In March of 1966, I was stationed in Monterey, California, studying Chinese at the Defense Language Institute (http://www.dliflc.edu/). By the following year, I had finagled a permanent position there, and lived off base in the servant’s quarters of the Reynolds Aluminum heiress’s Carmel hideaway. It was a norwegian chalet that she had dismantled anc brought over to Carmel and re assembled. Seventy five dollars a month and I had to turn on the sprinklers twice a week. . .
The hippie thing was in full bloom, which was a little difficult to maneuver through for me, as an airman in the service. I had joined the Air Force for several reasons. I needed the GI Bill to afford college and I needed to survive the Vietnam war. Percentage-wise, airman were surviving at a much greater rate than soldiers, so I chose the Air Force and they screened me and sent me to Chinese Mandarin School there in Monterey.
So I was living in Monterey when word came down that they were going to have a pop festival. No one had ever heard of a pop festival, but music was the end all and be all of my life and seemingly of everyone else’s. We all took our political, social and fashion cues from these people out there on the very edge of what was to come; what was to be a new America and a new awareness of possibilities, race relations, world peace, and a green environment. We had figured everything out. But then we got stoned and forgot it. But that’s another story.
In the months before the Monterey Pop Festival, the entire town was a buzz with anticipation. All the young people were talking of nothing else. Rolling Stone Magazine (www.rollingstone.com) out of San Francisco was the leading counter culture paper and we devoured every word. These recording artists were our priests, gurus, shaman, heroes, and guides all rolled into one. And the fact that so very many of them were to be there at one time, together. It was unheard of and, of course, never done before. (http://extras.montereyherald.com/slideshows/popfestival/index.html).
I think the idea actually grew out of the “be-in’s” that were spontaneously erupting in parks in Northern California. People would just get together, some how get a flat bed truck with a sound system piled onto it and turne it into a make-shift stage in a park or even a vacant lot. Everyone would just know about it –without text messaging, I might add-show up and get high right there in public and dance and listen to the music: a blissed out congregation of innocence and naivety. The MPF became so huge so fast, they staged it at the Monterey Fair Grounds, June 16th, 17th, and 18th..
You have to understand what a confluence of musical events were coming together during that period. At the end of that same month, the Beatles released Sgt Pepper and changed the way that people created albums, wrote songs, and toured. The whole world was music. It was amazing. And the festival was perfectly timed for the era. When the tickets went on sale, I gobbled up the entire weekend, $22.50 I believe it was. An enormous amount when you consider my rent.
On the first morning of the festival, Monterey had provided no less than 80 policeman who were lined up on either side of the entrance way to the grounds, standing about ten feet apart and wearing these blue helmets. It was ominous and surreal to walk between them on our way to a festival of music and peace and love. But the crowds (some 200,000 people) were so mellow that by Sunday, there were only about four policemen visible on the entire grounds.
At the fairgrounds, they had set up all these hippie booths, a craft fair really, and you could wander thru them, which is what I did on the days, before the shows started. I was in one such booth with my old pal, Ray Thole, when we noticed this guy dressed in outrageous clothes. A skinny dude with a wild afro and a vest that looked sort of like Sgt Pepper and a bull fighter all rolled into one garment.. We talked to him a bit, he said he was an American from Seattle, but had come here from England. Nice, easy going fellow, shy, but available as a person. When he walked on stage Sunday night, wearing the same vest and proceeded to play the most amazing guitar that we had ever heard, we couldn’t believe that we actually talked to Jimi Hendrix (http://www.jimi-hendrix.com/index.php).
That was the thing. The lineup was incredible. Every kind of music was represented and many local unknowns came away from that festival stars…Otis Redding (http://www.otisredding.com/), Janis Joplin (http://www.officialjanis.com/) and Jimi Hendrix come to mind. I saw Simon & Garfunkel (http://www.simonandgarfunkel.com/), The Who (http://www.thewho.com/), Jimi, the Mamas and the Papas (http://www.dennydoherty.com/), Janis and Otis, the Springfield (http://www.thebuffalospringfield.com/), (tho Neil was absent and Crosby (http://www.david-crosby.com/), was sitting in), Ravi Shankar (http://www.ravishankar.org/), Canned Heat (http://www.cannedheatmusic.com/), …what can I say? I loved it. I loved all the different music, the different people, the different races…it felt like the future that Startrek promised us.
I saw an old woman, I mean, a frail old woman, haranguing this hell’s angel’s guy (http://www.hells-angels.com/), demanding that he take her for a ride on his hog. And he did. She climbed on the back side saddle and wrapped her arms around him and he took her for a spin around the grounds. There really was a sweetness and kindness to the whole vibe that I never experienced again at any large rock gathering.
All of the people were dressed in the most outrageously colorful clothes they could find or make. All with long hair, beads, leather fringe, knee high Edwardian boots, moccasins, puffy shirts. This was before any Renaissance Faire, but everyone was dressed like that. No one was too freaky or too fat, too skinny, too weird. Everyone was just accepted and welcomed. I know this sounds like Pollyanna b.s. but that was the way it was that weekend. No one wanted the music to end; even the policemen had flowers in their hats and buttonholes.
The whole scene was pregnant with the possibility. That we could actually make a world like this; full of acceptance and joy and peace; an anything is possible world. For that moment, everyone seemed to believe in it. Amazingly, the powers that be right now would have us believe that the idea of peacefully getting along is naïve and stupid. No negotiation, nothing but cowboy diplomacy. Somehow the spin on peaceful coexistence is negative. I can’t help but wonder how we got from there to here.