The 1974 Cherry Blossom Music Festival was supposed to have been two days of fun in the sun at Richmond City Stadium.
Quarter-page ads in the Richmond Times-Dispatch announced that a Saturday concert on April 27 was to run "from noon'til moon" and feature the Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs, Dr. John and other groups. The next day's lineup included "soul sounds" by Mandrill, Kool & the Gang and the Funkadelics.
"Plenty of music, plenty of space to stretch out on the grass . . . and NO HASSLES," promised ads. To rock concertgoers of the 1970s, "no hassles" meant "no police." The appeal of minimal security was a concert promoter's dream-come-true for maximizing ticket sales to young people.
The advertising campaign worked. An estimated 14,000 turned out for the festival's first day. By the time music got under way shortly after noon, the ads had brought people from as far away as Pennsylvania. Despite the "no-hassles" promise, 24 uniformed policemen and 13 officers with police dogs were visible throughout the stadium. And as the day wore on, the presence of plainclothes officers became apparent.
All went smoothly until mid-afternoon. A plainclothes officer with gun drawn tried to drag a shirtless man from the stands after arresting him on a drug charge. "Kids in the stands and on the field were pelting the cop with whatever they could get their hands on," a witness told The Times-Dispatch. "The cop was forced to let the guy go."
The hostility between police and about 1,000 of the crowd grew palpable after the first arrest. When another arrest occurred shortly after 3 p.m., "Youths in the stands rushed at the officers and attacked them, fists flailing," reported The Richmond News Leader. Beer bottles rained on the fleeing officers.
Police retreated into a brick stadium building and remained barricaded while awaiting reinforcements. Outside, what had become a rampaging mob turned to city vehicles parked nearby. The mob vandalized cars with whatever was available -- fists, boots, and metal trash cans. Vehicles were set afire, and the destruction progressed to stadium property.
Two busloads of about 100 state and city police officers wearing helmets and carrying riot sticks descended on the stadium by 5:30 p.m. "Police fought the troublemakers with riot gear, police dogs, tear gas and officers mounted on horses," The Times-Dispatch said. Police regained control by sundown, but an unknown number of concertgoers not taking part in the disturbance were injured by riot-stick-wielding officers. Bill Wasson, a News Leader reporter covering the violence, was among those attacked by police.
In the riot's aftermath, police reported 11 injured officers and about 150 charges filed against an estimated 90 people. Most charges were for drug possession, destruction of property and assaulting police officers. The second day's concert was canceled. A citywide ban of large-scale, outdoor rock concerts remained in force for the next three years.
The festival's promoter accused city officials of reneging on promises to ignore marijuana use. But City Manager William J. Leidinger, Public Safety Director Jack M. Fulton and Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Aubrey M. Davis Jr. denied any agreements.
They said the "no-hassles" ads had made them expect trouble. "Conferences were held and Police Bureau decisions were discussed," said a Times-Dispatch report. Among the decisions was strict enforcement of drug laws. Alcohol violations generally were ignored, explained an unidentified police official, because drinking was "more socially acceptable than smoking marijuana."
Others disagreed with the tactics used. A letter from a former policeman published in the May 2 Times-Dispatch that year made the case that those in charge of maintaining order at the concert shared guilt with the lawbreakers. "A few simple misdemeanor arrests were not worth the resultant melee," the ex-officer wrote.
I made the ad. And no one was concerned about what was in the trucking frog's hand.