In the fairgrounds of the Monterey peninsula in California the first and only Monterey International Pop Festival was held over three remarkable days that re-defined rock music as an art-form on a par with jazz and folk music and laid down the blueprint for music festivals ever since.
It began life as an idea by a wealthy chap named Alan Pariser to stage a Mamas & Papas concert in Monterey, the site for which he'd already booked. Pariser and cohort Benny Shapiro approached John Phillips of The Mamas & Papas who, coincidentally it seems, had been hatching a plan with fellow group members, plus Lou Adler and Paul McCartney no less to stage a festival that would generate unprecedented national media coverage and compel people to treat this new era of rock music as more than an ephemeral fad. Phillips and Adler took up Pariser's offer on the condition that they could turn the event into a non-profit making festival, all proceeds to be donated to charitable arts and music organisations. Shapiro opted out, Pariser agreed and Phillips and Adler highjacked the operation and set about organising the whole thing. A company was formed and a (largely passive) board of governors assembled that consisted of, among others, McCartney, Mick Jagger, Brian Wilson, Roger McGuinn and Smokey Robinson. Legendary publicist Derek Taylor was recruited and a bill, the likes of which has never been seen since, was put together.
It all kicked off in the afternoon of Friday June 16th 1967 with a line-up that climaxed with Eric Burdon & The Animals and Simon & Garfunkel. A promising start that picked up momentum on Saturday afternoon with Big Brother & The Holding Company who, thanks to Janis Joplin's raw, arresting performance was the first big hit of the festival. Later that evening The Byrds played (with David Crosby aggravating everyone as usual) followed by Jefferson Airplane and then an incomparable, ground-breaking performance by Otis Redding. Sunday afternoon began relatively sedately with Ravi Shankar (the only musician who took a fee) and then the excitement level rose steadily – Big Brother played another short set, then Buffalo Springfield (without Neil Young but with an apparently clueless Crosby), and to take the event to a suitable climax, The Who, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and The Mamas & Papas. Guitars were smashed and set alight.
All of this is documented beautifully and in detail in Harvey & Kenneth Kubernik's sumptuous book A Perfect Haze : The Illustrated History of The Monterey International Pop Festival (Santa Monica Press, 288pp, hdbk). Much of the book consists of quotes from the characters involved and of course there are enough revealing anecdotes and colourful stories to render any additional comment almost superfluous. Townshend and Hendrix tossing a coin to decide who should go on first and destroy their instruments is but one. Using this material and some often startling bare facts, The Kuberniks weave an entertaining narrative of this totally one-off event. For one reason or another The Beach Boys, Dionne Warwick, The Impressions, Donovan, and Cream were earmarked to play the festival but didn't, the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver both 'liberated' the constantly replenished back-line equipment after their respective performances, 50,000 orchids were flown in from Hawaii and one placed on every seat (yes there were seats!!) and scattered onstage, and the local police were persuaded to miraculously relax the drug laws to enable everyone to exist in a state of euphoria for three days, fortified by Monterey's 'chemist-in-residence' Augustus Owsley Stanley III's specially-made batch of LSD called Monterey Purple.
Monterey wasn't strictly the first-ever pop festival – the Mount Tam Festival held a week before in Mill Valley just about pre-dates it but it was the first truly significant festival that became a media event. It was filmed – by D.A.Pennebaker (a 3DVD set is still readily available) and recorded – by Wally Heider and Bill Halverson (a 4CD box set was issued by Rhino several years ago). It was documented and covered extensively by press and radio. It was also a landmark event for rock photography, the results of which adorn this book in spectacular fashion. It was a festival that helped create the environment for Rolling Stone magazine to launch and to thrive, for Woodstock to be a reality, and for FM radio to flourish. Concert billing became more musically eclectic, it influenced the way record companies behaved towards rock acts in a positive way and, through the The Monterey International Pop Festival Foundation which still receives income from CD and DVD sales, it makes donations to this day to various worthy causes such as the UCLA Children's Hospital and The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Studies – all in keeping with the original ethos laid out by John Phillips and Lou Adler. The magnitude of Phillips and Adler's achievement in actually succeeding to stage this event and for it to be so phenomenally successful and influential can hardly be exaggerated and this book is an entirely appropriate tribute to their efforts.