Richmond made (unfortunate) music history in 1974
Richmond, being Richmond, was visited with 1960s tumult not quite when it was happening in other places, but in the early 1970s. The newly formed Virginia Commonwealth University, with its growing number of liberal-arts students, was changing the city. Events built to a head and climaxed with the Cherry Blossom Music Festival Riot of 1974.
Poet Allen Ginsberg came to Richmond on Oct. 12, 1970, and presented at the Franklin Street Gymnasium. Ginsberg was handed a note, and he announced that afterward there'd be a street party in the 1100 block of Grove Avenue (henceforth known as the "Grove Avenue Republic"). Ginsberg wouldn't have known that no application had been made to the city for such an event. When hundreds of students poured into the street, and a rock band cranked up on the second floor, police arrived with clubs, dogs and paddy wagons. A confusing melee followed in which bricks were thrown at officers, dogs bit fleeing students and 17 arrests were made .
A month prior to the concert, a flurry of streaking — dashing across campus unclothed — ended in violence, dog bites near sensitive places and more arrests .
And then there was the Cherry Blossom Music Festival.
Marc Arenstein, the Cherry Blossom Music Festival organizer, had witnessed a two-day Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers event at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., a year before his ill-fated event. "There were 55,000 people each day — and nothing happened," he says. "Nobody got arrested."
He figured the same could happen in Richmond. Here, exuberant audience members cheer on Bozz Scaggs moments before violence broke out. The "No Hassles" tag line Arenstein had borrowed from a New York concert promotion seems to have meant something else to Richmond police. Arenstein says he removed the line from his advertising the day before the concert that he'd spent a year planning.
Way up in the stands, an officer tussles with a concertgoer suspected of marijuana smoking. The crowd was displeased when the officer brandished his sidearm.
Lt. Joseph Higgins of the Richmond Police Vice Squad stands at the ready as an audience member, his mellow sufficiently harshed, is marched off under arrest.
Police officers don University of Richmond football helmets to make an escape from the field house while getting pelted with bottles and cans.
Rioters wrecked 11 police cars.
A rioter demonstrates his disapproval by kicking a police car.
City workers clean up the mess. The riot caused an estimated total of $50,000 in property damage (that would be around $300,000 in today's dollars).
A Jeff MacNelly editorial cartoon signed by police officers on duty that day. The official sentiment was that disobedient hippies incited a riot that could've been prevented had they gone peaceably when arrested.
Marc Arenstein recalls that a few months later, comedian Richard Pryor opened for Earth, Wind and Fire at the Coliseum. Pryor brought the act he'd delivered throughout the country but he was hit with a $500 fine after his act. "Then, after he was gone, they gave him back the $500," Arenstein says.
Similarly, that August, an appearance at Old Dominion University of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young drew some 35,000 people. "Nothing happened," says Arenstein, who now works in commercial real estate in Florida. "You wonder — here's a concert 100 miles away from Richmond, and how is it any different?"