[photo from this great article]
Forty years ago this weekend, the epic Monterey International Pop Festival took place at the fairgrounds in Monterey, California, about an hour from where I grew up. Almost every musically and culturally significant artist of the day played this weekend, two years before Woodstock and the first large-scale rock festival in this new vocabulary of music.
The Monterey Pop Festival marked the first major U.S. performances of Jimi Hendrix (who was booked at the insistence of board member Paul McCartney) and Janis Joplin, and also introduced Otis Redding for the first time to a wider American audience beyond the South. The Beach Boys were supposed to play but cancelled, and in true Sixties form, Donovan was denied an entrance visa due to a 1966 drug bust.
Along with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from the Beatles two weeks prior, the festival kicked off what would come to be known as the Summer of Love. More than 200,000 people attended the festival (and I’ll bet that crowd smelled really . . . pungent), and the admission fee was a mere $1.
One of my favorite records is something I got a year or two ago from Amoeba Records on Haight in San Francisco during a music dig (a favorite pastime). One shiny black side features Jimi Hendrix’s incendiary performance from that watershed festival, the other side Otis Redding’s most monumental performance at that point in his career.
From the liner notes on the back of of this 1970 record (scanned above):
Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, and Noel Redding were the rage of England in that summer of love and psychedelica but they had yet to play the United States and thus were no more than a rumor to most of the Monterey crowd. Their appearance at the festival was magical: the way they looked, the way they performed, and the way they sounded were light years away from anything anyone had seen before.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience owned the future and the audience knew it in an instant. The banks of amplifiers and speakers wailing and groaning as Hendrix’s fingers scurried across the strings of his guitar gave the trio’s music as much density as other rock groups were getting out of the studio 8-track tape machines. And, of course, Hendrix is a masterful –though seemingly off-hand– performer. Pete Townshend of The Who had become famous for destroying his guitar. Hendrix carried the ritual a couple of fantasies farther with lighter fluid and dramatic playing positions in “Wild Thing.” When Jimi left the stage he had graduated from rumor to legend.
Otis Redding had been performing and recording for five years, but his fame and his following –despite a couple of undeniable hit records– were largely confined to black rhythm and blues audiences in America and to Europe, where he and the Stax/Volt Revue had a justly fanatic following. The Monterey International Pop Festival was comprised of rock people who were still a year or two away from rediscovering their roots, “the love crowd,” as he characterized them.
It’s difficult to characterize the extent of his impact Saturday night. He was the last act in a day of music which had left the spectators satiated and pleasantly exhausted. Redding went on around midnight, close to the curfew agreed upon by festival organizers and the local police department and sherrif’s office. Booker T. and the MGs and The MarKeys had played a brief instrumental set and played onstage to back Redding. Within moments after Otis Redding hit the stage, the crowd was on its feet, and –for the first and only time in a weekend of five massive concerts– was impulsively rushing toward the stage to dance in the warmth of his fire.
He rocked and rolled past the curfew with a dazzling performance which no one could think of stopping. That night he gave the Monterey International Pop Festival its high point and he was embraced by the rock crowd as a new-found hero. Six months later he was killed in a place crash, leaving Monterey as perhaps the high point in his performing career.
SAMPLER OF OTHER PERFORMANCES THAT WEEKEND
Festival Introduction – John Phillips
Along Comes Mary – The Association
Love Is A Hurtin Thing – Lou Rawls
San Francisco Nights – Eric Burdon & The Animals
Ball and Chain – Big Brother & The Holding Company
Mystery Train – Butterfield Blues Band
Mercury Blues – Steve Miller Band
So You Wanna Be A Rock N Roll Star – The Byrds
Dhun: Fast Teental – Ravi Shankar
Wake Me, Shake Me – The Blues Project
Somebody To Love – Jefferson Airplane
Summertime Blues – The Who
My Generation – The Who
California Dreamin’ – The Mamas and The Papas
ZIP FILE OF ALL SONGS IN THIS POST
In true 2007 fashion, the festival has a blog here, and last night they screened the footage from the festival in downtown Monterey with an interview by documentary producer, the famed D.A. Pennebaker. Some info here is from the wiki, and you can waste several hours watching footage from the festival on YouTube.
What a weekend.