|1977 FLORIDA SUNFEST
LAKELAND INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
LAKELAND - FLORIDA
APRIL 2, 1977
|The 1977 Florida Sunfest was held at the Lakeland International Racetrack in Lakeland, Florida which operated a 1/4 mile paved oval from 1971 to 1977 on 550 Acres.
On April 2, 1977 the racetrack became a sea of music fans ready to Rock n Roll ! The crazy thing was rather then mow the grassy fields prior to the event they set them
on fire and all festival goers were covered with black feet as the made their way to find there spot near the stage. The Florida Sunfest is known as the largest Outdoor
Festival in Florida history with an attendance of over 90,000 fans. The one-day event was held at Lakeland’s International Speedway,
normally a scene for Funny Car Derbies and Drag Racing.
In a heavy citrus zone, ringed by radioactive reclaimed phosphate lands, the 550 Sunfest acres had been charred the previous week. Rattlers had to pull up roots and
no rains came. Campers rolled in on Friday night, churning the black earth. Tall Miller’s and Busch brews helped remove a good deal of grit from teeth. On Saturday, the
wind whipped up a cloud of dust. Much French-style kissing was in evidence. Common spiders crawled into the iced tea.
Sunfest fashions featured the two-piece black bathing suit. Conversation centered around the heat and which way to go. Many cases of sunburn went untreated. During
uneventful sets by Earl Scruggs and Melanie, small ponds in the parking lot filled with bathers and there was lots of nudity.
Capeco Promotions prediction of a “laid back” audience came true. There was no violence and no drug arrests to speak of. A pistol-waving incident was reported
backstage. One man was collared by state bev-agents for selling $6,000 worth of Coors beer. He had $2,000 in his pockets at the time, and time is what he will do.
Five sheriff’s deputies were paid by Capeco Promotions to patrol the roads around the Speedway. The Sheriff’s Department limited themselves to intelligence
gathering on coke and junk dealers inside the festival. 21,000 cans of beer were sold by Jaycees, proceeds going to muscular dystrophy.
As evening approached, Canned Heat played. They got together strictly for this job, or so it seemed. Bob “The Bear” Hite ran their standard boogie set.
They received a big ovation for a drum solo on “King of Rock “n” Roll”.
During the daylight hours, an aircraft criss-crossed overhead with a streamer for a Pink Floyd concert at Tampa Stadium. The taped music between sets was
strictly Strawberry Fields. But as night fell, the hundreds of speakers beneath the red-and-white canopy strained from the latest rock.
“Hell, we only had 60,000 watts,” complained one Sunfest soundman. It averaged out to less than one watt per person because after sundown the attendance figure
swelled to 80,000. Fence-jumping locals challenged the paid gate. The excitement built when Jonathon Edwards finished his set. In anticipation of the Atlanta Rhythm
Section, milling bodies filled the track’s banked curves. Many carried tiny flashing lights tucked in their belts and fireworks brought cheers.
ARS raised their neon logo, creating pandemonium. A Confederate flag was draped over their keyboards like Easter linen. Sunfest host Flo and Eddie staggered out to
introduce the group. (Their day had consisted of Johnny Carson jokes and Chip Monck put-ons, a common denominator among the drunken throng. *) ARS played a
tipsy, wild set. A railing prevented lead singer Ronnie Hammond from falling off the stage. He exhorted the rock-starved thousands:
“You all like sunshine, you all like whiskey, and you all like rock ‘n’ roll!” ARS captured the spirit of the day.
The most polished act was easily Orleans. Caribbean-rhythms inspired the group’s sound. There weren’t pantywaist, like their recent singles, though their harmonies
sounded just like the record. Orleans even made an encore of “She Loves You”.
If ARS captured the spirit of the Sunfest, Jimmy Buffet defined it. Banners proclaimed MARGERITTAVILLE. Two of the Coral Reefers had to be held up.
Yet, by the time their hero took the stage, these, the future residents of so many Tudor-stucco condos, lay facedown in their own filth.
“These people don’t know how to party,” one gentleman said. “Hell, they can’t take it!”
Buffet held a magnetism for the Sunfest majority. He did all the really big ones like "Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw?" They sang along with Buffet, even on the
"spontaneous" talking parts. Sadly, it was after midnight; the wind was out of the sails, and the roars were short-lived.
Then came the day's surprise: Leon Redbone was not hooted from the stage! Redbone had been terrified as he sat poolside earlier that afternoon. Somehow his 3 AM
antics brought cheers a quarter-mile away. Leon spun his cane, tipped his hat. Pure Prairie League played.
Richie Havens woke the crowd at dawn with "Here Comes the Sun". The mighty Sunfest came to a close.
If the scene out front resembled the Thirty Years War, backstage was a model of calm efficiency. Huge, mechanized lifts raised equipment to the twenty-foot high stage.
Lulls between sets never exceeded a half-hour. Everyone from stage managers to the lowliest pit-dweller was required to wear plastic wristbands similar to hospital
IDs. Capeco Promotions had devised an elaborate compartmentalized security system. There were separate color T-shirts to distinguish between Perimeter Security,
Stage Security, roadies, and staff. Three hundred Wackenhut security guards, some with German Shepherds, supplemented the Capeco force. The back stage goon
was uncommon, conflict being limited to jealousy and rivalry among the security hierarchy.
One has to admire the strategy of Capeco Promotions. As early as last December these investors came down from New England to begin arrangements. Rather than
import Boston barristers, they asked a former Lakeland City Attorney to handle all legal affairs, permits, etc. They hired a realtor named Darden Davis to contract leasing
of the Speedway. Darden just happens to be a Lakeland City Commissioner. His Good Old Boy reputation is enhanced by a number of high speed, drunk-driving
charges. Capeco had no trouble with Polk County's powerful Polit-necks.
Everyone played along. Capeco assured the dailies that "mellow" acts would discourage the thug element. They stuck with a projected estimate of 15,000 people
expected, when it was common knowledge the promoters needed 20,000 to break even. Little things queered the projected estimate, like buying enough fencing to
enclose a small military installation. Capeco saturated the state's airwaves with bucolic advertisements. They hit northern markets, too, ploying restless collegians with
full moon visions of swaying palms and send-your-camel-to-bed. Florida radio stations played records by Sunfest groups they would otherwise never consider airing.
Overall, the Sunfest was a well-orchestrated mess. A lot of people like to get together and raise hell en masse. At Sunfest, they seemed to have a glorious time knee-
deep in aluminum. There were no garbage cans. (A recycling outfit made its fortune on Palm Sunday.) There were no bad vibes; there were no vibes at all. And there
were no Afro tom-toms either, soul music having gone the way of the button-down Gant. The music was secondary, anyway. Few acts rose above second-string.
Cowboy impersonators ruled.
The Racetrack is now torn down and I want to find a CONCERT TICKET to this show so please contact me if you have one CONTACT ME.
FEATURING MIKE PINERA