Lovejoy brings Mississippi River Festival back to life

Local photographer Charlie Cox explains his pieces and answers questions from guests at the Mississippi River Festival-themed fundraiser at Lovejoy Library.

The Lovejoy Library is typically a quiet place for students to relax and study, but on Saturday evening it was filled with live music, catered food and more than 300 visitors.

This year’s “Night in the Stacks” event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Mississippi River Festival, an outdoor concert series held annually from 1969 to 1980. The MRF featured performances from Alice Cooper, Janis Joplin, the Beach Boys, John Denver, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead and The Who, among many others. 

The event was held by the Friends of Lovejoy Library, the SIUE Foundation and the SIUE Alumni Association. Lydia Jackson, interim dean of Lovejoy Library, said it’s important for the library to have a fundraiser every year because it doesn’t have alumni to support it.

“We don’t have any alumni,” Jackson said. “For us, all of the [SIUE] graduates are our alumni. That the foundation was willing to partner with us really mattered.”

A cover of Billy Joel’s “My Life,” played in the background as Jackson explained how the theme for this year’s event was chosen.

“The decision was made to use the [MRF as a theme] and to bring back the memorabilia because we knew that people would really enjoy coming back and the nostalgia of it all,” Jackson said.

Lyle Ward, an SIUE alumnus who started working at the MRF when it opened and worked inside the Morris University Center for 30 years, brought part of his photo collection from the MRF to the event. Ward, who graduated from the university in ‘69 and ‘72, said that bringing in The Who was one of his favorite memories of the MRF.

“I hate to use this as an example, but The Who was an unbelievable learning experience. They had just gotten their main stuff out — this was in ‘71, ‘Tommy’ was just going crazy. I heard they were having problems with their sound system, and that they weren’t very easy to work with,” Ward said. “I decided to solve some of the problems by having bands out in the parking lot until the concert got started to take the pressure off the day, and it worked.”

John Keller isn’t an SIUE graduate but said he’d been to the MRF many times. Keller said he was at the event to support the university and the area. Like Ward, Keller said his favorite memory from the MRF came in 1971.

“Oh my word, it would have to be The Who,” Keller said. “There were more than 36,000 people there. It was over capacity and there were many people who never even saw the concert, but they heard it because it was over the crest of the hill.”

Jackson said she was surprised by the turnout this year, and that this year’s event had nearly three times the attendance as last year’s.

“The nostalgia of it all really made it possible,” Jackson said. “We had heard that people wanted to have an event like this, so blending it with the library was a really great opportunity for us to fundraise and the audience to bring back those memories.” 

The event auctioned off memorabilia from the MRF, including a piece of the tent from the first year of the festival and autographed photos and prints signed by artists who performed throughout the festival’s history.

For more information on the MRF, visit the Lovejoy Library’s archives.

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