50 years on, Monterey the global trendsetter returns

Radiohead performing in Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival last Friday in Indio, California.
Radiohead performing in Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival last Friday in Indio, California.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Monterey International Pop Festival will be back in June as a multi-million-dollar affair with famed headliners

LOS ANGELES • Fifty years ago, the idea of the rock festival was hatched with a simple but bold ambition - to get the same respect as jazz.

Lou Adler, a Los Angeles record producer, recalls a meeting in 1967 where he, Paul McCartney and the Mamas And The Papas - the group that rode California Dreamin' to stardom - discussed what became the Monterey International Pop Festival.

"The conversation drifted towards the fact that rock 'n' roll was not considered an art form in the way that jazz was," said Adler, now 83.

"With the possibility of doing something at Monterey, at the same place as the jazz festival, it just seemed like a validation to us."

Monterey Pop, held on June 16 to 18 in 1967, at the fairgrounds in the California town, was pivotal in rock's evolution as a force in the entertainment business and culture at large.

It served as the blueprint for the explosion of rock festivals, from Woodstock in the United States to Glastonbury in England to Fuji in Japan.

Monterey was the breakout moment for Jimi Hendrix, who lit his guitar on fire, and Janis Joplin. The Who, Ravi Shankar and Otis Redding got some of their first exposure to the American mainstream there.

Exactly 50 years later, the festival will be celebrated with a new event, again called the Monterey International Pop Festival, and held at the fairgrounds from June 16 to 18.

Featuring Norah Jones, Jack Johnson, Gary Clark Jr, Jim James, Kurt Vile, Head The Heart, Father John Misty and Phil Lesh with his Terrapin Family Band, the new festival makes a case for Monterey Pop as a continuing influence in the age of Coachella and Bonnaroo.

"How do you put on a show that has the good aspects of 2017 with some of the sweetness and innocence of 1967?" asked Mr Gregg Perloff, chief executive of Another Planet Entertainment that is putting on the show with Goldenvoice, the company behind Coachella and classic-rock fest Desert Trip.

"We're going to have a great sound system, but we don't want to have huge video screens and special effects and lasers."

Estimates of the 1967 crowd vary widely, but Adler said as many as 100,000 people attended over the three days. The festival went on without major incident, but it never had a sequel.

The Monterey community had a hostile reaction to being overrun, Adler said, but Monterey Pop was also a victim of its own success, as competing festivals sprouted up everywhere and booking agents for the new breed of rock stars realised their negotiating leverage.

The concert business has now progressed to such a scale and level of sophistication that it would be unrecognisable - and probably boycotted in 1967.

VIP ticket packages, corporate sponsorship and smartphone apps are now a part of every major festival operation.

At the original Monterey show, ticket prices ranged from US$3 to US$6.50 a day.

Fans paid up to US$500 (S$698) to attend this year's edition of the Coachella festival which kicked off last Friday with performances from Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar.

Taking place over two successive weekends with identical line-ups, the event in the California desert has for years been a trend-setting global event for music and fashion - and the envy of rivals with its multi-million-dollar profits.

The city of Indio approved Coachella's plan to expand its reach to 125,000 fans a day, an increase of 26,000, with the festival this year adding an additional main stage to bring the total to seven.

In one sign that the sold-out festival has succeeded in preserving its buzz, leading ticket reseller StubHub said passes for the first weekend were 60 per cent more expensive than a year ago.

StubHub said buyers from 17 foreign countries had bought tickets, led by Canada, Britain, Australia, Mexico and the Netherlands.

Beyonce was slated to play her only 2017 show at Coachella, while expecting twins with husband Jay Z.

But she bowed out on her doctors' advice and was replaced by Lady Gaga.

With Lady Gaga, Coachella will ensure it has a female headliner for the first time since Bjork in 2007.

Other draws are Radiohead, Lorde and DJ Khaled.

Concerts aimed at older fans are also on a roll.

According to music industry tracking firm Pollstar, the six-day Desert Trip, featuring The Who and veterans such as The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Neil Young, took in US$160 million last year.

Tickets to other concerts and festivals likely to draw audiences old enough to remember Woodstock - among them the just-announced Classic East and Classic West, with headliners Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles, scheduled for New York and Los Angeles this summer - are also selling robustly.

But staying faithful to music is tougher on an ageing body.

"Festivals are thought of as a younger person's game because it can be challenging to be out in the summer sun from morning till dusk two or three days in a row," said Mr Jeffrey Schneider, 54, a lawyer.

"You need stamina. But as (rocker) Warren Zevon said: 'I'll sleep when I'm dead.'"



A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2017, with the headline '50 years on, Monterey the global trendsetter returns'. Print Edition | Subscribe