Even a mild interest in the culture of twentieth-century American rock will lead you to learn about the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, those oft-commemorated “three days of peace and music” in August 1969. But roll the clock back two years, turn from the east coast to the west, and you’ll find the template for that iconic “Aquarian Exposition”: the Monterey International Pop Music Festival. Held from June 16 to June 18, 1967 in California’s Monterey County Fairgrounds, Monterey Pop featured a who’s-who of the coming moment’s musical pantheon: Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, Ravi Shankar (playing for an entire afternoon), and the Grateful Dead. In the intensely era-distilling clip above, watch a certain Jimi Hendrix fire off his inimitable version of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Not bad at all for what Rusty DeSoto called “the first real rock festival.”
Monterey Pop, originally conceived as a rock-legitimizing companion to the existing Monterey Jazz and Folk Festivals, brought many of its hosted artists a kind of popularity they’d never had before. Otis Redding, just six months before his untimely death, enjoyed his first predominantly non-black live audience in Monterey — and they, by all accounts, enjoyed him. Columbia Records gave Joplin and her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, a contract on the strength of their Monterey show (right above). A great deal of high-quality film and audio tape of these performances survives, thanks in large part to documentarian D.A. Pennebaker, whose film Monterey Pop remains the definitive record of the festival. Watch any of the footage, such as the clip below of a rambunctious outfit by the name of The Who, and you’ll understand just how forcefully Monterey Pop launched these artists into the zeitgeist.