It was the music festival that not only summed up the Sixties but also is acknowledged as setting the template for all future music festivals. Hundreds of thousands of people attended to watch stars such as The Who and Jimi Hendrix, pictured below, give unforgettable performances.
Strange then that the Monterey Pop Festival is just a footnote to cultural history, while its imitator, Woodstock, is universally seen as setting the template, has spawned and continues to spawn CDs, DVDs, box sets and retains an almost mystical place in the story of rock. The merchandising for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock in a few weeks' time is already being put on sale, and the first of many hundreds of thousands of words commemorating it have already been written.
Poor old Monterey. Held at the height of the hippie era in the summer of 1967, and in California to boot, it boasted stars who would later appear at Woodstock, such as Hendrix and The Who, and others such as Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Otis Redding and Jefferson Airplane. It even had two of The Beatles on the organising committee. But Woodstock conjures up an era in the public and media consciousness. Monterey is strictly for anoraks.
The zeitgeist can be very cruel. Popular culture can be very arbitrary in what it chooses to sanctify. So I was interested to read the thoughts of Martin Scorsese this week. The young Scorsese was at Woodstock, working on the movie as a film editor, just a few years before he became one of America's greatest film directors. He says now: "I think that without the film, the concert would not be more than a footnote to the social and cultural history of the 1960s – represented by a still photo in a picture book, a line or two in the history books. What the movie did, and continues to do, is distil the Woodstock experience, and, more important, keep it vibrant and alive."
Woodstock did, of course, have half a million in the audience and was a big item on news bulletins at the time. But I think Scorsese has a point. It's the film that has kept it in the public consciousness. Actually, there was also a film of the Monterey Pop Festival. It just wasn't nearly as good as the film made of Woodstock. And it wasn't only the film that helped to give Woodstock its permanence. Joni Mitchell's song "Woodstock" gave the festival another reason to live well beyond its sell-by date. Indeed, a version of that song topped the British charts, but alongside the film's release, and more than a year after the actual festival.
I'm with Scorsese. It takes a movie to keep a moment of popular culture history vibrant and alive. The TV film about The Rolling Stones' free concert in Hyde Park in the Sixties is a reminder of that moment. There were other, equally well-attended, free concerts in the park in that era. All have been forgotten.
Would Woodstock have been forgotten too without the efforts of Scorsese and his colleagues? It would certainly be less venerated, along with many other important moments in popular culture that neglected to have the cameras there.
Back to the Sixties, part two
The beautiful people (and me) were out in force on Thursday night for the Serpentine Party, hailed by Vogue as "one of the highlights of the British social calendar". It certainly looked that way with a swathe of supermodels such as Lily Donaldson, film stars including Thandie Newton, rapper Kanye West, and that staple of the British social calendar, Russian tycoons.
Two things struck me at the party. First, the choice of dance music played by the DJs is becoming interestingly retro. It's a while since I've heard Creedence Clearwater Revival played at an arts party. Even more notable was the sponsor of the bash. It was Ali Khadra, a Middle Eastern publisher and art collector, who is launching an international arts TV channel called Canvas TV. At the party a sculptural TV studio set was designed for him by the architect Zaha Hadid. The idea of a global arts channel is an exciting one, though Mr Khadra should resist the temptation to have Creedence Clearwater Revival supply the channel's theme tune.
Heritage goes pop
Kenwood in north London has long been a glorious place to spend summer nights sitting on the grass with a picnic, while concerts of classical music drift across the lake in the beautiful grounds.
English Heritage's programme of picnic concerts for this summer has a couple of half-hearted gestures towards classical music with a concert or two featuring cross-over artists. But the bulk of Saturday nights over the next two months feature pop stars such as Jools Holland, James Morrison, Simply Red, and an evening of Motown's greatest hits.
Nothing wrong with those, well, nothing wrong with some of them, but this was a celebrated venue for classical music. Pop is not exactly short of outdoor concert venues. Isn't English Heritage supposed to preserve English heritage? I thought that was the clue in its title. There doesn't seem to be much preservation going on at the Kenwood concerts.
- More about:
- Department For Culture
- Festive Events (including Carnivals)
- Martin Scorsese
- Media And Sport