5 Ways Monterey Pop Fest Changed the World
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival (June 16-18, 1967). That culture-changing weekend of music in central California might not be as famous as Woodstock, but it's every bit as historically important.
In the latest issue of Billboard, we spoke to Monterey organizers, performers and attendees about the hippie happening, which you can read here. But for a quick primer on why Monterey means so much, here are five ways it changed the music world forever.
Jimi Hendrix Lights Up
While Hendrix had played in America before, Monterey was the first time his game-changing Jimi Hendrix Experience performed in the U.S. It was also the concert that gave us the iconic image of Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire. Some were floored by his blistering hard rock attack, some were disgusted by it, but when it was over, the entire country was talking about the wild, psychedelic guy who burned through his songs and then literally burned through his guitar.
The Hippie Movement Goes Mainstream
While most of us inextricably associate hippies with the '60s, the truth is that most Americans had no idea what a hippie was until 1967. Thanks to D.A. Pennebaker bringing a film crew to the Monterey Pop Festival, images of San Francisco hippies and Hendrix burning his guitar were broadcast around the country after Monterey, introducing America to the long-haired, tie-dyed, dope-smoking, music-obsessed California subculture. After Monterey, hippies became a driving, defining force in pop culture -- as well as a target for conservative critics and corporate suits with dollar signs in their eyes.
The First (Major) Music Fest
Technically, there was one music festival before it, but Monterey was the first professionally executed music festival -- it inspired Woodstock and paved the way for modern fests like Coachella by demonstrating that teens and twenty-somethings were willing to pay more than a typical ticket price for a full concert experience.
Janis Joplin Becomes a Star
Thanks to her inclusion in Pennebaker's documentary about the music fest, Janis Joplin went from San Francisco scenester to A-list rock star after Monterey. As Moby Grape's Peter Lewis told Billboard, "The day before, Janis couldn’t have gotten arrested. The day after, she couldn’t get rid of the guys in suits."
The Who & Otis Redding Break Through
Apart from introducing the world to hippies and demonstrating that music festivals could be big business, there was also the little thing about, you know, the music. The Who's guitar-smashing performance established them as viable stars in America, and Otis Redding's astonishing set introduced him to a white, middle-class audience. Redding's Monterey appearance is also one of the greatest live performances of all time -- just listening to the audio of "Try A Little Tenderness" at Monterey is a near-religious experience. For those in attendance, it was a complete revelation.