Are You Ready?
Looking Back 50 Years with Your RocDoc
“Are you ready? You can trust me all the way.
Are you ready? Well, then let me hear you say
That you’re ready, and the world will know it’s right.
Yes, you’re ready, and you know it’s out of sight.” GFR opening act, Texas International Pop Festival https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpOZoF20ETw
And yes, they were ready! It was the summer of 1969, a season jammed with music reverberating in the souls of restless, apprehensive youth across our country. Music, i.e., rock, pop, folk, jazz, and blues was bellowing brashly across unbarred fields and under open skies. Music festivals were a much sought-after catharsis to the tumultuous time: Newport ’69 June 20-22; Newport Jazz Festival July 3-6; Atlanta Pop Festival July 4&5; Atlantic City Pop Festival August 1-3; Woodstock August 15-17; and less than two weeks later, on Labor Day weekend, the Texas International Pop Festival, where this story begins.
It was only 50 years ago that four rock-music enthusiasts, James Pope and his best friend John Plumlee, along with Jim Spann and his best friend Preston Dunlap, loaded into a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda and headed 260 miles east from San Angelo, to the Texas International Pop Festival at the Texas Motor Speedway in Lewisville – now, an integral part of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex. With the full-raging Vietnam War on all young men’s minds, particularly those of draft age, James and John, both 19 years old carried their registration cards for the draft, which they attached to a helium balloon at the festival, and watched as the music took them “…floating somewhere high over east Texas,” a tidbit that John revealed when he, Jim Spann, and I met this past Labor Day at the 50th Reunion celebration in Lewisville. I attended this reunion celebration, not because I was there 50 years ago, but because I am still aggrieved that my big brother, James, nor my high school sweetheart, Jim, would even considered taking me, a girl. So, 50 years later, I am visiting with each one of them to get the “skinny” on their glorious weekend.
RockDoc – In a day before the internet how did you acquire the tickets?
Jim and John echoed each other and reiterated that it was through my brother, James, or Jimmy, as he was commonly called then, who acquired the tickets. James tells me “…We probably all four heard about the Texas International Pop Festival through radio, and I know that I got the tickets through mail, probably ordered by phone…there was no question that my best friend, John would be going with me.”
RockDoc – Please share with me your thoughts about the trip.
Jimmy Spann remembers that he and Preston were working on a plan to get to the festival, and were more than thrilled that James and John, college students, would propose he and Preston, meager high school students, go with them. Preston’s grandmother, who is fondly remembered, “as a really cool, extremely tolerant lady”, would invite all four young men to stay at her home in Fort Worth, giving easy access to the festival in a day before the horrific metroplex traffic (more about Preston’s trip to follow). My brother has to interject here and remind us all that he provided “the ride”, the blue, un-airconditioned, Barracuda which on occasion had visited the 145 mph mark.
RockDoc –Upon your arrival, what was your first impressions?
John – “WOW! (laughter) Closer we got the, wider our eyes got…soo many people. I had never seen that many people – all very peaceable. Everything, from parking to walking the long distance to the venue, was well-organized and welcoming. It was the safest I have ever felt and it was truly like being somewhere over the rainbow.”
Jim – “There was some anxiety going in. The news had reported that drugs and crime would be rampant but the festival seemed calm enough. I was impressed by the colorful clothes the Dallas people and others were wearing. There were lots of long-haired guys which we didn’t see much in West Texas. I could tell there would be lots of people and wondered how full it would get after the reports of half a million at Woodstock…claim was upwards of 120,000 which appeared believable. It was certainly the largest crowd I had ever been in, compared to 60,000 at the Texas-Texas A&M Thanksgiving game in Austin I attended the year prior. When we arrived we saw lots of state and local police officers and vehicles…and could already hear cool music playing over the gigantic sound system.”
James – “The number of like-minded, non-violent people was mind-boggling. As I recall, I was wearing some maize colored bell-bottoms not belted, but tied with a brightly colored sash, and of course, my Beatle boots. It was a very peaceful atmosphere, there was easy access to alcohol, mostly wine, and a huge amount of pot, which was passed freely among the crowd.
RockDoc – What musical memories have stayed with you?
“Janis Joplin, certainly has stayed with me; her voice and her energy were amazing”, John reiterates and Jim described her this way: “Joplin came on super late like 3am and it was so cool all of us wanted to stay for her set. She bounced on stage, slammed her Wild Turkey fifth down on the piano after a big gulp and away she howled. She turned “ON” every man in the huge crowd who stayed to witness. I had never seen anything like her before…a true BLUES baptismal!”
John, Jim, and James talked about the impressionable music of Ten Years After, and their long jam of I’m Goin’ Home, in which the bass player collapsed most probably due to heat exhaustion. James has vivid memories of Santana, whose appearance at Woodstock and Lewisville most probably catapulted their career into rock and roll infamy. Canned Heat greatly impressed John, singing their peace, love and anti-war anthems.
Grand Funk Railroad made a vast imprint with their original rock and roll energy. Jim shares, “We were there and seated before the first act which was Grand Funk Railroad. Their manager, Terry Knight, thought it would be great exposure to debut the band. All the bands were already booked so he was told they could open the festival each day and play for free if they wanted to. They did, opening with Are You Ready and their career was launched!”
Jim and James, both have graphic memories of Jimmy Page intriguingly taking a violin bow to his guitar on Dazed and Confused.
FOOD AND SUPPLIES
RockDoc – What did you eat, what supplies did you carry?
John, tells with a smirk, that they were pulled over by the cops and asked to open the coolers resting in the back under the slant glass window of that Barracuda. All that was found was water and fruit, which John said they could have probably sold at some point for big bucks. The cops just laughed and sent them on their way.
Jim remembers that eventually there was a food shortage: “…after the food ran out, hippies in helicopters were hovering over the crowd dropping loaves of bread, comics and small cereal boxes on us. You can see the comic book debris on some of the Youtube footage of the festival as proof. Even crazier later were the same hippies in helicopters dropping long stalks of marijuana on the crowd in abundance. Yes, it was raining pot! We were so young and naive we didn’t know what to do with it but many others did.”
James flashes back to sitting on blankets with their few supplies in tow and feeling very comfortable leaving those things with no worries of anyone taking them or trying to “steal their spot”.
One humorous memory that all three shared, was that of Preston’s ‘trip’:
The afternoon of day two, all three were heavily into the music when they noticed that Preston was not with them and had been gone quite a while. Soon, they heard Hugh Romny, the infamous Woodstock MC, whose name was coined as Wavy Gravy at the Texas festival, asking the friends of Preston Dunlap to come to the “freak-out” tent. Apparently, according to James, Preston had taken a two-way tab of LSD just for grins, and being totally unexperienced in the world of psychedelics, and not knowing that it might take a while for things to kick into action, took another tab. His buddies, came to his rescue and found him ‘tripping’ peacefully away in the freak-out tent set up by the Hog Farm whose main functions at this festival and others was to keep people safe, render first aid, feed, water, generally care for anyone who needed it, and help keep the peace at such gatherings. (BB King is credited with giving Hugh, the moniker of Wavy Gravy at the Texas International Pop Festival – https://wavygravy.net/about/)
Jim recalls this about his buddy’s ‘trip’. “Our host had taken LSD and was having a favorable trip until we were eating at a Denny’s on the way to Grandma’s and he couldn’t eat his cherry pie because he described it rolling and moving all over the place, oozing everywhere. I just knew his DNA was broken forever but he seemed fine and ready to go the next Festival Day. Brave soul he was.” John’s recollection was seeing Preston in tears at the late night Denny’s stop as he exasperatingly tried to chase down that cheery pie.
As I discovered, for all these young men, the Texas International Pop Festival was a life-changing, life-altering experience. Three of the four would choose careers centered around music. John, after college had a one year stint as a government teacher, but then influenced strongly by the Lewisville Pop Festival sought diligently a career in the music business and retired after 34 years with Ticketmaster, where he was instrumental in its very beginnings, becoming data systems manager. Today John resides in the Dallas area, lounging by the pool and thoroughly enjoying his retirement.
Jim Spann, changed forever by what he had heard that summer as a 16 year old visionary, became a sought-after drummer in various rock bands, graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Radio/TV/Film and never left the music business. He remains in central Texas and is owner and managing director of GoBo Entertainment.
My brother James, though not a musician, amassed an enormous album collection, continued to be a very vocal political activist, had a short stint as history teacher, had a career mostly centered on sales of farm and ranch equipment, and now dwells at the foot of the Guadalupe Mountains in remote Dell City, TX.
Preston, who passed in 2013, would move on to become a musician and production engineer for all genres of music: jazz, Christian, country and of course, rock.
Your RockDoc still continues to pursue her love of rock music and had the time of her life attending the 50th anniversary of the Texas International Pop Festival. Special thanks to Jim, John, and James for their time and entertaining conversations.