Kubernik: 'REVIVAL69' The Concert That Rocked the World

In 2022, producer/director Ron Chapman interviewed me for his music documentary, REVIVAL69: The Concert That Rocked the World, which celebrates and chronicles a 1969 rock festival in Toronto, Canada that spotlighted the debut of John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band along with the Doors, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent, backed by the Alice Cooper band.

  I served as a consultant for the film and helped arrange an interview with Robby Krieger for it.

   The film captures John Lennon’s first solo booking outside of the Beatles.

    It details how promoters John Brower and Ken Walker were able to book Lennon for the show and how his appearance almost didn’t happen. The Plastic Ono Band’s lineup: Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, and Alan White. The movie includes interviews from Krieger, Voormann, White, Cooper, and Geddy Lee of Rush, who attended the festival.  

   The documentary incorporates plenty of live footage from legendary documentarian D.A. Pennebaker who lensed the action.

   It will be released in theaters and digitally this year on June 28th.

   A few years ago, I interviewed a few principals in the important documentary about the landmark event. Portions appeared in my book Docs That Rock, Music That Matters.   

John Brower, Toronto Concert Promoter

Q: Talk to me about this monumental endeavor.

A: I called Lennon at Apple Records asking if he wanted to emcee the gig. Lennon said, ‘no…but he would like to play!’ We went from selling a couple of thousand seats to selling 25,000 tickets when it was announced Lennon would play.

Q: Did Morrison and Lennon actually meet at the show?

A: When Morrison and the Doors heard that Lennon was now going to play, he asked [manager] Bill Siddons to set up a meeting to discuss who would headline the show.

    There was a knock on the locker room door and it was Bill [Siddons] and Morrison asking if they could talk to John and I. I grabbed John and we met in the hallway. The two singers didn’t acknowledge each other or shake hands but Siddons wanted to ask Lennon if the Doors could go on before Lennon.

John’s eyes opened wide and he said, ‘No, you guys are the headliners. That means you go on last, that’s the way it works.’ John was not about to be upstaged by Morrison and whatever antics he might pull off. Just then, Little Richard appeared, and said to us, ‘Hey, I will headline! I will headline!’

    I then told Morrison, ‘Look, I have already paid you guys, so if you don’t want to play, you can go back to your hotel room and relax. No problem.’

    Morrison nodded at Siddons and they agreed to go on after Lennon. Then Morrison said, “one thing: We want to be on the side of the stage so we can watch the set.”        

John Densmore, The Doors

Q: Tell me about this Toronto concert

A: We came to Canada and at the airport we all got into two black Cadillacs, then all of a sudden several hundred bikers started zooming along beside us, they were in a club called the Vagabonds. A hundred ‘Hell’s Angels’ types, and we’re going, ‘Hey, this is kind of cool.’ And we come into the stadium, a football stadium, and they drive the limos all the way around the entire circle of the track with these 150-200 bikers leading us. So, it’s real profound. Like, ‘Oh my God. Here comes Lucifer,’ you know. It was really great.

    So, I go backstage and Eric Clapton says to me, ‘Isn’t this a crazy life?’ Eric has not cleaned up his act yet. I didn’t get to see John. And we have to follow John and Yoko, and it’s a monster band. Eric, Klaus, Alan. Ridiculous. They start and then we hear this noise coming out of the speakers. Everyone on the stage is saying, ‘what the fuck is going on here? Some feedback with their set? And then everyone notices a bag on the floor of the stage with a wire leading from it. Yoko is in the bag with a microphone warbling. It was great. We didn’t know what the fuck was going on. ‘Oh, wait a minute, she’s in there.’ Really outrageous.

    I mean, you know, John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band walked out on stage and it was the biggest roar of the century and we’re supposed to follow this group?

   Kim Fowley introduced us and we played the best we could. In my opinion we were fine. We weren’t great. We weren’t lousy. We were fine. But everyone was so in awe of the Mop Top…It was great.”      


    D.A. Pennebaker 

Q: You saw and documented the Toronto moment but didn’t film The Doors. 


A: Morrison had come to me a couple of times and he obviously was interested. He and Bob Newirth came and showed me Jim’s film. His student film HWY. I was not impressed, but that didn’t mean anything. And I was interested in anybody who was a poet and wanted to make films. That was interesting to me. I didn’t look down like this was amateur. But the fact is that he was a boozer. And, you know, that’s a hard thing to make a film about. My father was a boozer. You can’t count on getting their real lives. You get something else. They put on a kind of a show. And that was a problem.


      And, Morrison was funded. He had some kind of money. And I had some concerns what he would look at in 20 years. When the Doors got to Toronto, they were all very puffy. They looked like chefs in a big restaurant. And I would have shot them, but we couldn’t afford to stay for the two days. But I heard them and we couldn’t afford the tracking. We paid for the track for Yoko and John and gave it to them to release as a record.   


   It’s an amazing thing. Coming at the end of that whole concert it was the end of the Beatles. They understood it and at the end they fell silent. And John looked out and it was kind of scary and nobody was there. It was a funny moment. And they all left the stage and I remember a piece of paper blowing across the stage and slowly the audience came to life. I thought, ‘My God. This is a fantastic wake.’


   Yoko was so crazy, but still, there was something so fascinating about what she did. You could see she did it with absolute conviction. What she was bringing to me was a kind of funeral cry for something that was lost. At the time I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. But I did welcome it.” 

Gary Pig Gold, Writer 


    "Saturday, September the 13th of 1969 broke particularly warm, bright and sunny over the suburbs of Toronto," recalls decidedly suburbanite Gary Pig Gold. "And this was to be the day the drummer in my very first teenaged garage combo agreed to accompany me all the way into the Big City in order that I could buy my very first teenaged guitar. But! An electricone this time; the better to approximate the walls of sound on our bass player's 'Summertime Blues' 45 ...Blue Cheer version, that is.  


   "Only one problem though: I had only managed to accumulate twenty Canadian dollars with which to accomplish this most momentous of tasks. Which of course upon arrival dictated we bypass the big downtown music stores and traipse directly instead over to that string of seedy-and-then-some pawn shops which littered – literally! – the city's infamous Church Street strip. Needless to say the proprietor of the very first establishment we entered certainly must have seen us coming, as in answer to my request he pulled from the back room a flaming once-red electric (sort of) guitar of questionable pedigree, not to mention intonation which cost – surprise! – exactly twenty dollars. The grin on my face as I emptied my pockets was equaled only by the smirk on said salesman's face as he packed my new best friend into a 'complimentary' cardboard carrying case and sent us triumphantly upon our Blue Cheer way.

    "However, strolling back to the train station drummer Mike and I were suddenly struck by music – loud music; rock and roll music! – drifting enticingly overhead from some far-off location. It didn't sound like a record ...or a radio... and as we ventured northwesterly it grew ever louder and absolutely groovier by the block. Soon enough we found ourselves, along with about a thousand or so other curious kids milling outside the University of Toronto's Varsity Stadium, wherein it seemed like there was an actual bonafide rock festival going on. Could it... Could it be the Great White Northland's very own Woodstock a-happening?!!

   "Eagerly circumventing the perimeter of the gigantic structure we came upon one rear entranceway guarded by a genuine dyed-in-tie-dyed-wool hippie – yep, just like those our parents had warned us about via the pages of The Toronto Daily Star – who said 'Hey, man. You guys wanna come on in?' welllll... Explaining we'd just lost our last remaining $20 on Church Street he replied 'Don't worry, man. Just sneak on in. I won't tell anyone. Go on!' 

     "But alas, what with the complimentary elastic band already giving way 'round my pawnshop guitar case [sic!], and terrified said instrument might fall into some wrong hands altogether I regretfully said 'No thanks,' clutched my six-strings ever tighter, and Mike and I continued our journey back to Union Station just as it sounded like Jerry Lee Lewis was taking the stage. We tried consoling ourselves on the ride home that not only would there be other rock concerts to sneak into in our futures, but that with an actual electric guitar finally in our arsenal, someday WE would be playing Varsity Stadium. And the Killer would be opening for us!

   "Now, here's the punchline: A few hours later, safely home after Saturday dinner, my phone rang. It was drummer Mike. 'Gary! Quick! Turn on CHUM-FM right now!!' he gasped before hanging up. Hmmm. Downstairs to my radio I went, just in time to hear our favorite jock gasping 'And I don't believe it, ladies and gentlemen, but it's true! As we report to you now, live from Varsity Stadium, none other than JOHN LENNON has just taken the stage! Yes, JOHN LENNON. This is unbelievable, ladies and gentlemen!!'

    "Eight years later I also turned down two free tickets to go see April Wine at the El Mocambo ...yes, on the night it turned out the Rolling Stones were playing instead. But I really do much more miss having missed the world premiere of the Plastic Ono Band right there ten blocks northwest of Church Street near the end of one of the greatest 1969's of my life. But every September 13th I still pull Live Peace in Toronto out for a spin on the ol' Pig Player ...Side 2 and all, I'll have everyone know.

    "Oh, and that semi-red $20 electric special from Church Street? Turns out its frets and neck altogether were no more durable than its cardboard carrying case: the poor thang survived less than two months of my adolescent Blue Cheering all over it.   

    "I certainly learned my lesson though: I spent nearly Fifty dollars on my next guitar..."        

Harvey Kubernik in 1969 witnessed his first two concerts by the Rolling Stones in Southern California at the Inglewood Forum.

        Kubernik is the author of 20 books, including 2009’s Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon, 2014’s Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972, 2015's Every Body Knows: Leonard Cohen, 2016's Heart of Gold Neil Young and 2017's 1967: A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love.

   Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. In2021 they wrote Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child for Sterling/Barnes and Noble.

    Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s Docs That Rock, Music That Matters. His writings are in several book anthologies, including The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski.

    Harvey wrote the liner notes to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, The Essential Carole King, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special, The Ramones’ End of the Century and Big Brother & the Holding Company Captured Live at The Monterey International Pop Festival.  

   During 2006 he spoke at the special hearings initiated by The Library of Congress held in Hollywood, California, discussing archiving practices and audiotape preservation. In 2017 Kubernik appeared at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, as part of their Distinguished Speakers Series. For a decade, Harvey has been the Editorial Director of Record Collector News magazine.