When people think of late ’60s rock and roll and the hippie movement, they think of Woodstock. But the real festival that started it all, and launched the careers of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Otis Redding and Janis Joplin, was Monterey Pop in 1967.
D.A. Pennebaker’s 1968 documentary captured many of the important iconic moments, as well as the peak of the “Summer of Love” in California. The attendees and performers filled every racial quota imaginable, and what seems like a complete lack of interest from the audience (most are shown seated throughout), is likely due to the psychedelic drugs that had a hold on young people that year.
The film, which was shot and framed beautifully, and remains in great shape thanks to The Criterion Collection, shows a plethora of show-stopping moments: Janis Joplin capturing the heart and soul of the feminist movement with “Ball ‘n’ Chain.” Otis Redding making a splash with white audiences. The Who destroying their instruments awkwardly during “My Generation.” And Jimi Hendrix trying to outdo that by setting his guitar ablaze during a rousing cover of “Wild Thing.”
But it’s many of the othermoments, the ones that get overlooked, that really called to me: The Mamas & The Papas’ beautiful harmonizing theatrics on “California Dreamin’.” The Animals’ eerie, violin-infused cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” And my personal favorite, a yearning electric piano version of “Today” by Jefferson Airplane.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see why Monterey Pop was so important, and why the performances created careers. Jimi, Janis and Otis were at their prime, and yet they would all die, too young, a few years later.
The fact that 200,000 fans flocked to see so many then-unknown acts is surreal. That will never happen again.