Listen To This Eddie is a bi-weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival, one of the greatest live events in the history of popular music. To mark that historic milestone, Goldenvoice, the same company behind Coachella, has teamed up with Monterey’s founder Lou Adler for a new iteration of the iconic festival. Dubbed Monterey Pop 50, the festival will take place at the exact same fairground as the original. Instead of Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and Janis Joplin, wristband-wearers will be treated to the likes of Father John Misty, My Morning Jacket and Kurt Vile. Phil Lesh from the Grateful Dead and Eric Burdon from the Animals will be there too, so that’s something.
Before 1967, there simply wasn’t anything quite like the Monterey Pop Festival. It’s incredible to consider now, because of how monetarily important the larger festival apparatus has become to the music industry as a whole, but the driving force behind the original event wasn’t financial gain. Monterey Pop was actually a charity benefit; one whose impact endures to this day.
The reason the festival came together in the first place however had everything to do with a perceived credibility gap between rock and other genres like jazz and folk. Late one night in 1967, Adler was kicking back at Cass Elliot’s house with Paul McCartney and the rest of the Mamas and the Papas. The conversation eventually turned to the state of rock itself, with the group grousing about how it was treated as a second-class genre by the cultural elites.
Shortly after that evening, Adler was approached by a couple of businessmen who wanted to know if he’d be interested in helping them put together a single-day blues and rock showcase featuring the Mamas and the Papas at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, a site just about two hours south of San Francisco. That’s when the wheels started spinning.
“Later that night — actually at three o’clock in the morning — [Papa’s singer] John [Phillips] and I decided, influenced by some heavy ‘California dreamin’, that it should be a charitable event,” Adler remembered in the book A Perfect Haze. “John and Michelle [Phillips], Paul Simon, Johnny Rivers, Terry Melcher and I put up $10,000 a piece. With six weeks to go, the Monterey International Pop Festival, a three-day non-profit event, was becoming a reality.”