The era of the 1960s is remembered for many things. Most of them centered on a youth culture that was part rebellious and part innocent. But primarily, it consisted of a populace asking questions of the status quo and who was ready to assert their independence throughout culture and society. It was the most exciting time to be young and alive.
New attitudes and energy were felt throughout the world. In global politics as well as in music, it seemed the world was awakening to new possibilities. Two of the events most associated with this shift are the countercultural festivals held in 1969. The American Woodstock, and its British counterpart, the Isle of Wight festival. If Woodstock changed the landscape of American culture, the Isle of Wight festival, a British open-air music festival that originally started in 1968, created a cultural wave across the pond. These seminal events, and the pictures that came from them, showing a sea of youth uniting in the celebration of life, would forever change music history.
John Loring: Designer, Artist, and Author
Accomplished designer, artist, and author, John Loring, was at the Isle of Wight festival in 1969. Loring had an extensive background in the arts and was especially attuned to record the festival’s countercultural moment; he had earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Yale University and continued his studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Since 1964, Loring began exhibiting his prints and paintings both in the United States and in Europe. Loring, who ten years later would become design director of the iconic Tiffany & Co. luxury brand, had the perfect eye for capturing the exuberance and liberty of youth attending the festival. In the Isle of Wight, Loring uniquely captures the yearning rush and flurry with which the youth embraced the countercultural movement of the 1960s. He recorded the energy as well as the ambiance of the event. Now 50 years later, Loring has vivid memories of photographing the festival; his eye unfailing.
“With every project he tackles, John Loring’s instinctive brilliance produces a little magic, and he has one of the best eyes for photography in the world. You cannot but linger over his photographs – You find there a haunting elegance that stays with you.” – Harry Benson
The Isle of Wight Festival
It’s common to remember Woodstock as the central convergence point of culture for the 1960s. Still, in the Isle of Wight festival, people throughout Europe and the world traveled to experience the music and culture of the 60s on their terms. It turned the festival into an epicenter of the era’s social awakening. In 1969, two weeks after the Woodstock event, The Isle of Wight festival was held in the town of Wootton. The festival ultimately hosted an estimated 170,000 festival-goers.
The Biggest Names in Rock and Roll
At the time, the biggest names in rock and roll played at the festival. These musical acts included The Band, The Who, and main headliner Bob Dylan, who had foregone the Woodstock festival and opted for playing at the Isle of Wight. Considered a stalwart of folk music, protest songs, and as the musician who provided the defining lyrics to a new way of imagining the world. Bob Dylan was labeled “spokesman of a generation”. Dylan faced backlash after 1965 by incorporating electric rock music into his repertoire of songs and nevertheless released groundbreaking albums. Still, some met his new sound with derision. After a motorcycle accident, Dylan ultimately took a three-year hiatus from touring and settled in the town of Woodstock. By 1969, pressured to perform at Woodstock and irritated that thousands of people had descended on the property at Woodstock, which he considered a peaceful retreat, Dylan returned to play on stage. Dylan opted for the Isle of Wight festival, cementing the festival as a legendary moment in music.
The Who, the British band that represented the youth’s disaffection through their music and especially the song “My Generation,” encapsulated Britain’s counterculture movement. They played at the festival and further cemented the event as a pivotal time in 1960s history. The Who’s iconic line “I hope I die before I get old” seizes the transient and powerful sentiment of the time. This was a moment for glorifying youth and enjoying the present with reckless abandon.
Becoming a Legend
The Isle of Wight festival would become its own unique legend; the next year, it hosted acts like Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Supertramp, and The Who again. This next festival would see an attendance of around 600,000 people, topping the 500,000 estimates of Woodstock. The festival would eventually be closed for decades after British parliament passed a law prohibiting gatherings of over 5,000 people on the island without a special permit. In 1969, The Isle of Wight festival set in motion something that lasts today, reopening 32 years later in 2002. It has now garnered a massive influence as a platform for presenting the era’s best musical acts and of exemplifying the ideals of the times.
“The wonderful thing about it was that everybody just decided that we were all going to get along and that everybody was going to help each other. If people ran out of food and you still had some, you gave them some. There was a really wonderful atmosphere about the whole thing because nobody had ever done that before, so no one knew what to expect. At night you had to build yourself a kind of shelter in the woods because it started to rain. One night I managed to find, between two huge boulders, a place where I could find some tree bark and things and make a roof out of, so we found a place to keep out of the rain for the night.
I was 29 and I was the oldest person there. Some people had some really nice hip clothes, I mean the pictures show what the 1960s in London actually looked like, what people actually wore. It’s very revealing for the time. To me, it’s a great document. 1969 was considered by all of us to be the high point of English pop music.” – John Loring.