Introduction to Mar Y Sol:
The following summary is intended for people who are new to the subject. [CLICK HERE FOR A MORE DETAILED VERSION].
The ‘Mar Y Sol Pop Festival’ has been referred to as “the last of the great festivals”. It took place in Puerto Rico in 1972 and was produced by the legendary promoter Alex Cooley who had previously produced three rock festivals: The Atlanta International Pop Festival and the Texas International Pop Festival both in 1969 and the 2nd Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1970.
The idea of the festival was not conceived by Cooley. Instead he resuscitated a dying project; a festival being planned on the island in 1971 which was to be called “Fiesta Del Sol” (Party of the Sun). Cooley took over and the festival was to take place in the same area. However he brought his own bands and changed the name to Mar Y Sol (Sea And Sun).
The list of performers was great and included acts like BB King, ELP, Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, The Allman Brothers Band, J. Geils Band, Faces and many others. Even John Lennon sent a recorded message stating his willingness to attend the festival along side Yoko, but due to well publicized US government issues could not.
So what’s so special about Mar Y Sol?
a) A rare festival for outsiders:
[segment of the brochure]
Normally rock festivals of this magnitude took place in the U.S. or Europe. This time a festival was going to be held in a unique location; a “foreign” island. You couldn’t just drive there.
It was held very close to the beach and the area also included a nice creek. This was without a doubt a great bonus, specially for outsiders.
b) A rare festival for locals:
Although Rock music had its niche in Puerto Rico it was not mainstream. So having a festival of this magnitude was a bit odd for average people and incredibly exciting for local rock fans/hippies.
For a very conservative country a “hippie” festival was a very strange and unwelcome event.
c) A very problematic event:
This is in my opinion what really makes this subject so interesting. The reason this footnote in rock history faded, only to become a legend. An event that was fiercely attacked prior, during and after it took place. Things took a really bad turn when the date for the festival was announced: April 1, 2 & 3 – the Easter weekend.
There is a huge difference in how this holiday is celebrated or viewed in the U.S. and Puerto Rico (and other Latin countries). In the U.S. the cute bunnies and eggs seem to be the main thing while in other countries like Puerto Rico it’s considered a sacred and most important week of the year – Holy Week. This is the time of year where devout Christians become even more devoted, average people suddenly become temporary saints and so on. Some undertake penances such as fasting and abstain from so called life’s guilty pleasures. Some make sacrificial type acts such as walking barefooted and so on.
[A nude man enjoying the beach]
So imagine the reaction people had when they heard that a hippie festival was going to take place during Holy Week. Not even a local event but one produced by an outsider. An “invader” was going to do a festival which included nudity, drugs and alcohol.
When problems started to arise some bands started to cancel which resulted in a lot of replacements and last minute additions. The crew that was to film the festival also cancelled.
The attack from the press, the government and some people was such that what was supposed to be an average organization for a festival became instead a battle between Cooley and the government of Puerto Rico. This in turn caused the festival to be very unorganized. Something that absolutely annoyed every single journalist who visited the island to cover the event. Local journalist were not so much annoyed by this (after all they were home) but they criticized the event from a moral point of view. To this day I still haven’t seen a single positive review about Mar Y Sol from the press.
‘Creem’ magazine called it “the festival that never should have been”. ‘The New York Times’ referred to it as “unhappy and unsuccessful”. Local newspaper ‘El Nuevo Día’ described it as a “Pop Headache” and “429 Acres of Immorality”.
A total of 3 people died during the festival. Two of them drowned at the beach while the third was a murder. This of course made it all even worst.
The festival ended the morning of Tuesday April 4th. The next day the government obtained an arrest order for Alex Cooley for failing to meet with Treasury Department officials to determine what the festival owed in taxes. But the day before, while Cooley was still at the festival, he received a tip from a local about the arrest. Also with the help of local sympathizers, Cooley along with some of his staff were smuggled out and aided to escape from the island.
What was most likely a survival reaction for fear of “rotting in a Puerto Rican jail”, as Bill Dial (*) said, had some uncomfortable consequences. Escaping meant that a lot of people did not get paid by Cooley for their contribution to the event. Including some photographers as well as local independent contractors. But even worst was the fact that the flights back for attendees where not arranged properly and thousands of people where stranded at the airport for a couple of days until some airlines donated flights to take the ‘hippies’ back home.
The Red Cross and other good samaritans supplied food and other necessities to the people who were temporarily stranded around the airport.
The only “souvenirs” that ever came out were two LPs. The official double album ‘Mar Y Sol – The First International Puerto Rico Pop Festival (w/ various artists) and a live side on Cactus’ ‘ot ‘n’ Sweaty (the title and cover for this album were inspired by Mar Y Sol). Both albums were available on vinyl, 8-track and cassette formats.
Decades went by and the Mar Y Sol subject was buried. It became a blurred and faded event. A legend. Sometimes it was remembered on local newspapers in special occasions like in 1994 when Woodstock 2 as well as on the first issue of 2000 of ‘El Nuevo Día’. But aside from that there was never a book or film that documented the festival.
In 2005 I strongly decided I was going to become the historian of Mar Y Sol and resurrect the subject. You can read the whole story of my journey on the About section.
d) The real reviews:
[Billy Joel at Mar Y Sol]
When reading reviews from the press you can’t help but think that Mar Y Sol was a disaster. But in the end who was the festival for? Who made the festival? Aside from the producers the festival happened because of the artists and the people who attended. Not the journalists, the government or other haters. Just like I said above, but now in a positive way, to this day I still haven’t heard a single negative thing about the festival. I mean, there are the usual, “someone stole all our money from the tent” or “I got a heavy sun burn” but I’m talking about regrets. Nobody has yet written to me saying “I shouldn’t have gone” or “it was a bad experience”. And believe me, I’ve received dozens and dozens or reviews/tales from attendees both local and outsiders and they all describe Mar Y Sol as a unique experience. For some even a life changing event. This is also true about the artists who remember Mar Y Sol as a lot of fun and an important moment in their career. My favorite example is Billy Joel who in his return to the island in 1999 thanked Puerto Rico for being some kind of starting point which helped with the record company’s support from the 70s and after.
– Reniet Ramirez
* Bill Dial was the Communications Director for Mar Y Sol who also escaped from the island.
Thanks to Joe Torre for his help in this article.
This was a summary, CLICK HERE FOR A MORE DETAILED VERSION.