The Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival festival on September 13, 1969 was a prestigious bill, with The Doors to headline, and featuring The Plastic Ono Band, Bo Diddley, Alice Cooper, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, The Chicago Transit Authority (later Chicago), and Lord Sutch. The bill also included lesser-known bands like Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys, Milkwood, and Whiskey Howl, the only local Toronto band to play the festival that year.
Rolling Stone called it the second most important event in rock ‘n’ roll history. The festival lasted 13 hours, and a ticket cost $6.00. It was also a concert of firsts. It was the first time Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard appeared on the same bill. It was the premiere of The Plastic Ono Band, and it was the occasion of Alice Cooper’s famous or infamous (depends on how you look at it) ‘chicken incident.’
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John Lennon and Yoko Ono at first weren’t scheduled to appear at the festival, but ticket sales were lagging. When Kim Fowley, who was to emcee the show, heard the promoters were considering cancelling it, he suggested they get Lennon and Ono to emcee the festival knowing of Lennon‘s love for the music of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Gene Vincent. Lennon agreed to do the show with the proviso that he and Ono perform; the promoters agreed, and ticket sales went up enough for the festival to go on.
Since Lennon and Ono were a last-minute addition to the bill, Lennon was throwing together a band even as he traveled to Toronto. D.A. Pennebaker filmed the festival, which would be released as “Sweet Toronto.” Pennebaker had previously filmed Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Look Back,” and he would film the Isle of Wight festival in 1970. Lennon/Ono’s performance was supposed to be the centerpiece of Pennebaker’s film but Lennon later had second thoughts because of the audience’s reception of Ono and because his (Lennon’s) singing hadn’t been up to his standards. Later that year, Lennon/Ono would release an album of their performance called “Live Peace in Toronto 1969.”
The 1969 festival is probably most famously remembered for Alice Cooper’s ‘chicken incident’. During Cooper’s encore the band would tear open pillows and blow feathers out into the audience. But while this was happening in Toronto, someone from the audience threw a live chicken on the stage. Cooper, thinking chickens could fly, threw it back into the audience, and they tore it apart. Cooper remembers John Lennon watching him from one side of the stage, and Jim Morrison egging him on from on the other side of the stage.
Jim Morrison was present during much of the day watching the other bands perform, while the other members of The Doors were backstage. Richard Maxwell, who was at the Toronto festival in ‘69, has posted his memories of the event as well as pictures he took during the day.
The Doors were the headlining act for the festival and played last. A couple of memorable moments occurred during “Light My Fire.” In the first, The Doors included a portion of “Celebration of the Lizard” as an introduction to the song, and the second came when Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, in homage to John Lennon, slipped in a bit of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” into his instrumental.
Gene Vincent being on the bill in Toronto may have been a nostalgic moment for Morrison. Vincent was known in his ’50s heyday for wearing leather pants, possibly an early inspiration for Morrison’s stage appearance. As The Doors started “The End” in Toronto, Morrison said he was honored to be on the same stage as the “illustrious musical geniuses.” Morrison and Vincent became friends for a short period of time and had the shared coincidence of being convicted of public obscenity (although Vincent’s may have been manufactured by his manager). Vincent died a little over three months after Morrison in 1971.
It’s in dispute whether Pennebaker filmed The Doors or not. Some witnesses say he packed up right before The Doors went on because it was too late, while others say The Doors’ set was filmed and that perhaps contractual or monetary issues or objections similar to Lennon’s had prevented the release. Whatever the case, The Doors’ appearance at the Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival was their last appearance in Toronto with Jim Morrison.
Sources: “The Domino Effect: How One of Toronto’s Most Iconic Rock Concerts Almost Never Happened,” Noisey Vice, and Mild Equator.
Originally published September 13, 2011 and appears in “The Doors Examined.”