When John Lennon Threw up for Hours Before a Show He Almost Didn’t Perform

John Lennon was a legendary performer — but he still had to deal with major performance anxiety. This once led to him throwing up for hours before a major concert — a concert he only played to stop someone else’s finances from going under.

John Lennon with a blue guitar
British singer, composer and musician John Lennon | Sergio del Grande/Mondadori via Getty Images

John Lennon decided to perform at a legendary music festival

Though it’s not as famous as Woodstock, the Toronto Rock and Roll Festival is still a very interesting moment in rock history. According to the book Rock ‘n’ Roll Myths: The True Stories Behind the Most Infamous Legends, the festival was held in 1969. It featured performances from such luminaries as John, Yoko Ono, Chuck Berry, Chicago, Alice Cooper, and the Doors. The festival is most famous — or arguably, most infamous — for the moment where Cooper killed a bird during his performance.

However, John had a notable experience during the festival as well. According to the book John Lennon: Listen to This Book, he wasn’t originally going to be involved with the festival. Concert promoter John Bower noticed how many tickets to the festival remained unsold and asked John if he would make an appearance. John said he wouldn’t just appear at the festival — he’d perform at it.

John Lennon with his guitar
John Lennon | Andrew Maclear/Redferns

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Why John Lennon’s performance was almost cancelled

At that point, John’s solo career was in its infancy. He had to put the Plastic Ono Band together for the first time just for the festival. After George Harrison turned down the opportunity to play together with John at the festival, John enlisted the participation of Klaus Voorman and a handful of other musicians. The morning of the concert, John and Yoko had not arrived. 

John and Yoko had slept in and John wanted to call off his performance. Bowers called Eric Clapton, who in turn called John, and Clapton convinced John that Bowers would be in financial ruin if he refused to perform the gig. Moved by this knowledge, John got on the plane and began rehearsing with a band he’d performed with before. The jam session was released as an album called Live Peace in Toronto 1969. The few hours before the festival were difficult for John.

The Plastic Ono Band performing at the Toronto Rock and Roll Festival

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The downsides of the Toronto Rock and Roll Festival

“I just threw up for hours until I went on,” John told Rolling Stone. “I read a review in Stone, the one about the film [Toronto Pop, by D.A. Pennebaker] I haven’t seen yet, and they were saying I was this and that. I was throwing up nearly in the number, I could hardly sing any of them, I was full of sh*t.” He added he was “Always that nervous, but what with one thing and another, it just had to come out some way.”

The performance itself wasn’t that well-received. Yoko’s songs elicited boos from the audience. John was one of the greatest of all rock stars, but that doesn’t mean he nailed every performance.