Bring back some good or bad memories


July 3, 2014

Black and White Photographs of the 1969 Palm Beach Pop Festival

The Palm Beach Pop Festival was held in the northwest of West Palm Beach from 28-30 November, 1969. It drew 40,000 people to the 149-acre Palm Beach International Speedway. Officials fretted about health, sanitation and traffic, and were mortified by images of drugs and sex they’d seen 3½ months earlier at Woodstock.

They denied a permit to promoter David Rupp, who’d bought the track at foreclosure. He prevailed, but gained a new obstacle: Sheriff William Heidtman. The sheriff set up surveillance cameras and positioned 150 deputies around the clock at nearby Pratt & Whitney. Crowds tried to avoid the $20 entry, some swimming canals.

Iron Butterfly came on first, 2 ½ hours after the gates opened. Chilling rain fell and temperatures dropped into the 40s. Vendors ran short of food, and many of the 300 portable toilets were dismantled for firewood.

Helicopters flew acts — Jefferson Airplane, Sly Stone, Janis Joplin — from Singer Island. Joplin, who’d die of an overdose in 10 months, trashed Heidtman and Gov. Claude Kirk on stage and sang while chugging Southern Comfort. The Rolling Stones, paid $100,000, went on at 4 a.m. Monday and played a short stint for the few remaining.

The tally: 130 drug overdoses, 14 eye injuries, 42 intestinal disorders, 1,700 headaches and minor cuts, 1,000 reported conversions to Christianity, 130 drug arrests, and one death, of a teen struck by a truck. Rupp lost $300,000 to $500,000, “all the cash I had and all that I’d borrowed.”

In 1999, Heidtman — who would die at 91 in 2007 — dismissed as myths reports he planted alligators in canals and red ants in the fields, saying Florida always supplies plenty. But he did unapologetically say, “If I had it to do over again, I’d try to stop it.”

(Photos © Ken Davidoff)


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