Filled with archival footage by renegade filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker and interviews with people who were in attendance, Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World, is an engrossing documentary about one of the most important music festivals of the 20th century.
As a musical milestone, the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in September of 1969 seems to have left the chat. Do you want to talk about Woodstock? Sure. Monterey Pop? To a lesser extent, but yeah. But the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival? Despite its influence on pop culture, the Revival has become a minor footnote in rock history.
Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World relates the scuttle behind the scenes through both eye-catching animated spots and the words of festival promoter John Brower. It was Brower’s idea to pull together a show featuring rock and roll legends from the early days of the genre. Chuck Berry. Bo Diddley. Jerry Lee Lewis.
Ticket sales were sluggish. Brower relates how CHUM, which was the only rock and roll radio station in Toronto at the time, refused to help promote the show. In moments of inspired desperation, and with a desire to not be murdered by the motorcycle gang from whom he had procured financing from the show, Brower pulled in modern acts to bring in a different demographic. Alice Cooper joined the bill, as did advertised headliners, The Doors. Brower’s most incredible pull was John Lennon, who gave his first public performance outside the Beatles. Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band debuted that night with a performance that polarized and confused the audience while ushering in a new phase of Lennon’s music career.
Brower’s stories of backstage madness soon give way to Pennebaker’s footage of the performers. Chuck Berry strums and struts his way through a set with a backing band he had never played with before. Bo Diddley sweats and grunts, getting the crowd to do the same. One can sense how much fun Jerry Lee Lewis is having during his set.
As should always be the case, the older performers help put over the younger ones. Alice Cooper served as the backup band for rockabilly legend Gene Vincent before taking the stage for their own insane set. And then there was Lennon, long-haired and nervous, taking the stage with Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Alan White, and Yoko Ono. The Plastic Ono Band delivered a baffling epiphany that night, segments of which need to be seen.
Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World deftly weaves the storylines of business and concert promotion with the glory of rock and roll. Torches are passed, flowers are given. There’s an ebb and flow to the film that emphasizes the cultural significance of the festival. Interviews with event attendees, like Rush bassist Geddy Lee, rock critic Robert Christgau, and Alice Cooper’s manager Shep Gordon, give a fine sense of what that day was like.
Between the I-was-there anecdotes and Pennebaker’s raw footage, Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World may be the definitive history of the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival. One can feel the genre expanding, encircling not only the artists who brought rock to the forefront but the musicians who would carry it into the future.
Anything but boring, the film places the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival into historical context. Skillfully constructed, incisive, and jam-packed with fond remembrances of a show that arguably paved the way for the wild abandon of 1970s music, Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World succeeds is a tremendous and gleeful watch for any rock fan.
Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World is available in Canada on VOD and on Crave in March.