50 years ago today…
Monterey International Pop Festival (June 16-18, 1967)
THE BIG IDEA
The impetus behind the staging of the Monterey International Pop Festival evolved one night in 1967, at Mama Cass Elliot’s house. Cass, Paul McCartney, John and Michelle Phillips, and Lou Adler were discussing, along with other highly inspired issues, the general perception of rock ‘n’ roll, and that although jazz was considered an art form, rock ‘n’ roll on the other hand… was continually viewed as a fad, a trend.
The actual idea for the Monterey International Pop Festival initially came from Alan Pariser, who had attended the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival. John Phillips and Lou Adler were approached by Alan Pariser and his partner, a promoter named Ben Shapiro, who wanted to hire the Mamas & the Papas to headline a blues and rock concert at the Monterey Fairgrounds. And as the story goes, later that night — actually three o’clock in the morning — John and Lou had decided, influenced by some heavy ‘California dreamin’’, that it should be a charitable event… and with six weeks to go, the Monterey International Pop Festival, a three-day non-profit event, was about to become a reality.
Alan Pariser would stay on as a co-producer, along with Peter Pilafian. Chip Monck would come on to handle lighting and staging. Derek Taylor, who had worked with Brian Epstein and the Beatles, became the publicist. Tom Wilkes was hired as art director, David Wheeler as head of security. A board of governors was established that consisted of: Donovan, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Roger McGuinn, Terry Melcher, Andrew Loog Oldham, Alan Pariser, Johnny Rivers, Smokey Robinson, Brian Wilson, John Phillips, and Lou Adler. It was agreed that the line-up of acts would represent all genres of the immediate past, the present, and the future of contemporary music, and that all the acts would be treated the same and have first-class travel and accommodations. The Monterey International Pop Festival production offices were in West Hollywood on Sunset Blvd., housed in the old Renaissance Jazz Club building. The festival’s office had a real buzz going through it… David Crosby and Stephen Stills hanging out; Procol Harum’s yet to be released “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” being played over and over; Michelle Phillip’s was on the phone selling ads; John and Lou on the telephone talking to managers and potential acts… A whirlwind of excitement, of gentle strong-arming, calling in every chip imaginable, dealing with the concerns of the San Francisco group’s managers, charming the Monterey City Council and Police Department, and getting it all done — for charity… giving something back.
For the most part, everyone jumped on very quickly, especially the L.A. groups: The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. Phil Walden, Otis Redding’s manager, knew immediately that Otis would be right for Monterey and Monterey would be right for Otis. He had no doubts at all, before or after. Paul McCartney was contacted and he raved about Hendrix and The Who, as did Andrew Loog Oldham. Simon & Garfunkel and the Mamas & the Papas were committed. There were commitments from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Electric Flag. Ravi Shankar — who had been signed by the original promoter — and Hugh Masekela added to the international flavour of the festival, beyond the English acts. The festival was beginning to take shape. What was missing was representation from Northern California.
Andrew Loog Oldham and Lou Adler met with Ralph J. Gleason, the very respected journalist of the San Francisco Chronicle, and he gave his blessing to the festival, as did Bill Graham. That opened the door for the San Francisco groups like Big Brother & the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead to sign-on, which brought an innovative, fresh, underground feel to the festival.
As Andrew Loog Oldham recounted, “The Monterey Pop Festival was the first major rock festival, and the beginning of the future and potential of our music. It realized the idea that music cannot only entertain – but can edutain, inform and unite. It set an example whereby a festival can create a platform from where artists and their music can give thanks and give back.”