Monterey International Pop Festival – 50 Years Later | JamBandsOnline.com

Monterey International Pop Festival – 50 Years Later

Photos and Review by Linda Tulett 
There’s a spot on the stage to mark where it all happened. It is said that, carved deep in the floor of the stage are the words, “Jimi Hendrix 1967.” While I didn’t see it, it was mentioned more than once over the weekend, along with respect tossed back to the original Monterey International Pop Festival performers and tributes to their music. It was held on the same dates, June 16, 17 and 18, on the same stage, at the same location, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. The weather was perfect, the crowd was energized and the stage was electrifying.

The Location
The consensus seemed to be that this was a great location – easy in and easy out. Not just the Festival itself, but to the area. Less than two miles from the local airport, less than a half mile from Highway 1 and around the block from a street lined with hotels, most who traveled here found it hassle free. (Oh, and less than a mile from the nearest beach so hopefully folks got a chance to feel the sand between their toes.) I overheard one couple mention it was, “the easiest festival to get to” in years. And, once inside the fairgrounds, the vast area provided for quite an open feel, plenty of trees to find shade, grass to sit, water stations, bathrooms (and speaking of, it was the most bizarre thing; every time I went to one of the bathrooms it was clean, plenty of TP and NO line! I repeat, no line. I did not have to experience a porto potty once, not once.) Scattered about the open space, large displays from images past, quotes from those who were there, and thoughts about the history about to be made once again by bands and musicians invited to the party.

The fairgrounds itself is aging, showing signs of the many years of hosting festivals and events. It also has a different feel to it than typical festival grounds, with many small buildings on the grounds for hosting different activities, and cool little covered stalls where the vendors could set up their wares and remain out of the sunshine. There is also a small outdoor stage in addition to the main stage. This mainly hosted a D.J. who cranked out music from the late 60’s all weekend, but also provided a location for an impromptu acoustic set from San Francisco’s ALO on Sunday. Even the food vendors had their own little storefront, so to speak, little covered booths with kitchens inside. Speaking of, I doubled down on the Indian food, having those yummy and warm pockets of veggie love (Samosas) and the third day opted for shrimp and salmon rolls, Vietnamese style, with both that hot/sweet chili sauce and peanut dip. But, the prize for best food vendor name has to go to, “Downward Dog,” who served hot dogs all weekend.  I also visited the organic popsicle stand more than once – their Meyer lemon popsicles were so refreshing on a hot day. While I didn’t buy, I certainly was offered more than one sip of a friend’s ice cold Lagunitas brew to wet my whistle and cool me down a bit. The festival promoters did allow folks to bring in small coolers and factory sealed bottled water, which was nice to save a penny, but it was hard to find a non-alcoholic beverage, according to one friend who doesn’t touch liquor. Not a Sprite, 7-UP or cola to be had….. unless you wanted a little something else in it; and I tasted someone’s OJ and vodka…. or should I say vodka with a little OJ – wowza!!!!

The Attractions
As we mentioned in our pre show coverage, the festival promoters set up three audio-visual-participatory areas for attendees: The Morrison Gallery, Levi’s Outpost, and an onsite museum called, “It Happened in Monterey… Music, Love and Flowers.” The only area I didn’t get a chance to immerse myself was Levi’s Outpost, just due to timing. I did stroll through, but their planned activities (tie-dye workshop and vintage patchworks among others) did not jive with mine.

The Morrison Gallery was an amazing display of rock and roll photography, from festivals such as the original Monterey Pop as well as the Newport Jazz Fest and other famous moments in music history and portraits of music legends. I found myself wandering through there twice over the weekend, just to take it all in again, put a solid visual stamp in my mind. It also made me mad I didn’t drag along my film camera. There is something about black and white gritty rock photos – makes me feel something different, as if I was actually there.

The Museum was the most immersive, aside from what was happening out on the stage and amongst the fans on the field. Walking through the door, you hear the sound of the original Festival as the documentary, Monterey Pop play on a movie screen, people in bright neon bean bag chairs lounging and taking it in. On the walls were images and memorabilia from the 1967 festival, with posters containing quotes and anecdotes from promoters, musicians and fans who were there. Safely contained in a glass display was a large, looked to be a few hundred page scrap book, perfectly opened to a page about Janis Joplin and how she stole the mind and soul of the crowd with her performance of, “Ball and Chain,” making Monterey history and her own special patch in the quilt work of the musical landscape. Also on display were the iconic images of Jimi and his guitar a blaze, with a replica of the guitar near by, so we could see what it may have looked like.

The Music
Ah, what we really came for. Something on the three day schedule for everyone. While I unfortunately missed the first act on the first day (so sorry to Sara Watkins!!), I caught something if not all of each of the other performances. With 24 acts hitting the stage over three days, I won’t attempt to cover each each song as we’d be here for days. The highlights as I saw ’em and the #67to17 tributes will be the gist.

Day one, for me, started with Langhorne Slim & the Law. I’ve never seen this guy, this act before and was very pleasantly surprised with my ears. I also loved the fact he was so personable with the audience, leaving the stage more than once to get closer to the crowd and even hopping over the pit barrier to get in right amongst everyone. He joined in on the tributes and offered up Canned Heat’s, “Going Up the Country,” inviting music photographer Danny Clinch out to join him on harmonica. Most of us know Clinch for his incredible talents behind the lens, but man can he play that blues harp! Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires took to the stage next. What a set this guy put on! Showman to the max, all decked out in his fancy suit and sparkly shirt. Making constant connections with the audience, he looked directly at people, pointed, joked and seemed to be having a helluva time for himself. Laying down some pure funk and soul, he entertained the audience for a 45-minute long set, opening with, “Love Bug Blues,” that moved pretty unnoticeably into, “The World (Is Going Up in Flames),” both having that really smooth, slow groove. Bradley showed his respect to the original Festival covering Otis Redding’s, “Dreams to Remember/Pain in My Heart.” Clearly a lady’s man, he ended his set by tossing roses out to the crowd. Up next was Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, a band that I’ve had on my list for a while. There is something about the rowdy sound they put out. And, Rateliff likes to boogie around on the stage, really showing his energy which is quite infectious as it spreads out over the crowd that gets just a bit louder during his set than the last. They played their recognizable hits (well, that I recognized anyway), “I Need Never Get Old,” “Look at Here,” “Howlin’ at Nothing,” and “SOB,” (which we had to wait nearly the entire set to hear). Participating in the #67to17 songs, he offered up a killer version of Janis Joplin and Big Brother’s version of, “Piece of My Heart,” (original by Erma Franklin).

For me, the set of the day was Eric Burdon & The Animals. I swear, the voice hasn’t changed. He really brought it all back to the original Festival, laying down a set list that was so perfectly Eric Burdon, we could all sing along with him, to each and every song. Being one of the originals that played in 1967, he looked nostalgic as he stood up there, gazing out over the crowd and up to the stands to see none other than Lou Adler looking on, founder and producer of the original festival in 1967, and down into the photo pit to see two of the original photographers, Tom Gundelfinger O’Neal and Henry Diltz hanging out with the rest of us. [Sidebar: I was taking it all in at the Morrison Gallery when I ran into the guitar player for Dr. Dog. We were chatting about how historical the event was, how honored we both were to be there. He said his true honor was to look down into the photo pit and see Mr. Diltz taking his picture. I joked and said, “Hey, in 50 years from now, we’ll be strolling through here again but this time it will be YOUR picture on the wall taken by ME that we are gazing at!!!” Oh, we got a good laugh out of that!! But, hey, ya never know……] Eric Burdon & The Animals brought us right back to 1967, as if we were there too. They played all of the classics: “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “When I Was Young,” “Monterey,” Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” “In the Pines,” “The House of the Rising Sun,” “We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place,” and “Hold On, I’m Coming.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect with the last three acts as I have not been able to catch or really listen to the music they put out. Regina Spektor was just lovely. She sat up at the big Steinway, belting out her music and smiling, or shall I say beaming from ear to ear. She did step away from the piano to pick up her pretty blue guitar, electric guitar, and switched it up a tad. Her music was a mix of pop and sarcasm, singing lyrics like, “Someone next door is f*^king to one of my songs….” (from “Bobbing for Apples”). She’s like an odd combo of Ani DiFranco and Tori Amos. She was relaxed and truly seemed to be enjoying her set along with the crowd, smiling back at them as they were smiling up at her. Second to closing the first night, Father John Misty was another I am admittedly a tad unfamiliar with. He does have a song that just might describe his performance: “Total Entertainment Forever,” as he moves about the stage, physically emoting along with the lyrics and music backing him. His music is generally mellow and meaningful; and there is something about his studio stuff that can sound a little like older Elton John, if your ear is bent a certain way. He played a number of songs from his latest release, Pure Comedy, a title meant to evoke not laughter but truth and irony.

Closing out the first night, Leon Bridges hit the stage for his hour and twenty set that had the whole place up and dancing along with him. The energy coming from the  stage was strong and the backing music was tight. He reminded me of a cross between someone like Otis (which we all expected him to and he delivered on two covers) and Sam Cooke, with that joyous gospel and deep soul feel. Very retro. Opening with, “Smooth Sailin’,” he mixed his vocals with groovy dance moves to the cheers of the crowd. And, Leon didn’t hold back on the 67 to 17 idea, laying down two Otis Redding tributes. For “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” he invited out Nathaniel Rateliff to join Brittni Jessie on back up vocals; he also invited the whole crowd to join in on the whistle. Then he closed out the set a few songs later with, “Mississippi Kisses,” at which point a bit of mayhem ensued with Danny Clinch appearing for a second time with a harmonica in his hands, and Father John Misty joining Rateliff and Jessie in a big ole dance party on stage. What a way to end the first night!!!

Day two, day two…. For me, this day went to The North Mississippi All Stars. They just blew the crowd away, the lucky crowd who showed up for their early set. The NMA is brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, and typically that’s all ya need. But, they surprised us all by first bringing out G.Love to play and sing along, then bringing along Duane Betts, Dickey’s son, to fill out their sound, who’s guitar playing seems to be an imprint in his DNA. NMA’s set was no less than electrifying, loud, rowdy, incredibly tight, fun, joyous…. shall I go on? My favorite moments – their  rendition of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” was goosebumps generating and their play on, “Lovelight,” inviting Jackie Greene up to goof around on stage with them, both at the drum kit with Cody and at the mic with Luther, this was one set I didn’t want to end….. But, before NMA hit the stage that day, we were treated to opening act Jacob Banks, a Nigerian born singer/songwriter out of England whose music is textured with African inspired grooves, soul, and even a little reggae at times. Walking in, the song he was performing reminded me of something Lenny Kravitz would do, which was followed by a reggae sounding tune that you could have heard at Cali Roots back in May. Smooth vocals and sunny day grooves.

After the incredible set from the North Mississippi Allstars, Jackie Greene and his band hit the stage. Now, this isn’t the first time they’ve played this historic stage, no, not at all.   Jackie was invited to play at the last Monterey International Blues Festival, the big one that used to occur every year at the Monterey Fairgrounds until finances cut that fun short (they are trying to bring it back, so I hear). But, this time, the crowd was much larger and much more familiar with his music. I know quite a number of folks who traveled to see him play here, seeing his name on the list was the name that pushed them over the edge to come to the Festival. And, Jackie did not disappoint. His set was strong and well played, and kept the crowd happily baking in the sunshine. While there was no 67 to 17 tribute from Greene (with so much Grateful Dead in his repertoire, I kind of thought….. maybe….), but he did fill his set with danceable heel kicking tunes, including [my] favorites such as, “I’m So Gone,” “Animal,” “Like a Ball and Chain,” and closing with, “’Till the Light Comes.”

Right after Jackie Greene was an outfit calling themselves, Jamtown. The stage was packed with instruments and microphones. Featuring Cisco Adler (singer/ songwriter/ producer/ purveyor of feel-good music), Donavon Frankenreiter and G. Love (sans his Special Sauce), Duane Betts on guitar, Cody Dickinson on drums and a handful of others. A new outfit, they barely have a recording out but still played as if they’d been together for years. It was fun, it was lively, it was more than danceable, and it was plenty of an introduction to tell me I’ll be keeping my ears open for these guys again. Also new to my ears was, Dr. Dog. Their name does not necessarily match what you might think their music is. As I discussed with their guitar player, the “Dr.” part conjures up someone (named Dre) and so does the “Dog” part (Snoopin’ ’round), neither of who sound anything remotely close to what they played – American roots rock. Another band I  will be keeping my ears open for, although they hail from the East coast so my ears may have to bend quite a bit.

Jim James of My Morning Jacket took the stage next, wearing a long hot pick jacket, dark sunglasses and sending out even deeper and darker bass notes, heavy beats  and electronic undertones. His music was entrancing and dramatic. For the majority of the set, he held to the mic and moved about the stage, connecting with the audience and commanding attention. He and his band are a small outfit of guitar, drums, and back-up singer with James himself often taking to the keyboard or guitar to add to his sound. James’ toss back to 1967 came in his rendition of, “For What It’s Worth,” by Buffalo Springfield. After his set, Norah Jones took to the stage, to the large Yamaha sitting there waiting for her, silently, reverently. The whole time I was photographing her, I was taken aback by her beauty, not just her genetics in looks but that voice. There is something so very soothing about her. I could sit under a shady tree, sipping lemonade and listen to her all day. I got the impression she was a bit uneasy with all of the cameras pointing in her direction and blocking her view of the first few rows of fans. And, let me apologize to her for not only there being so many of us, so very many, but for the fool who climbed up on the video platform (while I didn’t see who it was, I saw the look on her face and the scolding finger she held out). Not cool at all. 99.9% of us know the deal, but there’s always that one fool who seems to be attending his first rodeo. She played so perfectly, so elegantly, giving the audience what they came for. My favorites of her set had to be in the Neil Young cover, “Don’t Be Denied,” her cover of, “Don’t Know Why” which most likely helped to put her on the map, and closing her set with the Grateful Dead’s, “Ripple,” which she’s recently added to her live show set list. And, I must say, the place went pretty crazy for it!

Closing out night two, Jack Johnson did not disappoint the crowd. I overheard one fan behind me nearly loose it, his voice crackled with excitement, saying this festival is his first time seeing Johnson. Mine too, so I feel ya buddy! With his mellow, barefoot in the sand sound, he wooed the crowd with his deeply soft voice and smooth and easy guitar. Of all the acts, Johnson was the collaborator of the weekend, not only inviting musicians out during his set (Norah Jones, Jim James, and G. love), but showing up on stage Sunday morning to sit in with ALO. He also gave some respect for 1967  by covering two acts, Steve Miller Band’s, “The Joker,” (which came in and out of, “Bubbly Toes” ever so smoothly) and Jimi Hendrix’s, “Foxy Lady.” Collaborations were with Norah Jones covering Bob Dylan’s, “I Shall Be Released,” with Jim James on The Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon,” and inviting G. love out for Johnson’s own “Mudfootbal” and “Rodeo Clowns.”

Day three, the final day of celebration, collaboration and throw backs to 1967. Opening up, ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) hit the stage about noon-time to a decently crowded lawn – and I only say that because the first act typically doesn’t get as much crowd love as the last. Being a San Francisco Bay Area band, they are pretty well known out on the coast. ALO invited out long time buddy Jack Johnson for a sweet and groovy, “Girl I Want to Lay You Down,” and later in their set, ALO busted out The Who and raged on, “My Generation.” It’s amazing how Lebo (Dan Lebowitz, guitar) gets such an electric sound out of his acoustic. The next gig up, for what they called the, “gospel portion of the day,” was HISS Golden Messenger, an American folk band from North Carolina. Led by M.C. Taylor, they had a bit of a country sound, representing the South as they said. It was a very smooth set, and it kept the early crowd relaxed, basking in the warmth of their music and sunshine. The true collaboration was the set up between Nicki Blum (of Nicki Blum and the Gramblers) along with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band; and, what a fun little set they put on! Seriously great combo – the energy was lively and the interplay even more so. She nailed it, the vocals were on point. The Dirty Dozen came out first, and jazzed up the stage, horn style. Inviting out Nicki, they blow into, “It’s All Over Now, ” – you know it, written by the Womack’s and first released by The Valentinos in 1964 as well as The Rolling Stones shortly after, and also appeared on the Grateful Dead’s set list many times (and was also recorded by Rod Stewart, Molly Hatchet, Ry Cooper, Social Distortion, and Johnny Winter to name a few). The Bluhm-Dozen did their part for the 67 to 17 tributes by tossing in two from Jefferson Airplane playing, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” For me, I think the best part of their 45 minute set was their cover of Maria Muldaur’s, “Don’t You Feel My Leg.” It was flirtatious, sexy, and filled with a little dirt, if you know what I mean. Best part…..

One of my favorite sets of the day had to be Booker T’s Stax Review, which was full of respectful tributes and stories that provided a nice introduction to the songs they’d play. I loved it, story telling by Booker followed by great music sung by really talented folks. He was dressed to the nines, decked out in that blue jacket, fedora and dark sunglasses.  His 45 minute sets was old school, filled with not only his own hits (“Hip Hugger,” “Green Onions,” “Soul Limbo”) but covers by Carla Thomas (“Gee Wiz”), Otis Redding (“Respect,” “Dock of the Bay”), and Sam and Dave (“Soul Man”). But, my favorite cover was, “Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight – and man could his back up singer, Ariana, belt that out!

Kurt Vile & The Violators is another first for me. His music is almost satirically melancholy, with lyrics to match. I mean, go listen to “Pretty Pimpin’,” and tell me I’m wrong. I also was unfamiliar with The Head & The Heart, a six-member high energy rock-rhythm band [currently working] out of Stinson Beach, CA, just outside of San Francisco. After I caught the first three in the pit, I made my way towards the back of the GA area, and walking by the vendor area a kid walks up to me and says, “Do you know who that lady is that everyone was taking a picture of?” Dumbfounded as I had just come out of the bathrooms and had no clue what he was talking about. Well, as I get to the GA area, I hear them invite up Michelle Phillips from the Mamas and the Papas to join them on, “California Dreamin’!” Sweet!!! She looked and sounded great, and you could see the smiles on band members’ faces from a mile away. In between those two acts was Gary Clark Jr., who I am quite familiar with. What a big presence as he walks out in a suit and hat so fly I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. No one could; he draws you in with his energy and keeps you there with his insane guitar playing. Just a few songs in, Gary invites up Booker T. to sit in on the keys for his own, “Bright Lights,” and the joy on each of their faces was just pure in every sense.

So, sometimes things happen in an image that offer a result less than what you desire. Lens flare is one of those things. But, when the lens flare is the right kind of flare that happens at a perfect moment, it almost goes unexplained. This picture of Gary is one of them. I took this shot from the field, during Gary’s last tune. He just happened to be playing his tribute to an artist that appeared on the Monterey Pop stage back in 1967. I’m talking about Jimi Hendrix. The song was, “Third Stone From the Sun.” The moment; the image; impossible to duplicate.

Closing out the three-day Festival was Mr. Phil Lesh and his Terrapin Family Band, consisting of his son Grahame on guitar and vocals, Ross James also on guitar and vocals, Jason Crosby on keys and Alex Koford on drums and vocals. Oh, and Phil, of course….. Playing for nearly an hour and a half, their set consisted of mostly Grateful Dead and a few Bob Dylan tunes. Opening with, “Music Never Stopped” with Nicki Bluhm joining in where you may have heard Donna Jean in the past. We got a “Help on the Way> Slipknot> El Paso> Slipknot> Alligator,” (which was just crazy sick) “Caution,” “Box of Rain> Wharf Rat> Box of Rain,” “Jack holy f*^king Straw,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Lady with a Fan>Terrapin Station,” and an “I Know You Rider” to end it all. Seriously!!! They played great, really great. Phil sounded good, looked good, and had to feel good by the major grin on his face. Grahame Lesh’s guitar playing was spot on and Ross James just commanded attention with his raucous and rowdy ripping and shredding. Oh, and speaking of, he took the lead on, “El Paso,” which was not the same El Paso I was used to. Marty Robbins was NOT in there.

At the end of their set, Lesh came to the mic for his well known donor wrap, starting out by saying, “I just want to say quickly, it’s such a rare honor and privilege to be able to return to this venue 50 years later. [This festival] had so much [appealing] as the original, it’s really been a joy and a pleasure…..

A little tidbit of history? Another connection with the Dead and Monterey Pop aside from being on the original bill and Phil returning now, Meyer Sound was the official sound partner for the Monterey Pop Festival 50 Year Celebration, as well as developed custom amps for the Steve Miller Band at the original Monterey International Pop Festival back in 1967. The Grateful Dead would later seek audio advice from Meyer and, in the late 70’s, and begin using Meyer Sound system on their tours.

And, there ya have it folks. As the saying goes, “It happened in Monterey…”

Gallery of Images by Linda Tulett




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