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Colorado History: the Denver Pop Festival 50 years later

Over a three-day period in June 1969, some of music's biggest acts came to Colorado for the first and only Denver Pop Festival.

DENVER, Colorado — Colorado wasn't always home to the thriving music scene it's known for today.

"Now, it’s ridiculous but back in the day it was big news if we had 35 to 40 shows up at Red Rocks on a given summer," G Brown, the executive director of Colorado Music Experience, told 9NEWS. 

In 1968, nascent concert promoter Barry Fey was trying to change that. 

Brown described concert promotion at the time as operating "very much like a cartel. Every promoter had their territory and Fey staked out his claim here in Denver."

The Denver Pop Festival of 1969 was Fey's "shot at the big time" according to Brown. 

It ran from June 27-29, 1969. 

Fey's festival featured 17 acts at Mile High including the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Three Dog Night. 

"This in no way resembled the modern concert festival," Brown said. 

It cost music lovers $6 to attend one day of the festival. A three-day pass was available for $15.   

At 15 years old, Brown was among the 60,000 people estimated to have attended over three days.

Brown only attended the first night. "I wanted to see three dog night," he said.

It was "the only night where there was not rioting, where the event was not marred by tear gas and clubbing by the police" Brown recalled.

On the second day of the festival, "various gate-crashers tried to get into Mile High Stadium and the cops drew a hard line. They responded with tear gas. The gate-crashers responded with rocks or whatever they could pick up," Brown said.  

Tear gas wafted into the stadium as anxious fans watched as the lead singer of the Colorado band Zephyr tried to quell the crowd. 

Brown described the moment as possibly "Candy Givens' greatest moment as a performer. As the tear gas came into the stadium, people were pretty tense, verging on a full-fledged riot. Candy said, 'well, if we’re going to cry, we may as well play some blues.'"

Rioting ensued on the third and final night of the concert as well. It was the same night the Jimi Hendrix Experience took the stage for the last time as a group. 

The Experience tried to leave the stadium in a van but fans quickly overtook it.

"It almost caved in, to hear the members tell it, trying to escape and get back to their hotel," Brown said.

Brown told 9NEWS that outside of a blurb in Rolling Stone, the riots didn't register with the national media. 

"This is a great part of Colorado History that has been untold in any detail," he said. 

While coastal cities like San Francisco and New York gained notoriety for the counterculture, Denver flew under the radar.

"Everything you read about happening on the coasts happened here, but we were just a dusty old cow town back at that point in time. It wasn’t chronicled like it was in the other places but it’s a rich history," Brown told 9NEWS. 

The festival did impact Colorado's music scene, however.

After the riots, rock shows were limited to the city-owned facility, the Denver Coliseum, until 1974 when Barry Fey put on the first Colorado Sun Day. 

The concert series returned live music to Mile High and Folsom Field in Boulder.  

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