Numbers-wise, it was a failure. But Pendleton businessman and concert promoter Joe Taylor considered pulling off an outdoor concert with no hitches a success when he brought the Open Air Music Derby to the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds May 16, 1978.
About 3,000 people enjoyed the nine-hour music festival, a fraction of the 15,000 Taylor was hoping for. Stormy weather put a damper on the day, but the concert-goers that did show up didn’t seem to mind. Those getting up close and personal with the musicians paid $12 a ticket, but the concert was free for those in Roy Raley Park next door to the famed rodeo arena — and not being able to see the bands didn’t seem to affect their enjoyment. School attendance was sketchy, with a drop of up to 50 percent during afternoon classes as far away as Milton-Freewater and Washington state.
Six groups shared the stage that day including Wilbur Pig, whose real name, though no one would believe him, was James Taylor (but not THE James Taylor). Big-name acts appearing were bluesman Elvin Bishop (whose song “Fooled Around and Fell In Love” made it to #3 in 1976), Country Joe & the Fish (made famous by their anti-Vietnam tune “Fixin’ to Die Rag”) and country rockers Amazing Rhythm Aces, who found fame in 1975 with “Third Rate Romance” and “Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song).”
But the big draw, even for the other acts, was legendary bluesman Muddy “Mississippi” Waters, whose “Hootchie-Kootchie Man” was a crowd favorite. Wilbur Pig was awestruck: “To play before Muddy Waters — I’ve never had that kind of exposure before. I’d even play for free.” About 60 people braved wind and rain to meet Waters on his arrival at the Pendleton Airport, and many of the concert’s musicians hung around backstage during the event for a chance to shake the legend’s hand.
So while the concert wasn’t a financial success, the intangibles, for Joe Taylor, more than made up for the low numbers.