June 27, 2011
The Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music ‘70 was 41 years ago today. My husband saved the festival flyer I brought back from England and just unearthed it the other day while cleaning the basement.
I had met Glenn six months prior to the summer I spent in England and had been corresponding with him, sending mail from the various boarding houses I stayed in as I explored England, Scotland, and Ireland. We got married about a year after I returned to Washington DC.
I went to England because I thought it might be a kinder, gentler, less materialistic place than the US. I had majored in international relations in college, the Vietnam War was in full swing, and I was not enthusiastic about joining the current administration to in any way support that war. Besides, I would need a masters degree, maybe a Ph.D. to find a job, and I needed just a little break from schooling.
So, I went to England. Shortly after my arrival, I watched, with a group of young people from London, the election returns. Conservative Edward Heath won over incumbent prime minister Harold Wilson. The people I was with were not happy.
“The youth of England are not united, not activists, like they are in the US,” they said. They were almost envious, they said, of that unifying factor we had in the US that inspired and solidified the youth movement: the Vietnam War. “You can have it,” I said, but I did understand what they meant.
Later, I met an American stationed in the military in England. He was against the war in Vietnam too, expressing himself by drawing peace symbols. But he really didn’t have it down exactly. What he drew were Mercedes Benz logos, missing the complete bisecting middle line.
No matter, he knew about this great concert in Bath, so we set off together to go see it.
We took the train to Bath, along with many other people. Over 150,000 people attended the festival. We must have arrived on Friday night for the festival, which was scheduled to run Saturday, June 27, and Sunday, June 28. I think that we slept in the Bath train station that night.
We wandered around town a bit. Bath is named for the Roman baths, which we saw from the outside only. The city was established by the Romans in 43 AD as a spa because of its abundant warm spring waters. It is an impressive city, architecturally and historically, but we had come for the music, and in the morning arrived at the festival grounds.
I remember broad rolling hills, many people, and long lines for food and porta-potties. We seemed to have spent a good portion of the day waiting in line that day. We had not thought to bring food, camping equipment, or even a blanket to sit on or a warm jacket for the cool of the evening.
I remember waiting in line for lunch, which turned out to be a half a loaf of bread, a chunk of cheese, and an apple. It was delicious! Still one of the best meals of my life, no doubt because we were famished by the time we ate.
Wikipedia says that the music started Saturday afternoon. My recollection, which must be wrong, but is all I have to go on now, is that it didn’t start until Sunday. I do remember standing in the field, with many others, at night, wondering where to sleep. Finally, we just dropped to the ground were we stood, lay down, and slept where we were. There were no other options—and we slept well.
My friend, the soldier I had come with, had to get back to the base in London on Monday. You just can’t call in sick to the military, so we left Sunday night. Bath is about 100 miles west of London, and we were dependent on the train, so there was no option to stay “just a few minutes more” and hear more bands.
We stayed in London with friends of his in a cheery apartment in Chelsea. So, to quote Joni Mitchell, on Monday morning, I “woke up, it was a Chelsea morning/And the first thing that I heard/Was a song outside my window/….“And the first thing that I saw/Was the sun through yellow curtains/ And a rainbow on the wall….And the sun poured in like butterscotch/And stuck to all my senses.”
I may have missed most of the Bath festival, but, ever since, Joni has sung her song just for me.