The Ups & Downs Of A Great Canadian Peace Festival

BOB BOSSIN July 1 1970

The Ups & Downs Of A Great Canadian Peace Festival

BOB BOSSIN July 1 1970

THE TORONTO PEACE FESTIVAL, which had promised the biggest names in pop music and the largest single crowd in the history of the world, crumpled like a pricked balloon late this spring in the one-room school-house a mile from Parkhill, Ontario. The six casually dressed young promoters from Toronto sat in front of the blackboard, explaining why Parkhill should be the site for the festival. Facing them sat the township council and, behind the council, about a hundred area residents, many of them in work clothes, many of them farmers. At the back of the room were a few high-school students and three members of the Canadian Nazi Party who handed out a leaflet entitled “Don't Let Drug-in Come to Parkhill.”

The promoters’ presentation took half an hour. It was mainly figures: so much to be spent on police security, on clean-up, on toilets. During the presentation the schoolhouse was quiet except for occasional shouts of “sheeny” and “kike” from the Nazis. Then one of the farmers asked how his crops and barn would be protected.

“We’ll buy them,” said one of the men from Toronto.

It was the wrong kind of answer, too quick, too flip for people who lived on rural time and rural values. The promoters were from another world, the world of million-dollar gambles and million-dollar net profits, of 150-decibel acid-rock, of prestige, politics and even a little black magic. Theirs was a world closed to the farmers of Parkhill. The farmers for their part had called the meeting at the schoolhouse to make sure that that was exactly the way it stayed.

In 1969, more and more of the children were running, dropping out in Westmount and turning up on Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach, disappearing from north Winnipeg and heading for the coast, then sweeping back east to Toronto and Montreal. If you asked them where they were from they might say “Yorkville” or “all over, man” or “nowhere.” The ones who stayed at home were running, too, dancing more feverishly, smoking more pot, taking LSD when parents were out of town. They met at the rock festivals, the nodes of the youth movement. Last August at Woodstock, New York, 400,000 from all over the ‘United States and Canada formed their own city for three days, while another 300,000 turned back in the face of stalled traffic.

Initially the press reported what the adult world saw, a disaster. Then Time and Life declared Woodstock a triumph, the apotheosis of a new nation of young people, laudably opposite to the militant college revolutionaries. These were kids who smoked pot but who cleaned up after themselves, who undressed in public but who were polite to their elders. While they were anti-materialistic, their lifestyle meant an expanded market for records, clothing and accessories. And, unlike their troublesome older brothers, they had a conception of peace that bypassed politics altogether and an understanding of love that was absolutely indiscriminate. In the Woodstock Nation, the Establishment had its best, if unlikeliest, ally in years. And a number of sharp, hip young entrepreneurs had the material and the market for a quick, peacefully earned fortune.

Four months after Woodstock, John Brower, a 23-year-old Toronto rock music promoter, set up Karma Productions Limited in an old townhouse on Toronto’s expensive Avenue Road.The Karma office has aluminum foil wallpaper on the inside and fresh silver-grey paint facing the street. One door south is the Toronto headquarters for Scientology, one door north a funeral parlor, for sale. Across the street there is a church with a large green neon cross, and, beside it, The Silent Cinema, from whose marquee W. C. Fields stares into the Karma front window with a skeptical sneer.

During the summer and fall of 1969, Brower and a partner produced the Toronto Pop Festival and the Toronto Rock Revival, drawing 70,000 people. Though the festivals only made a few thousand dollars profit, they provided one of the biggest coups in pop music: a live performance by John Lennon, the freakiest member of the Beatles.

Shortly after the Revival, the Brower partnership split up, with each man planning bigger and longer festivals for the following summer. Brower joined with Hugh Curry, a former disc jockey, who had been negotiating a festival site, Mosport, a 500-acre autoraceway 50 miles from Toronto. In December, their promotion took off. John Lennon came to Toronto and announced that he would sponsor Brower’s Toronto Peace Festival, a long weekend of music, camping, health food and > yoga, to be held July 4-6. The festival was for profit, but as Lennon said, “We’ll skim off some of the cream for a peace fund or something,” an idea that produced the Peace Foundation.

Lennon returned to England to persuade the rest of the Beatles and other top-name musicians to come. Brower and Curry formed Karma and lined up money for what appeared to be a minimum-risk investment. Two months later they discovered a local bylaw prohibiting the use of Mosport for anything other than car races and agricultural fairs. It was the beginning of March and the festival was four months away.

“Hi, man.” It’s a morning early in March and Hugh Curry reaches across his blue plastic desk with a soft handshake. Curry looks like Pat Boone’s plainer, skinnier twin and wears a see - through shirt, belled trousers, long hair and a red-white and-blue serape with six-inch fringe. He is vice-president of Karma Productions and his desk is remarkably uncluttered. Curry is not into paper much. He is into telephones and right now lights are flashing and calls are stacking up on his conference phone.

Click. “Hi, man, it’s Hugh . . . Yah we lost the Mosport site, but we’ll get it on, man . . . No. The reservations fell through as well . . . Yah, it would have been great vibrations, all those Indians around, but there were too many hassles with the Indian Affairs Department . . .Yah, there's trouble at Parkhill, too, but I figure it’ll be OK if we jack up the ticket price a buck and promise them a Peace Memorial Hockey Arena."

Buzz. “Hold on for a second, will ya?”

Curry clicks on the conference speaker, leans back and puts his feet up. “Hugh,” says Kitten, the girl Friday, "it’s John on three.”

"Thanks, dear.” Curry beams at me. “Isn't this great?” He means the conference phone. I nod. He clicks it off and picks up the receiver. “Hi, man, what’s going down ... It is? Let's send him a birthday card on the Telex ...”

It does not take long in Curry's office to realize that every change, every crisis in preparing the world's largest pop festival is telescoped into the pink plastic switchboard conference phone and rechanneled for solution. It is the entrepreneurial equivalent of air-traffic control, the ideal place to find out what, as they say at Karma, is going down. What is going down at the moment is the festival site.

After losing Mosport, Karma tried several pieces of land before announcing the festival would take place on 1,000 acres of pasture field near Parkhill, seven miles from the summer cottage of Ontario Premier John Robarts. Shortly before the public announcement, the Ontario Provincial Police visited Parkhill with the New York State Police films of Woodstock. The footage selected was not favorable. The mayor, who had previously supported the festival, announced that he was being pressured to change his mind by “elected government representatives.” The township councils concerned began to discuss the possibility of prohibiting the festival.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, the investors were threatening to cut off funds until a site was finalized. So there were a lot of phone calls going on.

Click. “Get Gilhuly in here will ya, Kitten.”

Gilhuly is Brian Gilhuly, 23, with long hair, a Wild Bill Hickok moustache, an unfinished MA in linguistics and the title of co-director of Human Behaviour Research Group, a consulting firm to Karma. He is a general trouble shooter, responsible for such things as getting John Lennon temporarily off the Immigration Department’s prohibited list (for drug convictions) and into the country.

"Hi, man.” Buzz. Click. Kitten on the conference phone. Curry beams and says, “Isn't it great?” Gilhuly nods.

Between calls, Curry tells Gilhuly that he has been listed on the board of directors of the Peace Foundation as a linguist. It is just a temporary board of local people to pick the real board. "By the way,” says Curry, “we’ve got the spiritual aspect of the festival cleared up.” Gilhuly looks relieved; Curry goes back to the phone.

The spiritual aspect arrived at Karma with Leonard Hollihan, a Vancouverite whose long red hair falls down over his shoulders. Hollihan had been meditating on New Year’s Day when he received a vision of his teacher, Dr. Don Hamrick, or Zee, as he is called by his interplanetary brothers. Zee told Hollihan to go to Toronto. Hollihan's spiritual vision was to have a powerful effect on the festival plans. When Hollihan arrived in Toronto in January, he met another student of the occult, David Britton.

Britton writes pop songs and is involved in manufacturing zodiac Tshirts. However, for several years he has been most interested in holding a gathering of young people and “illuminaries” from all the world’s philosophies except Communism. Together, he and Hollihan refined the plan and brought it to John Brower, president of Karma Productions.

At the time, early January, Brower had his hands full of more earthly problems. A feud had developed between Karma and the Beatles’ business manager about who would control the proposed Peace Foundation as well as the festival. Brower had begun to collect names for the festival’s board. The Beatles’ representative insisted this had always been John Lennon’s privilege.

Lennon was then in retreat in Denmark, trying to give up smoking. Assisting him was Hollihan’s old teacher, whom Lennon called by his Martian name, Zee. When he heard of the rift, the Beatle summoned Brower to Denmark to smooth the vibrations with fasting, meditating, energy exchange and telepathy. When the vibrations were smooth, Lennon announced that he had, through meditation, changed his mind and had decided that the festival now had to be absolutely free.

Brower asked for time to think and left the next morning for Canada. Lennon said he hoped “the larger concept of the Peace Festival and its karmic effects had lifted him [Brower] out of his bread hang-up scene.” In case it hadn’t, Lennon wanted someone in Canada to look after his interests. Zee recommended Hollihan.

One of Karma’s early plans was to release a Peace Magazine a month before the festival. Among other information, it was to include the festival’s astrological forecast. The forecast was provided by Mr. and Mrs. Ed Cheetham of Oshawa, Ontario, and read:

"With mutable signs on the angles the whole matter will be kept in a state of flux . . . Neptune (drink and drugs) is ruler of the chart and opposes Saturn (farmers) in the House of Money, so that fear of drugs and drink will bring opposition from the powers that be . . . With Venus, ruler of the Second House (Money), square to Saturn, the show will cost too much for the venture to be profitable . . . The weather could be a little rainy.”

"We can’t use that!” bellowed Hugh Curry.

As soon as they received the request from John Lennon, Hollihan and Britton flew to Denmark where they sang, fasted and meditated. After two days they left on the understanding that they were the Beatles’ representatives in Canada, although Lennon later denied this.

The two Canadians flew straight from Denmark to the Jefferson Airplane’s mansion in California, where Brower had arranged the first press conference since the announcement of the festival. There Britton told the Karma president of his new position and proceeded to say that everything was set for the festival, including a visit from “our interplanetary brothers.” MOON TO ATTEND PEACE FESTIVAL read the headline in the next issue of the most influential pop music magazine.

Before Brower left California he received this telegram: “You have done exactly as we told you not to. We said it was to be free. We want nothing to do with you or your festival . . . Yours in disgust, John and Yoko.”

When Brower returned home in early March he purged Karma of Lennon’s so-called representatives. The next morning he opened his door and found a headless chicken wrapped in black silk. Brower picked it up, threw it in a garbage can and walked to the office where he sat staring at the aluminum foil walls and wondering where it had all gone wrong.

Britton’s spiritual beliefs had actually done the festival far less damage on the West Coast than Brower's own inability to answer a number of hard questions. In the six months since Woodstock, the American underground had become highly sensitive to the negative possibilities of festivals, particularly after 300,000 had turned up at a dusty semi-abandoned dragstrip near Altamont, California, to hear a bill topped by the Rolling Stones. This time the vibrations were bad. There was shoving, fights, bad acid and people hawking water at a dime a glass. It reached a climax when, 30 feet in front of the stage, a young black was stabbed to death by a band of Hell’s Angels while hundreds of frightened flower children waved ineffectual V-signs as if they were fairy wands to make the violence disappear.

Six months behind as always, the press had reported Altamont as if it were Woodstock West. Then the underground press broke the true story. On the West Coast, the love generation was dead. Altamont was the proof. “There are all kinds of ways to commit murder,” wrote Richard Goldstein, rock's most influential critic who had for years shunned politics. "One of the ways is to drain an audience of its ability to perceive violence.”

It is the middle of March. While John Lennon has withdrawn from the festival and the West Coast is preparing for a summer of violence, it is business as usual at Karma. Barry Ballister, the artistic director, is listening to a quavery-voiced girl on tape singing a proposed festival theme song:

Give a little thought for peace,
Then maybe our troubles will cease,
If enough people are thinking it,
Maybe we’ll be making it,
Give a little thought for peac

“It lacks oomph,” says Ballister.

Actually, he wishes the whole peace side of the festival would just disappear. All it has done is breed a lot of suspicion. Since the proposed weekend is a holiday in both Canada and the U.S. and since there will be large summer unemployment, they are certain to sell something like 500,000 tickets whatever they put on

In another office Gilhuly is fending off a hip young salesman who is pushing tokens engraved with the signs of the zodiac, to be used on the site instead of money. The profit comes because the kids decide to keep the ones they don’t spend for making belts and necklaces. Gilhuly says that, given so much unemployment, he doesn't think the kids will keep any. The man asks what would happen if they did not have refund booths. “Probably a riot,” says Gilhuly.

Hugh Curry is talking with the editor of the Peace Magazine about the Peace Vote. The Peace Vote would be registered by millions of kids phoning into radio stations with their names and addresses to declare themselves for peace, not for any ideology, just for peace.

Outside the door to Curry’s office, Kitten is dutifully going through the mail : “This letter is a fair representation of me at this time, which, a year and a half ago, I would have sent to Lever Brothers or Senator Kennedy. I no longer want that. I am a bright young Harvard graduate. I can do anything I choose. I choose music.

“Peace Grease will demand people capable of intelligent administrative planning and decision-making; people who will ride herd to see that all that is good and right with Peace Grease is brought to full fruition — together people who will work their butts off because they care about music and peace and a job well done.”

It is late afternoon. A photographer has come to take pictures of Brower while I interview him. He poses beside a giant panda he has just bought for his one-year-old daughter. Brower looks glum. “Aren't you supposed to tell me some dirty stories or something?” he asks the photographer. The photographer says he doesn’t use that technique. He asks Brower to make a V-sign. “None of that,” says Brower. “You use a peace sign when you want to communicate something, not when you want to hype a photograph.”

Brower estimates his personal take from the festival at about $500,000, maybe more if the movie grosses well, which is not unlikely. “But I’m not in it just for the money.” he had told me. “I didn’t have to give up half the festival take to the Peace Foundation. Man, I'm getting calls right now from a guy in New York who wants to buy us out for $2 million and have us produce the thing for him. But what he wants to do is charge $25 a ticket, put it on closed circuit TV, and bring up a motorcycle gang and make a ‘B’ movie out of it. I want to make this thing an accomplishment, something to show the Establishment, something that’s worth more than a dozen PhDs.”

Brower is from an old Upper-Canadian family. His great-uncle is John Diefenbaker.

“I’m not anti-Establishment. You’ve got to relate to the Establishment in ways they understand, show them that they can make more money on peace than on war. That’s why this whole thing really hurt John Lennon. He was just starting to get recognized by the right people. That meeting with Trudeau was just the beginning. I think Trudeau would have come to the festival, and so would Prince Charles and Princess Anne, but now Lennon looks like a simp."

The phone rings. It is the man from New York. “Okay,” Brower begins, “what kind of deal do you want to make?” Brower's wife and I go into the kitchen where she shows me a hunch of dry straggly stems. “It's tannis root,” she says. Tannis root is what the witches carried in Rosemary’s Baby. “The people who lived here before had it and we figured it must have been important to them.”

I hear Brower say, "Maybe we’ll sign an agreement in New York." He hangs up the phone and comes to the kitchen. I say that I thought he didn’t want to deal with the man from New York. “He might come around,” Brower says. 1 ask him where the Peace Foundation will fit in.

“It’s not going to be just another charity giving handouts to people who are too lazy to work. What we want to do is help people who have ideas for peaceful products get started."

The foundation’s first work will he to hack a health-food franchise called Baja-hurgers. Baja-hurgers can he made for 15 cents and sold for a quarter, and taste like a cheeseburger. A percentage of the profits will go into the Peace Foundation. A five-percent finder’s fee goes to Brower.

Yogi Bajan, who developed Baja-burgers, will also provide the free food at the festival. Like everything else, free food is a mixture of social responsibility and good business. “If there’s free food,” Brower explains, “you cool out the revolutionary types so they don’t go around ‘liberating’ the concessions. Anyway, free food is part of the spirit. It’s like the army. There's no competition over food."

He asks his wife if there are any cookies. She gets us a plate of fortune cookies. Brower’s fortune says: “You will soon be wealthy.” Mine says: “You will be indifferent where you should be kind.”

“How will you protect my barn and my crops?” was typical of the questions asked in the schoolhouse at Parkhill, a dusty little village looking almost like a prairie town. “What if Parkhill is declared a disaster area and the insurance company refuses to pay?” "What would you do if a barn burned down and how would we prove it was the people at the festival who had done it?” “What is to prevent these people from staying and living here?”

The citizens of Parkhill were not running anywhere and had no desire to become a checkpoint for the thousands of youths on the road in 1970. Parkhill had already found its peace. But it was a peace far different from easy three-day acceptance of Woodstock: it grew out of planting a crop and waiting for the harvest. In Parkhill, joy came with slow, carefully won attainment, not with youthful exploration, the more highly accelerated, the more thrilling. Why young people would want to blow out their minds on drugs was as mysterious to Parkhill as the farmers’ sure, contented opposition was to the turned on, fashionably dressed promoters.

After about an hour of questions, a boy got up at the back of the schoolhouse. He looked about 16, with long hair but with a conservative brown jacket and white turtleneck sweater. “Don't you see? This is why we are all leaving here. There's nothing for us, nothing to do.” But the young had always left, had been leaving since World War I. It was part of the order of things. The reeve got up while the boy paused, and thanked the Karma delegation for coming.

“The boy is still speaking,” snapped one of the Karmas, who did not understand that this was the way speaking priority worked in McGillivray Township.

The reeve shuffled a little. "It's late," he explained, “and many of these people have to be up first thing in the morning.” First thing in the morning, the township council had already banned the festival.

It is a grey, drizzly April morning and already a few dozen scraggly kids are waiting to get into Toronto’s Varsity arena for the first rock festival of 1970. They are mainly local kids, and the bill is mainly local groups. In the arena they will sit on the cement floor. The atmosphere could hardly be called festive, but that's the way it is in Woodstock Nation in 1970. The music is heavier, the drugs are harder and the colors faded.

In mid-May, John Brower announced that Karma had purchased 1,000 acres in the Muskoka-Haliburton area and signed an agreement with the council of Cardwell Township that would permit a more modest festival — in August. But once again Brower hadn’t reckoned on the implacable opposition of the provincial police. After senior OPP officers paid a quiet visit to the area, Cardwell council began to have second thoughts. Brower won a temporary injunction preventing the council from banning the festival, but it looked as though another Parkhill was in the making.

Everywhere, it seems, the love generation is coming down. In the middle class Toronto suburb of Don Mills, one father has been trying to organize a town meeting of kids, cops, storekeepers, schools, churches and parents. The kids had been getting searched and roughed up by the local police. Increasing numbers of stores and restaurants were closing their doors to teenagers. Some kids threw rocks at a squad car, and it was not yet summer. The police hedged about the meeting, but it was the kids who said forget it. “It's too late. I wouldn't even bother to go.”

A friend from Vancouver told me of a conversation with a 16-year-old. He knew girls who were pregnant; he had friends in jail, friends on cocaine, on heroin, on speed. “You know, it's really heavy being a kid these days," he said.