It was 55 years ago today (June 16th, 1967) that the Monterey International Pop Festival kicked off at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California. The historic festival, which took place on June 16th, 17th, and 18th, was forever embedded into popular culture with the release of D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Monterey Pop, along with being the first major American appearances by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Who, and Ravi Shankar. The festival will also be remembered for its two breakout artists — Janis Joplin fronting Big Brother And The Holding Company and the mainstream introduction of Otis Redding.
Monterey proved to be the melting pot of pop/rock with historic sets played by Simon & Garfunkel, the Mamas & The Papas, the Grateful Dead, Lou Rawls, Country Joe & The Fish, the Byrds, the Association, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Johnny Rivers, Moby Grape, Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, Laura Nyro, Booker T. & The M.G.’s, and the Steve Miller Band, among others. Most notably the festival turned the tide of the record business looking towards the Bay Area for its new signings, rather than limiting most of their prospects to New York and L.A.
Neil Young quit the Buffalo Springfield prior to their performance and the Byrds’ David Crosby was deputized to fill in — much to this dismay of Crosby’s bandmates Roger McGuinn — then Jim McGuinn — and Chris Hillman.
In one of the most short-sighted decisions in rock history, although originally advertised, Brian Wilson pulled the Beach Boys from performing at the festival, which permanently left them on the wrong side of the counter culture — especially in the eyes of the burgeoning hipper-than-thou rock press.
The Rolling Stones‘ Brian Jones made his last appearance in the U.S. at Monterey, when he announced the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Although she originally hailed from Port Arthur, Texas, Janis Joplin came to embody the San Francisco spirit that permeated Monterey. Joplin made it clear that she finally felt at home within the San Francisco scene. Janis Joplin recalled her long road to personal and creative freedom: “I started singing when I was about 17. I listened to a lot of music first and one day I started singing, and I could sing. It was a surprise (laughs) — to say the least. About ’63, I couldn’t stand Texas anymore and I went to California, ‘cause it’s a lot freer, and you can, y’know, you can do what you wanna do and nobody bugs you.”
A Board of Governors was established for the festival that consisted of: Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Mick Jagger, Smokey Robinson, Andrew Loog Oldham, Donovan, Jim McGuinn, Terry Melcher, Alan Pariser, John Phillips, and Lou Adler.
Steve Miller told us that even today, Jimi Hendrix’s talent still manages to floor him: “Y’know, and I was just watching the film of Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, and just had to stop and sit down and watch and admire what an (laughs) amazing performer he was (laughs) — just how great.”
Pete Townshend recalled that at Monterey there was tension between him and Jimi Hendrix — who was his labelmate on Track Records — when Townshend insisted that the Who go on before the Experience in deference to Hendrix’s incredible show and musical importance. There was a brief standoff with Hendrix perceiving Townshend wanting the Who to go on first and claim some of the bombast rather than follow Hendrix and his incendiary live show — much of which had been cribbed from the Who more extreme stage antics.
Today, Townshend remains awed by the organic force of Jimi Hendrix’s raw and pure talent: “What Jimi was doing, it was an epiphany in the actual dictionary definition of the word. You felt pained, because in his presence, and in the presence of that music, you felt small and you realized how far you had to go. What was also painful was to meet him afterwards and to realize he didn’t know what he was doing and he had no idea of his greatness. So there was also that, y’know, the feeling that one knew — I knew — that he was going to burn out very, very quickly. Sweet guy. Really, really nice guy.”