On June 9, 1967 I turned sixteen. My parents marked this birthday with some major fireworks: tickets to the entire Monterey International Pop Festival. It was taking place the following weekend. I would be at one with a giant group (I’ve since seen figures ranging from 10,000–90,000) assembled to listen to twenty-five hours of the best music in the land divided into five, five hour-long, straight-no-chaser concerts, spread out over two-and-a-half glorious California days and nights. I caught a ride to Monterey with a school chum and her sisters. I stayed with a friend from summer camp and her family. Gayle and her driver’s license-equipped older brother were working as ushers at the festival, and they provided me with meals and rides every day.
I was alone and a free agent during the concerts, and I used my room to move to maximum advantage. My tickets were for seats in the cheaper section in the back, but I never stayed there for long. The minute the music started I haunted the front rows and the box seats, ready to slip into any that came up empty. I managed to snag a chair in a VIP box next to Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane during Ravi Shankar’s all-afternoon concert. Shankar had requested that no one smoke cigarettes during his set. I was shocked, simply shocked when Paul Kantner lit up anyway. Many years later I spotted my young self in an audience shot in Pennebaker’s film of Jimi Hendrix’s performance, Jimi at Monterey. I was so close that the shadow of Jimi’s guitar neck fell across my face. Dang, I copped a great seat that night!
I hung around the stage door after each marathon concert to see who might enter or exit. Rumors abounded. The Beatles had been sighted—or maybe it was just John Lennon. Yeah, definitely Lennon! (They hadn’t. He hadn’t.) The Rolling Stones were here! Brian Jones was indeed hanging out, bombed out of his gorgeous gourd and flanked by a couple of handlers to keep him more or less upright when the occasion demanded a vertical stance. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were forbidden entry into the U.S. due to drug charges in England. So was Donovan.
The only musician I spied who was not on the program was Peter Tork of the Monkees. He was walking around outside the stage door, minding his own business and rapping with some of the roadies. A very straight-looking girl with ratted hair spotted him and started screaming. Tork looked startled, then almost a plea for pity flashed across his face. She continued to shriek and writhe and point at him hysterically from about twenty feet away. Tork finally seemed to surrender to the fact that this bummer was unstoppable. With a look of disgust he turned around and walked back through the stage door. I wanted to slap the ninny until she saw starry psychedelic visions.
The Monterey Pop Festival has been chronicled and analyzed ad nauseum. When put into a historical context many years after the fact, things looked different than they did live and in the moment. Also, urban legends now circulate about what did and didn’t happen. I floated through the festival with a mixture of blissed-out wonder, grooving on everything about it, yet also with the snobbish attitude of someone who knew she lived at the epicenter of the music universe and was young enough to know everything else about the world with great certainty as well.
I certainly didn’t know all the gory details about the clash between the mellow, non-materialistic culture of the San Francisco groups and the Los Angeles promoters and record producers who were cutting deals right and left to parlay the festival into a maximum amount of cash. The San Francisco groups felt that the La-La-Land organizers were wolves in tie-dyed clothing, capitalizing on the hippie caché spawned in the Haight-Ashbury to promote the festival for their own profit.
I asked David Freiburg of the Quicksilver Messenger Service if he felt that the L.A. people were ripping off the San Francisco bands. “They were. Wasn’t Scott McKenzie there? Didn’t they perform ‘If You’re Going to San Francisco’? What bigger rip off could there be?”
Virtually everyone from the Bay Area was disgusted when Scott McKenzie was invited to the stage to sing “If You’re Going to San Francisco.” What had been dubbed in the media as the “Summer of Love” was about to begin, and locals were bracing themselves for an influx of wannabes, hangers-on and lost souls seeking the answer. We knew that they would end the mellow scene in the Haight-Ashbury and Berkeley. The song didn’t help.
Lee Lamb, roadie for the Byrds told me, “The song, ‘If You’re Going to San Francisco’ was written on a bet between Dennis Dougherty and John Phillips. It was when the Phillips’s were living in PicFair, the old mansion of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in Beverly Hills. Dennis and John were drinking Jack Daniels all night and smoking God knows what. Dennis says, ‘John, you’re too cocky. You think you can just write a hit. I’ve got hundreds of dollars in my wallet says you can’t right now.’ John pulls out his guitar. He thinks, ‘It’s the Summer of Love coming up.’ Next thing you know, thirty minutes later, he’s written ‘If you’re going to San Francisco.’ They wake up Cass on the phone in the middle of the night. She says, ‘We can’t do that shit.’ So John says, ‘Let’s give it to Barry McKenzie.’ They go down to the studio and two and a half weeks later it’s a hit. Listening to the car radio on Appian Way, we hear the song. Denny said, ‘That was written last week. That SOB John will never get over this!’”
One of the main reasons I went to Monterey was to hear Mike Bloomfield’s new band, The Electric Flag. I was crazy about Bloomfield from his days with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Lee Lamb concurred, “Bloomfield had an ear beyond all belief. He could perceive not only music but how it was done on instruments he never touched. One time at a Fred Neill recording session in a studio on 48th St. in New York, the group before us was an Armenian band with weird string instruments. They ran overtime. Neill was getting impatient. Pretty soon I see Bloomfield in the studio. He’s picking up all their string instruments and playing them. I saw him on another day in the studio doing every conceivable string riff that Jimi Hendrix did—he was technically incredible.”
The new band was promoted in advance as “The Mike Bloomfield Thing.” Band member Barry Goldberg is quoted in Joel Selvin’s Summer of Love, “Ron Polte had this flag that started waving when you plugged it into the wall. It was an electric flag. And he actually gave us that name: The Electric Flag. That’s where that came from. The flag would sit up on top of the Leslie speaker, and whenever I put the tremolo switch on, it would start waving.”
Sam Andrew of Big Brother and the Holding Company told me, “The overriding thing for me at Monterey was that it was a world-wide scene. Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix had the most meaning for me. The English people showed me that it was world-wide. Colorful and beautiful. There was a kitschy element to it too. On one level it was L.A. selling hippiedom to the world, but at the same time it had such a bigger meaning– it didn’t matter. “
Country Joe McDonald told me, “I was on a psychedelic drug at Monterey. I had a good time. I enjoyed playing outdoors and with a lot of other bands. I was in the audience watching when the other bands performed. Our equipment didn’t function and they didn’t give us a soundcheck, and I didn’t care. It was my first experience with a large festival, so it was great. I thought the L.A. Bands were ripping us off, but with hindsight, it was great. There’s a certain amount of politics that goes on at any event. It was great to be a part of it historically and musically. I was walking around, went down to the beach, walked around where the vendors were. I read later that there was a room where Jimi Hendrix and other musicians were tuning up but I didn’t even know the room was there.”
David Freiburg said, “I felt very fortunate just to be there. Why would we be there? We were just a band that didn’t have a record contract. It was really well done. They produced it really well, considering that kind of thing had never been done before. I don’t think anyone ever did it better. They might have gotten more efficient, but it was pretty darn well done up. It was flexible. They could even make adjustments such as letting Big Brother go on again because they didn’t film them the first time.
“I was playing at the big jam backstage somewhere in one of the big buildings. I was playing bass and Jimi Hendrix was playing guitar. But I only played bass for about ten minutes before Jack Cassady showed up. He said, ‘Let me play that!’ and I said, ‘Sure! You take it. I can’t keep up! I didn’t take the same pills. Do you have any of those?’
“There was a backstage place where there was food for everybody, and Tiny Tim was playing his ukelele and the Who was there. Brian Jones was there. It was just kinda creepy in a way. Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience seemed like a prick to me. They probably had perfect justification, whatever it was. They were in the audience and someone was asking them, if they were hippies. ‘No man, we’re ahr-ists!’ he replied. I remember the band just looked like hippies. They were very offended.
“I watched most of the stuff from the stage except when I wanted to really see. And my best memory was Otis Redding. I was standing right next to Duck Dunn’s bass amp with my my elbow on it, watching. Redding was the best. “
Bob Weir told me, “We got around. Most of the jamming I did was in the expo tent. I got to play with some great folks in there: Paul Simon, Jimi Hendrix and to build long-term friendships with those guys at that event. When I was playing with Jimi Hendrix I didn’t know who the dude was. We were plugged into the same amplifier and started playing and pretty soon we were hanging off it like a couple of crazed monkeys. I had no idea who he was but I was having a lot of fun playing with him. I heard him of course, and I was starting to put two and two together. And we hit shut-down time, there was a curfew there and we had to call it an evening. It was then that we introduced ourselves to each other. I knew who Paul Simon was, and he wasn’t plugged into anything. He was playing along on an acoustic guitar and we couldn’t hear dick. He said, ‘You won’t be able to hear me, but you’ll be able to feel the vibe.’ I admired the guy for his pluck.”
I could ascertain the cracks between these two universes. The neatly lettered banner draped across the proscenium that said, “Peace, Love and Flowers” looked totally lame from a San Francisco perspective. We decorated our concerts with funky psychedelic posters and R. Crumb characters such as Mr. Natural and Angel Food McSpade. And who the hell were The Mamas and the Papas to close out the Festival, as if they were the ultimate group? That didn’t sit too well with much of the Northern California crowd. John Phillips was one of the concert promoters. The Mamas and the Papas were all glitz and flash in their color-coordinated designer faux-hippie duds. I thought they looked like a room in a house that had been interior decorated until everything matched perfectly and all the life had been sucked out of it.
Today I would think more kindly, especially of Mama Cass. The shots of her in the film show a warm, charming person actively appreciating the music of others when she was in the audience and beaming charisma and talent to burn onstage.
However, at the time, the Mamas and the Papas seemed to embody the differences that stood facing each other across the San Andreas Fault-like gap separating San Francisco musicians from the Los Angeles gang. The San Francisco musicians were in it to create magic with their guitars and voices, to worship well and often at the altar of mind-altering substances and then to dig deep into their stoned souls for inspiration. As far as we infinitely hipper San Francisco hippies were concerned, the Mamas and the Papas could put on their perfectly polished lizard skin boots and take a hike—or more likely a limo ride—back to the city of plastic angels.
A special Owsley acid called Monterey Purple was passed around to the bands and the audience. Lee Lamb told me, “You have to realize that the atmosphere was pretty drug soaked. Stephen Stills had a physical altercation with the manager of Buffalo Springfield, who was ripping them off. He attempted to stuff him in a garbage can or some such thing. Musicians live in another world—they only relate to their music.”
The Grateful Dead understood from the get-go that there would be a film of the festival and that the bands would receive zip for their participation. They were right. The groups had been asked to play for free because the Festival’s proceeds were going to be donated to charities. Apparently only a fistful of dollars actually made it into the coffers of some nonprofits. In the meantime, the Festival was immortalized in D.A. Pennebaker’s film, Monterey Pop. The film crew had free run of the grounds. The crew could get really annoying, clogging the aisles at each concert and often blocking the choicest views. During one set a long-haired freak in multi-colored clothing who was either very stoned, very psychotic, or otherwise inspired started frenetically dancing down the main aisle. This was normal, everyday do-your-own-thing stuff at concerts on my home turf. But at Monterey? Within seconds, camera crews were zooming in on the guy from all angles to get shots of his personal epiphany, as if it was something really special. How uncool could you get? And how distracting for the audience. Chip Monck, who did lighting for the ballrooms in San Francisco was also in charge of lighting for the film. To get into the spirit he dropped acid. Everything filmed from the moment he started tripping was lit only in red. Everything.
Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, wailed out “Ball and Chain” not once but twice. Janis was well known and beloved in San Francisco, and the funky, idiosyncratic stylings of Big Brother just seemed to suit her. History records that Janis’s mind-blowing performance of “Ball and Chain” was not filmed, save Mama Cass’s appreciation at the end of the set. When they performed it again to be filmed it was confusing for the audience, but who cared, really? Janis managed to hammer and nail that song to the rafters a second time.
The Grateful Dead’s set was sandwiched between the stage-destroying frenzy of The Who and Jimi Hendrix’s solo fireworks. The mellow group disappeared amidst all that melodrama. Grateful Dead music needed to be suffused with sunshine and allowed to meander outside of scripted boundaries of time and space. Jimi Hendrix’s performance that culminated with him frenetically humping, praying to and finally spraying lighter fluid on and burning his hand-painted guitar has been mythologized as the Festival stand-out. However, no one mentions that he came on after The Who had trashed the entire stage, smashing guitars, tossing drums around like volleyballs and setting off smoke bombs. One lone guitar burning atop the stage following the weapons of mass destruction that constituted The Who actually appeared a bit anti-climactic at the times. If you look at the audience shots when Jimi burned his guitar, the audience looks confused and stunned for the most part.
The idea of destroying guitars, expensive pieces of equipment, was not universally appreciated. Ben Ryan commented to me, “When I was growing up, it was, you’ve got to have respect for your musical instruments. And then Jimi put his guitar down and poured the lighter fluid on it and beat the crap out of his guitar and threw and kicked out the pieces of the guitar. And the bottom part fell right next to my foot. I thought, ‘Maybe I should take it as a souvenir.’ But then I thought, ‘Well I can’t fix it,’ so I didn’t take it.”
History records that Otis Redding brought down the house. Indeed he did, giving until it hurt, backed up by the legendary Stax session band, Booker T and the MGs and the slammin’ horn section The Mar-Keys. Otis sang beautifully, and effortlessly whipped the crowd to a froth. However, at the time I was pissed off at the audience. Peoples’ raves for Redding were very different from the way they expressed their enthusiasms for other groups. The group of mostly white, middle class kids started hootin’ and hollerin’ and trying to act “black” during his set. This was a phenomenon to which my racial radar from the Berkeley schools was highly attuned. Later, I learned that Redding had been concerned that a fairgrounds-full of white hippies would not get his music at all, and was actually quite pleased with the response.
There were plenty of goofy moments that locate the Festival in its time. Michael Bloomfield, God rest his sweet stoned soul, set a world’s record for the number of times you could say the word “groovy” in one sentence. David Crosby explained his conspiracy theory about the assassination of President Kennedy and how he was sure his rant would be censored from TV. (Guess he was right; I never saw his speech on television.) He concluded by shouting, “Your mother gets high and you don’t know it!”
An array of fabulously freaky concession stands stood just outside the concert arena, amidst the California oaks dotting the Monterey Fairgrounds. There were a couple of beautifully constructed and decorated teepees (one was a clinic to help people freaking out on acid), a body painting station where artists would paint day-glo designs onto your face or any other exposed body parts, food stands, and booths for all sorts of hippie arts and crafts. In a metalworker’s booth I admired a small sculpture in which a kazoo was incorporated into a series of welded metal forms. Whatever the price (I think it was $45.00), it was well beyond anything my weekly allowance would bear. The artist watched me ogling it and then spontaneously handed it to me. I kept that beautiful sculpture with me for decades until it disappeared somewhere along the roadside of my careless gypsy life.
Sidebar: While reminiscing about the Festival at a 2004–2005 New Year’s Eve gathering at my house, my friend Shareen Iverson described how she and her then-boyfriend, Peter Fels, sold his metal sculptures from a booth on the Monterey Fairgrounds. Light shows started sparkling in my memory bank. We hastened to look at photos of the sculptures on Fels’s website. Oh yeah—it was him all right! I emailed Fels on the spot and recounted how he had given me a piece of his artwork that day.
On New Year’s Day he replied,
“You have me wearing a silly grin. I do have a vague, furry memory of that exchange. It’s delightful that the gesture had such sweet consequences.” End sidebar.
I was propelled homeward, kazoo sculpture in hand, by the happy aftershocks of three days of nonstop music and general camaraderie. Not so the Grateful Dead. They were so pissed off that they invited a number of the best musicians to San Francisco. In the ungrateful dead of night they drove a van to the Fairgrounds stage area and loaded it up with guitars and sound equipment that Fender had provided for the festival “in exchange for promotional consideration.” They drove it to San Francisco and then sent telegrams to CBS, Fender and to Ralph J. Gleason, music critic of at the San Francisco Chronicle (who printed it):
“We have liberated the following amplifiers and speaker boxes, in order to provide free music to the people of San Francisco and Northern California. They will be used three or four times for free events and returned to you at the conclusion of the week.”
Bob Weir recalled, “I vaguely remember some of the politics. Our managers, Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin, were sort of politicos. They had been at San Francisco State University. There was a political science overlay on everything. So they were very savvy politically. We managed to crowbar a bunch of amplifiers out of Fender for the free stage. When the Pop Festival was over we managed to get them into our truck and out of there while people were standing around still scratching their heads. We brought them back to the Panhandle in San Francisco. I don’t know where we rustled up a flatbed truck, but we had a Panhandle house-truck stage and P.A. system that we pilfered from Monterey, mostly from Fender. They came after us. But I think in the end, they realized that, ‘Okay, if we get this stuff back it is good and used at this point. And besides that, it’s great promo, so what they hell, we’ll just sort of let them slide.’ And so we managed to pull that caper off.
“Eventually all that stuff drifted off. Guys would come and play, it was sort of a communal deal playing on the flatbed truck stage and all the equipment. But you know, good luck keeping it all in one place. It drifted off, particularly with the Summer of Love, the meth freaks and the junkies got it all eventually. You know, a year earlier the stuff would have stayed where it was. If we found a garage to put it all in it would have stayed there and we would have brought it out the next weekend and done another free concert. In the Summer of Love it didn’t last all that long — but it lasted long enough so that we had a few great weekends.“
The party continued in San Francisco with many of the Festival musicians jamming for the masses for free during several stealth concerts set up by the Grateful Dead. It was a communal celebration before the Summer of Love darkly descended.