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WIDESCREEN: California dreamin’ about Monterey milestone

The first major rock festival, staged June 16 to 18, 1967, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds is being celebrated with shows at the same site and a spruced-up version of the documentary film.
Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas performs at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. The group, which included Halifax’s Denny Doherty, was arguably at the height of its original popularity. (ABC / Dunhill Records)

If you hurry, there are still tickets available for the Monterey International Pop Festival.

However, if you’re going to California, be sure to bring some plastic in your wallet. Three-day VIP reserved seating goes for US$695.

The first Monterey pop festival was staged June 16 to 18, 1967, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, where daily admission ranged from US$3 to $6.50. Exactly 50 years later, an anniversary version is set for the same location.

It’s notable how many baby boomer cultural milestones are marked by golden anniversaries in 2017. Still, Monterey often gets overlooked, probably because of the heavily mythologized Woodstock mud bath in the summer of ’69. But a case can be made that the huge and hugely lucrative multi-act events of the present — Coachella, Bonnaroo, Desert Trip — wouldn’t be viable without the Monterey template.

There was nothing terribly unique about doing a festival in 1967, it’s just that they were generally showcases for jazz and folk music. The annual Monterey Jazz Festival started at the fairgrounds in 1958.

Intent on elevating the status of rock music, a group led by John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas and impresario Lou Adler curated a roster that combined popular acts with soon-to-be major stars.

It’s easy to look back and speculate that music fans must have been eager to attend, but how could the ultimate significance of incendiary appearances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Who have been anticipated?

Various published estimates over the years have put the crowds at anywhere from 25,000 to 90,000, a tally made tricky by the opportunity for visitors to wander the grounds outside the closed-off performance area. Attendance this time around is supposed to be capped at 10,000 per day, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

One thing the original event will always have going for it is Monterey Pop, the documentary film directed by D.A. Pennebaker. A restored print, supervised by Pennebaker, 91, will tour some U.S. art-house cinemas throughout the summer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. It will also feature a fresh sound mix by producer Eddie Kramer.

With an original running time of only 78 minutes, there’s no way it could capture the breadth of that long weekend. Thankfully, in 2003, the Criterion Collection boutique reissue company put together a multi-disc version that stands as a more substantial history. The Complete Monterey Pop Festival has a slightly boastful name — if it were complete, wouldn’t the full afternoon-long performance of sitar master Ravi Shankar be included? — but it is a fully worthy addition to any music fan’s home library.

In addition to a couple of hours of previously unseen performance footage and the requisite commentary tracks, there are separate discs of the Pennebaker films Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake! Otis at Monterey.

Criterion sets are known for quality, and the Monterey box is no exception. But, depending on the price you find, it’s worth it for the thrilling Otis Redding performance alone. The festival was the great soul man’s debut before a largely white audience in the United States; a dynamically physical and emotional performer, Redding died six months later in a plane crash.

Monterey Mark 1 was closed by the Mamas & the Papas. The group, which included Halifax’s Denny Doherty, was arguably at the height of its original popularity.

Fifty years on, the last night has some scheduling resonances.

Phil Lesh, an original member of the Grateful Dead, is booked. The Dead played there 50 years ago but didn’t agree to be filmed.

Booker T backed Redding back in the day, and blues guitar slinger Gary Clark Jr. will no doubt be encouraged to bust out some Hendrix histrionics.

Will visitors find a love-in there? Probably, but no doubt adjusted for inflation.




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