DA Pennebaker / US / 1968 / 79mins
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 11 Dec 2017
If you remembered Woodstock you weren’t there is the old canard of superannuated hippies. Of course we all remember Woodstock from its logo of a bird on the neck of a guitar to the iconic performances captured forever on film. The 1969 rock festival was the template for rock concerts ever since from Band Aid to T in the Park. Woodstock was the original rock festival. Only it wasn’t.
Two years earlier the Monterey International Pop Music Festival was held in a small town between San Francisco and Big Sur. The place had associations with Steinbeck and is now a rather twee stopping-off point on California’s Highway 1. Among the festival organisers were Michelle and John Phillips of the pop group the Mamas and the Papas and its avowed intention was to bring together the best bands of the moment and, though it’s hard to credit it as the weather that June looked dreich, help usher in 1967’s Summer of Love.
There were dozens of acts – many had tragically early deaths like Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Cass Elliot and Janis Joplin – others, mainly imports from Swinging London like the hard-rocking Who and the Animals, were a revelation to the audience of laid-back Californians, especially when Pete Townshend destroyed his guitar by battering it against the floor of the stage. Reaction shots of the hippie audience are priceless. There are The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Simon and Garfunkel, Grateful Dead, and The Mamas and the Papas who introduced the one-hit wonder Scott McKenzie who warbles San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) composed by John Phillips. Otis Redding gets a blue groove on and Hendrix gets jiggy with his hand-painted Fender Stratocaster before spritzing it with lighter fuel. Come on baby light my fire!
It’s the music that’s important here not the image. The uninhibited Janis Joplin in a ratty crimplene trouser suit sets a new standard blues and soul. She raunchily sang Ball ’n’ Chain and on the strength of her performance was signed up immediately to a record deal.
The sets are fresh and rough – never before or since did these artists have their performances relayed unmediated by the recording – or TV studio. The 20 minute finale of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar is worth the cover price alone.
This three disc set contains the original documentary and hosts of extras including two hours of outtakes of sets of most of the musicians involved.