On this day in 1967, the Monterey Pop Festival reaches its successful climactic day with memorable performances by Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Who, The Mamas and the Papas and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Other notables appearing on the three-day bill included The Association, Simon & Garfunkle, The Animals, The Steve Miller Band, The Byrds and the mainstream premier and swansong of soul icon Otis Redding.
The festival embodied the theme of California as the focal point for counterculture and is widely seen as both the nexus and genesis of the “Summer of Love” in 1967. Though the first significant rock festival had occurred just one week previous with the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in nearby Marin County, Monterey was widely and well promoted and heavily attended, featured historic performances, and was the subject of a popular theatrical documentary film. As such it became an inspiration and a template for future music festivals, including the Woodstock Festival two years later.
The festival was planned in just seven short weeks by John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, record producer Lou Adler, impresario Alan Pariser and publicist Derek Taylor. Monterey and Big Sur had been known as the site for the long-running Monterey Jazz Festival and Big Sur Folk Festival; on the other coast, Bob Dylan created a sensation by “going electric” at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival, underscoring the growing importance of the festival concept. Hence, promoters saw the Monterey Pop festival as a way to validate rock music as an art form in the manner by which jazz and folk were regarded.
Crowd estimates for the festival ranged from 25,000 to 90,000 people congregating in and around the festival grounds. The fairgrounds’ enclosed performance arena had an approved festival capacity of 7,000, but it was estimated that 8,500 jammed into it for Saturday night’s show featuring Joplin, Canned Heat, Country Joe and the Fish, and the Butterfield Blues Band. Ticket prices varied by seating area, and ranged from $3 to $6.50 ($22–48 in 2018 dollars).
Nearly all the artists themselves performed for free, with all revenue donated to charity, excepting Ravi Shankar, who was paid $3,000 for his interminable afternoon-long performance on the sitar. Country Joe and the Fish were paid $5,000 from revenue generated from the D.A. Pennebaker documentary and all artists had their flights and accommodations paid for. Apart from Shankar, each act was given up to 40 minutes for their performance, and several ended their sets early including the Who, playing for only 25 violent minutes.
While the festival looms large in all of rock legend, it is also notable for the uninvited and just plain no shows; The Beatles, Beach Boys, Kinks, Stones, Monkees, Miracles, Dionne Warwick and Donovan, among others, did not make the scene for various reasons, real, imagined or hallucinated.
Per principal promoter Lou Adler, “Our idea for Monterey was to provide the best of everything – sound equipment, sleeping and eating accommodations, transportation – services that had never been provided for the artist before Monterey . . . We set up an on-site first aid clinic . . . for medical supervision and that we would encounter drug-related problems . . . Our security worked with the Monterey police. The local law enforcement authorities never expected to like the people they came in contact with as much as they did. They never expected the spirit of ‘Music, Love and Flowers’ to take over to the point where they’d allow themselves to be festooned with flowers.”
And here our story of The Summer of Love endeth, while for you, dear reader, the Odd Summer of Covid is just beginning.