Monterey Pop Festival veterans look back on the idyllic gathering that cleared the path to Woodstock and sowed the seeds of cultural change.
Thursday, June 14, 2001
Marijuana was illegal but LSD was not. The Beatles had just released Sergeant Peppers'' Lonely Hearts Club Band. In 1967, as hordes of hippies poured into the sleepy backwater village that was Monterey, no one really knew how much power they would soon hold. The Monterey International Pop Festival inaugurated the Summer of Love and, for a moment in time, remade the culture in its own image.
Monterey was a strange place for the cultural revolution''s launch. The town was still suffering from the after-effects of the sardine bust, and it had yet to establish its identity as a major tourist destination. Urban renewal had not yet transformed Alvarado, which by all accounts was a pretty seedy stretch of tattoo parlors, pool halls and beer joints. Cannery Row was a combination ghost town and giant jungle gym, a rusted labyrinth where kids explored deserted buildings looking for old cannery labels and hobos slept amidst abandoned machinery.
Monterey native John Laughton was an usher at the Pop Festival. He had just finished his freshman year at UC Berkeley, where he caught the tail end of the Free Speech movement and watched the birth of the black-power, flower-power and women''s-rights movements. He remembers his hometown as an isolated place. "We were out in the sticks," Laughton recalls. "It was a small town. Everybody knew everybody, but we were removed from the body politic of the larger happenings."
According to Linda Jaffe, executive director of the Monterey History and Art Association, the seeds of the idea for a pop music festival were generated by music promoter Alan Pariser, a regular at the annual Monterey Jazz Festival. If Monterey could host a successful annual jazz celebration, he wondered, why couldn''t the city also do a pop festival? Nurtured by music producer Lou Adler, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, and music publicist Derek Taylor, that seed grew into the largest gathering of flower children the world had ever seen.
Attendance estimates vary wildly, but nobody disputes that at the time, the Pop Festival was the biggest event of its kind in history. Somewhere between 100,000 and twice that number of long-haired, paisley-clad, dope-smoking young people converged on this small town of about 20,000 residents. They slept on the football field at Monterey Peninsula College, in their cars and vans on the streets of Monterey, in vacant lots and in the yards of people who lived near the fairgrounds.
National and local press pored over the event, bringing pictures of a new generation to the world. Long after the last wisps of marijuana smoke disappeared into the Monterey fog, young people were traveling to and through Monterey looking for some reminder of the concert that changed everything.
Journey to the Past
This weekend, the Monterey History and Art Association is sponsoring a three-day symposium examining the effects of the First Annual Monterey International Pop Festival. Panelists will include a variety of musicians who played there as well as organizers and artists who were involved. [See schedule below] During the three days, the various speakers will be analyzing and proselytizing about the ways in which the festival defined and changed music in the late ''60s. They have plenty to work with.
In retrospect, we can see a musical roster that included some of the biggest names in rock and pop history: the Byrds, the Who, the Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, the Grateful Dead, the Mamas & the Papas, Lou Rawls, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Simon & Garfunkle, Country Joe & The Fish, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Hugh Masekela, Laura Nyro, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, Janis Joplin with Big Brother & The Holding Company, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. At the time, though, many of these were new and emerging bands.
Besides altering the national cultural landscape, Jaffe says, the festival changed the way musicians were viewed. "It was significant in a couple of different ways," she says. "I''m going to quote Lou Adler: ''Prior to that event, musicians were treated as second-class citizens. After the Monterey Pop, the musicians were in the driver''s seat.'' And because of when it happened historically, it was the catalyst for the Summer of Love. Monterey Pop was a catalyst for getting people to come together to hear the music that would be the mouthpiece for what was happening in America."
It was also something of a career-maker for many of the musicians. If there''s any single enduring image of Jimi Hendrix, it may be the one where he''s onstage at the Fairgrounds, prayerfully dousing his guitar with lighter fluid, setting it on fire and watching it burn. Janis Joplin virtually sealed her date with fame during her blistering performance at the festival; The Who found an American audience with "My Generation"; and the Grateful Dead showed their music would appeal to more than just boutique San Francisco audiences.
John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas was instrumental in bringing the Monterey Pop Festival to life.
Of course, that''s all hindsight, with 34 years separating fact from analysis. At the time, not everyone was so impressed. In its debut issue of November 1967, Rolling Stone panned the festival as simply a bit of ego-gratification for Adler and Phillips. Billboard said Hendrix''s "chicken choke handling of the guitar doesn''t indicate a strong talent."
But critics aside, the festival''s musical importance might only be important as a corollary to its social significance.
Woodstock was bigger. But it can be argued--and probably will be argued this weekend--that the Monterey International Pop Festival was more important. Woodstock illustrated the peace-love-dope movement as it reached critical mass. But Monterey Pop showed us a generation bathed in idealism as it was born.
It also showed us a never-repeated example of two generations working in harmony, even if they didn''t understand one another.
Film actor/director Dennis Hopper was one of those in attendance (see "Heavy Photo Mama," page 24.) He''s been quoted as saying, "Monterey was the purest, most beautiful moment of the whole ''60s trip. It seemed like everything had come to that moment. It was a magical, pure moment in time."
With the publicity power of Adler and Phillips, word of the concert was spread around the country. It soon became obvious that this concert had the potential to be big. Although Monterey city officials were nervous about the anticipated crowds, they overcame their anxiety and not only allowed the show to go on, but supported it.
While the police in Berkeley and elsewhere took confrontational measures to control crowds, the police in Monterey took a more hands-off approach. Sam Karas, who would later rise to prominence as a Monterey County supervisor and who had been previously involved as an organizer with the Monterey Jazz Festival, had been hired by festival promoters to "put together everything but the performers--ushers, vendors, security and the whole bit." He says an understanding had been worked out with Monterey Police Chief Frank Marinello "to work with the crowd, not against them." That included turning a blind eye to the rampant smoking of marijuana that was going on inside and near the fairgrounds.
According to Karas, cops were instructed not to make arrests for smoking pot. Many of the cops even went beyond passive acceptance of the flood of strangers in their midst, wearing flowers in their caps and helmets, if not exactly in their hair.
It was an approach to security that seemed to work: Despite the huge numbers of stoned hippies outnumbering the entire population of Monterey--never mind the police--there were no instances of violence throughout the three-day festival. It was as peaceful an event as could have been imagined.
But even with the success of the festival behind them, city officials freaked out at the thought of a repeat concert.
According to historians, Adler and Phillips had already reached an agreement with the Monterey Fairgrounds for a second pop festival in 1968. City officials balked at the idea, fearful that the second concert might not be as peaceful. They ultimately demanded such a high security deposit that the promoters gave up on their plan.
Monterey Police Chief Marinello was one of those who never quite comprehended the reasons behind the city''s reluctance to host the second festival.
According to Tim Thomas, the History and Art Association''s historian, "[Marinello] said he couldn''t understand why they didn''t want to do it again. He said it was the easiest festival ever, that Monterey Jazz Festival was 10 times more of a powder keg."
It''s interesting to ponder what kind of musical legacy the Monterey Pop Festival would have had if it could have become an annual event. But instead, the one--and only--Monterey International Pop Festival left us with visions of almost everything that was good about the ''60s: An innocent and true belief that peace and love could conquer the world''s problems, that even The Establishment''s intolerance would melt under the power of music.
"I would just say it captured and epitomized what it meant to be under 30 and living in the ''60s: Young, vital, fresh," Laughton says. "You still had the enthusiasm that you could make a difference and change the world. You could change American culture in a positive way. All the energy was extremely positive.