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Woodstock? Nope. This fest was in Prairieville, Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS — August, 1969. Thousands of long-haired young people, some nude or nearly so, populate the rural landscape. Janis Joplin, Santana, and the Grateful Dead are among the featured acts and the air is thick with the sound of rock and the smell of marijuana.

Woodstock?

Nope. Prairieville. Prairieville, Louisiana.

Fifty years ago, in Woodstock’s wake, an estimated 30,000 people jammed into, or camped outside of, a speedway in Prairieville, 65 miles (104.6 kilometers) west-northwest of New Orleans, for what was dubbed the New Orleans Pop Festival. It was a bayou-country re-enactment of sorts.

It was smaller than Woodstock, which had drawn an estimated 400,000 to farmland in New York two weeks earlier. But there was a similar hippie vibe at the Louisiana festival, says John Moore, aka Deacon John, the New Orleans guitar virtuoso and vocalist who is still performing 50 years later.

“We wanted to emulate Woodstock by showing that New Orleans, despite its location in the Deep South, which was, you know, the harbinger of hatred and evil and racism — and all the anti-war stuff was going on — we wanted to show them that New Orleans could have a festival, too, without any violence,” Moore said in an interview. He was in his New Orleans home, crowded with guitars and other instruments, folders crammed with sheet music and memorabilia including a poster and program from the festival.

Some of the widely famous acts that played Woodstock also played at Prairieville, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Canned Heat, and Country Joe & the Fish, whose “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die-Rag” became an anti-Vietnam war anthem.

Jimi Hendrix was not there to repeat his Woodstock performance. But Deacon John, then 28, was.

He recalls giving the crowd a taste of Hendrix with song selection — “We played ‘Foxy Lady’” — and attire.

“I had my tie-dyed headband on, with my bell-bottom blue jeans and my tie-dyed shirt,” Moore said. Clad in what is now his customary performance garb — jacket, tie, short-brimmed hat — he beamed at the memory of the festival, showing off a poster and program and pictures of himself in the ‘60s, sporting an Afro and mutton-chop sideburns.

One archived news account says a dozen people were arrested for sale and possession of marijuana and that doctors reported treating about 30 for bad LSD trips.

Nobody could say that anyone who wound up in jail or ill hadn’t been warned.  The program urged abstention from drugs from uncertain sources that might be “improperly manufactured.” And a poster prominently warned of plainclothes detectives in the crowd.