A Look Back At Monterey Pop, 50 Years Later

Jun 15, 2017

In the 21st century, destination music festivals seem like a dime a dozen. But just 50 years ago, there was only one: the Monterey International Pop Festival, which featured more than 30 artists and bands playing over the course of three days in the summer of 1967.

Monterey Pop set the template for all the huge rock festivals that would follow — Woodstock, Coachella, Bonnaroo and all the rest — and its influence would spread even further via a documentary, Monterey Pop, that was helmed by D.A. Pennebaker and would set a gold standard for concert films.

The festival's star-studded lineup reads like a who's who of rock royalty, but four names rise to the top of any conversation about the festival. There was Janis Joplin. ("When she sang, all of her sang," Pennebaker remembers.) The Who left the audience in awe after Pete Townshend concluded "My Generation" by smashing his guitar. As for Otis Redding, "the power and the feeling in his voice was something that a lot of us had never seen before," photographer Henry Diltz says.

Finally, there was Jimi Hendrix, who threw his guitar down onstage and doused it with Ronson lighter fluid. "Then [he] lights it, and then leans back in this sacrificial rite of giving his guitar to the gods," photographer Tom Gundelfinger O'Neal remembers. "One of the most iconic rock 'n' roll moments in musical history."

The musicians who weren't playing were watching Hendrix, transfixed, from behind the curtains at the side of the stage, says Grace Slick, who performed at Monterey Pop with Jefferson Airplane. "We hadn't seen a lot of these people. And everybody was just blown away by Jimi Hendrix in particular, because we hadn't seen him live. But we were amazed at each other."

Those three days of rock communion were initially conceived as a one-day affair. Two promoters, Alan Pariser and Ben Shapiro, were booking musicians for an all-day event at the same fairgrounds that hosted the storied Monterey Jazz Festival. But then record producer Lou Adler got wind of the project.

"Rock 'n' roll was not considered an art form," Adler says. "So when this idea came up to possibly do this at the same venue that had jazz festivals, we thought this might be the chance for that validation."

Adler and his partner — John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas — took over. Planning did not get off to a smooth start: Though the idea for the festival had always been to showcase a wide range of musicians, the psychedelic bands from San Francisco wanted nothing to do with the more commercial pop musicians from Los Angeles. Those meetings that took place in San Francisco, Adler says, "pretty much almost came to blows."

On top of that, local authorities in Monterey were starting to get cold feet over the prospect of their town being overrun by hippies. To smooth things over, Phillips wrote a song, "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)." The song was an instant hit and broke through to the Top 10 charts in the United States.

In the meantime, ABC TV put up a $200,000 advance to get a film made about Monterey Pop for its new "Movie of the Week" series. Pennebaker, fresh off the success of his Bob Dylan documentary Don't Look Back, was hired to make it.

"Usually I just did my films by myself," Pennebaker says. "The idea of having to do a concert film with four or five or six cameramen was something I never even thought about doing before." As a result, Monterey Pop was made by "kinda letting everybody go out and do whatever they thought a concert film should be."

Drugs were everywhere at Monterey Pop, as was par for the course in the '60s and the Summer of Love. In fact, Los Angeles band The Association kicked off the festival with "Along Comes Mary," a thinly veiled salute to marijuana. But the festival wasn't what the Monterey police force expected.

"It didn't take long for them to have flowers in their hair and in their helmets and flowers on their guns," Adler says. "The changeover from what they were told was going to happen to what actually happened in Monterey was very special."

Most of the Monterey Pop musicians played for free, with ticket proceeds going to charity. A foundation set up for the festival still donates royalties from any Monterey-related releases and from Pennebaker's documentary, which was released in theaters the following year. However, Monterey Pop never aired on ABC, the network that bankrolled it — a decision made by Tom Moore, the head of ABC at the time and, according to Adler, "a very conservative Southern gentleman."

"We showed him Jimi Hendrix fornicating with his amp and we said, 'What do you think?' " Adler recalls. "And he said, 'Keep the money and get out.' He said, 'Not on my network.' "

In celebration of the festival's 50th anniversary, a restored version of Monterey Pop will be released in theaters across the country Friday, and this weekend artists like Norah Jones, Regina Spektor and Kurt Vile will take to the same fairgrounds to celebrate the momentous festival whose influence can still be felt half a century on.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Fifty years ago this week, musicians took the stage in California for the first ever major rock festival. Now, organizers didn't call it that. They were afraid of upsetting the locals.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The three-day Monterey International Pop Festival became the template for Woodstock, Bonnaroo, Coachella and all the rest. A film by a future Oscar winner carried the performances around the world and set the standard for concert documentaries. Paul Ingles looks back at how it all came together.

PAUL INGLES, BYLINE: Four names rise to the top of any conversation about the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.

HOLLY GEORGE-WARREN: Janis Joplin.

D A PENNEBAKER: When she sang, all of her sang. I mean she shook her butt. She shook her feet. She shook her head.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MONTEREY POP")

JANIS JOPLIN: (Singing) And I said, oh, oh, Honey, this can't be, Baby, not in vain.

TOM GUNDELFINGER O'NEAL: Otis Redding.

HENRY DILTZ: The power and the feeling in his voice was something that a lot of us had never seen before.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MONTEREY POP")

OTIS REDDING: (Singing) Oh, she may be weary. Them young girls, they do get wearied.

DILTZ: The Who smashing their instruments.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MONTEREY POP")

THE WHO: (Singing) People try to put us down - talking about my generation.

KEN KUBERNIK: The audience looked absolutely shell-shocked after everything blows up during "My Generation."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MONTEREY POP")

GEORGE-WARREN: Jimi Hendrix of course.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MONTEREY POP")

O'NEAL: When he throws the guitar down on that stage and pulls out a can of Ronson lighter fluid and douses it, lights it and then leans back and this sacrificial right of giving his guitar to the gods - one of the most iconic rock 'n' roll moments in musical history.

INGLES: Photographer Tom Gundelfinger O'Neal. We also heard from filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, music journalist Holly George-Warren, author Ken Kubernik and photographer Henry Diltz. Singer Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane was also there and, via Skype, remembers the musicians who weren't playing, watching, transfixed from behind the curtains at the side of the stage.

GRACE SLICK: We hadn't seen a lot of these people, and everybody was just blown away by Jimi Hendrix in particular because we hadn't seen him live.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MONTEREY POP")

JIMI HENDRIX: (Singing) Wild thing, I think I love you.

SLICK: But we were amazed at each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MONTEREY POP")

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: (Singing) When the truth is found to be lies...

INGLES: Three days of music history began as a one-day one-off. Two promoters, Alan Pariser and Ben Shapiro, were booking musicians for an all-day event at the same fairgrounds that hosted the storied Monterey Jazz Festival. Record producer Lou Adler got wind of the project.

LOU ADLER: Rock 'n' roll was not considered an art form, so when the idea came up to possibly do this at the same venue that had jazz festivals, we thought this might be the chance for that validation.

INGLES: Adler and his partner John Phillips of The Mamas and Papas took over. The idea for the festival had always been to mix up a wide range of musicians, but Adler says the San Francisco psychedelic bands wanted nothing to do with the more commercial pop musicians from LA.

ADLER: Those meetings that took place in San Francisco pretty much almost came to blows.

INGLES: On top of that, local authorities in Monterey were starting to get cold feet over the prospect of their little town being overrun by hippies. So John Phillips wrote this song to smooth things over.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAN FRANCISCO")

SCOTT MCKENZIE: (Singing) If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

INGLES: Scott McKenzie's recording of a song hit the Top 10. ABC TV put up $200,000 in advance to get a Monterey film for its new "Movie Of The Week" series, and D.A. Pennebaker, fresh off the success of his Bob Dylan documentary, "Don't Look Back," was hired to make it.

PENNEBAKER: Usually I just did my films by myself, and suddenly the idea of having to do a concert film with four or five or six different cameramen was something I had never even thought about doing before. So it was kind of letting everybody go out and do whatever they thought a concert film should be.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MONTEREY POP")

JOHN PHILLIPS: To open up the first Monterey International Pop Festival, I'd like to give you The Association.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

INGLES: With that introduction by John Phillips, the Los Angeles band launched the event.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MONTEREY POP")

THE ASSOCIATION: (Singing) Every time I think that I'm the only one who's lonely, someone calls on me.

INGLES: The group's "Along Comes Mary" was a thinly veiled salute to marijuana, kind of an appropriate place to start considering that by all accounts, drugs were everywhere. But Lou Adler says the drug use was treated with a light touch by Monterey's police force.

ADLER: It didn't take long for them to have flowers in their hair or in their helmets and flowers on their guns. The changeover from what they were told was going to happen to what actually happened in Monterey was very special.

INGLES: Most of the musicians played for free, and the proceeds from ticket sales went to charity. In fact, a foundation set up for the festival still gives away royalties from any released Monterey recordings and from D.A. Pennebaker's documentary "Monterey Pop," which was released in theaters the following year. But it never aired on ABC, says Adler.

ADLER: At the time, the head of ABC was a man named Tom Moore, who was a very conservative Southern gentleman. So we showed him Jimi Hendrix fornicating with his amp and said, what do you think? And he said, keep the money, and get out. He said, not on my network. And so we were able to keep the advance and the film.

INGLES: There was never a follow-up to the original Monterey International Pop Festival until this weekend when a 50th anniversary event will take over the same fairgrounds. For NPR News, I'm Paul Ingles.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MONTEREY POP")

HENDRIX: Yes, as I said before, it's really groovy. I'd like to bore you for about six or seven minutes and do a little thing, yeah. Excuse me for a minute. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.