The Greatest Music Festival in History

The documentary filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker brought in cutting-edge film equipment to capture the weekend. Philips and Adler even wrote and produced the festival’s anthem, “San Francisco,” performed by Scott McKenzie. The song served as the festivals’ beacon, calling thousands to come to the Bay Area to meet “a whole generation, with a new explanation.”


Janis Joplin performing at the festival with Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Ted Streshinsky/Corbis, via Getty Images

Monterey intentionally showcased a rich blend of national and international musicians, alongside established artists and underground acts. The first day’s highlights included the Association, Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon and the Animals and Simon and Garfunkel. Day 2, a Saturday, featured the weekend’s heaviest schedule, with spirited performances from Canned Heat, Big Brother and the Holding Company (fronted by Janis Joplin), Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Steve Miller Band, Hugh Masekela, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Booker T. and the M.G.’s and Otis Redding. Sunday’s bill finished the weekend with strong sets from Ravi Shankar, Buffalo Springfield, the Who, the Grateful Dead, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Scott McKenzie, with the Mamas and the Papas closing the festival.

The rock lore emerging from behind the scenes is as incredible as the performances. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and Nico of the Velvet Underground played the honorary king and queen of the ball, wandering the festival grounds arm in arm like rock royalty.

The Grateful Dead, suspicious of Adler and Phillips’s desire to capitalize on the San Francisco music scene they’d helped build, refused to be in the documentary. Joplin, still relatively unknown, floored the music industry luminaries backstage with her gut-wrenching blues, immediately elevating her career into superstardom.

Janis Joplin – Ball and Chain (Monterey pop festival) 1967 Video by Marisela Magdaleno

Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix quarreled over who would follow the other, with Townshend accusing Hendrix of stealing his guitar demolition act. A coin toss won the Who the earlier slot. Disappointed at having to follow the Who’s bombastic set and rampant stage destruction, Hendrix, playing the role of an electric shaman in his first American show with the Experience, lit his guitar on fire in sacrifice to the gods of a new age.

Jimi Hendrix Sets Guitar On Fire at Monterey Pop Festival 1967 – YouTube.flv Video by Bali Hai

As Phillips and Adler had hoped, Monterey Pop ushered in a new age for American music. But just as important, it was a signal moment in a cultural and political upheaval that had been incubating in the Bay Area for nearly a decade. The Beats and their bohemianism of the late ’50s and early ’60s built a crucible from which a new anti-establishment worldview would emerge.

Many at Monterey, like Dusty Baker, were members of the first wave of baby boomers, moving into adulthood in an era of unparalleled affluence, but experiencing resentment of their ostensibly comfortable lives. Disaffected, these mostly white, middle-class young adults came of age watching televised coverage of a seemingly endless Cold War, the assassination of a president, social upheaval in the civil rights movement and now, by 1967, the rapid escalation of their country’s involvement in Vietnam — by that summer there were some 500,000 American troops in the country.


The football field at the Monterey International Pop Festival on June 17, 1967.

Monterey Herald, via Associated Press

The generation’s disenchantment found an outlet in a new age of social and cultural activism that burst forth with the 1967 “Summer of Love,” centered in San Francisco and opened, symbolically, by Monterey Pop. Tens of thousands of young people descended on the Bay Area to experiment with new drugs like LSD, explore changing sexual mores, exhibit new trends in fashion, and challenge the status quo under the guise of newfound freedom. Pennebaker’s 1968 film, “Monterey Pop,” highlighted dozens of voices echoing the transformations centered at the heart of the counterculture movement, what Otis Redding called at Monterey “the love crowd.”

The “love crowd” stood in contrast to the boomer’s central concern — Vietnam, which struck them as immoral and unjustified, as well as an immediate threat to their lives and livelihoods. Monterey, then, wasn’t just a music festival; with its overt antiwar statements by Country Joe and the Fish (who sang “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” in their set) and others, it became the place where rock’s anti-establishment posture and the boomers’ anti-Vietnam attitude merged.

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