The MONTEREY INTERNATIONAL POP FESTIVAL – Monterey County Fairgrounds June 16th-18th, 1967

Posted: June 17, 2020 in FESTIVALS, MUSIC
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The Monterey International Pop Festival and the Summer of Love. Today marks the 53rd year since the historic Monterey Pop Festival took place on the Monterey County Fairgrounds from June 16th-18th, 1967. It was a heady time indeed in San Francisco music history. Bill Graham was holding forth at the Fillmore and Jefferson Airplane’s album “Surrealistic Pillow,” had climbed to No3 on the national charts; the Grateful Dead’s self-titled debut album was riding high as well on the Billboard album chart, and Big Brother’s eponymous debut would be released in September.

Additionally, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Charlatans were creating a stir with their galvanic live performances at the Chet Helms’ Avalon Ballroom and at the Fillmore. As if to signal the start of the Summer of Love in the City, Scott McKenzie’s anthem “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” was released in May, a sign that something was happening in the City by the Bay. Suddenly, all eyes were focused on San Francisco’s music scene which had spread out across the country. June began auspiciously with the Beatles releasing their most celebrated record “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on June 2nd, the Doors’ single “Light My Fire” from their debut album, topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart on June 3rd, and Jefferson Airplane dropped “White Rabbit,” a Top 8 hit from their best-selling album.

There was truly magic in the air. On June 16th, the scene shifted to the Monterey County Fairgrounds for the three-day event called the Monterey Pop Festival, where the future of Rock music was unveiled and over time would take on legendary status. A future who’s who of Rock music anchored by the Big Four San Francisco bands: Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother & the Holding Company, were among the 33 acts in all who performed over the three-day event. Spread out over the beautiful weekend were performances by Buffalo Springfield, Eric Burdon & the Animals, The Byrds, Steve Miller, Country Joe & the Fish, the Mamas and the Papas, Booker T. & the MGs and Otis Redding to name a few. 

The signal event was on Sunday night with performances by the Who, Grateful Dead, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, making its American debut. It was an eye-opening, jaw dropping near finale to climax a weekend of staggering musical importance. The Who opened with “Substitute,” then tore into Eddie Cochran’s classic “Summertime Blues.” After “Pictures of Lily” and ‘A Quick One (While She’s Away),” they closed with an epic performance of their anthem “My Generation,” with Pete Townshend smashing his guitar to bits in what seemed at the time an act of gratuitous violence.

The Dead followed with “Viola Lee Blues,” and a couple more songs and acquitted themselves well but were in the unenviable position of being sandwiched between a rock and a hard place. Jimi Hendrix followed with a performance spectacle of sight and sound, with the flamboyant guitarist and his trusty band, Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums, creating a sonic assault during its nine-song set, the highlight of which was “Wild Thing,” taking the Troggs hit to another level. Hendrix’s guitar virtuosity had the crowd mesmerized with Mama Cass appearing to be gasping in wonder at what she was watching. Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” was another highlight. Hendrix topped the Who by igniting his guitar on stage and watching it light up the night. A star was born then and there quickly rising like a meteor to the top! The Mamas and Papas were anticlimactic closing out the festival. But to be fair, no one, no one, could have followed Jimi Hendrix, the overnight sensation heard far and wide…The communal spirit and love vibe suffused the weekend; there was peace and harmony in the air. It was the signal event of the Summer of Love.

Image may contain: 2 people, people on stage, people sitting and night

Eric Burdon was inspired to memorialize it in his hit “Monterey.” Although the Beatles and Rolling Stones were a no-show, Brian Jones attended as a spectator introducing Jimi Hendrix. And George and Pattie Harrison visited the Haight-Ashbury in August never to return.

The Monterey Pop Festival quickly became a memory, but the music scene in San Francisco was reaching new dizzying heights with virtually every major band passing through town in the next few years on their way to greatness, thanks to Bill Graham and Chet Helms. Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Jethro Tull, Santana, Rod Stewart, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills and Nash were just a handful of the hundreds of bands who would appear on stages at Winterland,  the Fillmore, the Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore West. San Francisco was the music mecca from which the Monterey Pop Festival sprang and would be celebrated for years to come. It was a heady time indeed, as the mantle passed from London to San Francisco as the place to be, the place to be part of a music explosion heard ‘round the world.

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