The first real American rock festival was held at Mount Tamalpais in California on the weekend of June 10-11, 1967. Billed as the Fantasy Faire And Magic Mountain Music Festival, it had an eclectic mix of performers ranging from Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Country Joe & The Fish and The Byrds to Dionne Warwick and Smokey Robinson. 15,000 people showed up for what was a non-profit event that cost just $2 to get in, with all profits going to a nearby child care center.
But while the Fantasy Faire was first, the Monterey Pop Festival is the one everyone remembers, with a line-up that read like a who’s who in pop music. Otis Redding got his first exposure to a rock audience and others on the bill included The Mamas & The Papas, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, and Ravi Shankar. D. A. Pennebaker captured it all on film, which an enormous amount to enhance its reputation (and myth). This was the very epicenter of the Summer of Love.
Held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, from June 16-18, 1967, the Monterey Pop Festival attracted around 200,000 people. It was the first major rock festival in America. The event was organized by Lou Adler, John Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas, and Derek Taylor, the former Beatles publicist. Their ambition was to create an event that was multi-cultural, multi-national, and multi-genre. It was truly a “first” and it can be considered the premier event of the “Summer of Love”; one at which everything seemed to work and about which little bad has ever been written.
In particular, Monterey helped launch the careers of many performers, catapulting them from local, or relative obscurity, into the forefront of American and worldwide awareness. Today it’s easy to forget that before the Monterey Pop Festival, Jimi Hendrix didn’t have a hit record in America. It was the same for The Who. By the time of the festival, the group had only managed to get a record into the Billboard Top 20 and only one of their four minor hits had got higher than No.51. Similarly, Otis Redding was not very well known among white audiences. All that seemed to change in the wake of the festival. Similarly making a stir was The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, who according to reports, was wearing “a mind-shattering gold lame coat festooned with beads, crystal swastika & lace, looked like a kind of unofficial King of the Festival.” Jones, for his part, had this to say: “This is really a great scene here. All the kids are so nice. The people are so polite and just come up and talk to me and say they like the way I’m dressed.”
Others who played at Monterey included Jefferson Airplane, Simon & Garfunkel, Canned Heat, Al Kooper, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Hugh Masekela, The Byrds, Booker T & the MGs, The Blues Project, Grateful Dead, Buffalo Springfield, The Electric Flag, and The Association.
Press attention from around the world, and particularly the music press, alerted fans to what was happening, but it wasn’t until the end of 1968 that people were able to see the documentary made by D.A Pennebaker. For most people, this was the first time that they actually saw Jimi Hendrix set fire to his Stratocaster. The film was a big deal, but it didn’t have the same effect as the Woodstock movie. Big business had not yet cottoned onto the money-making potential of a “bunch of hippies.” A few years later, just about everything would be different.
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