Memories of the Diamond Head Crater Festivals, Hawaii’s own ‘Woodstock’

These '70s concerts brought out heavyweights of the era like Carlos Santana, America, Styx, Journey, War and Tower of Power.
diamond head crater festival hawaii

Did you know back in the ’70s, Diamond Head on Oahu was the outdoor venue for a big music festival that was Hawaii’s equivalent to Woodstock? (Or depending on your age, to Coachella.)

Remembered broadly as the Diamond Head Crater Festivals, sometimes called the Sunshine Festival, these concerts brought out heavyweights of the era like Carlos Santana, America, Styx, Journey, War and Tower of Power, alongside Hawaii talent like Cecilio & Kapono and the Mackey Feary Band.

Throughout the years they became synonymous as local New Year’s Eve/Day and Fourth of July events, attracting more than 75,000 people, dancing and chilling out under the hot Hawaiian sun to some of the most influential music of the period.

In 1976 and 1977, the concerts grew into a two-day event. Eventually that popularity led to its cancellation by the State Department of Land and Natural Resources over community noise and environmental impact concerns.

Watch this throwback clip of the scene below and read along to some memories collected by friends and family, and online commenters, who attended the famous Honolulu festivities:

“They would helicopter the big bands into the crater for their performances.”

“Everybody was wanting to say it was the Hawaiian Woodstock. Except we had better weather.”

“In the morning the rain made it cold and by noon the sun made it blistering, but we had a great time.”

“As we lived in walking distance, my friends came over and parked on my street and we walked over to Diamond Head Crater. Times were groovy, we were young and naïve—still in high school.”

“I can’t believe that there was a life before everyone had cell phones in their hands. Not one selfie to be had … good times.”

“Locals and tourists all grooving together.”

“I seen bands just starting off playing there. On one stage there was Styx, and the other Journey, the two lead guitarist was going back and forth challenging each other who can pick the best riffs on the guitars.” (When Journey performed in 1977 it was with then-lead singer Robert Fleischman, pre-Steve Perry.)

“For some strange reason, one of the headline acts was David Carradine & Barbara Seagull Hershey. I remember a young Pauline Wilson singing with either Ox or Seawind, can’t remember. A lot of military folk, probably future Vietnam vets, guys smoking doobies & a few topless girls. My teenage jaw dropped.”

“The one in ’76 was the best! I remember that I had to leave when Billy Preston was singing ‘Will It Go Round in Circles.’ I could hear him as I was walking out of the crater.”

“I remember when C&K were first starting out and playing at the Crater. I heard them and said, wow, they are really good—history made!”

“Practically everyone was stoned.”

“The hippie days. It was an amazing time all the stony people and the weed was flowing—everywhere you walked you could smell it.”

“It was all laidback. Nothing hard. One word: Elephant.”

“I remember people trying to climb the crater to get in and getting stuck.”

“My first Crater Festival was actually the first one ever in 1970. I was a young marine stationed at Kaneohe MCAS. The next year I was living off base at a house we rented in Kailua. The memory of Santana playing Samba Pa Ti while the sun was going down over the crater wall was awesome. … Damn, I miss those days!”

“I was so into the Crater Festivals…my friends and I caught the 6 ‘o clock bus and by the time we got there it was around 8 a.m. I was always the one up front by the stage clapping my hands in the air and rocking out. I remember all the drinking, face painting, and the smell of doobies in the air, too. Did a lot of walking around and checking out who we would see from school and other places. Caught the bus home around 10 ‘o clock and met my dad who picked us up at the Umi Street terminal, remember that? Not there now. When we left, it was usually the last group playing. Those were the days, loved it, would re-live it!”

Categories: Oʻahu