Apart from anything else, Monterey was the first occasion that the nascent counter-culture realised its true extent: later, at Woodstock, John Sebastian would marvel at the size of the crowd, but it was not really a surprise after Monterey. More than Woodstock or the Isle of Wight Festivals, the Monterey Fairgrounds over the weekend of 16-18 June 1967 is the place where people who weren't there would like to have been.
Amazingly, given landmark performances by Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and The Who, to name but four, the Monterey Festival's music has never been legally released before in any substantial way. There was the Otis / Jimi album, the Ravi Shankar album, and that's it. For this four-CD set, though, all the artists were invited to make their sets available, and most agreed. The most notable omissions are the Grateful Dead, Simon & Garfunkel, Moby Grape, Laura Nyro and Buffalo Springfield - though their absence doesn't detract from what remains.
The initial shock, on hearing this stuff, is just how good the sound is, considering the technology and the situation. The Byrds, then in the process of breaking up - when David Crosby sat in for Buffalo Springfield's set, it marked the effective end of both groups in their original form, and the beginning of Crosby, Stills & Nash - were one of the few groups to get a less than satisfactory sound mix, except for their climactic unveiling of 'So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star', on which Hugh Masekela's trumpet trailed harmonic jet-streams over their distinctive raga-rock sound. Lou Adler, one of the festival's prime movers, described the weekend as 'a temporary fusion between the purist, non-capitalist Bay Area (San Francisco) and heathen Los Angeles', the point at which the Airplane and The Byrds realised they were soaring through the same sky; but the festival ranged far wider than that. No subsequent pop event has matched its diversity, quality and admirable internationalist approach.
Hendrix's set, climaxing with his guitar sacrifice, has been well documented before. Only the appearances of Elvis and The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show can equal it for impact: before he played, Hendrix was unknown in America, both to fellow artists and public; after, he was top of the tree, kissing the sky. The same went for The Who, whose explosive set - the closest the weekend came to violence - was memorably described by Country Joe McDonald as 'kind of a combination of wrestling and music'; Jefferson Airplane's clear, strident acid-folk-rock set secured their status as leading lights of the hippy upsurge; while Janis Joplin's Saturday appearance fronting Big Brother & The Holding Company was so stunning they made a second, impromptu appearance on the Sunday.
All the artists donated their services free, and much of the eventual dollars 200,000 profit was, at Paul Simon's urging, used to fund a Harlem music instruction programme - a fact worth remembering when he's accused of exploiting black musicians. The festival's extraordinary success, however, ensured that at its top end, rock music would move out of the clubs and dance halls into the big arenas. For the top performers, it ushered in an era of astronomical advances and cotton-wool cosseting; for the fans, however, it ensured that even as all were celebrating a new-found togetherness, a greater distance was being placed between them and their heroes.
As well as those mentioned above, this four-disc set includes performances by Lou Rawls, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Canned Heat, Country Joe & The Fish, The Butterfield Blues Band, The Steve Miller Band, The Electric Flag, Hugh Masekela, The Blues Project and Scott McKenzie. The sound quality is decent throughout, but the accompanying booklet . . . well, it's a shame that, out of six people involved in its production, none of them was a proofreader. But hey, maybe if you can remember how to spell, you weren't really there.
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