Led Zeppelin and Leonard Cohen were booked to play the festival and their names appear on the posters but neither showed.

The following musicians did perform at the 1970 Strawberry Fields Festival:

  • Procul Harum
  • Jose Feliciano
  • Ten Years After
  • Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
  • Grand Funk Railroad
  • The Youngbloods
  • Jethro Tull
  • Melanie
  • Hog Heaven
  • Freedom Express
  • Leigh Ashford
  • Fat Chance
  • James Ambrose
  • Mountain
  • Cactus
  • Syrinx
  • Crowbar featuring King Biscuit Boy
  • Luke & The Apostles
  • Lighthouse
  • Alice Cooper
  • Sly and the Family Stone
 Video – Strawberry Fields Festival

Strawberry Fields Festival Posters

Image #4 is a blow-up of the lower left quadrant of Image #3 showing Leonard Cohen as one of  the acts.


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  1. This seemingly bizarre concept had a precedent.  The previous year, John Brower and Kenny Walker had organised  the Toronto Peace Festival held at Varsity Stadium on 13 September 1969. Wikipedia reports that the Festival was built ” around the notion of a revival of rock and roll stars from the 1950s, booking Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, and Gene Vincent. They also booked more modern acts such as Alice Cooper, Chicago, and The Doors, and contacted Lennon to see if he would be willing to be the Master of Ceremonies. Lennon responded that if he came over at all, it would be to play. Since the Beatles had to all intents already broken up at this point, Lennon hastily assembled a band under the Plastic Ono Band moniker, consisting of Eric Clapton on leave from the soon-to-be-disbanded Blind Faith, Klaus Voormann, and future Yes drummer Alan White, to accompany himself and Ono. []

Maoists, Music, Mud, Money, & Mayhem: Leonard Cohen’s 1970 Aix-en-Provence Show

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Reports, Recordings From The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Show

This post is the continuation of  Leonard Cohen At Another Other 1970 Festival – Aix-en-Provence (Part 1). While Part 1 of this post focused on the Aix-en-Provence Music Festival itself, this entry centers on Leonard Cohen’s August 2, 1970 appearance there.

As noted in an earlier post, Leonard Cohen & The Horse He Rode In On-Stage At The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival,

the Aix-en-Provence Music Festival in general, and Leonard Cohen’s role in it specifically, were uniquely weird.

In addition to Leonard Cohen making his onstage entrance astride a white stallion,1 for example, he also reported having been shot at:

I think I was shot at once at a big festival in Aix-en-Provence. That was when the Maoists were very powerful in France and they resented the fact that they actually had to buy a ticket. A lot of them broke down the fence and came into the concert and I did notice one of the lights on the stage go out after a kind of crack that sounded like a gunshot. I don’t know. But they’re tough critics, the Maoists.2

On the other hand, when asked in the same interview, “What about the French generally? You have said you are French. How do they respond to you?” Cohen responded

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  1. For a photo of and the story behind that equestrian event, see Leonard Cohen & The Horse He Rode In On-Stage At The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival []
  2. Leonard Cohen: Various Positions, Transcript of 1984 CBC interview by Robert Sward []

Video: Leonard Cohen’s Opening At 1970 Aix-en-Provence Show – Revolution, Profit, & Bird On The Wire

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The Leonard Cohen Aix-en-Provence Video & Posts

This video augments two posts on Leonard Cohen at the 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival. Leonard Cohen At Another Other 1970 Festival: Aix-en-Provence (Part 1), which focuses on the Festival itself and Maoists, Music, Mud, Money, & Mayhem: Leonard Cohen’s 1970 Aix-en-Provence Show, which features photos of Cohen, including some seen in the video, and also the stories: the Maoists, who may have taken a shot at the Canadian singer-songwriter; Leonard Cohen being called a fascist because of his decision to continue to live in Greece under the Regime of the Colonels; talk of Revolution; Cohen’s critics; poetry written about the experience; and more.

Video: Leonard Cohen’s Opening Speech & Bird On The Wire at 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival

This video features an audience-made audio recording of Leonard Cohen’s introduction and performance of Bird On A Wire on August 2, 1970 at the Aix-en-Provence Music Festival illustrated with photos of Leonard Cohen and his musicians, most of which have never before been published, pictures of scenes from the Festival, and images of other publications and events associated with the Festival.

The audio recording is only fair at best but does have the virtue of being authentic – and the only available recording of Cohen’s entire performance.

Leonard Cohen’s Opening At Aix-en-Provence 1970: Revolution & Bird On The Wire
Video by Allan Showalter

 

Credit Due Department:

Leonard Cohen’s introduction and his performance of “Bird On A Wire” were recorded by an audience member at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. The copy used in this video is from the private collection of Hippy1948. All of the photos of Leonard Cohen in the video, save two, are from the private collection of Dominique BOILE. I was alerted to the wonderful photo of Leonard Cohen astride a white stallion by Maarten Massa. The photo was first found by Dominique BOILE in “Leonard Cohen” by Jacques Vassal (Albin Michel Rock & Folk, published 1975, revised 1979). The photo of Leonard Cohen flanked by two members of his band is credited to Steve and was found in Rock & Folk #44. The copy used is from the private collection of Dominique BOILE.

Note: Originally posted Sept 13, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen At Another Other 1970 Festival: Aix-en-Provence (Part 1)

Note: Originally posted Sept 9, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Woodstock, Music Festivals, and Leonard Cohen

While Leonard Cohen did not perform at Woodstock, the August 1969 convocation at Max Yasgur’s farm had a major, albeit deferred, impact on the Canadian singer-songwriter’s career.

In August 1970, Leonard Cohen played two festivals sired by Woodstock.1 One of these festivals, The Isle Of Wight, produced a Leonard Cohen performance that is now approaching legendary status. The other, the festival at Aix-en-Provence was – well, that show was unique.

In fact, the Aix-en-Provence Music Festival in general, and Leonard Cohen’s role in it specifically, were uniquely weird.

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  1. Leonard Cohen also performed at the Forest Hills Festival, which was in reality a series of concerts by different bands, typically separated from each other by a week or more, rather than a music festival in the common sense, and consequently the Leonard Cohen Forest Hills Festival appearance was, operationally, indistinguishable from other 1970 Leonard Cohen concerts. In any case, there were few elements shared between Woodstock’s Three Days of Peace & Music (and mud and drugs) and the concerts by, among others, Peter, Paul, & Mary, Fifth Dimension, and The Band held at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Cohen was also scheduled to appear at the 1970 Strawberry Fields Festival held at Mosport, Ontario but did not perform. []

Rare Live Video: Leonard Cohen Performs Sisters Of Mercy At The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival

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Peter Torbijn of the Netherlands has discovered a film, previously unknown to me and listing only 127 viewings at time of posting, with a brief segment (one minute) of Leonard Cohen singing Sisters of Mercy at the 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival. The portion featuring Leonard Cohen begins at 2:22. More about this film and its implications will be featured in the next post about the 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival.

The description from the site follows:

Sujet consacré au festival de musique pop d’Aix en Provence. Le commentaire sur des images de concerts alterne avec les interviews de festivaliers et du directeur de la manifestation. Le reportage se termine sur des images de Leonard COHEN interprétant “Sisters of Mercy” sur scène.

[via Google Translate] Topic dedicated to pop music festival in Aix en Provence. Commentary on concert pictures alternates with interviews of festival and director of the event. The report concludes with images of Leonard Cohen performing “Sisters of Mercy” on stage.

Update: Véro Chô has offered a summary in English of the initial portion of the video:

This festival of “progressive music” was organised by a general (!) Clément, and while it’s not said explicitly, the idea was met with some resistance it seems. Valery Giscard-d’Estaing (then not yet president, but – I looked it up – minister of Economy and Finance) came to support the general, and the festival opened with him optimistic about its success. The turnout was much lower than expected, with only 15000 people, only half of them paying, on Sunday, when they had expected 100.000 and so the festival ended after two days instead of three. Two spectators from neighbouring villages praise the youth for its peaceful manners and will to emancipate. And the topic ends with a not exactly appreciative comment about Leonard Cohen: the commentator makes a pun on “fausses notes”, which can both mean wrong notes hit by a musician or faults. He says that Leonard Cohen didn’t manage to make forget the wrong notes (i.e. lack of ticket sales). But there’s clearly a double entendre here… The festival lost 1 million French francs, which would be about 200.000 Euros nowadays but must have been a huge sum then.

Michelle Phillips’ Gig As A Leonard Cohen Backup Singer – And The Dennis Hopper Intercession

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Note: Originally posted Nov 8, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Michelle Phillips

It’s one of those little-known facts that (ahem) everybody knows: Michelle Phillips, the singer, songwriter, and actress whose most recognized persona was the willowy blonde singer for the Mamas and Papas (Michelle is at the far left in the group photo shown below),1 did a stint as a backup singer for Leonard Cohen during the 1970 tour.

The_Mamas_and_the_Papas_Ed_Sullivan_Show_1968

The description of this gig found in her Wikipedia entry is representative, “During 1970, Phillips sang backup vocals on a Leonard Cohen tour.” In fact, if one plugs in precisely those words “During 1970, Phillips sang backup vocals on a Leonard Cohen tour,” within quotation marks, Google reports finding that exact phrase on about 7,360 websites. Without the quotes, Google reports about 39,300 hits.

The devil is, in accord with rhetorical precedent, in the details.  The sentence, “During 1970, Phillips sang backup vocals on a Leonard Cohen tour,” and its many variants are maddeningly ambiguous and potentially misleading.  A casual reader could, for example, infer that Ms Phillips was a backup singer throughout the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour. Efforts to discover specifics (e.g., at which concerts did she perform), however, have been unrequited – until now.

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  1. Often overlooked is the fact that she also co-wrote some of the group’s most popular songs, including “Creeque Alley” and “California Dreamin.” []