Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Flashback Alert: The Mississippi River Festival

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2007 at 2:30 PM

Aging hippies, alt-country historians, prog-rockers and both Deadheads and Parrotheads will be interested to know that 27 years after its demise, the Mississippi River Festival is receiving the archival treatment it so richly deserves. As Riverfront Times explains in a tidbit (you'll have to scroll down) in this week's print edition, a recent book about the festival captures the essence (if not the fog-of-weed reality) of the MRF, an annual music festival that was held in a natural outdoor amphitheater on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville from 1969 to 1980.

Sweet dreams are made of MRF: Bob Dylan cameo with the Band, 1969

A recent book, Images of America: Mississippi River Festival, documents the festival and features hundreds of pictures of the performances (as well as a photo of my first-ever girlfriend when she was about five years old).

Among the dozens of luminaries who graced the stage over the summer concert series' lifespan were the Grateful Dead, the Who, Jimmy Buffett, Yes, Janis Joplin, the Flying Burrito Brothers (in 1970 with Gram Parsons), Joni Mitchell, the Band (featuring a 1969 cameo by Bob Dylan -- his first post-motorcycle-accident performance) and, most impressively, Barry Manilow. (You can listen to an audience recording of the full August 16, 1980 Grateful Dead concert here. Alas, Manilow's show is lost to time.)

The MRF Web site has some pretty nifty features, including two twenty-minute documentaries, the first produced during the inaugural 1969 season, the second in 1975 (the highlight is a clip of Joan Baez covering Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne"); a comprehensive, detailed compendium of artists and performance dates; and a slide show. Whether you weren't born yet, were just a little tyke, or were too stoned to remember your experiences there, you'll find a wealth of information about an amazing festival.

-Randall Roberts

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