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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Jacob looks back at Monterey Pop

There's something about years ending in seven.

If you were one 200,000 people at the Monterey Fairgrounds 40 years ago this weekend you'd be seeing the most important musical festival in Rock history. Woodstock may get all of the attention, but the hippie movement was all but dead by then. 1967 was the summer of love and the Monterey International Pop Festival was it's apex. 67 was also the most important year in rock music history, with an unprecedented number of musical acts debuting around the world. Two weeks previous to the festival The Beatles released Sgt. Peppers.

It is interesting to note that the festival did not have the 3-biggest bands on the planet. Of course, the Beatles had stopped touring by 1967, though, Paul was the one who suggested putting Hendrix on the bill.The Beach Boys canceled at the last minute, and The Stones were in legal trouble, though Brian Jones showed up. Yet, the list of bands that preformed at the 3-day concert is a who's who (with The Who) of the musical landscape of 1967.

The festival opened with The Association, a strange choice for a festival which became the event of the counterculture in America. However, most people seem to forget how diverse the musical offerings were.

Friday, June 16, 1967

The festival, the first devoted solely to rock music, was a meeting of the San Francisco and LA sounds, and like anything between the two cities there existed a deep rivalry, Frank Zappa one of the more vocal critics of the hippies. For the two groups to meet congenially at anything was historic in itself. This brought credibility to bands like The Animals, and record deals to bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company. But the festival also included acts from the UK, New York, Chicago, and Memphis. The festival was one of the first to be integrated.

Brian Krause also used the festival to show off the new Moog synthesizer to the performers.

Saturday, June 17

Saturday was the first time anyone had really seen Janis Joplin perform. DA Pennebaker was asked to film the entire concert, something that had never been done before, and fearing they would "sell-out" The Holding Company didn't want to be filmed. However, Janis convinced them otherwise, and the rest is history.

Jefferson Airplane, with White Rabbit on the charts, was the major draw of the festival, but the night's final act was perhaps the most important. Tired hippies started leaving the concert when he came on, but by before his first song ended, Otis Redding had the entire crowd captivated. His presence, his sound, his moves, were like nothing the west-coast, mostly white audience had seen or heard before.

Sunday, June 18

The Mamas and the Papas, who broke up soon after the festival, were essentially the band that put the concert together with organizer Lou Adler, but it would be two relative unknowns that played before them on Sunday, that would steal the festival.

In an historic twist of rock fate, Pete Townshend won a coin toss with Jimi Hendrix, allowing the Who to go on first. Townshend, having played around Hendrix in London was certain that if The Who went on after Jimi they'd be forgotten.

For a group of mellow flower children, the aggressive, angst fueled, violent mess that was the Who's performance that night, must have seemed like a bad trip. Other artists came from backstage thinking a riot had broken out. By the way, the festival had no incidents, and no arrests. Breaking guitars, exploding their drum one had seen anything like this before in the US. It was the most historic performance of the festival...until the next act.
The upside down guitar slinging, acid popping, Beethoven-looking, enigma that was Jimi Hendrix, was an unknown to nearly everyone but the other musicians. Townshend may have been correct in his fear, because as important to rock history as the Who's performance was that night, it most likely would have been forgotten after Hendrix's mystical, sexual, and other worldly performance. Members of the audience went out of their heads, and ran up and down the aisles as he played with his teeth, behind his back, and ritualistically set his guitar on fire. Rock music would never be the same again. The Seattle born, London based, part Cherokee guitarist, had gone from unknown to guitar God. Rock music was becoming more and more diverse, complex, and artistic, and Monterey Pop helped showcase, and in some respects, accelerate the process of diversification, and Hendrix became it's icon.

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