Bonnaroo, Coachella, even Woodstock might never have happened if it had not been for the good vibes that remained from the first great rock festival. Next weekend, Saturday through June 18, will mark the 40th anniversary of the Monterey International Pop Festival.
The anniversary will be commemorated with a new two-disc CD that includes two previously unreleased Simon and Garfunkel songs; an exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland; and a screening at Bonnaroo of the theatrical film of the festival.
Monterey Pop became the watershed event of 1967. It was the launching pad for the careers of Jimi Hendrix, the Who and Janis Joplin and was the event that put soul great Otis Redding into the mainstream. It also inspired a series of festivals — two of which, Woodstock and Altamont, are regarded along with Monterey as symbolic moments in American culture.
“Altamont was about the murder. Woodstock was about the weather. I take pride in the fact that Monterey was about the music,” says Lou Adler, one of the organizers of Monterey. “Jimi Hendrix and Janis and the Who still remain as icons, and people are buying their music as if it had been put out last week.”
Mr. Adler, a famed music producer, owner of Ode Records and later film producer, took over the organization of the festival with John Phillips, leader of the Mamas and the Papas.
The two changed the event from a one-day for-profit festival into a three-day fundraiser for charity. Artists agreed to perform for free with the promise of lodging and travel expenses to and from the event.
“Number one,” Mr. Adler says, “you couldn’t afford to pay all those acts, and two, this was an opportunity to give something back. … I don’t think we could’ve put that festival on if it had not been a nonprofit.”
He says the biggest hurdle was persuading the Monterey City Council and Monterey Police to let the festival happen. The Monterey police chief was six months away from retiring, and he didn’t want problems.
“Hippies and Hell’s Angels were all the same to him,” Mr. Adler says. “And he expected 30,000 people, and eventually we had 200,000 people who came through Monterey.”
Michelle Phillips, the surviving member of the Mamas and the Papas, was married to John Phillips at the time and also was involved in planning the event.
“I had never even heard of Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix or the Who,” Miss Phillips says.
Ravi Shankar already had been booked as a headliner when it was a one-day event, and that gave the new organizers the idea to turn the festival into an international event.
“When we asked Paul McCartney and Andrew Oldham, who was the manager of the [Rolling] Stones, who we should bring from England, they both said Jimi Hendrix and the Who,” Miss Phillips says. “So we said, ‘OK, we’ll fly them in.’ Then we thought of Hugh Masekela from South Africa. There was just a mix that you could have never seen in any other condition.”
Though many of the performances at the festival were standouts, performances by Miss Joplin, Mr. Hendrix, the Who and Mr. Redding became legendary.
Both Mr. Adler and Miss Phillips point to Mr. Redding’s performance as the likely highlight of the event.
“Otis Redding was like the cherry on top of the whipped cream on top of the great big soda,” Miss Phillips says. “It was an inspired performance. Even his wife told us when [Mr. Redding] came back from the Monterey Pop Festival, he woke her up in the middle of the night and said, ‘I think I have just achieved my goal.’ ”
Mr. Adler says he and John Phillips were approached about being involved in Woodstock but declined. He did not attend, but Michelle Phillips was unfortunate enough to be at Altamont.
“It was absolutely the antithesis of Monterey Pop,” Miss Phillips says. “It was ugly. It was dirty. It was violent.”
She says she has never been able to watch the movie of the event. The film captures a member of Hell’s Angels stabbing a young man.
It’s easy to look back at Monterey. It remains the festival that worked. It went off without a hitch. By the end of it, even the police force was wearing orchids that had been brought in to decorate the event.
“It’s just one of those moments when, for whatever reason, the stars just align, everything comes together and comes off perfect,” Mr. Adler says.
Approximately $75,000 was left over when expenses had been paid. Organizers gave $50,000 of it to a Harlem music program that Paul Simon was championing. The other $25,000 was given to the Chicago Disc Jockey Association in the name of Sam Cooke.
Mr. Adler still runs the Monterey International Pop Festival Foundation, and profits from recordings and the film of the event have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars that have benefited various charities, including the Free Clinic in San Francisco, the Free Clinic in Los Angeles and the Thelonious Monk Institute.
“The thing stays so relevant that I don’t have to look back,” Mr. Adler says, “because I run the foundation started because of the festival. I’m always aware of the artists who were there and where they are today and how they are today.
Mr. Adler says the organization often gives in the name of artists who participated in the event, including a donation for Habitat for Humanity in Texas on behalf of Janis Joplin.
“There’s no overhead. Everything that comes in goes out,” Mr. Adler says.