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After 50 years, an encore of the Monterey Pop Festival

June 17, 2017

In 1967 the Monterey Pop Festival served as a launchpad for such luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. It also helped bring soul singer Otis Redding in front of a new audience and introduced master Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar to American ears.

Monterey Pop did all of this three decades before the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival was born, and even a couple of years in front of Woodstock’s historic “three days of peace and music” in upstate New York back in 1969.

Monterey Pop, a modest event in Northern California, paved the way for all of them and helped define the modern festival.

“To this day, that lineup for Monterey in ’67, you can’t touch it,” said Paul Tollett, head of concert promoter Goldenvoice, the creator of Coachella, its country cousin Stagecoach and last fall’s rock superstar blowout, Desert Trip.

Recently, Tollett and veteran record executive, producer and promoter Lou Adler, a key figure behind the original Monterey festival, sat side-by-side on a couch in the living room of a Malibu house, which Adler uses as an office.

“You have to have a filter (for selecting which acts to book), and the filter for Monterey was one of the tightest in music festival history,” Tollett said. “Pretty much everything on that show was great.”

Goldenvoice and San Francisco-based Another Planet Entertainment have teamed with Adler to stage this weekend’s three-day Monterey Pop 50th anniversary festival at the same site that hosted the original in 1967, during the so-called Summer of Love.

In honoring the anniversary, Adler said, “We’re not trying to replicate Monterey Pop, which you can’t do. It’s more of a celebration.”

Among the headliners are former Grateful Dead member Phil Lesh and his Terrapin Family Band, pop-jazz chanteuse Norah Jones (Shankar’s daughter), Eric Burdon & the Animals, which also played 50 years ago, and soul music musician, songwriter and producer Booker T. Jones, who is bringing his Stax Revue in recognition of his role at the 1967 version backing Redding.

Others on tap for the three-day event running June 16-18 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds include Jack Johnson, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Regina Spektor, Father John Misty, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, North Mississippi All-Stars, the Head and the Heart, Gary Clark Jr., Nicki Bluhm & the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

“I think the closest to Monterey is how eclectic the (current) lineup is,” Adler said. “Now festivals often have four or five stages. When we did Monterey the first time, we had one stage, like we do now. All 32 acts appear on that stage.”

Adler, along with Mamas & the Papas’ member John Phillips and rock music fan and entrepreneur Alan Pariser, help dream up the modern festival template five decades ago. Pariser, having gone to the Monterey Jazz Festival, wanted to do the same for pop.

“He came to us because he wanted to hire the Mamas & the Papas to close the show,” said Adler, who was the group’s manager.

“When we realized it was at the same site where the jazz festival was held, we thought, ‘This is a way to validate rock ‘n’ roll.′ By about 3 a.m. the next morning, John had said we should do it, it should be three days, we should get groups from all over the world, and we should do it as a charitable event to give something back, because we’d all been starting to make a lot of money at that point.”

At the 1967 festival, the lineup spanned the sweet folk-rock of Simon & Garfunkel and the Mamas & the Papas, the scorching R&B of Redding, the fiery blues-rock of Joplin and her San Francisco-based band Big Brother & the Holding Company, the blue-eyed soul of Johnny Rivers and the exotic ragas of Shankar.

That’s one reason the event’s creators dubbed it a “pop” rather than “rock” festival.

Tollett noted the absence at Monterey in 1967 of barriers that now typically keep fans a safe distance away from festival concert stages. That divide between artists and fans — both physical and psychological — largely didn’t exist at Monterey.

Monterey also brought with it some modern creature comforts.

“A lot of the problems that we ran into on the road, we tried to address at Monterey,” he said. “Even the food: when you were on the road in those days at 1 o’clock on in the morning the only thing you could eat was a White Castle burger. So we had 24-hour food service. We built a cafe below the stage.

“Bringing that up another level, we had steak and lobster and almost anything they wanted, 24 hours a day,” he said.

“I think a lot of what happened to artist relations in the music would after that came out of those conversations,” Adler said. “Artists would tell us what to do, they’d talk about what they wanted to do. A lot of stuff changed after Monterey.”