Friday, March 15, 2019

Summer of Love and Monterey Pop

By the time we got to Woodstock... Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Who and the Grateful Dead were demigods to the half-mil who rambled onto Yasgur's farm in the summer of '69; two years earlier, each was unknown. 

Held over three days during and kicking off the Summer of Love, the Monterey International Pop Festival (Music, Love and Flowers) featured what is now a historic lineup of performers that also included Ravi Shankar, Buffalo Springfield, The Association, Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, The Byrds and the Mama's and the Papa's. Monterey was a groundbreaking event, bringing together an eclectic mix of styles and sounds, and, in three days, launching the careers of a gazillion iconic players. The festival not only pioneered the idea of the multi-day rock festival, it provided the creative template that music festivals follow today, from Firefly to Coachella. Over 200,000 attended the concert organized by Papa John Phillips, who even wrote a theme song for the event, Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)." It wasn't a corporate thing,  it wasn't an Acid Test, Monterey was a legit rock event.

Concert Producer Lou Adler recalled the initial conversation: "It was me, John Phillips, Cass Elliot and Paul McCartney, and we were all talking about the fact that rock 'n' roll wasn't considered an art form, like jazz and the blues. John and I had both heard that in the late 30s, the series Jazz at the Philharmonic had validated jazz to people, so we thought putting rock music at the site of the already established Monterey Jazz Festival would validate rock." And validate it it did. Everything that could go right, did – from the weather (perfect, you know…California) to the music (luminescent) to the throngs of people, young and old ; it was all  the Be-ins, the Love-ins, the Acid Tests  culminating right there in Monterey. Unlike Woodstock, which would follow (without the meticulous planning), Monterey was a true festival with the feel of a Renaissance Fair or a community get together.

Woodstock certainly gets more press, but Monterey was where it began: Janis and "Ball and Chain," Jimi making love to, then lighting his Stratocaster on fire, Pete Townshend smashing his guitars.  Indeed, Townshend originated the concept of pyrotechnic stagecraft. Close friend Hendrix quickly began mimicking the explosive routine on stage, destroying his guitars to elicit the feedback. The copycatting simultaneously delighted and infuriated Townshend. At Monterey, as Jimi smashed his gear round the stage, Cass Elliot lashed out. "Hey, destroying guitars is your thing!" she yelled to Townshend. "It used to be," he shouted back, "It belongs to Jimi now." 

Brian Jones
"No one had ever heard anything like it," said John Phillips. Grace Slick in her memoir, Somebody to Love, said, "I watched him play guitar with his teeth, use the mic stand for a slide guitar, bang into speakers for feedback, set his guitar on fire... And the fabulous outfit! He wore a perfect 60s costume: Spanish hat, Mongol vest, silk ruffled paisley shirt, pounds of handmade jewelry, and western boots. If any musician represented the era, it was Jimi Hendrix." Hendrix was introduced by The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones. It was his last public appearance. Immortalized in song by the Animals ("Monterey"), Eric Burdon sings, "His Majesty, Prince Jones/ Smiled as he moved among the crowd."
Janis and Grace Slick

The list of performers was only outweighed by those who declined or were overlooked: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Cream, The Kinks and The Doors (who purportedly didn't meet the theme of Music, Love and Flowers).

Monterey was the rock equivalent of a Royal gathering; for fans of rock 'n' roll, there is no other weekend that compares to the events that took place simultaneously in Monterey; not the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl; not the Doors at the Whiskey; not even big brother Woodstock - Monterey was the jam. 

A codicil: While Monterey Pop can be considered the first rock festival, it can clearly be argued that the 1966 Windsor Jazz Blues Festival, despite the name, superceded Monterey by nearly a year. Indeed, Jazz artists by this time in the festival's history were far and in-between. The rock line-up instead was nearly as impressive as Pop: The Small Faces, The Who, The Yardbirds and Cream led the way, with Cream, yet to have the name, and billed as Eric Clapton - Jack Bruce - Ginger Baker.