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History of the Mar Y Sol Pop Festival
Puerto Rico 1972
The following is a result of dozens of reviews, interviews, tales, plus collaboration from viewers of this site. [For a shorter version of the history of Mar Y Sol click here]
“Mar y Sol was Puerto Rico’s Woodstock Nation, except that by 1972 people were beginning to lose faith in the peace and love schtick”.
– Jorge Luis Medina, The San Juan Star
The Mar Y Sol Pop Festival was produced by Atlanta’s legendary promoter Alex Cooley who had produced two Atlanta Pop Festivals and the Texas Intl. Pop Festival years before.
Mar Y Sol was actually the continuation of a festival that had been locally planned called “Fiesta Del Sol” (“Party Of The Sun”) which was having so many production problems, it was going to be discarded. But before it was completely over, Alex Cooley took over.
note: "Mar Y Sol" means "Sea And Sun" and it's pronounced just like the name "mary-sol" or "marisol".
1. Fiesta Del Sol:
In 1971 a corporation called Fiesta Del Sol (Party of the Sun) was preparing a Puerto Rican pop festival/fair,”Feria de Música y Arte de Vega Baja” (Music and Art Fair of Vega Baja), also known as simply “Fiesta Del Sol”, which was being planned to take place in the town of Vega Baja during Thanksgiving week (Nov 24 – 28) and would include artists like Santana, José Feliciano, Ray Charles, The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, 10 Years After, Richie Havens, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Chamber Brothers, among others.
It would also include art exhibitions, Puerto Rican and North American handicraft & workshops. And just like in Woodstock, a film and a music album would come out of this event for international distribution. A “temporary city” was going to be build for the festival with sanitary installations, water, food service & camping areas.
As soon as the official announcements were made at the end of October, people started arriving at the area. However, the corporation Fiesta Del Sol, which was going through some changes and was having problems raising all the money needed, temporarily suspended the festival at the beginning of November and said they would be able to do it before New Year’s.
On November 18th, Fiesta Del Sol, which had invested around $225,000 on preparations for the area, announced the indefinite suspension of the festival. Because of this, there was no guaranty that the rock bands contracted would be available for the next date. Originally, about 250 people had come from different parts of the United Estates to prepare the festival; by November 19 only 25 remained. Most of them had left. They had no option but to go back home as they were not expecting this project to extend beyond November or the end of the year.
The 25 organizers who stayed were not 100% aware of what had just happened and wanted to stay and keep trying or hoping for the festival to take place.
To be able to survive and cover the minimum necessities they were organizing small concerts in different towns of the island. The first small concert took place the previous sunday (Nov 14th) in Manatí (town next to Vega Baja).
2. Cooley takes over:
“I had gotten interested into it because of a guy I knew that lived in Atlanta part of the time spent a good deal of time in San Juan. He got me interested. I had already done two Atlanta Pop festivals and one in Texas. So, I knew how to do’em. And he got me interested and I flew down to San Juan and I spent sometime with him down there, he had a house. I got more and more interested in it.
He knew some people and he introduced me to a coronel who was a coronel in the Puerto Rican ARMY. Not the American ARMY, but the Puerto Rican ARMY. Supposedly he was very well connected. His family was a very well known Puerto Rican family. I started talking to him and he said “well, you know, you leave it to me and I’ll get all your permits and I’ll take care of all that stuff”. And I guess that if there was any mistake, that was the mistake, that I believed him. Because he couldn’t produce any of those things.
All that he was gonna do, all his job was that he was the liaison between me – the promoter/producer of the festival – and the Puerto Rican government. There’s certain permits that are supposed to be gotten, we needed to close the road, we needed permits to do all kinds of things and he was supposed to handle that kind of things. He was supposed to handle the government of Puerto Rico.
We went ahead. I flew to New York and started putting the festival together. And had gotten all these ads that I had obligated myself to.”
– Alex Cooley
At first when Cooley went down to the island he was welcomed by everybody. Got the support of the people, radio stations, etc.
The promotion read “A fiesta in Puerto Rico. Camping on 429 acres including over a mile of Caribbean beach” and listed the following Bands:
- Alice Cooper
- Allman Bros. Band
- B.B. King
- Black Sabbath
- Dave Brubeck
with Gerry Mulligan
- Dr. John
- Emerson Lake & Palmer
with Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Ron Lane, Ian McLagan, Ken Jones
- Fleetwood Mac
- J. Geils Band
- Goose Creek Symphony
- Herbie Mann
- Pot Liquor
- Roberta Flack
- Savoy Brown
The chosen date for the festival was the weekend of Easter, or Semana Santa (Holy Week) as is called in Puerto Rico. Shortly after the announcement of the dates of the festival. The government turned against Alex Cooley, who wasn’t aware at that time how serious Semana Santa is in the island.
After this, everything went downhill, companies/organizations that were supporting him at first started to turn their backs. Rumors started to spread about whether or not the festival would take place due to the strong legal problems Alex Cooley was having with the government. His lawyer helped him fight back, but that didn’t change the fact that there was a lot of people against the festival.
This also affected the list of bands. Some bands opted not to fly down to the island to avoid trouble, forcing Cooley to bring other bands that were not on the promo like David Peel, Mahavishnu Orchestra and others.
On Monday march 27th people started arriving at the area, aprox. 400. By the end of the day there were about 5,000. By the next day (Tuesday 28th) the area started looking like some kind of hamlet. All kinds of merchants were there too as well as security guards and even undercover agents.
On wednesday 29th the judge José Rivera Barreras issued an injunction to stop the festival based on evidence from the Police Drug Division on the selling of Marihuana and LSD pills. Groups of teenagers (both locals and visitors) were planning a protest in front of Fortaleza (Official Residence).
If that wasn’t enough, on that same day one of the visitors, Willie Wardlaw (East Orange, New Jersey) was found dead (drowned on the beach). By then there were aprox. 10,000 people. Still the question remained, “Will there be a festival?”.
“I was wearing many hats that week. I was working for EL Nuevo Dia, AP UPI Time Magazine. I also worked for the concert promoters to take care the world press. I was also the one who got the concert restarted, after an injunction came down Good Thursday. I called the Governor Ferré [who also happened to be a musician] who was out of town for Easter week, and he agreed to let it go forward and lift the injunction. Not many people no that one”.
– Gary Williams
Thursday 30th judge José Rivera Barreras changed the injunction that was prohibiting Mar y Sol. People at the festival heard on the radio that the event was till happening which made everybody happy and more camping tents keep surfacing. By Friday 31st there were about 25,000 people.
4. The festival begins:
A helicopter would transport the bands from hotel Cerromar to the site.
Saturday April 1st. The long waited festival started at 3:00 pm with local group Rubber Band, followed by Banda Del K-rajo (also local). The highlights of the day were B.B. King & Allman Brothers Band.
Sunday April 2nd. After dealing with some technical problems the music continued at 1:00 am. Approximately 50,000 by now.
The birth of Billy’s career – A lot of people don’t know this but it was at this festival that doors were opened for Billy Joel.
“Columbia records took notice of Billy Joel at the Mar Y Sol Pop Festival in Puerto Rico… Billy played in rainy conditions, and earned some major standing ovations from the crowd”.
– Barry, New York, NC
“Before Mar Y Sol nobody had ever heard of Billy Joel, outside of the New York area, and even there, nobody cared about Billy Joel. But as the sun broke through the clouds at Mar y Sol, Billy Joel had the place reeling and rolling”.
– Hank Bordowitz (from the book Billy Joel: The Life and Times of an Angry Young Man)
“It was a moment I’ll never forget. He had the crowd in the palm of his hands. He had never had that kind of command of an audience before. That was the first moment that he took command of the stage”
– Irwin Mazur, Billy’s first manager (from the book Billy Joel: The Life and Times of an Angry Young Man)
Aside from music and other things normally seen in festivals, this was also a day of tragedy. Two more people drowned. Locals Vanessa Rivera and Celestino Santiago, both from Fajardo. Also a murder was committed. Visitor Christopher S. Gilligan from St. Croix (16) was killed by a local with a knife and a machete.
Witness Ted White claims he saw a guy under the influence with his hands full of blood while telling a friend he just killed a man. Despite this and efforts from the police, the killer was never found. Police informed that the cause was not robbery as they found Gilligan’s money intact. There were rumors that it all started because of a fight over a girl.
“Quite ironically, the festival’s major drawing card, old sun, readily proved to be one of its most formidable villains. Even the most fanatical sun-worshipers soon found themselves crawling for cover after only minimal exposure; the medical tent reported that a vast majority of cases handled related directly to this torturous sun blaze”.
– Barry Kramer, CREEM Magazine, July 1972
“Hundreds of young people from the United States mainland were stranded in San Juan today. Airport officials said that the situation could get worse tomorrow when most of the 30,000 youths who attended the weekend Mar y Sol pop festival tried to get home.
Many of them had no return tickets or money. They said that return transportation had been arranged and paid for in advance, but there was no sign of it. ”
– Don Heckman, New York Times (04/04/72)
The Black Sabbath deception – One of the main attractions was going to be the british band Black Sabbath, scheduled to play at the very end of the festival. Unfortunately this never happened. They made it to the island, but never to the festival.
“Black Sabbath had flown over from Miami for the MAR Y SOL festival. The crew arrived at the site as usual, before the band did.
However, as it drew closer to the time for the band to leave for the gig, it became clear that they would never make it, at least on land.
The road leading to the festival ground was grid locked.
Spock Wall [producer] used a payphone to call Patrick Meehan [producer], who was with the band at the Redondo Beach Hotel, to warn him of the traffic problems. Meehan told him to expect the band.
Their only chance would have been to hire a helicopter, but none was available. Meehan then decided that the band should admit defeat. They had nothing to lose as they had been paid in advance, unlike many of the other acts on the bill.” (from the book How BLACK was our SABBATH)
5. The end, the escape & …life at the airport:
The end of the festival was also the beginning of a new adventure for promoter Alex Cooley who found out he was going to be arrested anytime soon by the police.
“The last night of the festival. Of course, there was a lot of Puerto Ricans that DID help us. Just people, Not organizations but people that were helping us. And a guy who was working in the festival, came over to me, the last night of the festival, and said they’d issued a warrant in San Juan and they were coming to arrest me. So they smuggled me out of there with a Volkswagen bus. I got in the bus and they put things on top of me and they took me to the airport and there were people at the airport that were very sympathetic towards this and they let them…. of course you’d never be able to do this now – they let them drive the Volkswagen out on to the runway. So I got out of the Volkswagen and got directly on the plane. So that’s how I got out of San Juan, out of Puerto Rico. That was the first time I had to leave a country like that before, so it was quite an experience.” – Alex Cooley
“People had begun making the long trek back to San Juan and points beyond after the first day of the festival, but even this steady exodus didn’t avert the Tuesday tie-up at the airport. Many of the people who had purchased the $149 festival package found that their return plane tickets were good only for stand-by, thus effectively leaving the stranded until auxiliary flights could be arranged.”
– Barry Kramer, CREEM Magazine,07/72
The authorities took care of all the people stranded at the airport. Tents were set just outside the main terminal by the 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 Airlines provided the flights for about 3,000 people who attended the festival from outside Puerto Rico. This took several days.
6. The recordings
The plans were for Mar y Sol to be filmed, but this never happened.
“I had worked with some film makers on other festivals and they were gonna come down and do this one. But when we started running into so much legal problems they backed out”. – Alex Cooley
But at least an official album was made by Atlantic Records later that same year with songs from 12 bands from the festival.
“John’s classic, “Jelly Roll Blues” stole the show and became an instant hit for Atlantic Records.”
Unfortunately, the album was never released on CD. Instead several artists have released their contribution to this LP on their own CDs.
The band Cactus also made an LP of their own that same year. ‘ot ‘n’ Sweaty – On Stage in Puerto Rico and in the Studio, has 3 songs from their set (all different than the one on the Mar y Sol LP). This one was released on CD.
At some point over the years a bootleg surfaced with Billy Joel’s full set and other material, “Billy Joel – Mar y Sol and Family Demos”. A new version was prepared by me with just the Mar y Sol songs, simply called Billy Joel – Mar y Sol: Puerto Rico 1972.
Thirty-four years after the festival Greg Lake (ELP) found the 16-track tapes of their whole performance at Mar y Sol which was released for the first time ever in their boxed set ‘From The Beginning’ (2006) and later on by itself as: Live at the Mar Y Sol Festival ’72 (2011).
In July 2010 a new set of tapes, which was never been publicly available, was donated to this website and it’s visitors from which a bootleg was made called The Collazo/Mandry Tapes.
In 2012 as part of 40th anniversary, Vol 2 will be released as well.