In 1971, 60,000 People Showed Up to an Obscure Louisiana Town for This “Forgotten” Music Festival
50 years ago, it was planned as an 8-day music festival, pulling over 60,000 people to a small Louisiana town on the Atchafalaya River. But barely anyone knows it ever happened.
At a time where the success of Woodstock brought in a new wave of festival concert promoters, the 'Celebration of Life' event initially promised a pretty impressive lineup and a "wide array" of attractions. Unfortunately, the concept was not well received by locals and there was immediate pushback from a legal and political standpoint.
The 'Celebration of Life' music festival caused such a local uproar that it was forced to move twice before organizers ultimately settled on a private piece of property in McCrea, Louisiana—a small unincorporated community on the east bank of the Atchafalaya River in the northwestern portion of Pointe Coupee Parish.
To put things into perspective when it comes to the legend of the 'Celebration of Life' music festival, McCrea was once described as "the most obscure, tucked-away spot possible, ever."
So, imagine tens of thousands of hippies converging on this isolated town in Louisiana. Authorities tried to stop it, but they were quickly overwhelmed as vehicles lined the small country roads for miles. Many people ended up getting stuck, and while local mom & pop grocery stores made more money than they had ever seen, none of them could keep up or keep inventory.
By the time the authorities caved and allowed the crowds into the festival site, many of the scheduled acts had moved on to other gigs and weren't able to play.
This means that headliners like Pink Floyd, Beach Boys, Miles Davis, and B.B. King never actually took the stage, but that didn't stop tens of thousands of festival-goers from setting up camp to willingly endure days of brutal heat while scoring drugs and scavaging for food and water.
In addition to the heat, there were mosquitos, rain, and the deadly current of the Atchafalaya River, where attendees skinny-dipped during the daylight hours to stay cool. Locals would bring their boats by the area just to enjoy the view while youngsters casually hung around in the nude.
Unfortunately, the shortage of basic resources and sanitation mixed with the intense heat and the dangerous current of the Atchafalaya River proved to be deadly for at least four people during the festival, which only adds to the fascination behind the event that has been called "Louisiana's Forgotten Rock Festival."
While there has been more than enough criticism to go around, 'McCrea 1971' is a documentary that aims to tell the story of those in attendance. While many of the 60,000+ festival attendees came from out of state, a large amount of them hailed from surrounding areas of Louisiana including Lafayette.
A recent post on the Lafayette Memories Facebook group featured colorful firsthand recollections of the music festival, as well as a very detailed report on the 'Celebration of Life' from The Daily Advertiser.
In 2018, Rolling Stone published a very detailed feature on the controversial Louisiana music festival comparing the 'Celebration of Life' to a 'Festival of Death' that would mark the end of the golden age of rock music festivals.
Take a moment and watch the documentary along with some pretty amazing uncut footage below. See more visuals and feel free to take a deeper dive on the official McCrea 1971 documentary website here.