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Friday, June 17, 2011

Down In Monterey...

Image courtesy of Amazon.com.

If you're going to San Francisco,
be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.
If you're going to San Francisco,
You're gonna meet some gentle people there.

If we went back in time forty-four years ago, to 1967, we could be in the middle of the Monterey Pop Festival.  The three-day concert was held from June 16-18, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in California.  There were 55,000 people there, and at peak attendance 90,000.  It was the first widely promoted rock festival, and featured the first major appearances of rock legends The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and The Who.  It also started off the "Summer of Love".

Image courtesy of flickr.

The song "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" (which the lyrics above are from) was written to promote the Monterey Pop Festival. Written by John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas, and sung by Scott McKenzie, it was an instant hit (#4 in the U.S., #1 in the UK).

The Mamas - Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot.
Image courtesy of flickr.

The festival was planned by Phillips, Lou Adler, and journalist Derek Taylor.  The venue - the Monterey County Fairgrounds - had been the site for the Monterey Jazz and Monterey Folk Festivals, so it already had the music vibes going for it. But this concert presented a mix of genres, among them rock, folk, blues, jazz, and pop.

Country Joe and The Fish, image courtesy of cjfishlegacy.com.

Sadly, Otis Redding, who made his first major performance to a predominantly white audience in the U.S., died just six months after his performance.  He was backed at Monterey by Booker T. & The MG's, and famously said, "So this is the love crowd."

Otis Redding sang "Respect", which had just been made famous by Aretha.
Image courtesy of mondogonzo.org.

The Rolling Stones did not play, but Brian Jones was there and introduced Jimi Hendrix.  Hendrix, who was virtually unknown, ended his performance of "Wild Thing" by kneeling over his guitar, pouring lighter fluid on it, and setting it on fire before he smashed it and threw the pieces into the audience.  Needless to say, he blew away the crowds, not only with his theatrics, but his playing.

Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix at Monterey.
This and above image courtesy of www.jimmarshallphotography.com.

Except for Ravi Shankar, who was paid $3,000 for his afternoon-long performance, all the artists worked for free, and the revenue was donated to charity.  This was not a simple festival, however.  The promoters made sure to have the best sound equipment, a first aid clinic (primarily to treat drug-related problems), a security force that worked with the Monterey police, transportation, and sleeping and eating accommodations.

The Who, image courtesy of www.jimmarshallphotography.com.

Some of the other major musicians who played are Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat, Hugh Masekela, Buffalo Springfield, the Grateful Dead, Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Association, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Lou Rawls, Johnny Rivers, Simon and Garfunkel, The Butterfield Blues Band, The Byrds, and Steve Miller Band.

Janis Joplin, image courtesy of www.jimmarshallphotography.com.

Although several Motown artists had been invited, Berry Gordy refused to let any of them appear.  The Beach Boys, who were supposed to close the show, never showed up.  The Beatles were not touring.  The Rolling Stones had legal problems and had to remain in the U.K.  The Kinks and Donovan were unable to get visas to enter the country.  Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band were invited, but Ry Cooder felt the group was not ready.  The Doors weren't invited.

The Grateful Dead, image courtesy of www.jimarshallphotography.com.

Two years before Woodstock, Monterey provided a working pattern for a successful event.  It was the first big rock festival, and debuted groups that would shape the history of music.  It also introduced audio engineer Abe Jacob's sound system, which became the model for all large-scale PAs that came after.  It was the start of popularity for the Moog synthesizer, new on the music scene, which captured the interest of many groups through a demo booth.

Grace Slick, image courtesy of Getty Images.

D.A. Pennebaker filmed the event, working with documentarians Albert Maysles and Richard Leacock as cameramen.  Ironically, Pennebaker had been hired by ABC to film the festival for a tv special.  However the film footage was for the most part not "family friendly", so the project was dropped, leaving Pennebaker to use the footage for a feature film.  It is still ranked as one of the best concert films. Monterey also inspired an eponymous song, by Eric Burdon and the Animals, which not only mentions the performers, but imitates their music:

The people came and listened
Some of them came and played
Others gave flowers away
Yes they did
Down in Monterey
Down in Monterey

Young gods smiled upon the crowd
Their music being born of love
Children danced night and day
Religion was being born
Down in Monterey....


Here's a link to a review of the Criterion Collection
Complete Monterey Pop Festival film directed by D.A. Pennebaker


  1. I wasn't even there yet I miss it. Born a decade too late - story of my life!