‘Revival69’ Documentary Highlights the Overlooked 1969 Toronto Rock Revival Festival

Ron Chapman initially thought that creating a documentary about the 1969 Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert would be straightforward. The concert had a stellar lineup, including John Lennon’s first performance outside The Beatles and Alice Cooper’s infamous chicken incident, all captured by renowned filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker. However, the project proved more challenging than expected.

Chapman shared with Billboard that financing the film took six years, during which time Pennebaker and several performers, including Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis, passed away. The festival had been largely forgotten due to its Canadian location and the overshadowing events of Woodstock and Altamont.

Chapman’s documentary, “Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World,” aims to bring recognition to this historic festival. The film, which won the audience award for best international feature at the Florida Film Festival, will be available on Apple TV, DVD, and in theaters starting June 28. Music critic Robert Christgau, who covered the original concert, will moderate a Q&A with Chapman at New Plaza Cinema in New York City on the release night.

Chapman hopes the film will finally give the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival its deserved place in rock history. “You were always playing this festival or that festival back then…but this one had John Lennon. That’s significant, right?” says Alice Cooper, who performed at the festival and also backed Gene Vincent. “If that doesn’t make it historic, what does?”

John Brower, who co-promoted the event with Ken Walker, believes the festival’s Canadian location contributed to its historical obscurity. “If it had happened in Buffalo, it would’ve been a movie in the ‘70s,” Brower said. The festival faced significant challenges, including slow ticket sales and a need for additional financing. When The Doors were added to the lineup, it didn’t provide the expected boost. In a desperate move, promoter Kim Fowley suggested calling John Lennon, leading to Lennon assembling an ad hoc Plastic Ono Band, which included Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, Alan White, and Klaus Voormann.

Despite the last-minute arrangements, Lennon’s participation helped sell out the concert, drawing 20,000 attendees. The festival was captured on the album “Live Peace in Toronto 1969.” Voormann recalls the chaotic preparations: “It was fun to play, yes, but we played the wrong notes and played the wrong things. It was…crazy.”

The film also documents Alice Cooper’s infamous chicken incident, where a live chicken was thrown into the crowd, causing a media frenzy. “I’m from the Midwest; I didn’t know chickens don’t fly,” Cooper said, reflecting on the event’s unexpected notoriety.

Chapman’s goal was to immerse viewers in the festival experience, capturing the core of rock n’ roll. The documentary includes interviews with key participants like Brower, Cooper, manager Shep Gordon, and Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger. It also features footage from Pennebaker’s original filming, enhanced by additional behind-the-scenes material discovered during production.

Filmmaker Chris Hegedus, Pennebaker’s widow, praised the footage’s historical value. Although Pennebaker envisioned a different film, Hegedus sees “Revival69” as a fitting tribute to his work and the era it represents.

John Brower believes legends like Lennon and Morrison would have appreciated the film. “In the movie, you see people having a great time,” Brower said. “Bo Diddley said, ‘I’ve never heard an audience scream or cheer for me like that, ever.’ It almost brought me to tears.”

Chapman’s “Revival69” aims to shed light on an overlooked chapter in rock history, capturing the spirit and significance of the 1969 Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert.