The Mar Y Sol Festival 1972
The Mar Y Sol Festival, which took place about thirty miles outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico, seemed cursed right from the beginning.
Set up to be the first rock festival to take place in Puerto Rico, five promoters attempted to start the planning stages in 1971, but production problems nearly shut the idea down immediately. In hopes of reviving the festival, our old buddy Alex Cooley, the promoter behind The Atlanta Pop Festivals and the Texas International Pop Festival, was brought in to take the reigns.
Unfortunately, the official dates for the festival were decided to be April 1-3, 1972, which happened to be Holy Week. Even some of the promotional materials billed the event as “Easter in The Caribbean with Music & Friends.” Now, Puerto Rico was already conservative enough at the time that the local politicians and authorities were already against the idea of hosting a rock festival on their land, but the decision to place it on Holy Week brought unanimous, slamming disapproval from all directions (and especially from the press and government).
However, despite anti-festival protestors and a variety of attempts to shut the event down, Cooley pressed on and the stage was constructed between a beach and the Tortuguero Lagoon.
Much like other festivals of the time, thousands of people arrived to the site days in advance, camping and partying while crews were rushing to complete preparations in time. While many early drug-related arrests added fuel to the anti-festival fire for the powers that be, the first of what would soon become several deaths occurred, due to drowning at the beach. The other audience deaths that would occur later on during the festival included other accidental drownings and one (unsolved) murder.
The audience would eventually swell to around 30,000-35,000 and came to hear the likes of The Allman Brothers Band, Alice Cooper, and Faces with Rod Stewart. However, many advertised bands cancelled due to the ever-growing bad press about the event while others, like main-draw Black Sabbath, were all set to play but were left at the hotel due to a lack of transportation. This contributed to some of the already festering bad feelings.
Another set of performers that were originally arranged to attend but had to pull out, were John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Due to the US government trying to get the couple deported, the Lennons couldn’t get into Puerto Rico, but they sent a recorded message to the festival that was played to the audience as an introduction to an unannounced set by David Peel. You can hear this message here:
Between all of the onsite deaths, drugs and claims of false advertisement, an arrest warrant was issued for Cooley during the last day of the festival. Luckily for the promoter, he was smuggled out of the event, hidden inside a VW bus and delivered right to a plane on the tarmac. Despite having to be smuggled out, escaping the island was easier for Cooley than it was for the foreign audience members. The concert tickets were around $149, rather expensive for the time, but that was due to the inclusion of air tickets. However, what most people didn’t realize until it was time to leave, these return tickets were stand-by only. This left many concertgoers stranded at the airport for an undetermined amount of time.
As Marysolfestival.com tells it, “the authorities took care of all the people stranded at the airport. Tents were set just outside the main terminal by the Ports Authority and extra festival vibes were offered. Elephant’s Memory (one of the bands at the festival) came out and played for the people at the airport. The Red Cross, airlines & the department of Social Services provided food, water & medical attention. Pan American Airline provided the flights for about 3,000 people who attended the festival from outside Puerto Rico. This took several days.”
Despite all of the tragedy and drama, the performances at Mar Y Sol were generally top notch. Highlights include well-received sets by Alice Cooper, B.B. King, Mahavishnu Orchestra as well as the first true breakout performance of a young and mostly unknown Billy Joel.
- The Allman Brothers Band
- Long John Baldry
- Banda del K-rajo
- Brownsville Station
- Dave Brubeck with Gerry Mulligan
- Alice Cooper
- Jonathan Edwards
- Elephant’s Memory
- Emerson Lake & Palmer
- Faces with Rod Stewart
- Fran Ferrer y Puerto Rico 2010
- Geils Band
- Billy Joel
- B.B. King
- Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin
- Herbie Mann
- Michael Overly
- David Peel and The Lower East Side
- Rubber Band
- Black Sabbath*
- Flash Cadillac*
- Fleetwood Mac*
- Aston, Gardner and Dyke^
- Savoy Brown^
- Roberta Flack^
- Goose Creek Symphony^
- Al Kooper^
- Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina^
- Billy Preston^
- Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels^
*Didn’t end up performing
^Unclear if these artists performed or not
Later in 1972, Atlantic Records put out a double album of recordings from the festival, which featured: J. Geils Band, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Dr. John, B.B. King, Osibisa, Cactus, The Allman Brothers Band, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Nitzinger, Jonathan Edwards, Long John Baldry and Herbie Man. However, the album has never been reissued onto CD or on iTunes. It’s actually a really smoking album with an eclectic selection of styles and rich with killer performances. You can hear the whole record on YouTube here:
Cactus put three tracks from their performance on their ’72 record, ‘Ot and Sweaty, including this searing recording:
Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s full performance finally saw an official release in the last few years. Check out the version of “Tarkus” from that album here:
Many bootlegs also exist from the festival, including all of Billy Joel’s fabled performance:
And below are a few bootleg albums of Mar Y Sol material:
Originally, Mar Y Sol was scheduled to be covered by a film crew to create a documentary film, but due to many legal complications, the plans were scrapped and the only footage that exists come from home movie cameras and similar sources.
There was an amateur documentary film built out of modern day interviews with audience members and archival home movie footage, but it’s still an interesting watch. Here’s part one:
The rest can be seen at: http://www.marysolfestival.com/mar-y-sol-2012-el-encuentro/documental-mar-y-sol-el-reencuentro-40-anos-mas-tarde/documentary-mar-y-sol-the-renunion-40-years-later
Moral of the story: Don’t host a festival on Easter and keep it away from bodies of water big enough to have waves and tides.