Forget everything you know about Coachella, Live Aid and even Woodstock. Let me take you back to 1967, to the first Monterey International Pop Festival. Not only was this one of the first festivals to span itself over a few days, it was started with the intention of legitimizing rock n’ roll. According to the festival’s website, several musicians, Paul McCartney, Michelle Phillips and Cass and Lou Adler among them, gathered together one night at Mama Cass’s house. The gap for rock music being seen as an art form was discussed heavily and from here history was born. Soon after, Alan Parasier had a brain child that became the Monterey Pop Festival.
The actual festival was organized in just SEVEN weeks. That’s a huge deal, especially when you realize it attracted over 200,000 people to the Monterey County Fairgrounds. It was organized by John Philips of the Mamas and the Papas as well as Lou Adler, Alan Parasier and Derek Taylor.
So what acts came? Isn’t that what’s important? Duh, of course. The Monterey Pop Festival launched the American careers of Janis Joplin, Jimmi Hendrix, Ravi Shankar and The Who. On top of that, Otis Redding put on an unforgettably historic performance. Country Joe & The Fish, The Byrds, Eric Burdon (who I am still dying to see by the way) and the Animals, Jefferson Airplane…they were all there. Can you imagine being in the crowd and witnessing Jimmi set his guitar on fire? How about sitting on a blanket as Jefferson Airplane takes the stage.
Monterey Pop Festival was legendary for a number of reasons: a historically amazing sound system, the funds for charity, the way it launched music careers and how it brought musicians from all sorts of musical Meccas together. Perhaps one of the coolest things was artist handling. Musicians played for free (except Country Joe and Ravi Shankar due to extenuating circumstances such as their role in a movie). Additionally, all artists, popular or not, were treated the same across the board- flown first class and put up in the same accommodation. How ground breaking is that? Maybe festivals should start that again with some of our teenie bopper divas (but I digress).
So while I’ve always thought Woodstock would have been the coolest musical experience ever…I’m reconsidering.
Peace, love and history.