Forty-eight years ago today, if you were lucky enough, and hip enough, you had the opportunity to hear the sounds of a world changing. June 18, 1967 marked the opening of the Monterey Pop Festival – a three days concert extravaganza that introduced the American pop music world to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar, the Steve Miller Band, the Electric Flag, Otis Redding and the Who. With a lineup that included established acts like Simon & Garfunkel, the Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Mamas & Papas, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and many more, Monterey Pop was the first of the great Rock Music Festivals. It ushered in the Summer of Love and, in a way, signaled the opening of the Pandora’s Box that was the Hippie Counterculture. It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
These days, the standard reaction to any mention of “Hippies” runs along the lines of “thank God we outgrew THAT”. I think that this is a damn shame. Like so many things that get swept up into popular culture, the ideas and ideals that gave rise to the counterculture were misrepresented, misunderstood, and eventually subverted by their brief period in the pop-culture spotlight. With the focus placed on the most sensational (and aberrant) aspects of what at heart was an attempt to find a more self-sustaining, satisfying, fulfilling and peaceful way to live, it was inevitable that the pro-social and spiritual subtleties of the movement would get lost in a haze of bong smoke and patchouli oil. But – like it or not – the world changed, and it will never be the same place that it was again.
Unfortunately, that change came with a dark side and the progression down the inevitable road to ruin can be seen clearly if you trace the arc of the big rock festivals of the era. Monterey was rooted in cooperation (the group that staged the festival was truly groovy) and musical exploration. Woodstock was all sensationalism and spectacle, washed down in torrential rain and bad acid. Finally, we reached Altamont Speedway, where the Stones provided an appropriate soundtrack to the sudden descent into chaos and death that mirrored both our foreign policy and the government’s determined counter-revolutionary attitude.
I will talk more about the revolution and counter-revolution that I experienced in the late sixties and early seventies, and the effects of which I see around me on a daily basis, at another time. With another election coming up, I feel it is important to reflect on the things that have contributed to the world as it is today. But for now, I want to celebrate that brief moment at the very beginning of time (I was 16 and it seemed like the world was just being born) when anything was possible, when the most improbable things were happening all around us (Hendrix? Really?), and when it was still safe to think out loud about how much better this country could be IF ONLY we stopped worrying about our stuff and got our shit together. Monterey celebrated diversity in thought by presenting and celebrating diversity in music. This is something that is worth celebrating; even more than a Stanley Cup. So: Hooray! Monterey!