The Main Stage at Monterey Pop before the commencement of the festival

Flowers, Love, and Music

On Wednesday February 8th, I was able to see Monterey Pop at the UC Berkeley Art Museum — Pacific Film Archive. The film documents the Monterey International Pop Festival of 1967, which featured many prominent performers across different genres. Not only was the festival a musical success, it also led the way to the Summer of Love, which saw the gathering of 100,000 hippies and followers of other countercultures in Haight Ashbury. The film Monterey Pop perfectly captured counter-cultural views on acceptance, drug use, and fashion.

The film opens with the song San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie. The lyrics to this song exemplify the values of the Hippie Movement. He sings about love, friendly people, and hippies. What had become the unofficial anthem of the counterculture movements of the 60s, the song San Francisco set the tone for Monterey Pop. Ironically, the person I was sitting next to in the theatre was in fact wearing flowers in her hair.

Monterey Pop expresses the welcoming nature of the counterculture movement through the musical acts that were invited to play. Typically, a music festival is focused on a singular genre of music. Whether it be EDM, Rock, or Pop, the Monterey Pop Festival had a diverse grouping of performers. With the contradicting styles of The Who and the demolition of their instruments and the loving good vibes of The Mamas and The Papas, there was something for everyone in attendance to enjoy.

Jimi Hendrix during his set, in which he lit his guitar on fire

The changes in the flow of the concert were representative of countercultures and their resistance to follow the status quo. The largest discrepancy in performances in my opinion was Jimi Hendrix and Ravi Shankar. Hendrix’s music was brash and unpredictable, which gave off so much emotion and rage that he ultimately set fire to his guitar before slamming it into the stage many times. He was provocative, feisty, but most of all he had a masterfully performed set.

Ravi Shankar’s set at Monterey Pop

Unlike Hendrix’s very visual performance, Ravi Shankar took a more peaceful approach to his performance. With his sitar, Shankar was able to win over the crowd purely through the beautiful sounds he was able to produce. For me personally, I have never seen a more impressive performance than his at the end of the Monterey Pop film. Ultimately, the concert masterfully brought together different acts from the 60s to make an all-inclusive environment that personified the counterculture movement.

Brian Jones attending Monterey Pop

The drug use and fashion choices of the crowds at the Monterey Pop festival go hand in hand. People were adorned in flowing garments, flowers, and other nonconformist clothing. Looking at the crowd it appeared as if you were in another land, where there were only hippies. This was not the typical clothing of the 60s for most people, but it was commonplace for people of the counterculture.

Members of the audience at Monterey Pop

In addition to the outrageous clothing, the drug usage at the festival was palpable. In the movie, multiple members of the audience were filmed and interviewed. While some managed to make coherent sentences about how overcame with love about how beautiful and groovy the concert was, others just sat there as if they were in a world of their own, fully immersed in powerful drugs such as LSD, while their body was paralyzed by the music. It was reported that acid was dropped over the crowd and that the festival hired a trained medical team whose sole purpose was to deal with drug overdoses. It was no secret that the counterculture indulged in psychedelic drugs, and Monterey Pop did not do anything to contain this usage, or hide its widespread use at the festival.

As described earlier, the drug induced ending to Hendrix’s set mirrors the end of the hippie movement. Those in attendance at Monterey Pop were a young crowd who participated in the use of illegal drugs. Many people could not sustain the lifestyle and found themselves losing their lives through overdoses, or resulted in drug induced crime. What helped to make the movement so successful also was a part of its downfall. Some will argue that without the drugs, Hendrix would not have been the performer he was, but on the same not, he would probably still be alive if he did not overdose on said drugs.

Iconic photograph of topless woman smoking during the Summer of Love

In addition to the drug use, the crowd at the Monterey Pop Festival would have been considered unruly by today’s standards, but was seen as acceptable for the 60’s. Some people disregarded the idea of wearing clothes and viewed the concert completely naked. Others went as far as to have sex in the open. These individual’s “promiscuous” actions resulted in public outcry against the counterculture movement that they found so shocking.

All in all, Monterey Pop was an oasis of good vibes and a calling ground for the counterculture movement to consolidate. Everything about the concert expressed the views of the movement and the film helped future generations understand the festival’s legacy.