There are a lot of myths about the sixties, and most of them seem to be about Woodstock. So what's the truth?
Well, first off the festival wasn't dreamed up by flower children living in an ashram. Instead, the original genius came from two Trustafarians playing golf. Wondering what to do with their parents money, one suggested a organising a music festival. The other agreed. After all, he said, "how much trouble can you get into putting on a concert?"
The answer was a lot. It started with sixties radical Abbie Hoffman extorting $10,000 to buy off his Yippie army, and ended with a state of emergency being declared and the National Guard flying in supplies in military helicopters. How not to organise a festival.
But the music wasn't that good. Pete Townsend said it was the worst gig The Who ever played, although he was a little distracted by Abbie Hoffman leaping onto the stage during "Tommy" and grabbing Roger Daltrey's mike to rant about a mate who'd been nicked. The Who weren't really the band to try this trick with and Townsend applied his guitar to the Yippie's head, and his boot to his behind, and sent him on his way.
So much for peace and love then.
However the myth of Woodstock lives on, in large part thanks to Joni Mitchell's song, which imagines it as an earthly paradise. 'Imagines' though is the word as she wasn't there in person, having a pressing PR appointment instead.
The Monterey Pop Festival took place in June 1967 Monterey, California. This was the summer of love, and Scott McKenzie had just told everyone what to wear in San Francisco.
|Monterey by Grace Slick|
The Mamas and Papas were the driving force behind the gig. The venue had been running a regular jazz festival for nearly a year. Jazz was considered 'real music' and the aim was to give rock the same status and respect. This was important. Rock bands at the time struggled to play decent venues, with old cinemas and theatres down on their luck being where most gigs got played. The Who's classic album, Live at Leeds, was recorded in the Refectory at the Students Union, which was pretty impressive for the time.
Jefferson Airplane, who also played a breakthrough performance, Canned Heat, Simon and Garfunkle, The Animals, Country Joe and the Fish, The Mamas and Papas and Ravi Shankar. The last played a four hour set on the Sunday morning, which must have tested the patience of all but the extremely stoned.
Care was also taken to ensure that those who attended also had fun and stayed safe. As well as a well supplied First Aid station, volunteers were on hand to help people through bad trips. At Woodstock services were overwhelmed and they had to call the Army in, whilst backstage at Altamont resembled a bizarre war movie where First Aiders tending the numerous victims of Hells Angel violence were beset by alternative therapists trying to mend broken bones with crystals and good vibes.
Maybe it was because these early pioneers were more Middle Class than the runaways who came to populate the Haight-Ashbury District later, and where Charles Manson would eventually take up residence. But California was also the heart of hippydom. In New York the Yippies and others had fantasies of revolutionary violence and treated new arrivals as cannon fodder for the cause. Meanwhile in San Francisco the Diggers actually put a bit of effort into making an alternative community, taking in the bewildered and feeding the hungry.
that still exists today.
Why this is is a bit of a mystery. But maybe it's because there really is no other narrative. Woodstock was always Heaven to some and Hell to other. Altamont provides every reason imaginable to go 'told you so' to the Flower Children, but at Monterey there really was no downside.
But that was then. What about now? Where can you go to find a festival where it really is safe, where the artists are treated with respect but where the musicians emerge to meet the punters, where everything is both relaxed and well organised, where the music is varied but always good and where you can possibly even meet the odd - and now rather elderly - Flower Child?
Well, if you read this blog regularly you'll know my answer to this one: Cropredy.
(If you don't belive me about Monterey, try this page by someone who actually was there.)