Monterey Pop, 1967: The Summer Of Love Begins (Facts And Trivia)
Over three days from June 16-18, 1967, the Monterey Pop Festival kicked off the summer of love and turned California into ground zero for the hippie movement. Featuring performances by Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and Janis Joplin, the festival became the template for every music festival that followed, from Woodstock to Coachella. Monterey Pop is still considered to be one of the most successful music festivals that have ever been put on, and aside from doing amazing numbers and showing that large groups of people can get together to have a good time without anything going off the rails, the festival also introduced America to some of the most important acts in music history. There was no experience quite like the Monterey Pop Festival.
John Phillips and Lou Adler put the festival together in seven weeks
Today, music festivals are conceptualized, booked, and planned out over the course of a year, but the Monterey Pop Festival was put together in about seven weeks by John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas, producer Lou Adler, and Beatles publicist Derek Taylor. According to Adler the catalyst behind the festival was a conversation with Paul McCartney and Mama Cass where the three were discussing the way that pop and rock music was brushed aside by critics at the time and not treated as seriously as jazz. In 2007, Adler told Davis Smiley:
Paul McCartney, myself, John Phillips, I think Cass Elliot and Michelle Phillips and we were sitting around discussing the fact that pop music wasn't considered an art form in the way that jazz was considered, and even folk.
So when the opportunity came to purchase these dates in Monterey and do something, we thought well, here's a chance to validate it. Monterey is known for a jazz festival, it's known for a folk festival. Let's just get in and do it. It was the first pop festival.
Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" was written to promote the festival
What better way to promote the festival of peace, love, and flowers than with a chilled out pop-folk tune about heading to Northern California? Written by written by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, the song was recorded both as a way to let people know about the show and to make sure that the authorities in Monterey knew that the hippies were only showing up to have a good time and not to turn the area into one big commune.
Released in May 1967, the song was a massive hit. Aside from promoting the festival the track became the unofficial anthem of the summer of love, but not everyone thought the song was all that great. Reportedly, San Francisco musicians like Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead bristled at the track name checking their city - especially because John Phillips was from Los Angeles.
Most of the artists performed for free
Nothing like this could work today, but in 1967 just about every performer on the bill performed for free. Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Jefferson Airplane, none of them were paid for their performances. Adler explained:
What really made it work was the fact that we established the first charitable rock foundation so that all of the acts performed gratis. No one got paid except Ravi Shankar, who was left over from the former promoter. And what that did, it got rid of billing; it got rid of when they would perform. Everyone just came to perform.
With tickets going for prices between $3 and $6.50, all of the money went to cover the astronomical costs of putting on a multi-day festival. There was crew to pay, security, concessions, as well as transport and room and board for the artists. All in all the festival made about $200,000 in profits, with at least $50,000 of that going to the New York City Youth Board for inner city music lessons.
The Who wowed the crowd by destroying their instruments and Hendrix lit his guitar on fire to keep from being overshadowed
Sunday at the Monterey Pop Festival was almost bipolar in nature. Ravi Shankar opened the day with an hours long set of sitar music before folkies like Cyrus Faryar and Scott Mackenzie played. In the middle of all those acts were two of the loudest, most raucous performances of the weekend. The Who played a blistering set full of feedback that knocked the hippies out of their folding chairs. The group ended their performance by smashing their instruments as Lou Adler ran on stage in a futile attempt to salvage the microphone stands.
Following The Who, the Grateful Dead came out and played what bassist Phil Lesh says was a fairly poor set, although no one remembers that because they were followed Jimi Hendrix. At the time, Hendrix was well known in England but this was his first big show in America. His performance basically hit the reset button on rock music. During his set he showed that spectacle and musicianship could be combined to create something transcendent. Not to be outdone by The Who, Hendrix soaked his Stratocaster in lighter fluid and set it on fire. Stephen Stills remembers, “I almost melted, right along with that guitar. He was the most amazing thing I ever saw.”
“Monterey Purple” was the drug of choice at the festival
According to Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas one of the biggest hurdles that the promoters faced was convincing the city of Monterey that the festival would be drug free. In 2017 she told the New York Times that when asked about drugs by local authorities John Phillips and Lou Adler told them that there would be “absolutely no drugs.” She added, “They should have all gotten Academy Awards.”
As you can imagine, the festival was crawling with substances ranging from pot to hallucinogens. Supposedly a punch bowl was spiked with STP and Grateful Dead audio engineer/LSD maven Owsley Stanley created a special batch of LSD for the festival which he dubbed “Monterey Purple.”
Rolling Stone reports that there were 14,000 tabs of the batch made for the festival and handed out to attendees, performers, and crew members for free. A lightening designer for the show took a tab, mistaking it for speed, and ended up bathing Simon & Garfunkel in hellish red light throughout their set. Hendrix supposedly took two tabs before his set.
No one filmed Big Brother and the Holding Company’s first set
Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker initially filmed the festival for television broadcast, but when a deal never materialized he culled the footage create the 1968 concert film Monterey Pop. Filmed on 16mm, most of the artists were more than happy to be featured, but the Grateful Dead refused to be included because they felt the film was too commercial.
For some unknown, insane reason Big Brother and the Holding Company’s manager made Pennebaker’s crew turn off their cameras while the Janis Joplin fronted band gave one of the most heart wrench, star-making performances of the festival. When Joplin made her way backstage following the performance and found that it hadn’t been recorded she wept.
Adler and Phillips made it up to Joplin by offering her another slot the following evening. She went on and this time her jaw dropping performance was recorded for the world to see.
Eric Burdon had such a great experience he wrote "Monterey" about it
By the time the festival came to an end it had not only defined what rock festivals would be like going forward, but it inspired a ton of musicians to create great music. Most famously, Eric Burdon of The Animals had such an amazing time performing that he wrote the song “Monterey” as a tribute to his experience.
The song features references to the peaceful nature of the festival as well as the musicians who Burdon shared the bill with. Each mention of a new artist comes with a musical motif that embodies their sound, be it a sitar or a feedback soaked electric guitar.