On the 5th of September, 1976, the few early residents of Steiner Ranch were dealing with the usual tremendous heat of our summer. Little did they know that just a few months later, in November of 1976, Austin would experience record lows of barely 20 degrees. Without a cloud in the sky, the heat hovered around 94 on that fall Sunday in the hills. As folks returned from church to their homes, 45,000 people descended on Steiner Ranch for Sunday Break II.
Sunday Break II?
Performing were America, Peter Frampton, Santana (yes Gen y-ers, that Santana), and Gary Wright. As is our impression of the era today, though they had 56,000 spectators, the concert was peaceful and welcoming. Medical assistance provided by Austin’s Middle Earth Drug Crisis Center out of the YWCA and police, while present, were not allowed inside the gates.
There is painfully little information, online, about the Sunday Break concert. You can find references to it in and amusing read of the April, Austin City Council meeting minutes.
The event was first scheduled for Saturday, May 1, 1976, and would not have required any Council action. The event was moved to Sunday to avoid a conflict with the primary election, and Council approval was required to amend the sound amplification ordinance.
Using the internet archive’s Way Back Machine (a web service that let you view snapshots of websites in the former life), I found a site that discussed the concert as early as 2008 before shutting down.
“The Concert was at intersection of I-35 and 290 (NE corner) which was vacant land at the time. Very hot but you could bring coolers (filled with beverages) inside the fenced off area. Frampton’s arrival by helicopter was fun and that performance was amazing,” shared lillylab.
Added clex, “The concert itself was good but CROWDED and HOT. Went away with sunburn but saw Frampton, Fleetwood Mac, and (I think) Blue Oyster Cult.”
And in reference to the concert on our very grounds, “I worked on the medical staff for that concert,” shared kobossy. “Don’t believe that BOC or Fleetwood Mac were there, but I do remember Gary Wright and Peter Frampton. Several other bands that escape my memory, as I only had time to catch those two. Lots of heat/alcohol/drug problems. Side note: Fleetwood Mac played a similar concert at what was then the Steiner Ranch later in the year.”
Woodstock at Steiner Ranch
The success of The Sunday Break, the first rock festival held by Mayday Productions $532,000, encouraged another as quickly as possible. The plot of land at the 35 and 290, not far from Highland Mall, was no longer available; under development, for which the bulldozing of the land offered the great venue in the first place. Their attention turned to the beautiful and as of yet undeveloped Steiner Ranch.
The Band, Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, the Steve Miller Band, England Dan & John Ford Coley, flown in by helicopter to accompany local artists, provided over 12 hours of live entertainment. 45,000 people made it up to the hill country, roughly the size of an average U2 concert (attendance for the most well known of the Woodstock events is claimed to be around 600,000). Unfortunately, 75,000 held tickets while promoters had hoped for 100,000.
Many will recall that access to Steiner Ranch a few dozen years ago was severely limited. Development on the Steiner Ranch community didn’t really begin until the 80′s, so, unlike at the previous location, traffic was unbearably congested.
“Cars inched toward the ranch with constant nudging by state troopers. Parking lot overflow stretched down the road for 15 miles, and the drivers lined the street on foot, armed with ice chests and blankets as they migrated toward the music in 95 degree-plus heat,” shares the UT Class of ’77 Cactus Yearbook. Once inside, Middle Earth again provided medical services; distributing and salt tablets to control the growing heat stroke epidemic.
Babies, Sunburn, and Underground Art
Medical emergencies and frustrated fans weren’t alone in their notable experience. Summer Break II is well known as one of the creative outlets of one of America’s greatest cartoonists. Jaxon (Jack Jackson: May 15, 1941–June 8, 2006), widely considered the first underground comix artist (Underground comix are small or self-published comic books usually socially relevant or satirical in nature – perhaps the best known artist is Robert Crumb), was tapped to create the map of then Steiner Ranch and the Sunday Break II festival. Jack Jackson was born in Pandora, Texas and majored in accounting at the University of Texas.
Two babies were born on Steiner Ranch that day while 2,030 sun-burned festival goers were treated. I’m sure if you ask the great majority of those who were there, they’d remark at the exceptional experience and memorable music. “Relief from the roasting sun finally came,” remarks the Cactus Yearbook, “just in time for the appearance of Fleetwood Mac and the wind-up of the day-long festival.”
While an amazing event, the Yearbook’s use of the word relief is perhaps very apropos…
The biggest surprise of all came the next day when the concert’s promoter, Mayday Productions, claimed that they were the victims of the concert tragedy. Gate receipts showed a $700,000 shortage and Mayday’s president, Win Anderson, blamed the loss on a massive ticket fraud. Suddenly Austin’s “goodbye to summer” celebration turned into a major issue. Mayday was faced with four lawsuits, including one from angry ticket holders who were denied entrance due to traffic congestion. Unpaid Mayday employees also filed suit as did Steiner Ranch area residents who claimed their security had been threatened by the concert crowd. The court responded with a temporary restraining order against future concerts at Steiner Ranch.
For one, I can find very few photos from the day save a few (one of which is here to the left) taken by Watt Casey of the concert. How great would it be to see more of Steiner Ranch then? More, I’d love to see Jaxon’s map of the venue; while his comix are well known and revered, I can’t find his work on behalf of Sunday Break II.
Were you lucky enough to spend the day in Steiner Ranch on September 5th, 1976? I’d love to hear your story and share with the community your experience, any photos, and your memories. Feel free to share them below or get in touch with me here. As for music in Steiner Ranch, luckily, the restraining order was only temporary; we have a summer concert again to which to look forward! See you there.