Forty years ago next week, nearly three dozen bands and performers filled a three-day music bill at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, Calif.
No one knew it at the time - not even the promoters - but the festival and its lineup would eventually become legend.
Fans who attended the Monterey International Pop Festival in mid-June 1967 for as little as $1 a day were treated to a lineup that included The Who, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, and Otis Redding, who would die in a plane crash six months later.
Next week’s Monterey anniversary coincides with the beginning of the summer music festival season.
Starting at noon Thursday, thousands of music fans will start pouring into Clinton State Park near Lawrence, Kan., for the fourth annual Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival. Next week tens of thousands of fans will inundate central Tennessee for the Bonnaroo Music Festival.
Promoters of both festivals are indebted to the organizers of the Monterey festival, which created the blueprint for how to plan, manage and execute a music festival for tens of thousands of fans.
“I’ve had conversations with the organizers of Coachella, and I know that they and the organizers of other festivals are very aware of Monterey and what it meant and how it influenced them,” Lou Adler said. “That gives me a lot of pride.”
Adler was a famous record producer when he took on the task of managing the Monterey festival. He admits that the festival’s success was as much a product of luck as calculated planning.
“We did a lot of things out of instinct,” he said. “There were no rules or regulations. Our approach was to manage 32 acts as if they were one and to make them comfortable with what they were doing, which was performing. The fact that artists themselves were involved helped make sure the performers and the audience were treated well.”
Monterey was groundbreaking in many ways. It was among the first to attach itself to a charity, the Monterey International Pop Festival Foundation, which benefits an array of causes, many affiliated with music.
Because the performers were working for free, organizers made sure they were treated well, which hadn’t always been the case. Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas was among the many artists who helped run and organize the festival.
“The (performers) were accommodated very nicely,” she said. “They were flown in first class. They had the best accommodations in Monterey. The food was excellent - lobster, crab, steaks. No one had ever seen a green room like that.”
The fans got some royal treatment, too, she said: “Lou had 150,000 cymbidiums flown in from Hawaii, so everyone had an orchid on their seat. There were orchids on the stage, too. That really set the tone.”
Monterey was also the first festival to document itself.
“That was a stroke of luck,” Adler said. “We had a TV deal with ABC. The money that was going to come from that was going to finance the festival. But when we showed them the footage of Hendrix, they said, `We can’t put that on.’ So we said we wanted it back to make a film.”
That film would become D.A. Pennebaker’s acclaimed “Monterey Pop.”
Hendrix would provide the iconic image of this festival: a photo of him kneeling over the guitar he’d just set on fire. He would also represent the outstanding class of musicians and performers on the bill, many of whom introduced themselves to a worldwide audience. Like The Who and Janis Joplin, Hendrix was relatively unknown in America in June 1967. Monterey changed that.
It took a few years, but eventually the organizers realized the extraordinary quality of the lineup they’d assembled for that weekend. Even 40 years later, it impresses Adler and Phillips.
“Once we got the headliners like Ravi Shankar, Simon & Garfunkel, the Mamas and the Papas, then we started getting Otis Redding and the San Francisco bands,” Phillips said. “Most people in the audience hadn’t heard of Janis Joplin. People in Britain knew about Jimi Hendrix and The Who, but I hadn’t heard about them. Otis Redding played the Apollo but never to an audience like at Monterey: thousands of hippies jumping around and screaming and having a great time. In retrospect, you look back and think, `Jesus ...’”
Adler remembers what The Who and Hendrix did to some of the equipment as they tried to outdo each other’s act.
“Every five years or so, we talk again about Monterey and the performances,” Adler said. “Janis Joplin, Hendrix and The Who. And, of course, Otis Redding, who was maybe the best of all: a full set, and every number was great.
“Paul McCartney and Andrew Oldham (Rolling Stones manager) recommended Hendrix and The Who to us. I hadn’t seen either of them. I was as amazed as anyone else there, both in hearing the music and trying to rescue microphones and drum sets.
“The years go by, and these things tend to become bigger and more important,” Adler said. “Now you have those same performers being discovered again by a younger generation who are surprised to learn these people were doing this 40 years ago. Hendrix: It turns out he represents what the word `iconic’ is meant to describe.”
To celebrate the festival’s 40th birthday, Razor & Tie Records on Tuesday released “Monterey International Pop Festival,” a two-CD, 26-track anthology of live music. This collection includes three tracks not available on previous anthologies: two performances by Simon & Garfunkel, one by Buffalo Springfield.