The first rock festival happened on June 10 and 11, 1967, on a mountain in Marin County, Calif. The Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival had some great bands (The Doors, Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band) and some duff ones (The Lamp of Childhood), and ended at 6 p.m. because the theater had no lights. As with many things done by hippies, the Fantasy Fair was not well organized.
The first slick, professional rock festival -- the one that changed how concerts look and sound, and set the model for festivals as we know them today -- took place the next weekend: the Monterey International Pop Festival.
In January 1967, Alan Pariser, a small-time concert promoter and weed dealer, was planning a show at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in central California, accessible from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. He approached John Phillips, leader of The Mamas & The Papas, then the biggest band in America. Phillips liked the idea, but he and Lou Adler, the band’s sharp-elbowed manager, wanted to be in charge. After a substantial settlement, the two took over. ABC television, eager to rope in younger viewers, put up money to film the concerts. And stars like Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel got involved, to different degrees.
Soon they had assembled the greatest weekend of music anyone had ever seen.
The Animals, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield and the Grateful Dead all played. But the festival was also a weekend of discoveries; many of the groups who are now legendary were then barely known.
Today, Monterey Pop is remembered for five breakout performances. It was a history-making U.S. debut for The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was a star-making showcase for Big Brother & The Holding Company, featuring a 24-year-old Janis Joplin. It saved the career of The Who, a band huge in England but a peon stateside. And it was the first time a mostly white crowd saw preeminent soul singer Otis Redding, and the first time a U.S. audience saw Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar.
With Shankar and a few jazz and soul acts on the bill, Monterey embraced the idea of a diverse lineup. The event also signaled an unceasing escalation in ticket prices: Admission was as much as $6.50 per session (there were five, over three days), compared with $2 for Magic Mountain and $3 for a night at The Fillmore.
Phillips and Adler simplified the event by asking bands to play for free. All the money would go to charity -- another new idea -- paving the way for events like Live Aid. Residual profits from Monterey still go to the Monterey International Pop Festival Foundation (MIPFF), a charity run by Adler, which typically gives away $80,000 annually to colleges, arts groups and medical facilities.
The event was planned in just a few weeks, which could have resulted in a Fyre Festival-style disaster if not for the heroic work of stage manager Chip Monck, who brought what one colleague calls a “soldier-of-fortune attitude.” Aside from Monck, the most important nonperformer that weekend was LSD manufacturer Owsley Stanley, who brought a large supply of what he called Monterey Purple. “Owsley was walking around in a tan leather jacket with both pockets full of Monterey Purple, giving it to anybody who wanted it,” remembers singer-songwriter David Crosby, who was a member of The Byrds at the time.
Media and music executives flocked to Monterey and discovered a burgeoning sound and culture. Soon, underground music was a commodity, which tore some groups apart. Monterey, says Peter Lewis of Moby Grape, was “where the culture began and ended, in a sense.”
Thanks to a documentary film directed by D.A. Pennebaker, images of the weekend spread around the world, making some bands more famous. In a New York Times review, Renata Adler described Hendrix being “frantically obscene with his guitar.” This and other Monterey images remain vivid in the GIF folder of our shared imagination.
In the arc of the 1960s, Monterey Pop came close to the decade’s peak: 1967 was the Summer of Love, and Monterey was its soundtrack. But in its own way, the weekend mimicked the decade’s full arc, starting in peace, shifting into conflict and ending, on Sunday, in violence -- against instruments, anyway.
In honor of the festival’s 50th anniversary, Lou Adler has organized a celebration June 16-18 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, with a lineup juxtaposing ’60s acts with contemporary artists like Father John Misty, Regina Spektor and Kurt Vile. Here, many of the original weekend’s principals recall who played, what drugs they took and why they still consider Monterey Pop the greatest rock festival of all time.
In The Beginning
Jeff Jampol (manager, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding estates): The hippie movement was happening in San Francisco in ’65 and ’66. It was an insular, self-protected scene. In ’67, the world discovered it. Monterey was the first time San Francisco bands were exposed to the world.
Art Garfunkel (Simon & Garfunkel): We had a wonderful notion: The acts are not going to get paid. Well, the kids are going to get very excited if they know it’s not commercial -- it’s for the spirit of our generation. That’s a terrific turn-on. And I think with that sentence, we go to the heart of the matter.
Al Kooper (assistant stage manager): We all cared about this. The only person who’d had any experience in the I’m-a-prick aspect was Lou Adler. All the rest were easygoing folks.
David Crosby (The Byrds): I think Lou Adler is a dishonest hustler. But the festival was terrific, man. I can’t say enough good stuff about it.
Garfunkel: Here I may sound arrogant, but we invited the people we knew were the princes of rock n’ roll. These were what we called the really musical cats. They were not record company darlings.
Steve Miller (Steve Miller Band): San Francisco was almost the center of the universe. It was a swirling amount of energy -- art, lights, posters, writing, music -- and the world seemed to be looking to it for inspiration. Whereas L.A. just had a bunch of pop stars trying to make money.
Lou Adler (manager, The Mamas & The Papas; festival co-founder): There was no venue, really. It was for cow shows and horse shows. Chip Monck handled the production. He practically built the stage. Without him, there probably wouldn’t have been a Monterey.
Chip Monck (stage manager): No, it wouldn’t have happened without the groundskeeper, who had a front-end loader with a truss boom. It was a cute little arena that seats about 6,500 people. There wasn’t a flat floor. “This is the stage? Holy fuck.” There were no rules yet written for this kind of event; we were building an industry.
Kooper: That’s why I did it. The challenging part was the virginity of it.
Monck: Al Kooper and I were imports from New York, and to say it politely, we didn’t fit into the San Francisco way of life. New York is dress, hustle, get it done now, don’t even bother giving me an excuse. That’s not the San Francisco way. Everything was so laidback. The annoyance was horrific.
Adler: I was calling Billboard and all the other music magazines to ask for a free ad. When I explained, “We’re doing a pop festival,” they said, “What’s that?” And when I said, “We’re doing it for a rock charity,” they said, “What’s that?” We’re dealing so much in the first time. Remember, the biggest concert at that time would have been in a hall that held about 2,000 people.
The Revolution Will Be Monetized
D.A. Pennebaker (director, Monterey Pop documentary): [TV producer] Bob Rafelson said, “Would you like to do a film of a music festival in California?” I’d done one film, and it hadn’t really been distributed. Portable sync cameras [to synchronize sound and film] didn’t exist, so we bought cameras from Auricon and rebuilt them. I was born in the 1920s, and listening to jazz music was most of my childhood. I didn’t know any of the bands, so I let each cameraman make his own film. A good film finds a way to solve its own problems. And a bad film doesn’t care.
Eric Burdon (The Animals): The people who gathered at Monterey displayed the power of a mass belief that there is something better, through music, that could express a higher consciousness. This became a defining point of reference in my young life.
Booker T. Jones (Booker T. & The MG’s, who backed Redding): I didn’t have any knowledge of the counterculture, so I was one shocked young fella. Everyone was dressed so casually, and there we were, in silk mohair suits. We could not have been more out of place.
Elvin Bishop (Paul Butterfield Blues Band): Otis’ band had little golf shirts with alligators on them.
Barry Goldberg (The Electric Flag): We were from Chicago. We’d never seen surfers before. It was like H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine -- we were the Morlocks, living under ground and not getting enough sun. These perfect blonde people with hardly any clothes on, they were the Eloi. Some hippie girls dressed me in a sharktooth necklace and a cut-off Levi jacket. [Electric Flag guitarist] Michael Bloomfield said, “Take off those stupid clothes right now.” I’d just heard “Strawberry Fields Forever,” so I said, “There’s nothing to get hung up about.” He threw a book at me.
Monck: On Friday, I was looking for a Purple Heart -- an upper. It gives you another 10 hours of ability to stay on your feet. I said, “Has anybody got a Purple Heart?” Somebody gave me something purple. I took it. It was acid [Owsley’s Monterey Purple]. It was the wrong time to take acid, let me tell you.
Miriam Kasin (Attendee): The week before the festival was my 16th birthday, and my parents gave me tickets. Monterey was a high point of my life.
Jim Otto (Attendee): I was in my early 20s and in the process of opening a record store. We were hippies living in Laguna Beach. We rented a room in a motel, and eight of us shared the room. We took turns in the bed.
Miller: They gave us airplane tickets, they put us up in a good hotel, and they fed us really well. But we played for free. Everybody played for free.
Dave Getz (Big Brother & The Holding Company): I always think about what people don’t know about Monterey. It’s kind of negative, but it’s what I prefer to talk about. We got fucked over. It was promoted as a party -- “everybody’s playing for free!” They didn’t say they were making a movie. They presented a contract to each band literally right before they went onstage. We were a crazy bunch of freaks. We believed in free -- we didn’t believe in not free! We refused on principle to sign it, and so did some of the other San Francisco bands.
Jampol: Literally as bands were walking onstage -- actually, sometimes when they were already onstage, Lou Adler said to me recently -- bands were asked to sign a full release to be filmed.
Miller: We thought they were going to make a fortune off the movie, so my manager negotiated us out of it. He wasn’t going to let them screw us.
Getz: Big Brother played [early on Saturday afternoon] and we did five songs, of which Janis sang maybe three. The record company people saw Janis, and they saw dollar signs. We were asked to perform again: “We’ll put you on in a prime spot on Sunday night if you’ll be in the movie.”
Jampol: Big Brother’s first performance was legendary. I think Pennebaker was the one who cornered Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager. He said, “Albert, talk some sense into these guys. We have to film this.” Albert convinced them, although not everybody in the band wanted to do it.
Getz: Albert Grossman told her how fabulous she was. It became a big showdown. Janis was adamant about playing again on Sunday. She wanted to be successful. There was a lot of placating her at that point. There was an edge to playing a second time, because we’d been coerced.
Peter Lewis (Moby Grape): The day before, Janis couldn’t have gotten arrested. The day after, she couldn’t get rid of the guys in suits. [Columbia Records signed Joplin as a solo artist a few months later.] Big Brother was a family. Without those guys to protect her, being on her own drove Janis to an early grave.
Jampol: Listen, Big Brother had a band long before Janis was in it. And they all lived together communally, in a house in the Haight. When they were showcased at Monterey, I could see how they felt like they were losing control over their scene.
Lewis: Moby Grape were backstage with our manager, Matthew Katz, and Lou Adler. Lou talked about putting us on Saturday night, and filming it. That story is absolutely true: Matthew said, “I own the band’s name, and you have to pay me $1 million or you can’t film my band.” Adler was pissed off, and said, “Fine, you’ll play in the afternoon.” [Moby Grape singer] Skip Spence went crazy and fired Matthew right then. If we had been in the movie, like Janis, it would’ve made us huge stars.
Getz: Behind the stage there was a Quonset hut, where a lot of jamming was going on. Hendrix was playing, and I sat down at the drum set. I remember -- this is real, I’m not making this up -- someone came over and put a tab of acid in Hendrix’s mouth while he was playing. Crazy.
Lewis: Monterey was the first time I took acid. Some chick gave it to me. She mentioned getting it from David Crosby, and I split it with [bandmate] Bob Mosley. I remember thinking I was dead. Then light appeared in front of my eyes, and I realized I was lying in the parking lot of our motel, and the light was the stars. By the time the sun came up, I thought, “This is a real beginning.” I had died to my identity as [actress] Loretta Young’s son, and woke up to a new identity: a guy who played music. Making it in show business was not part of my vision of who I was. The age of the individual was coming.
Kasin: On Saturday night, Laura Nyro did a kind of New York nightclub act, dancing in unison with her singers. I say this as someone who loved her: she bombed, because she was so out of step with the festival.
Adler: Laura Nyro was a surprise to most people, and not a good surprise. Her band wasn’t rehearsed very well.
Miller: I think she was performing in a nightgown with a veil that was 12 feet long. Really out there.
Monck: Halfway through the event, I ran out of color -- the gel you put in front of a lighting fixture. I ordered more from a lab in New York. Either John or Lou said, “Send the Learjet to pick it up.” I think that Jet was in the air a lot. Whatever the ticket gross was, I’m sure they spent five times that.
Crosby: The other guys in the Byrds did not like what I said onstage about the assassination of John F. Kennedy: that it was a conspiracy, and the Warren Report was a lie. I’m still certain I was telling the truth. The other guys didn’t think politics was part of being in a band. They wanted to be a pop band. I should’ve respected that, probably. But I didn’t. A few months later, they threw me out of the Byrds.
Adler: The Beach Boys had confirmed but then decided not to play, which catapulted Otis Redding into the Saturday night headlining spot.
Marty Balin (Jefferson Airplane): We were on just before Otis. I think we were the first to heat up the crowd. He killed. “C’mon, stand up!,” and everybody would stand up. He was the most powerful entertainer I ever saw.
Miller: Otis was the best act at Monterey by a factor of five. There was literally a gasp.
Booker T. Jones: We were very anxious about Monterey. Otis came out onstage timidly. That lasted about two seconds. The crowd made him feel at home. It came on the heels of an extended tour of Europe, and those performances stand out in my memory as, in some ways, unsurpassable. But because of the crowd energy in Monterey and the occasion, it was another superlative performance from Otis.
Kasin: This whole audience of white, middle-class kids started screaming and acting like they were black. “Lord have mercy! Right on brotha!” It was a little bit racist.
Barry Goldberg: I’ve never experienced a vibe like that before. The exhilaration of people coming together, how they accepted Otis -- it was the greatest thing I had ever seen.
Jones: That evening was surreal to me because of the cultural changes I was seeing. It was like coming home, but stepping into a new world. It was an America I hadn’t seen before.
Hendrix vs. The Who
Balin: On Sunday afternoon, Mike Bloomfield and I watched Ravi Shankar while smoking a joint in a field. Mike goes, “I understand it, Marty. I totally understand it all!” He was amazed. We went backstage and talked to Shankar, who thought we were crazy hippies. He didn’t like all the dope smoking.
Kooper: Shankar was amazing, and the audience went berserk. It was the only performance most of the musicians sat and watched.
Miller: Shankar was beautiful, and he played a three-hour concert. People like Bloomfield were bowing down to him during his performance. Then evening came, and everything got ugly.
Adler: Hendrix and [The Who’s] Pete Townshend knew each other from England. They had an argument, because both wanted to go on first. At the end, Jimi said to Pete, “You win. But I’m going to do something to destroy anything you did.”
Burdon: With those two sets, Hendrix and The Who, we saw what the future would be like. And from the stage, I could see beyond the smiling faces of the flower children and lock eyes with the ones who would soon vanish to a never-ending war, half a world away.
Otto: We had DMT, which is an acid trip compressed into 20 minutes. I remember watching The Who after smoking DMT, and when they started doing their guitar smashing, I wondered if it was a hallucination.
Miller: The Who’s career was finished [in the United States] if they didn’t go over at Monterey. They smashed a mic and broke their guitars, and everyone thought, “They’re so radical and nihilistic.” I felt they were smashing their instruments because they couldn’t play good enough. I wanted to kick Pete Townshend’s ass right off the stage. There was something cold and cruel and violent about it.
Crosby: It was the first time we saw Hendrix. Can you put that in your head? That’s a shocking thing. And if Owsley had just given you a tab of acid, heh-heh, it was a little more shocking.
Miller: I was with Jimi just before he went onstage. He was really high on acid and distraught.
Pennebaker: Hendrix came on and I thought, “I’m not sure if this is music.” Then he did a couple of blues songs, and I started hearing him.
Elvin Bishop: Mike Bloomfield said to me, “He sounds like cars crashing into trains.”
Otto: There was a competition between Jimi and the Who, to see who could be more extreme. Jimi won. He was possessed.
Miller: It was Chicago blues, but amplified to an incredible level. He was like a master who came from outer space.
Kasin: It’s not like everyone rose up and recognized it was a great moment in rock history. At the time, it was confusing. Why was he burning an expensive guitar? When you watch the Pennebaker film, you see the audience just looks confused.
Crosby: I thought, “You can’t do that. That’s a Fender guitar!” Instruments were holy sacraments.
Miller: I felt badly for Jimi, but I’m different than most people. Here’s a great artist who felt he had to hump his guitar and pour lighter fluid on it.
Garfunkel: The Mamas & The Papas played last -- that’s the power of being on the nominating committee! Their reputation has faded. But at the time, the greatest acts in America were [Simon & Garfunkel] and The Mamas & The Papas. Look at the sales.
What It All Meant
Pennebaker: When I sat down to edit, I thought the best thing I could do was to make a film that’s like putting on a record. No interviews. No philosophy. Just the music.
Adler: I didn’t make a cent at Monterey. Whatever money we got, we gave away immediately to San Francisco and L.A. charities.
Getz: In 1993, I was bitten by a brown recluse spider. I was in Marin Hospital for five or six days, and didn’t have insurance. I owed $15,000, and I didn’t have the money. [My bandmate] Peter Albin contacted Lou Adler, who sent me a check for $5,000. I would have considered it even more an act of generosity if he’d paid the whole bill! I paid the hospital $112 a month for the next four years.
Pennebaker: We showed [ABC president Barry Diller] the Jimi Hendrix rushes, where Hendrix is humping his amps, and it kind of looks disgusting. Diller was a white guy in a suit. He said, “It’s never gonna be on my network.” In the end, Lou couldn’t pay our [postproduction] bills. We owed about $100,000. So the lawyers did a thing where we took ownership of the film. Eventually, Lou saw we were making money out of it, and he said, “What’s going on?” We said, “You screwed us over.” So we made a deal and split ownership with Lou.
Adler: The music executives woke up at Monterey, and realized there was a different kind of music. The bands also had a revelation: the power of the artist, as opposed to the power of the record company. They were able to say, “This is the album I want to put out.” And that lasted until the 1980s, when corporations and lawyers took over.
Garfunkel: I was not a great fan of the Bay Area bands. Janis? I never like to put people down, so maybe I should go off the record to say…
Goldberg: We were serious musicians. We didn’t really respect a lot of those San Francisco jam bands and their psychedelic music, with guitar solos that went on for two hours.
Jampol: The Airplane headlined all three major ’60s rock festivals. Grace Slick said to me, “Woodstock was about the weather, Altamont was about death, and Monterey was about the music.”
Garfunkel: The clean version of America was changing to a free version. “Let’s take off our shirts and jump in the water, and swim and hug and love,” and oh, that was a beautiful feeling. It was everything we love about this country, in its extreme.
Lewis: Everybody was welcome, as long as they were going to be cool. That’s worth reminding people of. It was this idea of being able to escape the tyranny of yourself and not be driven by a social monolith -- that’s what Monterey represented. After that, there was a decline toward a primal freedom. And after Charles Manson and Altamont, it became a nightmare of violence.
Jampol: After Monterey, the world discovered “hippie.” When the music business gets involved, now we’re in commerce, and compromises are going to be made. “Hippie” became a big business.
Getz: I don’t think there has been another festival like it. But after Monterey, music became a lot more about money and success and more internal fighting -- the whole rock n’ roll story. We never got any money from the movie, of course.
Otto: Monterey was really important to me. I’ve spent years turning people on to music at my record store. Music is -- I don’t want to say holy, but a cosmic spreading of sounds.
Jampol: I think the word “festival” has been a bit perverted, and now it just means a bunch of bands in an outdoor area. A real festival is a celebration, bringing in different forms of art, and there’s an overlying theme.
Garfunkel: I didn’t show up at Woodstock. I felt, “We did this already.”
Crosby: Why would I go to Coachella? You’re standing in a field listening to a band that is half a mile away. “Is that Mick Jagger? I can’t tell.” That’s not good enough -- you can’t tell how he feels about what he’s singing. It’s just a sham.
Kooper: Does the 50th anniversary mean anything to me? It means I’m a fucking old guy.
Miller: When you go see a Beyoncé concert now, and you see lasers and dancers -- Monterey was the beginning of that idea of a big concert. It gave you a feel of what the future was going to be.
Crosby: Hold on, I think I’m seeing a flying saucer.