By Gillian G. Gaar
The Monterey International Pop Festival has long been considered one of the key events of the “Summer of Love,” that fabled period in 1967 when flower power bedazzled the youth of the western world. Drawn to the West Coast by Scott McKenzie’s hit single “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” would-be flower children flocked to the City by the Bay, and, during the weekend of June 16-18, made their way down the coast to the Monterey County Fairgrounds for the festival, which included three evening shows and two matinees; top ticket prices were $6.50 for the evening shows and $5 for the matinees. The impressive roster of talent included acts mostly drawn from the Los Angeles and Bay Area music scenes, and the weekend would become especially notable for the breakout performances by Big Brother and the Holding Company, Otis Redding, The Who, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
It was the festival that firmly established the validity of rock music as an art form. Just a week earlier, on June 10 and 11, there had been a similarly styled event, the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival held in Mill Valley, California, on Mount Tamalpais. Feature acts included The Doors, the Fifth Dimension, and Tim Buckley, among others (eight acts would play both the Fantasy Fair and the Monterey event). But it was the Monterey International Pop Festival that captured the imagination, especially since the event was also immortalized in film: “Monterey Pop,” directed by D.A. Pennebaker.
The festival had its genesis when promoter Ben Shapiro and Alan Pariser, an independently wealthy man with an interest in the music scene, approached the folk-rock group The Mamas & the Papas about headlining a show in Monterey. The group, as well as their manager Lou Adler, liked the idea, but wanted the show to be a charity event; they ended up buying out Shapiro and putting on the show themselves (along with Pariser), and expanded the event to three days.
By then, it was just six weeks before the festival was scheduled to begin. An informal board of governors was hastily organized, headed up by Adler and “Papa” John Phillips, and including Pariser, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, Donovan, Brian Wilson, Roger McGuinn, Johnny Rivers, record producer Terry Melcher, lawyer Abraham Somer, and Smokey Robinson. The festival’s office was set up in the former Renaissance Jazz Club at 8424 Sunset Boulevard. As the proceeds were earmarked for charity, the performers were asked to appear for free, though their expenses would be covered.
Being based in Los Angeles, it was easy for Phillips and Adler to line up L.A.-based acts. But relations weren’t so friendly with musicians in San Francisco, who regarded the L.A. scene as too slick, as opposed to the more organic community in the Bay Area. So Phillips and Adler went up to San Francisco themselves and met with promoter Bill Graham and “San Francisco Chronicle” music writer Ralph Gleason, who both helped spread the word that the Monterey Festival was an event that would be good for everybody. Phillips and Adler also met with the Monterey’s mayor, Minnie Coyle, as well as other city and council officials, to soothe their nerves about the prospect of so many “long hairs” descending on their normally quiet town.
The festival’s offices buzzed with activity, in Adler’s recollection, with friends like David Crosby and Stephen Stills dropping by, “Mama” Michelle Phillips selling ads for the festival’s program, and former (and future) Beatles publicist Derek Taylor handling the growing pile of media requests. And though the board of governors never officially met together, they all had suggestions of acts for the bill; McCartney in particular urged that the Jimi Hendrix Experience be booked, while Loog Oldham gave the nod to The Who.
“We had no real plan other than to expose every musical genre, regardless of what someone might think about a particular act,” Adler said in “A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival.” “We wanted music and artists everyone wanted to hear, or should hear, or at least find out about for the first time.”
There were some notable absences. The Beatles had given up touring the previous year (they did design a personalized poster for the event), and The Rolling Stones were embroiled in legal difficulties due to Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones all having been busted for drugs (Donovan’s appearance was also scuppered by his own drug bust). Bob Dylan was not interested in coming out of seclusion in Woodstock. The Beach Boys were booked, but pulled out, fearing they might seem dated. As Brian Wilson put it, “All those people from England who play acid rock; if the audience is coming to the concert to see them, they’re going to hate us.” The Doors’ “Light My Fire” was starting to head up the charts, but the group wasn’t asked to appear; some of the group believed that was due to lead singer Jim Morrison having insulted Adler back when The Doors were looking for a record deal. Chuck Berry was also asked, but refused to appear for free.
But there was no shortage of other available acts, and the schedule quickly filled up. “The world was ready for a new sound, and we gave them a whole bunch of new sounds,” said Country Joe McDonald. And the performers were just as excited to see the other acts as the audience. “It was the first time many of the bands met and saw each other perform, so we were all really marveling at each other,” said Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick. “It was just amazing.”
Equally amazing was that by June 16 all the frantic work of the previous weeks had paid off. As the first audience members began wandering through the fairgrounds, perusing the booths selling balloons, flowers, paper dresses, jewelry, and soul food, “Newsweek” journalist Michael Lydon noted that, “The only word for it was groovy.”
Friday, June 16
The Association/The Paupers/Lou Rawls/Beverley/Johnny Rivers/Eric Burdon & the Animals/Simon & Garfunkel
The honor of opening Monterey Pop went to The Association, who began their set with “Along Comes Mary,” their first Top 10 hit. An eclectic line up followed, with The Paupers (who were managed by Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman), generating good notices before sinking back into obscurity. An excited Lou Rawls later exclaimed, “It was one big party!” marveling at the size of the crowd and the electric atmosphere. Eric Burdon unveiled his new configuration of the Animals, who won raves for their performance of the Stones’ “Paint It Black,” with Brian Jones himself watching from the audience (other famous faces spotted in the crowd included Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz of the Monkees, as well as Nico). “New Musical Express” journalist Keith Altham described the group as a “revelation,” and he was equally positive about Simon & Garfunkel, who closed out the night with “beautiful sounds … they deserve far greater recognition in Britain.”
Saturday, June 17, afternoon
Canned Heat/Big Brother and the Holding Company/Country Joe and the Fish/Al Kooper/The Butterfield Blues Band/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Steve Miller Band/The Mike Bloomfield Thing
The Saturday matinee was all about the blues. Canned Heat was so eager to play Monterey they readily agreed to fill the only remaining slot; opening the first matinee. Paul Butterfield’s influence was felt not only in his own group, but that of his erstwhile guitarist, Mike Bloomfield, playing with a group so new they didn’t even have a proper name yet (they’d later be called The Electric Flag). “It was a relief that we were received so well because nobody knew what was gonna happen,” said the band’s bassist, Harvey Brooks.
But the afternoon belonged to Big Brother and the Holding Company, and lead singer Janis Joplin in particular. The band’s manager hadn’t wanted the group to be filmed, so the band’s incendiary set wasn’t captured by Pennebaker’s cameras. Their rendition of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain” stunned the crowd; “This was no ‘wear flowers in your hair’ song,” guitarist Sam Andrew joked. Arrangements were quickly made for the band to appear on Sunday, when they would be filmed.
Saturday, June 17, evening
Moby Grape/Hugh Masekela/The Byrds/Laura Nyro/Jefferson Airplane/Otis Redding, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, the Mar-Keys
There were some shaky moments in the evening’s set. The Byrds’ performance was marred by inner band tensions, along with guitarist David Crosby’s inexplicable monologue about the Kennedy assassination; “You could almost see in the (film) footage where Roger (McGuinn) and I were walking away from him,” said bassist Chris Hillman. Laura Nyro confessed she felt out of place, and also thought people were booing her. Some say people were actually saying “beautiful,” but Michael Lydon, for one, wasn’t impressed, describing Nyro as one of the festival’s “disasters … a melodramatic singer accompanied by two dancing girls who pranced absurdly.”
But Jefferson Airplane raised spirits. Then came a Stax Records extravaganza: Otis Redding, along with Booker T. & the M.G.’s and the Mar-Keys’ horn section. With the show running late, Redding’s set was cut to five songs. He went all out and tore the place up, and his set would be heralded as one of the finest of his career.
Sunday, June 18, afternoon
Indian music had become increasingly popular among young people, due to its instruments being used in songs like “Norwegian Wood” and “Paint It Black.” Hence, Ravi Shankar’s appearance at Monterey. Shankar performed a three-hour set, asking the audience to not smoke, or take pictures; everyone complied. He was also the only performer who was paid, the festival organizers conceding to his request for a $5,000 fee. “It was fantastic,” he said of the experience, though he never approved of the drug use among his new contingency: “I was impressed, but everyone was stoned.”
Sunday, June 18, evening
Blues Project/Big Brother and the Holding Company/The Group with No Name/Buffalo Springfield/The Who/Grateful Dead/The Jimi Hendrix Experience/The Mamas & the Papas, Scott McKenzie
The general consensus is that Big Brother’s second appearance was not as strong as their first, but at least it was captured for posterity. Meanwhile, backstage, The Who and Jimi Hendrix were arguing about the show’s running order; neither act wanted to follow the other. Reaching a stalemate, John Phillips suggested tossing a coin; The Who won, and would go on first. They delivered a powerhouse set, climaxing with “My Generation,” the group smashing instruments and setting off smoke bombs. Then, after the Grateful Dead’s set, it was Hendrix’s turn. “We really gave it everything,” drummer Mitch Mitchell recalled, with Hendrix not only smashing his guitar, but also setting it on fire during the band’s last number, “Wild Thing.” “I sat there gape-jawed,” said the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia.
After the mayhem, the Mamas & the Papas brought the festival to a close with their tuneful harmonies, also bringing on Scott McKenzie to sing “San Francisco.” The last song in the set was the celebratory “Dancing in the Streets.”
Monterey Pop was over, and deemed a success. Soldiers from nearby Fort Ord (where Jimi Hendrix had once been stationed) were on standby in case of trouble. But despite the size of the crowd (over 200,000 over the course of the weekend), there were no major problems. The “Monterey Pop” film was released in 1968, followed by the album “Historic Performances Recorded at the Monterey International Pop Festival” in 1970, and a four CD box set in 1992. The film, as well as the complete sets by Hendrix and Redding, have been released on home video, DVD, and Blu-ray. And profits from these performances continue to go to the Monterey International Pop Foundation, “empowering music-related personal development, creativity, and mental and physical health.”
The spirit of the Monterey Pop also lives on. “No arrests, no bullying. Nothing but happiness,” Derek Taylor observed. “We had a festival and it is for ever.”