Prog Rock hits the rock fest
Many people have the mistaken impression that the big rock festivals of the ‘60s era ended with the one at Altamont. That’s just not true, as important fests followed in the wake of the disaster in California, including the one at Watkins Glen, NY, Wattstax, and Mar Y Sol. The line up at the last event, held in Puerto Rico, showed the diversity of participants that made the occasions special (although reports at the time of Mar Y Sol were not especially positive). Acts included The Allman Brothers Band, Billy Joel, Dr. John, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Emerson Lake and Palmer. ELP—and progressive rock in general—was at the height of its popularity. Albums such as ELP’s Tarkus (1971), Pictures at an Exhibition (1971) and Trilogy (1972) all hit the top ten in America and Britain. While ELP has been derided for its pretentiousness in the decades that have followed, the band headlined at the time of this concert.
Listening to their show 40 years later reveals the truth of the criticism. The music is bombastic, simple-minded, showy, and loud. However, these things can be seen as virtues as well. ELP emerged at a time when many artists retreated into reflective and introspective poses that were more vapid than the pyrotechnics of electronic fusion (Graham Nash, The Eagles). The three members of ELP weren’t afraid to put their balls to the wall, as evidenced by this live show with its long instrumental solos full of distortion, songs about dinosaurs fighting machines in outer space, amplified classical music played without finesse, etc. Like it or hate it, the band embraced excess.