In 1970, 45 years ago today, the third annual Isle of Wight Festival was in full force. Unfortunately, it would be the last for over 30 years, until it was revived in 2002. As August is a big month for music festivals, let’s take a look at one of the greatest gatherings to date (besides that one that took place on a farm in upstate New York).
What differentiated this festival from Woodstock and the reason it deserves its place in rock history is the fact that it attracted more of a crowd than Woodstock, with estimates of 600,000 to 700,000 people in attendance. Like any other music festival of its time, there were very prominent acts who performed, others that would become more prominent later on, and even more that remain in obscurity to this day. Nonetheless, here are 11 of the most memorable moments from Isle of Wight, 1970.
1) “Light My Fire,” The Doors
One of the Doors’ most famous songs and a favorite of many fans, “Light My Fire” was released in 1967 and stayed at #1 on the charts for three weeks. When they performed this song on the Ed Sullivan Show, Jim Morrison didn’t censor the lyric “girl, we couldn’t get much higher” (a big no-no on a family show) and they were told that they would never perform on the Ed Sullivan Show ever again. As you can see, and hear, the Isle of Wight version was far more blistering and raw — perfect for a festival.
2) “My Sunday Feeling (Nothing Is Easy),” Jethro Tull
“My Sunday Feeling (Nothing is Easy)” is a track off of Jethro Tull’s first album, entitled This Was. Featuring influences from both blues and jazz styles, it was written by frontman Ian Anderson. Their live album, which was recorded at Isle of Wight, is titled Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970. Many consider this to be one of their greatest live performances.
3) “Do You Believe in Magic,” John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky
Perhaps because of his serendipitous role as the poster child of Woodstock a year earlier, John Sebastian was a no-brainer to perform at the Isle of Wight. His former Lovin’ Spoonful bandmate, guitarist Zal Yanovsky, who’d been unceremoniously thrown out of the group in ’67, was also appearing at the festival as part of Kris Kristofferson’s band. Sebastian was unaware until a member of the crowd passed a note forward that said Yanovsky was there, after which Sebastian invited him onstage and the two played a few songs together, one of which was the Spoonful classic “Do You Believe in Magic.” It was a reconciling and a reunion for the two; they’d remain close until Yanovsky died in 2002.
4) “Rondo” (cover of Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Blue Rondo á la Turk”), Emerson, Lake & Palmer
This was one of ELP’s first performances as a band on a song that Keith Emerson’s previous band typically included in their setlist. What really makes this moment special is Keith Emerson’s infectious energy while playing the keyboard.
5) “What’s Going On,” Taste
Before Rory Gallagher had a solo career in the ’70s, he was fronting a band called Taste. Gallagher was the primary songwriter for the band, and (you guessed it!) wrote this track. Their appearance at Isle of Wight was one of their final performances; the following year, he released two albums that went gold.
6) “Summertime Blues,” The Who
This is a cover of an Eddie Cochran song from 1958, which is fitting, being that the Who were partially influenced by rockabilly music as well as R&B. This song was a staple in their concerts in the ’60s and ’70s. They put a gritty, hard-rock twist on what was primarily a clean-cut song, making it extremely energetic and completely their own.
7) “Question,” The Moody Blues
This song, written by Justin Hayward, came from the Moody Blues’ sixth album, A Question of Balance; the track was recorded in one take. Because of its two distinct parts — one fast, one slow — that resulted from “Question” combining two different songs, it was a standout at the festival.
8) “All Right Now,” Free
You can’t listen to a classic rock station without hearing this song at least once. It was #2 in the UK, #4 in the US, and hit #1 in a great deal of different countries around the world. Perhaps no other tune reflects the easygoing, mellow atmosphere of a music festival in 1970.
9) “Call It Anything,” Miles Davis
The legendary Miles Davis garnered the largest crowd at the Isle of Wight for a jazz musician. This song actually didn’t have a title; the one above came from when Davis was asked what he was playing, responding with a nonchalant, “Call it anything!” His music was freeform jazz with funk influences spread throughout. Davis wanted to attract a young, hip crowd to his music, causing him to change his look and taking inspiration from musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. It was a success, and he appealed to fans of psychedelic rock.
10) “I’m A Man,” Chicago
Yes, I am aware that this is not a video from the Isle of Wight; sadly, Isle of Wight performances are hard to find on YouTube, so this performance from Tanglewood will have to do. This is a great hard rock cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s hit, really putting a new spin on the music and a different kind of energy to the song.
11) “Let The World Wash In (The Isle of Wight 1970 Theme),” Fairfield Parlour (I Luv Wight)
Also known as UK band Kaleidoscope, Fairfield Parlour combined fairytale-inspired lyrics with psychedelia, while some of their later music can even be described as early progressive rock. As you can see from the title, this song was dubbed the theme for the festival. During this time, they were also appropriately known as I Luv Wight.