“Monterey was the nexus – it sprang from what the Beatles began, and from it sprang what followed.” — Jann Wenner
Woodstock? Pah! The real moment that festivals became integral to music as the speakers the notes spewed out from was in 1967 when the Monterey Pop Festival provided a host of the finest rock talent around the opportunity to reach a hysterical mass of excited music fans. Over three days during the Summer of Love, the festival equipped an audience with the greatest rock anecdote of all time as they could proclaim whenever the lofty landmark occasion has since been mentioned: “I was there!”
The usual reason for this exclamation is because not only was the audience there, all 25,000 to 90,000 depending on who you believe, but so were some of the most brilliant rock and roll artists of all time. Arranged by publicist Derek Taylor, record producer Lou Adler, Alan Pariser and member of The Mamas & Papas John Phillips, the festival saw established acts such as the latter, Simon & Garfunkel and the Byrds share the spotlight with new and promising artists from the UK and US including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Animals, The Who and Otis Redding.
As you might well imagine, thanks to the supreme line-up, the festival has gone down in history as the greatest of all time, providing a blueprint for future music festivals and, therefore, guaranteeing our happiness over each summer. The simple premise is: get a field, provide the food, booze and care and let the music take over.
“Our idea for Monterey was to provide the best of everything – sound equipment, sleeping and eating accommodations, transportation – services that had never been provided for the artist before Monterey,” recalled record producer Adler of the iconic festival’s inception. “We set up an on-site first aid clinic because we knew there would be a need for medical supervision and that we would encounter drug-related problems. We didn’t want people who got themselves into trouble and needed medical attention to go untreated. Nor did we want their problems to ruin or in any way disturb other people or disrupt the music.”
The festival was seemingly one of the most well-organised of the infamous set. “Our security worked with the Monterey police. The local law enforcement authorities never expected to like the people they came in contact with as much as they did. They never expected the spirit of ‘Music, Love and Flowers’ to take over to the point where they’d allow themselves to be festooned with flowers.”
While the ‘vibe’ was always essential to the festival’s success, without the music (and D.A. Pennebaker’s film), it would have been forgotten alongside the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival, which was technically the first festival of its kind. Below, we’re doing our best to help lodge Monterey in your memory as the finest of its kind as we revisit seven landmark performances.
Monterey Pop Festival best performances:
Jimi Hendrix – ‘Wild Thing’
Of course, without Jimi Hendrix, the world would have been a far more boring place. But, without The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix would never have made a splash in America. It was the Fab Four badgering their publicist Derek Taylor which would eventually see the inspiring guitarist take a spot on the bill. Introduced by Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, Hendrix’s sounds would shock the US audience.
At the festival, Hendrix would kick off his first US tour in style, delivering a seminal performance that still shines in the annals of rock history as one of the greatest guitar performances of all time. The festival would also see performances from The Who, which would see Hendrix duel with Pete Townshend backstage as to who would go on first. But more on that later.
While much of Hendrix’s performance is to be rightly lauded, this, after all, was the stage he chose to set his guitar ablaze and feed off the spiritual, and possibly toxic, fumes it produced. Following the conclusion of ‘Wild Thing,’ Hendrix would (not for the first time) pour lighter fluid on his guitar and drop a match to make musical history.
Janis Joplin with Big Brother & The Holding Company – ‘Ball & Chain’
The famous event saw the introduction of the unstoppable Janis Joplin as the leading lady of Big Brother and the Holding Company and, with it and her fiery vocal performance, the voice of her generation was finally given the stage she deserved.
The band’s debut record wouldn’t be out until August of that year, but when the bubbling blues band left the stage on Saturday afternoon on June 17th in 1967, there wasn’t a member of the crowd who was left in any doubt of their impending power. This band, and the 24-year-old Janis Joplin, were the real deal.
Yet when they finished the set with their brilliant song ‘Ball and Chain’ to rapturous applause, D.A. Pennebaker, who was directing the documentary of the festival, ordered them back on stage so he could capture the whole thing. The band returned the following day for their second set — a luxury no other band were afforded. It will go down as the moment Janis Joplin introduced herself to the entire world.
The Byrds – ‘Chimes of Freedom’
1967’s Monterrey Pop Festival was one of the first festivals to take place in a similar format to how we know and love them today. The bash was iconic for a plethora of different reasons but one set that often gets unfairly looked over is The Byrds’ masterclass. It was a performance that saw them delight the audience and gather up fans, particularly with this gorgeous cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Chimes of Freedom’.
The Byrds set is left out of the larger conversation. Still, it was one of David Crosby’s most important shows of his career as his onstage antics on the biggest of stages ultimately played a role in his departure from the group not long after. Crosby, to the irritation of his bandmates, decided to give lengthy in-between-song speeches on a bizarre array of topics. The somewhat rambling interludes acted as red flags for the band as he spoke on stage about the JFK assassination and the benefits of giving LSD to “all the statesmen and politicians in the world”.
Despite talking on several no-go areas whilst on stage, Crosby was actually on fine form when he performed his songs rather than ranting, with the cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Chimes of Freedom’ being a shining example of The Byrds’ enormous talent.
The Animals – ‘Paint It Black’
The Animals, fronted by Eric Burdon but backed by a plethora of esteemed musicians, may well be one of the most overlooked influencers of the decade. During the sixties, the band were widely considered one of the greats, vying with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones as the archetypal British invasion band.
The group have since fallen into the realms of obscurity as they lacked the fame and star power of the two aforementioned juggernauts. However, if you needed any proof as to why The Animals are such a mammoth pop-culture touchstone, then, ironically, this cover of The Rolling Stones is all you need. Live at the Monterey Pop Festival, The Animals’ amazing cover of ‘Paint It Black’ was somewhat overlooked. At the event, which launched the careers of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, Burdon and his band’s performance is often forgotten.
It would make the band’s album Winds of Change in 1967, but this live performance is the one that really hits hard. From the iconic opening moments of Brian Jones’ sitar being replaced with a scathing fiddle solo right up to Burdon’s landmark vocals, this cover reeks of authenticity.
Otis Redding – ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’
One of the artists who often isn’t given the credit he deserves when reminiscing about the Monterey Po Festival is Otis Redding. One of the most sincere talents of his generation, Redding provided one of the finest performances of the weekend with his song, ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ standing out as a perfect moment.
Without promoter Jerry Wexler, Redding would have never taken to the stage. The promoter pushed incredibly hard to have Redding included and even got him the esteemed backing band of Booker T and the MGs to make things even more perfect. It was one of the first moments Redding played for a desegregated audience and is a landmark moment in his rich legacy.
Performing ‘Respect’ and his version of ‘Satisfaction’, the set is one of the finest in memory of the festival. Redding would pass away only six months later.
The Who – ‘My Generation’
Having duelled with Jimi Hendrix backstage for who would follow whom, Pete Townshend ordered his band to “leave a wound” when they performed for the audience at Monterey. The Who were the latest British invasion band to cross the Atlantic but Daltrey, Townshend, Entwistle, and Moon came equipped with some serious weaponry.
Not only did they have Daltrey’s vocals, Townshend’s impressive riffs, Entwistle’s steady rhythm and Moon’s incredible lunacy behind the kit, but they also had a defining anthem in ‘My Generation’. The band’s performance of the track for the West Coast set will go down in history as one of their best. It’s a song that not only typified the band’s playing ability—crashing through with all the intensity of a locomotive on the run—but also of their upcoming position at the top table of rock.
Of course, most fans will know what happens next. As the final notes of ‘My Generation’ began to roll out, Townshend and the rest of the band turn their attentions to their instruments and plot their imminent destruction. As festival organisers desperately try to save equipment from the British invasion, The Who destroy everything in sight.
Jefferson Airplane – ‘White Rabbit’
During the summer of love, if you took yourself down to the Haight-Asbury neighbourhood of San Francisco you were guaranteed at least one of two things would happen. Either you would hear blasting out of the squats and coffee shops, the dulcet tone of Grace Slick and her band Jefferson Airplane or you would bump directly into a member of the band.
On the West Coast, there was nobody bigger or better. The band represented a cultural crossroads of rock and pop. The Beatles had made rock and roll acceptable and Jefferson Airplane were trying hard to take it back. With an avid following, the group’s performance of their seminal drug anthem ‘White Rabbit’ brought the house down and confirmed their legendary status.