Leonard Cohen At Another Other 1970 Festival – Aix-en-Provence (Part 1)

Leonard Cohen at Aix – August 2, 1970 (Photo by Claude Gassian from the private collection of Dominique BOILE)

Woodstock, Music Festivals, and Leonard Cohen

While Leonard Cohen did not perform at Woodstock, the August 1969 convocation at Max Yasgur’s farm had a major, albeit deferred, impact on the Canadian singer-songwriter’s career.

In August 1970, Leonard Cohen played two festivals sired by Woodstock.1 One of these festivals, The Isle Of Wight, produced a Leonard Cohen performance that is now approaching legendary status. The other, the festival at Aix-en-Provence was – well, that show was unique.

In fact, the Aix-en-Provence Music Festival in general, and Leonard Cohen’s role in it specifically, were uniquely weird.

The Aix-en-Provence show is, for example, the only concert at which Leonard Cohen made his entrance on stage astride a white stallion.

The story behind that equestrian event was featured in Leonard Cohen & The Horse He Rode In On-Stage At The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival, which goes on to describe the gestalt of the festival.  The Aix-en-Provence Music Festival itself will also be the focus of the remainder of today’s post. Part 2 of Leonard Cohen At Another Other 1970 Festival – Aix-en-Provence will center around Cohen’s performance at that festival.

The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Music Festival

The August 1-3, 1970 Aix-en-Provence Music Festival was Woodstock with a French twist, featuring an audience of 40,000 with an average age of 20, a ban against the Festival issued by the Prefecture of the Bouches-du-Rhone, Hare Krishna chants, battles between local politicians, nudity, Maoists, the President of the International (classic) Music Festival at Aix-en-Provence describing its rock festival counterpart as “devastating hordes of hippies in search of horseplay and scandal,”2 and demands that the Festival be made “open to the people” (i.e., free), along with, as one might expect, sex (exhibitionist-mode), drugs (used only slightly more discreetly), and rock and roll (by Johnny Winter, Mungo Jerry, Titanic, Majority One, …).3

The total three-day admission fee was  55 francs.

Billboard, July 25 1970

Video: Le festival de pop music d’Aix en provence (03 août 1970)
The Pop Music Festival In Aix En Provence (August 3, 1970)

This video was found at the INA archives. Excerpt from the text accompanying the film follows:

The experience of pop music festival in Aix-en-Provence was not repeated in subsequent years, but it remains, in addition to these archival footage, the film Guitar Fist (Daniel Szuster), and the memory of an exceptional event.4

Personal Narrative: Rock Festival d’Aix en Provence

Nothing surpasses the tale of a personal experience at such an event to evoke a sense of the time, place, and people involved.

The following are excerpts of the Google English translation of Rock Stories (1967-1974):

… here we are, at the end of the second day in the city of Aix, seeking and finding the point of sale fast tickets to the festival. The city was full of people – and beautiful people – we had never seen this … the Aix, for that matter, even if they seemed less enthusiastic at the sight of these invaders, rarely fortunate in addition, fifty-five francs entry sufficient to undermine these youth scholarships, and he could stay there, they fired more easily afford to pay the rod and box pie, the menu of upscale restaurants downtown.

Some eatables were made, and we went to the place of the concert, extremely easy to find, since it enough to follow the endless traffic jam of cars and pedestrians, interspersed with entire companies of riot police armed up teeth: Such an event, without precedent in our territory, attracting such a mass of young, so shamefully dressed and coiffed, contaminated unhealthy mind the most dangerous ideas, the great care required – even if he was happy not draw some tear gas before tonight. In any case, the ambulances were ready, a little apart, and a police helicopter came and went, under the jeers and raised fists of the motley crowd.  … it only remained to enter the grounds, which we followed in ant run away, the massive and long wire fence, which seemed not to want to find an end.

… A few thousand people were already in place, lost in this vast prairie all surrounded by trees, a beautiful place – but we were there for the music. And it is in a feverish rush as we approach the holy place: the stage, great to blush an aircraft carrier, is already invaded by a swarm of road managers who rush, run, stack , mount, wire, test the microphones, instruments: they did not lie, it is here that it will happen!

Erected on both sides of the stage, two large and tall columns of heavy wire mesh, each overflow of a stack of huge speakers sound the best brands, mostly American: the end of the end of the speaker, a riot of “JBL” of all sizes, unprecedented in the country of France, even within well-known clubs!

…  the rustic toilets … consisting of a slatted floor covering a huge trench, backed invasion at the end of thorns. We had to dig this deep pit shovel some shots, it would probably be closed as well, and it may herald a greener grass on this area, probably questioning generations of ethnologists in distant future.  The contemplation of this incredible alignment after all sexes – some of which were remarkable – in the exercise of their natural functions, was a revelation to many: why require more than is necessary, these few boards do not they enough? That has no paper gets its immediate neighbor, his neighbor, happy sharing the outstretched hand – some lost and some of them, all of a sudden one, their modesty, hopelessly fallen there, the pit.

As for showers, because higher refinement, there was a simple tube of a good fifty feet, pierced here and there a group of holes was largely the case and the waters in violation of any valve , flowed continuously, then went to the creek. Humble and rare, some soap circulated from hand to hand it back the same way to their owners, who sometimes did not recognize them, narrowed better than trickle. And again, there were big lesson: how casual, how happy this nudity condemned as collective parents, religions, authorities even in the absence of ulterior motives, and we saw, sell and run an impure water, responsible for all these black prejudice, and finally washed from the stream, would not fail to reach the sea, to drown forever!

… But who knows a few words of English, the words of Krishna followers were not content to advocate peace and universal love, they proposed the same, as the incomparable God Bacchus the abuse of wine, is dedicating himself to better perceive the benefits of peace in love with the consumption of cannabis. It goes without saying that such incentives were not necessary because the green floral sheet circulated by all is, in effect the perceptions embellishing music and love, among others.

There was, however, about this there, worthy of any episode recounted here: close to us, a group of Germans – also rather quiet – seemed to sell quantities of soft drugs supposed, but also the hardest and seemed to be able to satisfy the high demand, probably in a recipe just as important. These rascals vanished into the night, and were forgotten … until the next morning, where many customers of the day, visibly upset, came to attack me verbally, like annoyingly, beard, build, long hair and clear their bad foreign dealer. Fortunately the environment, in a burst of sympathy, supported me, saying that the top German and his associates had fled, and that I was not dealer. These unscrupulous selling high price of acid, LSD, various powders fully cans, and a sprinkling of the powerful sleeping pill which gave them time to complete the package, and the necessary flight: those were not come for the music!

… The first night went quite well, the music found a break in late night (four to six hours approximately), to use before breakfast, which was limited mostly to some found at the bottom of the biscuit bags: bread and pastries was obtained after a considerable tail, and shortages were common. Yet no one complained, and many frankly forgot hunger, transcended by Apollo’s lyre, touched the depths of their soul by Aphrodite, love music and love to see some flow is crucial hours of their lives, to live to the fullest, not wanting to lose a beat.

In truth, these days there forever marked more than one mind, whatever may have been its constitution, or ideas that could conceal the entrance to the festival.

The music began again, interspersed with evergreen “Krishna breaks,” speech at least several more talented, variously applauded and characters as related to politics, to music or radio

… It still lingered, rolling her down, stuffing his bag head elsewhere, hoping a final guitar chord. Then, tired and saddened, throwing the last look at the scene that we had given so much, everywhere, in a slow and silent, head down, his back bent, they converge towards the exit, head still filled with all the dream, and longer hair.

Coming Attractions: Part 2 of Leonard Cohen At Another Other 1970 Festival – Aix-en-Provence

Part 2 of this feature focuses on Leonard Cohen’s role at the 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival and will include several never before published photos of Leonard Cohen and his musicians, audio recordings of his performance, other artifacts, and more politico-economic aspects of a severe nature (think gunshots) than one might expect. Stay tuned.

Update: Part 2 posted: Leonard Cohen At The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival – Maoists, Music, Mud, Money, & Mayhem

Credit Due Department:

As indicated, the  photo atop this post (one of those never before published shots) is by Claude Gassian from the private collection of Dominique BOILE.

I was alerted to the astounding photo of Leonard Cohen astride a white stallion by Maarten Massa. The photo was first found by Dominique BOILE in “Leonard Cohen” by Jacques Vassal (Albin Michel Rock & Folk, published 1975, revised 1979).

The image of the Pop Music periodical was found at Festival d Aix-en-Provence – Colosseum, Johnny Winter, Pete Brown.

The image of the story from Billboard was found at that magazine’s archives.

The other photos of the Aix-en-Provence Music Festival were found at Parole de Musique.

  1. Leonard Cohen also performed at the Forest Hills Festival, which was in reality a series of  concerts by different bands, typically separated from each other by a week or more, rather than a music festival in the common sense, and consequently the Leonard Cohen Forest Hills Festival appearance was, operationally,  indistinguishable from other 1970 Leonard Cohen concerts. In any case, there were few elements shared between Woodstock’s Three Days of Peace & Music (and mud and drugs) and the concerts by, among others,  Peter, Paul, & Mary, Fifth Dimension, and The Band held at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.  Cohen was also scheduled to appear at the 1970 Strawberry Fields Festival held at Mosport, Ontario but did not perform. See Signs Of Leonard Cohen But No Sign Of Leonard Cohen – Strawberry Fields Festival 1970 []
  2. Google French to English translation []
  3. Originally posted at Leonard Cohen & The Horse He Rode In On-Stage At The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival []
  4. English translation by Coco Éclair.  Original text follows: L’expérience de ce festival de pop music à Aix-en-Provence ne se renouvela pas les années suivantes, mais il en subsiste, outre ces images d’archives, un film Guitare au Poing (Daniel Szuster), et le souvenir d’un événement exceptionnel. []