Over a single weekend in June 1967, Monterey entered history as the very first rock festival. The paucity of official releases over the intervening years led to Monterey--like the Rolling Stones' Rock & Roll Circus
--becoming as much a figment of rock & roll myth as hard fact. Finally though, in 1994, the British company Castle Communications put together this beautifully assembled 4 CD box set. Unfortunately, some acts (Simon & Garfunkel, Grateful Dead)--perhaps feeling their performances were below-par--refused to license their material. But with over four hours of music, this set still presents a vivid snapshot of the event. For once, the packaging is as important as the music: a booklet is bound in, complete with memorabilia, previously unpublished photos, and first-hand reminiscences from performers like David Crosby, Dennis Hopper, Steve Miller, Eric Burdon and John Phillips.
The core of the music here remains the incendiary performances of three acts: the Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience, who both made their American debuts here, and Otis Redding, just a few months prior to his death. The Who and Hendrix were both scheduled to top the bill, so they flipped a coin to decide and the Who went on first. With the two bands determined to top each other, the tension is evident, even on disc; but it was Hendrix who just edged ahead with a blazing performance that reinforces his position as the best electric guitarist in rock history. Otis too pulled out all the stops ("I've Been Loving You Too Long", "Shake") for the peace and love crowd.
This was the moment when bands like Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe & The Fish, the Steve Miller Band and The Beach Boys bitterly regretted turning down Monterey--realising, too late, that it could have helped them reach a new audience. The Beatles were keen to be there, but were busy with a little album called Sgt Pepper; and the Rolling Stones were in jail. Still, the weekend was a real watershed--marking the emergence of a new direction for rock & roll as well as paving the way for Woodstock two years later--and most of the music that made Monterey so special can be heard on this box-set, which stands as an object lesson in how to commemorate such an important event. Big Brother & The Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin) made their first real impact, and there are generous excerpts from those performances. But the festival was also about musical diversity, and acts such as Ravi Shankar, Hugh Masekela, Booker T & The MGs and Lou Rawls can be heard amid the stirrings of rock & roll revolution. --Patrick Humphries