Forty-five years ago today the ‘Summer of Love’ got off to a groovy start. It was day one of the Monterey International Pop Festival, a three-day musical extravaganza that brought together almost 100,000 hippies and music lovers… and changed the face of music in America.
Monterey International Pop Festival (Amazon.com)
Though Woodstock is better known nowadays, it was Monterey that gave birth to the modern music festival, providing a template for Woodstock two years later – and for every other music festival over the next 45 years, from Farm Aid to Lollapalooza to Coachella to Bonnaroo. But in 1967, the Monterey music fest represented a departure from the smaller festivals that had come before, as Monterey introduced the tropes that would become common to all great rock music festivals to follow: mixing established acts (a la The Association, The Who, and The Mamas and the Papas, whose John and Michelle Phillips helped organize the festival) with up-and-comers (like The Steve Miller Band and Canned Heat); bringing in artists from genres other than rock (R&B singers Lou Rawls and Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar on sitar, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela); and providing a spectacular sound system to cater to crowds in the tens of thousands.
As the years have gone by, many of the artists who played the Monterey Pop Festival have died – some heartbreakingly young; others after long and rich careers. On this anniversary, we're remembering a few of the Monterey greats who are now gone.
When Janis Joplin took the stage with Big Brother and the Holding Company on Saturday, June 17, it was one of the day's first acts – and one of the band's first big performances. At the band's request, their Saturday set wasn’t taped – but was so impressive that they were asked and agreed to perform again on Sunday. The second time around, two songs were recorded, including Joplin’s and Big Brother’s blistering rendition of Big Mama Thornton's "Ball 'n' Chain."
It's hard to envision a time when Jimi Hendrix wasn't a legend, but the singer and his Experience were new to the U.S. when they played at Monterey. Hendrix wowed the crowd, both with his hard-rocking take on the blues and with his finale, in which he burned his guitar, smashed it, and tossed the pieces to the crowd.
Though Otis Redding was already popular in the R&B scene when he played Monterey, white audiences generally were less familiar with his work. But when he asked, between songs, if they were the "love crowd," he won their hearts. They loved the music, too.
The Grateful Dead weren't brand new in 1967, but the Monterey Pop Festival was one of the first big shows that Jerry Garcia and company played. Garcia outlived many of his Monterey contemporaries, sticking with the Grateful Dead and making them one of rock's greatest and longest-lived touring bands.
The Mamas and the Papas closed the festival on Sunday, June 18. The already-successful band was a big draw but as festival organizers had little time to practice – and critics dismissed their performance as mediocre. Today, just one Mama, Michelle Phillips, survives – gone are Cass Elliot, John Phillips, and Denny Doherty. But their music – and the rock festival format they helped create – lives on.
Written by Linnea Crowther