Over 100,000 attended The Woodstock of Bluegrass in Galax, VA Aug, 6, 7, 8 1976.
Rockville, MD -- (ReleaseWire) -- 07/21/2006 --We’re coming up on the 30th anniversary of Stompin 76, the legendary bluegrass/ blues festival held August 6, 7, 8, 1976 at Doyle Lawson’s Farm, 7 miles North of Galax, Virginia.
Did you attend the biggest party in southwest Virginia history? About 150,000 of us did and still talk about it. Some now have died over time. But many relationships, friendships, marriages, kids and careers were created by the simple interaction of so many with similar lifestyles meeting for a few summer days on a farm on a hill…from everywhere, mostly the eastern U.S.. It was a wild, self-controlled, beautiful event for the attendees. It was the time of sex, drugs and rock. Even the bluegrass seemed rocky in that amplified, natural amphitheater for 3 hot rural Virginia days. It was the Woodstock of Bluegrass Music.
People partied and were happy. It was the bicentennial year and everybody needed a place to celebrate, to remember 1976. Elton John and Dave Mason were the big stadium tour that year and the promoter took good advantage of it by having pretty girls pass out vinyl bumper stickers in cities from Chicago east. Occasionally, you can see one those stickers on an old Dodge Rambler or VW bus. The festival was promoted heavily on radio back then and in major newspapers before faxes, before the internet. “You could afford to advertise in Rolling Stone and The New York Times back then” says Hal Abramson, the then 21 year old drop out, standing stoop shouldered, flicking a cigarette, (as the local papers depicted him), Abramson, now 51, originally from Baltimore, lives in his home state, Maryland and still promotes but mostly as a marketing consultant. He has put on 4 music festivals in these 30 years, promoted Ringling Bros Circus, Ice Follies, been a Promotions Director in Las Vegas and a travel marketing executive. He’s also written 3 books on concerts, music fests and resorts.
Many Carroll County locals were not happy during and after Stompin 76. Young, naked New Yorkers urinating on lawns, polite strangers camping in their backyards and not enough parking and camping led to epic backups. Only motorcycles could get up and down the road leading to the farm. Local residents just couldn’t get home or leave, not that they wanted to leave- in fear of their homes being ransacked or burned down by the heathens.
“Everyday I am sorry for how the event adversely effected the locals. That’s my disappointment that lingers from an event that was supposed to be a fun weekend for all. We were all so young, we had no experience in producing something on this scale. We figured it out as we went.” Abramson said.
It’s ironic that though Stompin 76 put the name “Galax” on the map and directly contributed to the succeeding years of success of the Galax Fiddler’s Convention, “I am probably still the most hated man in Carroll County for being the perpetrator of the “Woodstock of Bluegrass” I brought there. Everyone I have ever heard from there, related to the annual downtown Galax event, denies the boost from Stompin (est. 1977 Galax Convention attendance soared to about 25,000 from about 3,500 the years before) and they state “we don’t know why, but sometime in the late 1970’s the event took off, that’s gratitude” Hal said.
There are however, people who never lost their coolness who get through to me and want to share their memories of a once in a lifetime musical event that changed their lives. Although I have heard over the years that one person died as a result of the event, there was an enormous amount of good both socially and for Galax- materially.
“Though many stated that I stole all of the money, the fact is that the festival sold about 32,000 tickets at $12.00 each = $384,000.00. The show cost more than that. The festival food concessions did not show a profit. At least this is what my roommate who handled it reported. I did not take a salary. The food We had no other vendors. This event was truly supposed to be about getting a lot of people together in one place and enjoying a weekend of incredible music. It was probably the least commercialized music event in history. I remember being called a crook by many that always stupidly thought “the promoter left with all of the money”. Abramson stated.
Nick Litrenta, the head of CES, the Baltimore based security company put a .45 cal. pistol on the table of the motor home I was in and said “I need $30,000 or we’re walking off the gate”. I said “you already walked off the gate”. This security company allowed the pagans to basically take charge of the front gate entry and did little to secure the perimeter. It could have been done with better forethought. But music festival technology was still raw then and you didn’t get a second chance the next year to get it right. .
“I learned the meaning of having a good organization that weekend by not having one. I have no proof of any Pagans stealing money. I was a natural promoter with very little sophisticated assistance (most of the staff was around my age). I had no experience at large festivals yet, though I had already, at age 20, promoted in Baltimore: Thin Lizzy, Golden Earring, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Chick Corea, Leslie West and Mountain, Natalie Cole, Spirit, Nils Lofgren and others. Not really enjoying the business of small concerts (concert tickets only sold for $5.50 - $7.50 at that time) and the low profit margins, on a blustery winter late afternoon, Sunday February 20, 1976 in my Reistertstown, MD apartment, with two friends present, I decided that the best way to learn about festivals was to put one on. Based on the music format that was being tossed around the room, the first name that cam up was STOMP, then moments later STOMPIN, then I yelled out STOMPIN 76! Within a month the advance work had begun, the search for land led to a contentious attorney from Winston Salem, Mickey Andrews who found the inadequate Lawson farm. No time left, I took it. “ stated Abramson
Realizing that a rock festival was out of the question- too expensive, I decided to assemble one of the most interesting talent lineups ever. Bluegrass with a dash of blues and other contemporary hip national acts like Bonnie Raitt, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John Prine, Ry Cooder, David Bromberg and Papa John Creech. The grass was as blue as could be with the Earl Scruggs Revue, Lester Flatt, Doc & Merle Watson, Vassar Clements, Osborne Bros., The Rowans, The Dillards, John Hartford, Hickory Wind, New Grass Revival and others. This ticket was just $12.00 for all 3 days! No wonder half the east coast wanted to be there!!!
Stompers then aged 4 - 30 with families and careers, now write to me about their heartfelt experience. The festival changed many people’s lives. Some for the worse, tens of thousands for the better. Both contact me through the Stompin site, www.stompin76.com
This event made a major impact on the folk’s lives that were there and added to our contemporary music culture at that time. There were relatively few music festivals then compared to nowadays. It is a part of your region’s history that cannot be swept under the carpet. Hate it or love it, the festival hosted over 150,000 and with the roads backed up 11 miles to the interstate, the state police said many more would have been there had they been able to get in. Galax will never see that again. Carroll County ordinances introduced strict rules as a direct result of the event.
“For me, the reward has been the lifelong realization of how, in many ways, the event was a great achievement conceived and executed at an incredibly early age. There will be no 30 year revival. The funds aren’t there and I’m not sure anyone down that way would welcome me. I have found to this day, the general population there is hostile toward me. “ said Abramson. Hopefully, the Stompin Spirit felt during those magical 3 days will carry until the last Stomper passes on. Those memories don’t fade.
Readers with Stompin 76 photos may email them, if acceptable, they will be posted on the site www.stompin76.com where a limited number of reproduced T shirts are now available.
Hal is available for interview by phone or email to the media.