By: Chris Pacifico
On the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking festival that sent record labels rushing to sign psychedelic bands, the culturally significant live music event gets another look on this Starbucks backed 2 CD Razor & Tie anthology that is only a "grande" and not a "venti" like documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop concert film, which truly transports one into the experience.
While festival openers The Association got things going with the skiffling pop delight "Along Comes Mary," songs that became staples of the '60s generation like Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" sound somewhat ragged. Eric Burdon and the Animals' "San Francisco Nights" and the Farfisa blare of Country Joe and the Fish's "Section 43" were truly high points for most of the crowd, many of whom were tripping face on Monterey Purple - the special strand of LSD that Owsley Stanley had made for the event. Tens of thousands of hits were handed out for free to both the audience and the performers. Big Brother and Holding Company with Janis Joplin, who was only 24 at the time, more than wowed everybody with "Down On Me" and "Ball and Chain," where a white girl from Port Arthur, Texas picked up the torch from Bessie Smith.
Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" was downright paltry but "White Rabbit" connected with the general lysergic haze and enhanced the utopian feel of an alternative, higher state of being. It's ironic to think that only two and a half years later, lead singer Marty Balin received an onstage beat down from a Hell's Angel at Altamont.
After a year and a half making a name for himself in the UK, Jimi Hendrix broke out stateside with a beautiful rendition of "The Wind Cries Mary" and a tripped out version of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," where he declares, "I'd like to bore you for about six or seven minutes."
Monterey wasn't just a showcase for psychedelic rock, though. Otis Redding began his crossover appeal on the West Coast with the jump jivin' "Shake." Stax mates Booker T and the MGs doled out the chic and swank, too, with timeless Hammond organ on "Booker-Lo." Ravi Shankar performed a warming raga, "Duhn: Fast Teental," a flurry of sitar whirrs and aquatic tabla clunking. Shankar's entire set captured on the At the Monterey International album is a must have.
For as many good songs as there here, there are just as many that are shoddy. Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound" and "Sound of Silence" can't even come close to topping the bliss of their studio versions, and The Byrds all but butcher "Chimes of Freedom" and "So You Wanna Be a Rock Star." Fortunately, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band salvages what it can of the album with some help from Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)."
In the end, the Monterey Pop Festival may be one of those things where you had to be there to fully "get it." The community vibe came from a generation with a purpose, something today's music festivals would be lucky to capture 1/25th of.
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