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You are in: Hampshire > History > Local History > Isle of Wight Festival - History

Isle of Wight Festival

Isle of Wight Festival - History

The Isle of Wight Festivals were landmark moments for a generation - they sit alongside Glastonbury and Woodstock in the annals of festival history.

Isle of Wight Festival

  • The first Isle of Wight festival took place on 31st August - 1st September 1968 and featured the likes of T- Rex and Fairport Convention.
  • The 1970 Isle of Wight festival was a five day marathon featuring The Doors, Hawkwind and Joan Baez.
  • Jimi Hendrix also played at the festival in 1970 just weeks before his untimely death.

Flower power

At the height of the flower-power era, hundreds of thousands of music fans came from all over the world to chill out in the fields of the Isle of Wight.

They packed onto the Isle of Wight ferry from the mainland for up to five days (although some stayed considerably longer) of live rock, communal living, free love and mind-bending substances.

Besides all the peace, love and latrines, there was the music - non-stop performances from some of the greatest pop musicians of any era.

Boarding the IOW ferry

Boarding the IOW ferry


The first festival was held at Godshill - featured Smile, Jefferson Airplane, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Halcyon Order.

Bob Dylan and The Band played at the 1969 festival at Wootton. Joe Cocker and Moody Blues also played at the 2-day gig.

In 1970 it reached its climax. Festival-goers forked out £3 for five days of music at Afton Down.

Among the line-up that year were The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Who (Mungo Jerry were on the bill but decided not to play!) and the debut performance of Emerson, Lake And Palmer.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Half a million people

Acts at the 1970 festival played to a crowd of around half a million people. That's more than Glastonbury and Live Aid put together!

The Island struggled to cope with the extra population. Some of the more conservative residents were initially none too pleased at having their tranquil pace of life upset - there were even threats that acts would be shot when on stage.

None of that put off the festival-goers. They were busy setting up their community. A 'street' called Desolation Row emerged - a line of shelters set up under the hill. There was even a hippy wedding conducted at the local church by the vicar Robert Bowyer.

Desolation Row

Desolation Row

A medical tent was packed with people coming down from LSD trips and recovering from the effects of other drugs, or just living in a giant, not particularly hygienic, campsite.

Not all pot and peace

But the 1970 event wasn't all pot and peace. There were punch-ups, fires broke out and the police had to take action when Hells Angels tried to impose their own brand of law and order.

The summer of '70 was memorable for many reasons - but is gradually disappearing into a psychedelic haze.

This year's event in Newport is unlikely to have the wild excesses of the hippy era, but with top bands once again heading for the Isle of Wight, it should should stir some memories of when festivals rocked the world.

last updated: 12/03/2008 at 12:38
created: 08/04/2005

Have Your Say

Were you at any of the original Isle of Wight festivals? Tell us your memories (although if you can remember it, you probably weren't there!)

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Tony Callan
In 1969 I hitch hiked from Manchester with a mate called Loz, we arrived in the early hours of Sat morning and made our way on foot to the site tired & ticketless, it didn't take long to find a free way in through the flimsy fence & settle down to what was become one of the most magical experiences ever, people from so many different countries & backgrounds with just one thing in common, to experience the IOW Festival. I must admit that I don't really remember all the acts who played that year but the one I specifically remember was Bob Dylan who came on late in a white suit.....more later.

Mike G
Like many others - I was there in '69 and '70 as an 18/19 year old. The Dylan gig is often overlooked and sometimes barely mentioned in publications (not least his own). However, '69 was a landmark appearance heralding Dylan's return to the big stage after his 'accident'. I couldn't afford/get time off work for the whole of '70 festival. Arrived on the Saturday just as John Sebastian was exiting the stage (much to my dismay - as he was one of the 3 acts - the others being the Doors and Hendrix - that I wanted to see). I went with a mate who was not into music. I had shoulder-length hair and my nutty short-back-and-sides mate wore his sister's wig (just to get in the spirit of things). We both got searched as soon as we got off the ferry. My mate took off his sister's wig and thought it was a hoot. The fuzz weren't impressed - more stunned than anything! Set up camp on Desolation Hill and met another mate who had been there the whole time. Can’t remember sleeping. Watched, as others ripped down the fences - walked through the middle of the crowd as Hendrix played - departed straight after. My parents moved to the Isle of Wight some years back and I visit the island frequently. Still have a warm glow when I go through Wooton and Afton. Been to a few festivals before and since - nothing compares to the IOW. Magic in the air - and yes, Alex, 'Amazing Grace' by The Great Awakening did become the festival anthem - and I've still got the 7" vinyl somewhere in my collection.

Yes! I was there (see picture above titled "Desolation Row") I'm the one seating down dressed in black looking at the camera, with Bertrand standing up with red shirt and Dan seating on my left. Hitch hicked from Lyon (France)No...we did not get involved with the ones who wanted to take the fences down. My best memory is Richie Havens he was the last act, singing "Here come the Sun" (just before the rain) at sun rise on the Monday morning 31/08/1970 it was my birthday (18th)the best birthday present in all time. It was magic...

Stephen Bouma
I was at the first festival and the one in 1970. I was 16 for the first one and it was particularly memorable since there were so few people there and so it seemed more personal. I accompanied an irish girl by the name of Sadie Theresa Breen. She was a waitress at the hotel where my mother and I were staying and was from Dungarvan, County Waterford I was on holiday at Ventnor at the time and it was my first time out all night on my own. We sat on the grass about 4 rows back from the stage. Jefferson Airplane were playing as the dawn broke. I could have sworn that Grace Slick looked directly at me and smiled at the beginning of one song! I was transfixed when they performed "White Rabbit".I bought all of their albums after that. I still have my ticket stub and remember all the experiences of my senses as if it was yesterday.

chris brown
met my wife there, still married. Still talk about it, great memories, fantastic music, diabolical toilets.

Ray Miller
What a blast !! I was at the '70 festival and my main memories are of the sheer amount of people there. I hitch hiked all the way to Portsmouth and crossed on the I-o-W ferry to Ryde where we were all ushered like cattle onto coaches with blacked out windows and driven to within about 1 mile of the festival site.I hadn't a clue where on the island we were and it wasn't until the festival ended that I was told it was near Freshwater.I recall meeting friends from the Midlands by sheer accident and we all looked out for each other ,aquiring a sheet of polythene and half a bottle of whiskey,can't remember eating at all but we must have done...Oh yes the toilets !! they consisted as a scaffold pole running the length of a ditch,not for the feint-hearted especially as they became unisex after the 1st day...Oh what joy and can it really be 38 years ago this August,where have all the years gone...Peace & LOVE


Paul woodford
I was working on the Lymington to Yarmouth ferries for all of the festivals.The queue at 6.oo am for the Bob Dylan one stretched from the railway gatesto the ferry terminaland that was just foot passengers.

sandra murrey
i worked on the sight on a food stall was at the side of the stage as jimmy hendrix played it was an amazing time the best

Barry Balbes
I was working at a Warners holiday camp in Ryde in 1970. Myself and a few ' greencoats ' and waiters etc decided to quit and go to the festival.We bought a really old Morris Minor for a tenner and went over to Freshwater bay. I remember it was dark when we arrived and we parked and walked. It was really quiet as we walked up a hill in the vague direction of the site but as we reached the summit there was a devastating burst of noise and we could see the lit stage in the distance. It was an amazing time and I remember waking up one day - or night - to the sound of Joan Baez and was convinced I'd died and gone to heaven! We stayed behind after the festival and spent a few days earning money by piccking up rubbish.The holiday camp was in turmoil when we returned and re- employed us.

Brian Porter
I was at the 1970 Festival, as a Security Officer with my dog - yes I was there and still don't have my Pension Book!!. I am on the DVD of the Isle of Wight Festival being interviewed - do I look that young

Paul 'Skydog' Jackson
Slept between furrows i a ploughed field outside the main gates the first night. Terry Reid was awesome on Friday night. Sebastian was amazing. I slept through Hendrix mostly. Survived on cigs & little food for 5 days. A life-changing experience.

Alan Warren
I was 19 from Belfast. Did not sleep for 3 days then passed out just before the WHO came on at 2.00 AM . Must be the only guy in history who slept through a WHO concert.Woke up to hear Sly and the Family Stone singing its a FAMILY AFFAIR.Were is Ricky Farr these days!Cheers, Alan Warren Canada

Peter Young
I remember Tom Paxton getting a long standing ovation after singing Veitnam pot luck blues. Pentangle were next on but delayed their act by 30 minutes until every body had calmed down!

alan cork
wow what a festival I was 19 at the time we saw no trouble just peace loving people having the time of their lives wish life was still the same

I remember walking the face of the downs so that we didnt have to pay to get in!! At that time i worked at Brighstone holiday camp and got told of for being back late for my shift!!

Albrecht "Abby" Bergen
I came to the IoW Fetival 1970 by chance on a 10 days visit at London. There were two friends with me, all of us Germans from Paderborn. Sightseein at London we noticed the Posters for the festival and decided to go there. We had three great nights and days. I best remember the performance of Chicago Transit Authority on a warm evening, sittin on a dune in front of a tent next to a fire. Romantic! Unfortunately we had to leave on saturday for the train back to Germany, so we missed Jimi (I shook hands with in Herford/Germany in 1967 and he died on my 22nd birthday).)

Michael Corke (Korky)
I was there long hair mums fur coat on and pink jeans, brilliant time. Loved the music and the bands also the people I met, I remember being at the front near the stage and standing on a huge pile of Coke cans. We were with a crowd with a chimney sweep brush up in the air as our land marker, one could get lost with that amount of people around. Ah Radio Caroline and London (Big L) what ever happened to the world of love and peace.

My memories are.. going with my best mate Pat meeting 3 blokes on the train,( they can from Woodingdean )we spent most of the weekend with them. Had a wonderful time. I got to see Jim Morrison, he looked about a ft tall!! We were along way back. I remember drinking hotish tom soup at 5am and very nasty loo's.

Mike Rouleau
What a trip it was for this Canadian from Ottawa Ontario, I was there in 1970 with a french friend from Paris (I lived in France at the time)What I recall 2 guys (British) helping out my freind Patric and myself with sleeping arangements by sharing their tent (Thanks mates!)I also and this is hard to believe ran into a Canadian buddy of mine on day 2 who greeted me with a dribble and a nod and simply walked away! what are the odds! (later found out that he had injested acid and was totally freaked out by my presence thinking that I was a hallucination. We both met years later and confirmed that indeed we had seen each other. I was blown away to find out that I am featured in the Isle of White movie (Starry eyed freak featured during The Who performance. Wow what a memory jolt that was. John Sebastion was a highlight for me as well as an unknown Canadian band (at the time) called Lighthouse.Was anybody awake during Hendrix? I sort of was for halfSo if any lads out there recall helping a Canadian and French duo I would love to hear from youMike

Paul Papworth
I was 17 at the time and after hitch hiking down from Soth Lincs with school friend Peter Neumann , I think it was the sheer scale of the event which sticks in my mind. The shops and pubs at Freshwater sold out. The dust (good weather throughout !!) and people just everywhere. Musically I remember the Who and the Doors and enjoyed the Moody Blues who played on a sunny afternoon. Like most, for the same reason I missed Hendrix. Showing some footage on French TV this evening so I'm looking forward to this

Brian Longland
I was just 16 years old at the time we arrived on the friday night in the dark lookked around for somewhere to pitch our tent (3 of us) and the only place we could find was next to a path next to the all night disco!! Not a good selection after eventually falling asleep we woke in the morning to find the tent collapsed and as the guy ropes kept being kicked out by passing people falling over them in the dark. The tent was fairly unuable after that so it was just as well the weather was rally glorious for the duration of the festival. The rest of which consisted of sleeping in the arena, on which is based my claim to fame 'I fell asleep during Jimi Hendrix' Well i was only 16 and not on uppers or downers or anything and he didn't come until 4.00am, after All Along the Watchtower that was it I was soundo. Highlights see 500,000 people in one place at the same time; Tiny Tim getting everyone to stand up and join hands; Musically - Jethro Tull; Free; ELP; Jimi however briefly; Low lights - never having enough to eat; those toilets; not being quite old enough for the sex, drugs and rock n roll.

Alan Field
I was there.. Up on the hill.. Slept through most of the Who and Tommy... They arrived at about 3 in the morning if my memory serves me well.

Dee Bester
I arrived and set up a plastic sheet against the outside fencing of the stadium area. I listened to the bands practising in the morning jethro tull the lot were checking the acoustic sounds.for their gigs later Emerson lake & palmer were great, never thought Tiny Tim would be a hit but yes hewas good, when the fences were pulled down Ricki Farr, the presenter tried his best to install sense. I remember Joni mitchell went on stage and pleaded for calm. The festival was declared free to all which installed the calm. I remember that you had to walk up the hill over a golf course and down through a place called East Acton, the girls and boys, saw the sea- side and peeled off all their clothes, no swim wear and into the water for a swim. The locals went bananas, the daily papers must have been contacted as picures were shown on front pages of the nationals of sninny dippers etc. I believe it was the only way the guys could get a proper wash. I staid for the whole festival, when I left I remember it was one hell of a mess, no real toilets etc but small little shanty villages. The mood was great, and peaceful from my memories. I went from Cowes on the ferry and flew home from Southampton to Jersey, Leaving at the same time was Jimmy H. I think he was going to norway or sweden. he briefly chattered to us at the airport. I never thought he would pass on so young.

Ron Edwards
I was 20,I remember being there but can't remember how I got there and back to Cardiff.I was one of the few people awake for Hendrix and tried to make my way through the bodies toward the stage to take a photograph.I was forced to sit down because the less comatose on the grass were shouting ' Sit down man' and throwing empty beer cans at me.I got the photo of Hendrix and anyone's welcome to see it as long as they've got a scanning electron microscope,yup! I didn't get very close.As with Pete B. I made new friends every morning after sliding down devastation hill in my sleeping bag during the night.

Peter Bishop
I was 19 when I went to the 1970 festival and slept in a half size sleeping bag on a length of plastic sheet half way up a hill I recall being dubbed 'devastation hill'. Slid down and ended up inside someones tent!Got soaked one night but it was an incredible experience. I recall the Hells angels-many of them Americans causing trouble.The toilets and food outlets around the perimeter were disgusting.I also remember a guy called Wally losing his mates, and very quickly everyone was shouting 'wally' or wheres wally?' He even got balmes when the stage went on fire on the third night.Great memories though. Just to be part of 600,000 fans was amazing. I too fell asleep when Hendrix came on about 3am.One thing that puzzzles me. I recall the Jackson Five with Micheal-performed but they aren't mention in Wikopedia. Have I got it wrong?

Laura Wilkie
Went there in 1970 with an American girl I had met in Amsterdam. I was 19, she was much cooler than me and shepherded us to the Row under an improvised sheet of silvery plastic, close under some bushes. People in the row were very together, many believed in the comunes movement. I remember someone stole my handbag, I was upset, but people wera amazingly kind- from then on never had to pay for anything, food was shared, tickets found, and my handbag turned up at the office without money but with passportetc. Weather and music was fabulous. I remember a lot of press photographers walking up and down the beach with nothing on except their cameras with the lens sticking out. Jimmy Hendrix' God save the Queen drifting out to the night sky was sublime. Joan Baez seemed to want to tick everyone off, like some kind of aging nanny. Leaving the field when the festival ended was I found quite dangerous-I lost a sandal because someone stepped on the back of it, and there was such a press of people behind us moving forward that I simply couldn't bend down to pick it up-no-one could have stopped. I have since avoided extreme crowd conditions like that and have warned my son too. Anyway we went on to Camden where I met my future husband who had also just been to the festival, but he had been in the snootier tendopolis on the hill! Amazing time was had by all!!!

Adrian Bryan
I was (just) 16 and most of my (older) friends had gone. My dad asked me why I was looking miserasble and, when I told him, he drove me to Chichester, bought me a ticket (in the Army and Navy Stores!), gave me 4 quid and put me on the train. I arrived, on my own, in a mass of people. As unlikely as it seems, by the end of the festival I hade met up with all my friends. And every single one of us managed to sleep through Hendrix's last ever gig. ;-(

Went to all three. 68 I remember Jefferson Airplane, Tyrannasaurus Rex, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (?!) Arthur Brown. 69 Bob Dylan, The Who etc etc. 70 Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Joan Baez, Moodies,Doors, sleeping with my head in a cardboard box and sitting up on the hill, not going to the loo for two days (i wonder why!) and ending up in hospital after with a kidney infection, Also at the end of the 69 one we were ambushed by two French reporters cos we had a car and paid £12 (a lot of money) to take them to the nearest phone box so they could ring their report through!

coiln fraser
1968 I remeber walk across field after field to get to our tent, with the sound of roger chapman of family ring in our ears and singing in your own time 2am ! didnt have a watch.

adam munter
i have just come back from the isle of wight festival and loved it. Brilliant acts and Rolling Stones were fantastic! The food was impressive and it generally had a good vibe. The security was a bit heavy handed though. On a few instances I saw young teenagers (who had simply lost their way) get attacked and flung on the floor like a piece of meat and told no they can not go back to find their friends. ummmm!! too heavy guys you were seen by a lot of people who got quite freaked out by you. i can see it going the V way and turning into a rediculous commercial enterprise bombarding everyone with adverts through the big screens. I sincerely hope not though.I find it incredible that there were 600 000 people in 1970 on the isle of wight. incredible!!So to the organiser - please bring it back to how it was 2006 with no adrenaline fussed Security guards on power trips and also please calm down with the adverts between bands.CheersAdam

Alex Maitland
There for the 1970 festival, aged 19. Hitch from Newcastle with girl from office, who I later married (and divorced!!)Parents were on holiday when I decided to head off and were informed by neigbours that I was seen heading off with a rucksack on my back and a girl on my arm!! Got hell when I returned home. Bedded down on the hill in a sleeping bag on bin liners and keft sliding further downhill as the night went on. Actually fell asleep during Hendrix act. Fond memories, especially of the thousands of topless girls! Recall that Ritchie Havens gig was excellent. As I recall, Amazing Grace by the Great Awakening turned into the festival anthem. Can anyone confirm this? Hitchhiking people who had been to the festival would make the peace sign as a sign of pride. Oh the simplicity of youth

I went to the IOW in '69 and '70. At Afton I carved a hole into a bush and slept inside - it was addressed 272a Desolation Row. I was 19 at the time. I still have both programmes and wish I had some photos to go with them. I was sitting right by the fence both years (pushy so and so) and had a good view, press and VIPs notwithstanding! The 'latrines' in 1970 were memorable as was the macrobiotic food - I still remember the shocking weight of the paper plate when the brown rice was dumped onto it :) Even though I spent my last pennies buying this meal I couldn't eat it and went without food for last couple of days then hitched back home to Bath.

Remember paper sleeping bags,rain, mud, the tent caught on fire, but it was fun, I was 16 life was a blast, remember chicks from Leeds and Hells Angels..always remember Jim playing the star spangled banner..

Glynis Edwards
I was THERE ! It is all a bit vague now but I kept the ticket and the original ad from the paper. I went to the 1967, 68 and 69 festivals. The first one - I have the original ticket which cost 25 shillings -and the advertisement cut out of the Isle of Wight County Press. I went in my little blue austin mini with about 6 others and a crate of beer ! We thought it was going to be in tents and marquees but the organisers had a shock when so many people turned up and in the end flat bed lorries doubled as stages - T Rex certainly performed on the back of a lorry ! John Peel compared the event. I remember two old ladies sitting at the field gate taking the tickets and money and we all went back to the hotel where we were working to get changed as we realised we were in for a cold night sitting in a field. All of us had started the night in mini skirts and not much else ! Happy days.

I was there in 69, I slept in a sleeping bag my mum made out of an eiderdown, under a hedge at Wooton Bridge. I would sell the Portsmouth Evening News on the beach at Sandown in the morning and return to Wootton in the afternoon for the festival. I started work 6 weeks later so wasn't able to get the time off to go the following year for Hendrix. Whenever I go over to the island and pass through Wootton I always have a little smile to myself of a great 2 days for a 17 year old.

If you look along toward the left of Hendrix on stage you will see me crouching down. (Longish blond hair) I got in and onto the stage by sheer bravado.

Robert Lipson
My Band Gracious played at the 1970 festival. Can't remember which day, but in true rock and roll style, we arrived late and went on last.Murry Lerner, the man who made the film, showed me our performance last time I was in New York, and apart from the mellatron being out of tune because of the crappy electricity, we were fine.

colin a ward
Spalding Barbecue 67 was the worlds first POP festival held in May.My band played support to Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Pink Floyd, the Move,Geno washington and Zoot Money.Colin ward (Fred) Sounds Force 5

Simon Dunevein
I was there in 1969,3 of us travelled from Glastonbury.I remember sleeping in the marquee that collapsed and queuing next morning to get in.We were first in and was in the front with John Lennon,Francois Hardy to see Dylan. Saw our picture in Paris Match the Aug / Sept 69 copy.Have so many stories

I was 16 and sneaked off there with my boyfriend. Stayed the whole 5 days. Remember camping up on the hill, terrible loos, sitting round a campfire talking to 'pigs', and listening to the greatest music!!! Jethro Tull, Hendrix, the Doors. Fab.

mike hinchliffe
i think i was there, i am told i was. hitchhiked all the way there from blackpool age 20. the most mind blowing few days of my life. shared tent with two girls from liverpool, totally amazing experience.

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