“No one to that point had seen a White girl sing the blues like she sang it. And she was a tough Texas girl, she lived really tough, she drank tough, she did drugs, too many and too tough. But as a vocalist, her performance at Monterey was also one of the great concert performances of all time.”
That’s famed music and film producer Lou Adler talking in 2007 about Janis Joplin and her performance 40 years before at the Monterey International Pop Festival. After those three days of music (June 16-June 18, 1967) in the Summer of Love, many of the acts catapulted to fame.
The Who exploded stateside, The Jimi Hendrix Experience essentially launched their career from that stage, Ravi Shankar got introduced to Americans, and Otis Redding played to a mostly white audience for the first time. Laura Nyro and Canned Heat became famous overnight.
And then there was Big Brother and the Holding Company, fronted by a 24 year-old Janis Joplin. Their first album wasn’t due until August, and most of the crowd had not heard of this blues band when they took the stage on Saturday afternoon, June 17. Five songs later, and finishing with “Ball and Chain,” the crowd had gone wild. They knew they had seen something special.
But D.A. Pennebaker, the documentarian behind Dylan’s Don’t Look Back and Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” concert films, had not filmed the set. In an unprecedented move, Joplin and band were invited back to recreate the set the following evening - the only band to do two sets at the festival - and that is the footage seen above. Joplin’s performance is just as good, maybe even better, though the Sunday performance does not feature James Gurley’s extended guitar solo. That version can be found here.
Not only did Monterey Pop launched several careers, it legitimized the idea that rock music was mature and important enough to have its own festival, just like the worlds of jazz and folk. For organizers Adler, along with John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, Alan Pariser, and Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, it was a huge success. Two years later a little gathering called Woodstock went even further. And the rest as they say is … whoever’s headlining Coachella this year.
If you enjoy this footage, you will want to pick up a copy of the film, The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, from the Criterion Collection.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.