Festival Friday- The Strawberry Fields Festival (1970)


The story of this festival should honestly be made into a movie, kind of like Taking Woodstock, only more. I’m sure it would be just as dramatic and hilarious…

Held between August 7th and 10th of 1970 at Mosport Park Raceway in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada, the Strawberry Fields Festival was originally intended to be John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Toronto Peace Festival, but after their applications and other legal permits were thwarted, the Lennons gave up and their co-promoter, John Brower, moved forward to host the event in New Brunswick only to be halted by more politics.  Then Brower had the genius idea of moving it to the Raceway in Mosport Park but while disguising the festival as a motorcycle race that just so happened to have some entertainment. What balls.

b3e9dcbe61c41089de13a2426f528fa9.jpgJohn & Yoko & Brower

Apparently, in America, it was advertised as a rock festival, so thousands of kids tried to cross the boarder in order to attend. Unfortunately, many had to be turned away, mainly due to not having enough cash. According to Wikipedia, one person drowned while attempting to enter Canada via swimming the St. Lawrence River, after being turned away from the boarder.


On ganghistory.tripod.com, one fan, Philip Gangi, describes a harrowing scene while faced with the border guards.

“After hitchhiking all day, John [Kearon] and I finally reached the Canadian border north of Niagra Falls, New York, around midnight. Our last ride was with a young newlwed couple. The border patrol asked to see everyone’s identification. Everyone showed them their id. When they got to me I got a little nervous, but decided to tell them the truth. “I don’t have any id with me,” I said. “The disc jockey on the radio said that all you needed was a ticket.” The border partrol people said, “don’t you have anything? A library card or anything at all that has your name or address on it?” So I proceeded to explain to them how I lost my wallet a month earlier and since the deejay said that all I needed was a ticket I figured I would leave my wallet at home so I wouldn’t lose it.

The border patrol orders the driver to drive around the closed check point booths, make a U-turn and take me back into the United States.

This has got to be the most spontaneous of my life. I said to the driver, “when you make the U-turn go slow. I’m going to jump out and run across the field and climb over the fence into Canada.” And sure enough that’s what I did. I ran so fast I could feel my heart beating. I thought they were going to have searchlights on me at any second. When I got to the fence I threw my backpack over first, then I struggled for a moment and made it over into Canada. I ran to the road and started hitchhiking.

John says that the first car that came by was a cop who picked me up and did’nt even realize that I had just climbed the fence. But I don’t remember that. I do remember meeting up with John the next day at the concert.”   

Once it was discovered by the local politicians that this wasn’t a little motorcycle race, they tried to shut it down at the last minute. Luckily, it was finally decided by the Supreme Court Justice to leave the festival be, shortly before the official start time for the performances.


Photo by the aforementioned John Kearon (and our hero, Philip Gangi is featured in the bottom right of the photo)

Groups as diverse as Jose Feliciano, Cactus and Alice Cooper graced the stage but John & Yoko and the advertised Leonard Cohen and Led Zeppelin, unfortunately did not.


The festival itself seemed to defeat the odds and went rather peacefully. There was even a few motorcyclists that spun around the track a few laps, so Brower wasn’t a total liar after all…Wikipedia says that a highlight was Sly & The Family Stone closing the event by blasting “I Wanna Take You Higher” as the sun rose. That sounds like it could possibly top The Who’s sunrise performance at Woodstock.

Who Played:

  • Procol Harum
  • José Feliciano
  • Ten Years After
  • Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
  • Grand Funk Railroad
  • The Youngbloods
  • Jethro Tull
  • Melanie
  • Hog Heaven (hogheavenband.com)
  • The Freedom Express
  • Leigh Ashford
  • Fat Chance
  • James Ambrose
  • Mountain
  • Cactus
  • Syrinx
  • Crowbar feat. King Biscuit Boy
  • Luke & The Apostles
  • Lighthouse
  • Chakra
  • Alice Cooper
  • Sly and the Family Stone
  • Papa Grey
  • Led Zeppelin (advertised but didn’t show)
  • Leonard Cohen (advertised but didn’t show)


No official film has been released as of yet. It would be really great to see that Sly & The Family Stone performance, though.

Here’s what’s floating around YouTube at the moment, though.

TV news footage captured in the field:

Some silent home movie footage taken in the audience (including that promised motorcycle race)

and a slideshow featuring some great photos taken at the festival


Frustratingly, the festival was supposedly completely recorded and yet nothing has been released. Why this is a reoccurring theme with some of these festivals is beyond me. However, the only thing that I can track down is a bootleg of an audience recording of a few tracks of Ten Years After’s performance.

I’ve also heard many great things about Alice Cooper’s set and that it’s highly regarded by some diehards. I know it’s not much to go on, but maybe that reputation will garner enough interest someday for someone to dig up any of these soundboard tapes and let any of this music see the light of day again.


Come back next week at another racetrack (but with plenty of music this time, I promise!) 


Published by Record Crates United

Keith Hadad, the creator and manager of RCU, has been a contributing writer to Elmore Magazine and Thewaster.com and maintains a regular column, “Keith Hadad’s Choice,” in Blicker magazine. His writing has also appeared in the Smithsonian Folkways' Guest Blog and the Optical Sounds Fanzine. Also, please check out the blog's super-active Instagram account, @recordcratesunited for daily blurb-styled music reviews.

12 thoughts on “Festival Friday- The Strawberry Fields Festival (1970)

  1. Yes, I was there, 49 years ago, and still remember it very vividly. I was 21 years old and, at the time, lived in New Jersey. I had just returned from a visit to my cousins in Florida. In Florida I wound up with a very bad case of sun poisoning in my legs. But that didn’t stop me. I headed for Canada the next day. A friend was suppose to go with me, but he bailed out at the last minute, with some lame excuse. So I went alone. I had his ticket and gave it away to a needy, and very happy, person at the entrance.

    On the way there, I picked up a hitch hiker. And the two of use traveled all the rest of the way. Mostly we listened to Jethro Tull (This Was and Stand Up) on my 8-track player. We had absolutely no problem crossing the border. Everyone was very polite.

    It was a fabulous experience. All of the performers were great and the weather was fairly good. It was hot and dry, so you had to make sure you had a jug of water available at all times. During the day, there were some local groups and in the evening the name bands started. For a lot of the concert, I sat in the middle of the crowd about 50 feet from the stage. I didn’t know anybody near me, but it didn’t seem to matter. When I was tired, I found my way to my car and curled up in the back seat. It was nice falling asleep to the sounds of the times.

    I remember the OPs coming through the concert. They were pleasant and didn’t hassle anyone, no matter what they were smoking. As long as we kept things non-violent, they were happy. All we wanted was to listen to music.

    I remember Mountain, with Leslie West, José Feliciano, who played with Delaney & Bonnie, and just everyone on the list. It was three days that shaped my life. On the way home I helped four others that had not way home. They were all from Northern New Jersey, so it was a easy deal. They bought all the gas. I just provided the ride. When we stopped to eat, the Canadians were very very nice. It was partially because, we were unloading a ton of Canadian money and didn’t care how much things cost.

    I would like to thank everyone that made that time possible. It was an epic time for me and I will remember it to the end.

    1. a great time. the original Woodstock crew reunited after the fiasco of Altamount. Chip and lights. Pete Traynor on sound and Rolland Paquin on staging. A truly beautiful time. one month assembly. more attendees than i see the numbers say. spent one month on site in preparation. Maybe Jesse and the Youngbloods singing Come on People Love One Another was the highlight. Sly was a less than stellar expectation. Lots of folks backstage that never performed. Epic. Thursday evening with the Roadie soundcheck band was a great time.

    2. Yeah it was recorded in 8 track ampex 2″ high quality. lots of 16 and 35 mm filming as well. Sheldon Saffron had some line on it all. It’s in someone’s vault. Probably a better sound than Woodstock since Pete Traynor brought the first 24 channel mixer to the festival. Also a direct in / out on all channels. So somewhere subject to artists and media companies is one real movie of the time

  2. I enjoyed this post. I was looking for information about audio and video from this festival as well. I have short clips of TYA and Sly Stone. I also have a bootleg l.p. which I have read- but only once- was recorded at this festival. It’s an odd mix of War and Traffic audience recordings from what could be pretty decent (for the era, especially) recordings from an outdoor show. The bootleg label is Trademark of Quality, but it’s not really a TMOQ production, it’s someone else who used their logo according to Hot Wacks and everyone else.

    1. Thanks so much! Oh that’s very interesting to hear about your bootleg. What is the title of it? I still haven’t stumbled across any boots from the festival myself yet, but I feel like they have to be out there. I’ve just got to keep digging!

      1. Hi! Somewhere online there is a claim this came from the Strawberry Fields Fest, but someone who was there said neither War nor Traffic played there. The boot is called “American Home” and it’s credited to Eric Burdon Traffic and War, as if they’re three different acts instead of two. Cheers and Happy Holidays. It takes me forever to reply sometimes, sorry about that..!

  3. I was there , we all drove up in an old milk truck from cape cod picking up people along the way .
    We had tickets so no problem at the border . My sister was there with the Young Bloods , they were friends of hers . So I went to the stage entrance and asked for Banana and got in .
    I was on stage with them . It was amazing , I remember someone needed a tire which was announced on stage , and there is came out of the audience. It was a blast . I was 18

  4. I along with about 8 others stuffed into a van and headed up from Washington D C , we got to a border station on a back road and we were denied entry . We still made a trip out of it by causing mayhem all the way home . Typical pranksters’ stuff .

  5. Great time at Mossport, Alice Cooper were unbelievable! Hadn’t seen anything like them before, only thing close was capt beeftheart in 1970. Great line up of acts, sly, grand funk, ten years after. Long live rock.

  6. I was there with my then girl friend, Renee and a good friend Bruce K. from high school in Amherst NY. I still have my tickets in mint condition for the 3 days that weekend. It was a wild scene but calm and no issues that I remember. We took a bus from Buffalo to Toronto and then hitchhiked the balance of the way. Good thing they changed it from New Brunswick! I remember vividly the vans lined up parked and selling every drug imaginable, in the back. Great time for 16 year old.

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