Monterey Pop: remembered, celebrated but never duplicated

Jun 16, 2017

It’s hard to imagine a time when no one really knew Jimi Hendrix. But the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival was that time. When Hendrix took the stage that summer, he hadn’t made his mark on the American music scene. 

That all changed when he finished his set with his song Wild Thing. That’s when Hendrix became legend for lighting his guitar on fire.

Janis Joplin was another big name who was virtually unknown until she made her appearance at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. She blew the audience away with her band Big Brother & The Holding Company.

“Right then and there, I knew and she knew that she was big. And she was going on from there bigger,” says Penny Vierrege who attended the three day festival that celebrated rock ‘n roll.

Many of the musicians, mostly unknown at the time, went on to become superstars. And the event itself became a model for future festivals like Woodstock and Coachella. It was a one time event until now. This weekend the 50th anniversary will be celebrated with a return of the Monterey Pop.

Of the original, Vierrege remembers booths selling crystals, strangers handing out flowers and a man and his pregnant wife who set up a teepee in the middle of the fairgrounds.

“Mostly I was wandering around stoned, you know, appreciating everything,” says Vierrege. And of course, there was the music of The Mamas & the Papas, Grateful Dead and The Who.

“It had the cream of it all. LA, England, San Francisco and there was just so much love. So much incredible love,” she recalls.

Vierrege is now 88 and living in Big Sur. An original poster from the Monterey Pop hangs from the ceiling in her home. She pulls a record off her shelf of LPs. It’s Live: Ravi Shankar at the Monterey International Pop Festival. The album cover has faded with time, but there she is in the corner practically on stage. Her face is beaming with joy.

Vierrege’s late husband, Paul, was stage manager for the Monterey Pop, just as he was for the Monterey Jazz Festival. She says as a rule she generally stayed in the audience.

“Well I’m sitting there watching all of these chickies hanging from the set and around and stuff like that, all the followers. And I said to my husband, on Sunday afternoon, I’m going to be on that stage. Ravi is my man, and I’m going to be as close as possible,” she says.

Also in the audience throughout the three day festival were the performers themselves. “There was no social media before that, so a lot of these performers had never spoken to or seen a performance by the other artists,” says Lou Adler is one of the co-producers of the original Monterey Pop.

The idea behind the event was to bring respect to rock ‘n roll, as an art form. And it did that. Adler says after all these performers got together they were empowered..

“Up until that time, the record companies pretty much dictated how many albums you would do, what the theme would be, what the cover would look like, how it would be marketed. That all changed after Monterey,” says Adler.

He says right away they knew it was such an iconic event that it could never be repeated. That said there are connections between 1967 and this weekend’s Monterey International Pop Festival (June 16-18, 2017).

Eric Burdon and the Animals who played at the original take the stage on Friday. Norah Jones will perform Saturday night. She’s Ravi Shankar’s daughter. And Phil Lesh from the Grateful Dead, which also played the original Monterey Pop, will close out the show on Sunday night.

Larry Chavez for one can’t wait to be there. He was too young to make the first. He owns the Monterey Rock and Roll Experience, a memorabilia shop in Monterey. He’ll have a booth at the event.

“I want everybody to come with open mind. Many of the groups that are coming. They’re in their 20s. just like it was back in 67. A lot of those groups were unknown. They were in their 20s and they had the whole world before them. And hopefully that in itself would honor the past,” says Chavez.

You can check out the complete line-up of the Monterey International Pop Festival 2017 here.