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  • Writer's pictureMarian Hubler

Marian’s Did You Know… that the Earliest Bread & Roses Festivals of Music Were All Acoustic?

“The memories of that weekend in Berkeley shine on, both as a testimonial to the beauty and power of acoustic music and to the ideals behind the Bread & Roses organization.” Joan Borus

Did You Know…

that the earliest Bread & Roses Festivals of Music at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre were all acoustic? The first Festival of Music at the Greek Theatre in 1977 was consciously designed to highlight the connection between artist and audience. The architecture of the Greek Theatre itself was the perfect arena for the natural amplification of acoustic music. Joan Borus attended the first Bread & Roses Festival of Acoustic Music in 1977 and noted; “We became participants as equally involved with the music as those onstage, not just because we joined in singing along, but because the purity and clarity of acoustic music retains an emotional integrity that speaks to what is real and human inside us.”

The first six Festivals were held in 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982. They became instantly legendary as the iconic all acoustic west coast music festivals with extraordinary line-ups of the top folk artists of the day who were also known for their unique collaborations with each other during their Festival performances.

Our founder, the late Mimi Fariña, led the way at the first Festival in 1977 with an early debut of her Kitchen Sisters act co-featuring her sister Joan Baez with “Laundry Brother” Mickey Newbury sharing the bill and Freebo accompanying them on bass. In 1979, Peter, Paul and Mary re-united and were joined onstage by Graham Nash and Maria Muldaur. Joan Baez also did one of her first cameo impersonations of Bob Dylan to the crowd’s astonished delight. These are just a few of the many stories from the early festivals that still filter down to this day.

The first festival in 1977 was held for three days Oct. 7, 8 and 9. The posters from the first four festivals show the incredible line-ups from each day.

Among their many goals, the festival presenters wanted to “rediscover the impact of the songs that changed lives in the 60s.” The Bread & Roses Newsletter (Fall 1977) relayed that by the end of the 60s, the heroes of the folk era had started to “go electric.” Bob Dylan had famously played an electric guitar at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival memorialized in Murray Lerner’s documentary film “Festival.”

Mimi had another reason for the Festivals to be all acoustic as that was the music usually played by the performers who volunteered to bring free, live music into institutional settings for Bread & Roses ongoing program. Volunteers were the backbone of the Festival as well. All the musicians donated their talent for the Greek Theatre festivals. Hundreds of volunteers helped with every aspect of the Festival from front of house to backstage.

They were among the earliest large annual fundraising concerts to support Bread & Roses mission of bringing music to isolated audiences in Bay Area institutions. The first music festival in 1977 was actually the fourth benefit for the fledgling Bread & Roses organization that Mimi founded in 1974. The benefit concert tradition started during the first few years at the Berkeley Community Theater with the earliest events billed as a “celebration of acoustic music” in which all performers played acoustic instruments.

Among the accomplishments of that first festival were free, all-day workshops held on the Saturday of the event for some of Bread & Roses isolated audiences. The first Festival was also broadcast for all three days into six out of California’s twelve state prisons. In addition, live albums were recorded at the 1977 and 1979 Festivals becoming immediate cult favorites. The tradition of the familiar grand finale closing song also began during those legendary early years.

Blair Jackson of the SF Bay Guardian called the Third Annual Festival in 1979 the “most important and consistently entertaining annual musical event of the west coast. Its specialness is the joyous spirit that permeates every minute…”

Celebrated Rolling Stone journalist Ben Fong-Torres is still involved with Bread & Roses to this day as a volunteer performer and as a member of our Circle of Advisors. After emceeing the 1979 Festival, he said “The Bread & Roses Festival is a confirmation of what music can say and do, here in Berkeley at the Greek Theatre or in Novato, at the Hill-road Convalescent Home.”

Of the Fourth Annual Festival of Music in 1980, Joel Selvin of the SF Chronicle said “A richer, more satisfying collection of talent and music would be difficult to imagine… With each passing year, the Bread & Roses Festival of Music grows in stature and scope.”

Of the Fifth Annual Festival in 1981, the late Phil Elwood said “the real triumph of the weekend shows was the remarkably synchronized production.” The festivals had come to be known for their attention to detail, intimacy of their acoustic performances, attentive and encouraging audiences. These are all trademarks to this day of Bread & Roses benefit concerts and ongoing program of live music for folks who need it most.

The Festival continued in subsequent years until its last staging in 1991. People still share stories of their memorable experiences at these epic music events. At the Kate Wolf Music Festival in recent years, couples come by our Bread & Roses table to tell us how they met long ago at the Bread & Roses Music Festivals.

Long-time Associate Director Lana Severn remembers the humor and incredible songs played by Hoyt Axton. Event volunteer from the earliest days Ken Harrison was the volunteer driver for a lot of the artists. He used to rent a special car for all his pick-ups at the San Francisco airport. We look forward to sharing his stories of those amazing encounters in a future column.

By Marian Hubler, Communications Manager/Producer

Photo Captions:

1) Joan Baez and Mimi Fariña as the “Kitchen Sisters.” Photo by Jim Marshall.

2) Joan Baez 'as Bob Dylan' at the 1977 Festival of Music. Photo by Leslie Cheryl Snitkoff.

3) Festival posters from 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980 Festivals of Music.

4) Volunteers at the Festival of Music. Photo by Peter Merts.

5) Bread & Roses 1978 Festival of Acoustic Music Album recorded live.

6) Mimi Fariña & Joan Baez sing at the Bread & Roses Festival of Music at the Greek Theatre in 1979. Photo by Richard McCaffrey.

7) Bread & Roses Festival of Music at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley in 1978. (L-R) Back Row: Wavy Gravy, Bob Gibson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Tim Hardin, Front Row: Tom Paxton and Hamilton Camp. Photo by Jim Marshall.

8) Mimi Fariña with the late Elizabeth Cotten, a wonderful blues and folk musician at the Bread & Roses Festival of Music at the Greek Theatre in 1977. Photo by Baron Wolman.

9) Joni Mitchell with Mimi Fariña at the Bread & Roses Festival of Music at the Greek Theater in 1978. (Seen in the back are Steven Stills and Hoyt Axton.) Photo by Richard McCaffrey.


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