It Happened at Michigan — ‘They gave him ten for two’


The concert was scheduled to end at midnight. But the 15,000 people crowded into Crisler Arena were content to hang around.

John Lennon was worth the wait.

The former Beatle and his wife, the artist Yoko Ono, were giving their first U.S. performance in two years in support of John Sinclair, a radical poet imprisoned for possessing two marijuana cigarettes. Sinclair, a graduate of UM-Flint and founder of the White Panther Party, was 29 months into a sentence of up to 10 years. His incarceration made him a cause célèbre for those who viewed Sinclair as a political prisoner and victim of oppressive drug laws.

A photo of Yoko Ono and John Lennon
John Lennon and Yoko Ono perform at Crisler Arena. (Bentley Historical Library)

“I won’t be bringing a band or nothing like that because I’m only here as a tourist, but I’ll probably fetch me guitar, and I know we have a song that we wrote for John. So that’s that,” Lennon said in a recorded message two days before the Dec. 10, 1971, concert.

The sold-out John Sinclair Freedom Rally was a mishmash of music, poetry, and political speeches. Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, and Commander Cody – all Michigan performers – shared the stage with poet Allen Ginsberg, Black Panther cofounder Bobby Seale, and several members of the Chicago Seven, activists charged with, and later acquitted of, inciting a riot outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

An image of a 1971 Freedom Rally poster
The 1971 Freedom Rally sold out in hours. (

The Crisler concert lasted eight hours, with Lennon and Ono taking the stage at 3 a.m. They performed four numbers, including the debut of “John Sinclair” (“They gave him ten for two/What else can the judges do?”).

Harry Hammitt, a reviewer for The Michigan Daily, was left underwhelmed.

“As a benefit for Sinclair, an attempt to make people aware of his plight, the rally failed. Lennon’s presence was what sold the tickets and it was Lennon that the people came to see. They suffered through nearly eight hours of cramped conditions to see him, and when he came on they could hardly react,” he wrote. “Lennon was the one who made the whole show; as a complete show, it fell far short of satisfying.”

No matter. Authorities released Sinclair three days after the concert. His freedom came as Gov. William G. Milliken prepared to sign legislation cutting the penalty for pot possession from 10 years to 90 days.



  1. Sheri Circele
    on September 27, 2023 at 10:21 am

    I have some crazy memories of this event! Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to see John, but did Stevie! A very interesting experience, worth the grief I earned from my parents. I was in high school at the time.

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