The first Woodstock

The 1967 Monterey Festival featured some incredible bands and kickstarted our own  outdoor music scene, says Pierre Perrone

The Glastonbury Festival has been with us for over four decades, and is now as ubiquitous and intrinsic a part of the British Summer as the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis tournament. The Isle of Wight Festival, another defining music event held in 1968, 1969 and 1970 was successfully revived in 2002. The colossal Woodstock Music & Art Fair of 1969 defined the hippie generation, and has been commemorated at regular intervals, with another major anniversary looming next year. None of these gatherings would have happened without the Monterey International Pop Festival, a three-day event held in California in June 1967. It featured break-out performances by Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, The Who and Jimi Hendrix. It presented several acts – Canned Heat, Country Joe and the Fish, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Jefferson Airplane and Ravi Shankar as well as The Who, Joplin and Hendrix – who also appeared at Woodstock. It was filmed by the acclaimed documentary maker D.A. Pennebaker, and the resulting Monterey Pop, released in US cinemas in December 1968, helped to convince investors to bankroll Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld’s Woodstock.

Monterey even inspired more songs than Woodstock. Sure, Joni Mitchell’s wrote ‘’Woodstock’’ after she missed the 1969 event and watched the traffic jams on the TV news. But Monterey can boast the epochal ‘’San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)’’, penned by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, one of the prime movers behind the festival, recorded by his friend Scott McKenzie to promote the 1967 weekend whose motto was “Music, Love and Flowers”, and performed on the last day of the festival. Not content with opening their set with ‘’San Franciscan Nights’’ on the first night, Eric Burdon & the New Animals also documented their own experiences at the festival in ‘’Monterey’’, a psychedelic piece of reportage which made the US Top 20 but struck out in the UK.

“Monterey was a great moment, a remarkable time, the beginning of the summer of love and the whole peace and love generation,” says Byrds mainman Roger McGuinn, who played on the second day. Opening with the apposite ‘’Renaissance Fair’’, peaking with ‘’Chimes Of Freedom’’ and concluding with ‘’So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’’, featuring the South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, the Byrds set captured the spirit of the event. “It wasn’t bad, a solid performance,” McGuinn recalls modestly of one of the last appearances of the band with founder member David Crosby. “I remember the festival pretty well, hanging out with Paul Simon backstage. We were just blown away by Otis Redding. Monterey was really quite a milestone. The baby boomers were just coming into their twenties and wanted to make a statement. Even the policemen had flowers on their motorcycle antennas.” 

Monterey was the brainchild of Alan Pariser, heir to the Sweetheart paper fortune, and Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds publicist Derek Taylor. They teamed up with Phillips and Lou Adler, the record company mogul behind The Mamas and McKenzie, and established a board of directors comprising counter-culture luminaries like Donovan, the Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, various members of the Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys and Smokey Robinson, as well as McGuinn.

The Byrds musician was close to Taylor and knew Phillips from his folkie days in New York’s Greenwich Village. “With Monterey, we wanted to legitimize rock music like folk music and jazz had been legitimized by the Newport Folk and Newport Jazz festivals. It was conceived as an international event,” he stresses. 

Keith Altham, who covered Monterey for the New Musical Express, before going on to a career as press agent to many of the biggest bands of the seventies and eighties, concurs. “Monterey represented a seismic shift in the perception and attitude of the media towards popular music. For the first time, they took it seriously. Before then, it had been the package tours and teenagers screaming at the Beatles, nothing had been done on this scale,” says Altham. He also highlights the fact that Monterey was conceived by the performers of the era and reflected their beliefs and wishes. “In essence, it was artists providing as professional a setting as possible for other artists. Unlike Woodstock, which was a much more commercial enterprise, Monterey was really true to the spirit of peace, love and free music. None of the groups appearing charged a fee. The ticket money covered their travel expenses and the actual staging of the event.”

With musicians in charge of creative control, and no money changing hands, the bill came together in a record seven weeks. Paul McCartney and Who guitarist Pete Townshend recommended Hendrix, then a virtual unknown in his native US, and Phillips hooked up with promoter Bill Graham who provided a surfeit of psychedelic acts from neighbouring San Francisco, the Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and Big Brother & the Holding Company featuring Joplin. Most hadn’t yet received national, never mind international exposure. Though Berry Gordy Jr. didn’t sanction the appearance of any Motown act at Monterey, Lou Rawls, Booker T & The MG’s and Redding reached out to the largest, mostly white, audience any soul act had ever played for. With Shankar’s sitar ragas and Masekela also involved, the Monterey melting pop offered a broader range of talent than Woodstock would two years later.

The quest for excellence extended to the presentation, with lighting designer Chip Monck, a veteran of several Newport festivals. He built a bespoke stage and sound system, the first of its kind for an outdoor pop concert. Monck would use his invaluable Monterey experience at Woodstock and go on to stage the ground-breaking Stones arena tours of 1969 and 1972.

Altham has incredibly vivid memories of Monterey. He flew out to the West Coast via New York with Hendrix and his manager Chas Chandler, and returned to Britain with The Who. “It was my first trip to America so it was an amazing experience. I told Janis Joplin she was the best female blues artist I had ever seen. She looked me up and down and smiled and said: ‘Do you get out much, honey?’ She was a feisty woman. Brian Jones was wandering around like Banco’s ghost, the Prince of the festival, in his lace ruffles and glad rags. He introduced Jimi,” says Altham before recalling that the general bonhomie backstage evaporated when Townshend refused to follow Hendrix and they tossed a coin to decide the running order. “The Who were fantastic. Their aggression and anger was the antithesis of the whole flower power movement. They did that amazing demolition act. Keith Moon came through the smoke at the end and punted his bass drum into the press pit. When they finished, there was a kind of stunned silence from the crowd for about 10-15 seconds and then thunderous applause. The only person who could follow that was Hendrix. He pulled out all the stops. He reprised the guitar flambé stunt I’d suggested at the Finsbury Park Astoria in March. But what really registered was his phenomenal guitar playing. Both those acts, and others on the bill, received an incredible amount of attention. It was a foot in the door of a very important market, America. Woodstock burst it wide open.”

In 1967, decades before the advent of 24-hour media and the internet, Altham filed his copy by phone and waited for the ripples. The Monterey International Pop Festival attracted a much smaller crowd – estimates vary from 50,000 to 90,000 – than Woodstock’s half a million and had much more relaxed feel. “It was like a fair with stalls selling joss sticks and pot pourri. The police were hanging around, really bewildered, because they couldn’t find anyone to arrest. One arrest over the entire three days. Woodstock was almost like the Somme in comparison.”

Both McGuinn and Altham have been impressed by the 4-CD Monterey box-set due out on Salvo/Union Square Music next month but fear the 1967 festival is destined to remain in Woodstock’s shadow. 

“I don’t think Monterey gets the credit it deserves,” admits McGuinn. “It definitely set the stage for Woodstock. That was the tipping point for the counter culture generation. A lot of good things and great songs came out of that time. Such a large group of people were outside the mainstream of society. Young people were forced to go to Vietnam and fought the draft. It seems like war is still big business but now it’s voluntary.”

The huge crowds, the appalling weather conditions, the bad acid and the general chaos around Woodstock, made it much more newsworthy than Monterey. But it was Michael Wadleigh’s epic Woodstock documentary that sold the hippie dream to the world in 1970. Clocking in at three hours, majoring on split screens and bravura moments, it conveyed the madness and the mayhem of a rock festival much better than the paltry 80 minutes of Pennebaker’s bijou Monterey Pop.

“The Woodstock film was impressive because of its size. They spent a lot of money on it,” reflects Altham. “When the sun comes up and The Who get bathed in this golden light, they look like Gods who had come down from on high. That is a great movie moment. Cinematically, Woodstock was superior. A Cecil B. DeMille take on rock and roll, an epic set to music. But Monterey Pop had the better performances.”

The Monterey Pop International Festival box-set is out on Salvo/Union Square Music on 16th of September