The Festival That Changed American Music cover

The Festival That Changed American Music

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Nearly 50 years ago marks the beginning of the Monterey International Pop Festival, one of the first rock festivals in the United States.
Library of Congress

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The Festival That Changed American Music

Nowadays, rock festivals are a common occurrence, happening in various locations year-round.

Back in 1967, though, the rock festival was not common. Monterey helped change all that, as the rock festival became more and more popular, with the unparalleled Woodstock following two years later.

Many acts had their first big American shows at Monterey, propelling them into the national spotlight.

Besides being one of the earliest rock festivals of its kind, Monterey was regarded as a changing of the guard for pop music.

Photograph of Big Brother and the Holding Company, ca. 1966-1967. Public domain

Although numerous acts were invited to play, many of the most popular bands at the time, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys, were not in attendance.

The Beatles, citing the intricacy of their newer music as a reason for not performing, suggested The Who as a replacement.

At the time, The Who had yet to really make a big splash overseas, and this show was one of the biggest breaks for them on US soil.

It might be too much of an exaggeration to say their status changed overnight, but their album Tommy, released two years later in 1969, was certified double platinum, and Who’s Next, released in 1971 went triple platinum. The three albums released before had not even broken the top 30.

We have a few books that will teach songs for guitar by The Who, such as “Behind Blue Eyes“ (DBM02847), “I Can’t Explain” (DBM03083), and “My Generation” (DBM03123).

Other acts, such as Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, and Ravi Shankar became household names after the festival.

Although Shankar had rubbed elbows with George Harrison the year before, and had previously performed in a few small venues in the U.S., he had yet to perform to such a large audience, and the crowd was enthralled by his ethereal and hypnotic sitar playing.

He practically became a household name throughout the U.S. in the next few years. In the book “The Exotic Sounds of India“ (DBM00300) Shankar plays and explains two ragas to Western audiences.

Janis Joplin had recently begun to make waves in the San Francisco music scene with the band Big Brother and the Holding Company, of which she was the lead singer.

However, after her electric performance at Monterey, she soon set out on her own and recorded many of her biggest hits, including “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Cry Baby.”

We have a recording from Mike Whorf’s radio show, where Whorf discusses Janis Joplin and her music (DBM00899).

Photograph of Otis Redding, January 1967. Public domain

Otis Redding, already popular in Soul and R&B circles, found a new audience at Monterey.

He performed a number of his past hits, including “Try a Little Tenderness,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and his song “Respect”—made most famous by Aretha Franklin’s cover.

The popular momentum generated by his performance at Monterey was cut short a few months after his appearance, as Redding and most of his bandmates were killed in a tragic plane crash in December of 1967.

His most famous hit, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay“ (DBM03016 [guitar] and DBM02713 [alto sax]), was released posthumously in the following year.

One of the closing acts for the festival was The Jimi Hendrix Experience, who, before Monterey, had experienced moderate popularity in the London music scene but had yet to gain a reputation across the pond.

At Monterey Hendrix and his band performed some of their most well-known songs, such as “Foxy Lady,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” and “Purple Haze.”

This is perhaps one of Jimi Hendrix’s most iconic performances (maybe only rivaled by the one at Woodstock)—ending with him ceremoniously lighting his guitar on fire.

We have a number of songs to learn by Jimi Hendrix, including “Angel”, “Voodoo Child“, “Little Wing” and “Little Wing (Final Performance), “Catfish Blues“, “Red House“, and “Bold as Love".

The Monterey International Pop Festival brought many iconic artists to the forefront of the American music scene—we might never have gotten to know these artists without it.

Check out some of the above material from the Music Section and enjoy the lasting legacy those artists leave behind!