Photo by Mark Porter via Facebook.

Pop Music

The Texas International Pop Festival Turns 50 This Weekend

We take a look back at the Summer of Love in Lewisville.

The Summer of Love was dragging to a close when a crop of the world’s biggest rock stars invaded rural Lewisville and brought with them a hoard of pot-smoking, skinny-dipping, peace sign-throwing hippies. The Texas International Pop Festival came together in the afterglow of Woodstock, during Labor Day Weekend of 1969. It shared some of the legendary festival’s acts, like Janis Joplin and Santana, plus B.B. King, Led Zeppelin, local bluesman Freddie King, and many others. Three-day passes cost six or seven bucks. A ten dollar bill could buy you a “lid” of reefer, enough to cloud an already hazy weekend. Camping was free. So was love. 

“They were electric times,” says Gary Buckner, one of the festival’s original founders. “We stayed at the Hilton Hotel, checked in, and on the TV was the rundown of man stepping foot on the moon. We felt like we were that man, putting our foot on the moon, too. It was exciting stepping into a completely new era of existence.” 

Buckner and a few of his fraternity brothers had just finished putting on the Atlanta International Pop Festival that July. The experience moved him to quit his job working for IBM in California and take his life on the road.

Photo via Texas International Pop Festival on Facebook.

“My life-changing experience was with Janis Joplin. The first time I saw her was in Atlanta,” he says. “At the end of her set, there was such an awe that covered the crowd. It went from a rock ‘n roll show to a total silence and electricity in the air. Nobody had seen anything like this take place. It was like a coalition of all souls together, and people felt related.” 

That was the first of three major festivals that summer, followed by Woodstock and concluding with the Texas International Pop Festival. In Lewisville, things fell into place easily, especially after Angus Wynne III, son of the businessman who built Six Flags, came on board. Buckner remembers being surprised with how easy going the small town outside of Dallas was. 

“We were getting our security program together, so we called the Sheriff of Lewisville, Chief Adams. Me and two of my roommates went up to the police station, and it wasn’t much more than an old house turned into a police station, and we were kind of stunned to see it wasn’t developed. There was a cage, like the size that a gorilla would be in in the zoo…and that was the jail,” he chuckles.

Chief Adams was a cowboy like the California exports had never seen. 

“He reached over and got a cigar out of the box, and sat down at the desk and got the cigar going real good, leans back in the chair, put his feet on the desk and asked, ‘What can I do for you boys?’ We thought we were in a movie…Coming from Hollywood, we all were looking around for cameras.” 

Adams agreed to everything the organizers wanted, which Buckner credits to Wynne’s connections. There would be police present to help direct traffic and maintain order, but no uniformed cops inside of the festival. The team expected a certain number of bohemians without money to arrive at the gates, so they created a free stage on the festival grounds. 

Like at Woodstock, the camp turned into a kind of free-wheeling commune over the weekend, with hippie groups feeding each other and everybody getting along. 

“It was probably one of the most organized festivals, ever, really,” recalls Buckner.

Attendance numbers reached between 120,000 and 150,000, not too much smaller than Coachella is nowadays. In that wave of bright-eyed flower children was my father, a gangly sixteen-year-old whose own parents were blissfully ignorant to the pandemonium unfolding around Dallas International Speedway that Labor Day Weekend. 

“It was just a few weeks after Woodstock, which we all knew about, and it was the most significant event in history from our perspective. We heard that a lot of the same people were coming, so I went with five or six of our high school friends, and we got a pass for all three days,” he tells me over the phone. “I don’t think my parents were aware of what was going on in terms of the counterculture. I think I told them I’d be camping for a few days and there’d be some music.” 

He had already dipped his toes in psychedelics and rock and roll, but growing up in Dallas, he had never seen anything on the scale of the Texas International Pop Festival. 

“It was huge,” he says of the event’s cultural impact. “Have you seen the poster? A lot of those acts maybe we had seen before by themselves, but to have all those acts together,” was something else entirely. 

“The organization seemed pretty good. There were a lot of people there who were not real organized attendees,” he jokes. “There were a lot of drugs and stuff. It was an eye opener.” 

Photo by Mark Porter via Facebook.

Despite the debauchery, everything ran smoothly and the weekend went off without a hitch. Then-unknown acts like Chicago Transit Authority and Grand Funk Railroad got their foot in the door of fame. B.B. King bestowed a young street comedian, Hugh Romney, with the moniker Wavy Gravy, a name that would forever be associated with that wild summer. Buckner saw Joplin once again, this time getting to hang out with her a little bit backstage. 

“That was cool,” he adds . 

After the Texas International Pop Festival drew to an end, Buckner went down to Puerto Rico for a year to help organize the Mar y Sol Music Festival. But the fiasco of the Altamont Free Concert, the Rolling Stones show that devolved into a deadly riot led by a security force of the Hell’s Angels, had cast a shadow over the idealism of festival culture. Buckner returned to Texas after Mar y Sol and settled down. 

“It was after that I met my wife and my festival days were over except for attending them.” 

Buckner and his wife continue to embrace the powerful energy of live music, regularly attending events like Old Settler’s Music Festival outside of Austin. 

He’s excited to reunite with old friends and see how the Texas International Pop Festival comes together half a century later. The event celebrates its 50th anniversary with a revival this weekend, at Lake Park Golf Course on Saturday and Sunday. Chicago Transit Authority, now just Chicago, will return to the stage, along with Texas legends ZZ Top, and a new generation of local talent like Sarah Jaffe, and Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights.

“I’m curious to see how well the festival flows. Part of the joy of the event is no hassles. You can walk in easily, go here, the vendors are good, the selections are good, everything is organized well enough to where it’s a peaceful and satisfying environment. Coming from my background, I’m anxious to see how it comes off 50 years later,” says Buckner. 

Tickets cost a little more this time around–you can buy daily passes for $30 or a two-day package for $50. There’s camping available nearby, but something tells me this year’s festival will be less conducive to skinny dipping and dropping acid. 

“At my age, going outside and sitting in the sun all day for a festival, it could kill me, even if I didn’t overdose on something,” my dad tells me through dry laughter. “It’s amazing, when you’re 16, you go outside all day and sit in the sun, and I don’t think we even brought water. We took some bologna and bread to eat.” 

If you go to this year’s Texas International Pop Festival, we recommend bringing plenty of hydration to offset the Deep Ellum Vodka and Budweiser. But even if you forget, you’ll figure it out one way or another. The summer of love is over, but the festival spirit lives on. Besides, there are vendors for that stuff now. 

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