It was 1967 when festival goers and music lovers spent three days movin’ & groovin’ in Monterey to the tunes of legendary musicians and groups such as Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Otis Redding, and The Mamas and the Papas. It is at the Monterey Pop Festival that Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin were also catapulted into rock & roll fame after their extraordinary performances at this unforgettable event.
Remember the iconic photo of Jimmy Hendrix burning his guitar? Yep, that was taken at The Monterey Pop Festival and is arguably the most famous image in rock.
There are also the less talked about events from the weekend that are just as noteworthy, such as impromptu performances, including the Grateful Dead, on the football field at Monterey Peninsula College. It is estimated around 20,000 people were camping out at the college that weekend.
Fast forward 50 years and music lovers, original festival goers, rock & roll historians as well as the city of Monterey are gearing up for the 50th anniversary of what has been dubbed the cornerstone event of the Summer of Love, the original rock festival and the blueprint for festivals to come!
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with John Basset McCleary who not only attended the original Monterey Pop Festival but has since been instrumental in keeping the legacy and the stories alive by participating in several tributes and festivities including the 40th and, this upcoming year’s 50th anniversary celebrations. John is the author of The Hippie Dictionary, sits on the board of directors for the Monterey History & Art Association and is known to some as “the Authority on the generation that questioned authority.”
From the moment I met John it was evident how fond he was of the Monterey Pop Festival and that whole era to be quite honest; he was even wearing a belt buckle, the day we met, that was purchased 50 years ago at the Festival. When John talks about the weekend’s events and recalls moments that stand out to him, like Janis Joplin wearing a pale pink knit pantsuit and demanding to be treated like a person and not seen as just a woman, it is as if 50 years have not passed.
“I walked down right in front of the stage and looked up at her while she sang Ball & Chain and her energy made me become a feminist that day. Everyone that was there, his or her lives were changed,” says John.
“A big part as to why the festival was such a success was that the sound, music and film from the weekend were so good,” explains John. “Some people say a lot of the sound equipment came from the Beach Boys and at that time Brian Wilson was the genius of sound.”
“It wasn’t just an excuse for young people to come together to do frivolous things. It was the beginning of a new kind of gathering. It was the beginning of a new form of music. It was the beginning of a political and spiritual movement.” John wrote in an article recognizing the 40-year anniversary 10 years ago.
Most of the celebratory events surrounding the Summer of Love in Monterey will be happening May through August 2017 with the intent of honoring the 50th Anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival all summer long.
“It is important to celebrate the 50th anniversary because of the influence this era had on our culture. This weekend was the launch of many things including ushering in a new era of fashion, music, art and definitely photography.” John himself later went on to become a rock n’ roll photographer photographing stars such as Tina Turner and The Rolling Stones. In fact it was John who introduced Tina Turner to Mick Jagger.
“I hope this year has the same attitude that was there 50 years ago. We want the anniversary to be a joyful time,” said John, “it will be an international event. People from all over love our music.”