While Woodstock is certainly the one concert that everybody the world over will remember, it’s not the only moment in time that showcased some of the amazing talent in music during the ’60s. The Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 may not have reached the size of Woodstock, but it certainly held some memorable moments. It was there that artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Otis Redding really exploded and got their big starts. It was also a more subdued atmosphere, allowing the music to be the true standout instead of the wild shenanigans of the crowd. Monterey Pop, from director D.A. Pennebaker, is a straight on concert film that spends very little time on what’s happening off stage, focusing almost solely on the performances of the artists.
The much more intimate and relaxed atmosphere of the festival pays off for music fans in Monterey Pop. A small stage and a crowd that is actually seated gives Pennebaker the opportunity to film the acts much more closely. It also offers an early look at some of the most outstanding musicians to hit the scene. Joplin, Hendrix, and Redding are certainly some of the highlights of the film, giving some of the most powerful, exciting, and emotional performances. You can feel their presence pounding through the screen. A shot of Mama Cass watching Janis Joplin sums it up, as she is blown away by what she is witnessing. That’s how you’ll feel as you watch Monterey Pop.
Those aren’t the only artists to perform, and acts like The Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, and The Who hit the stage as well. Ravi Shankar performs a lengthy track that will have fans closing their eyes and sinking into their seats, while bands like Canned Heat, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Country Joe and The Fish, and Eric Burdon and The Animals round out the acts on display. It’s a mix of bands big and small, and music lovers will find plenty to love here. The fact that many of the bands perform songs you don’t normally hear is also a real treat. We don’t get the same songs we’ve heard over and over again through the years.
This restored version of Monterey Pop looks and sounds fantastic as well. It’s obviously the sound that fares the best here, as it’s the music that will really draw fans in. Once the festival begins, there’s very little time spent off stage. While the footage is mixed with crowd shots or images of the artists behind the scenes, most of it is spent celebrating the music of the event. I think that’s the benefit of Monterey Pop. This festival wasn’t the kind of massive event that Woodstock became a few years later, so it was much more about the music, which makes the film more about the music instead of something trying to capture a moment in time.
If there’s anything to really complain about here, it’s Pennebaker’s choice to shoot everything so closely. Besides Joplin and Hendrix, footage of the bands is incredibly intimate, to the point where you will often wish you could take two steps back to really soak it all in. The Who also get a much wider shot, but that’s the only way to really capture the band, as well as the expected destruction they would leave as they stepped off stage. It is nice to get so close to bands like The Mamas and The Papas or Otis Redding, but it would have been even better to get a slightly larger picture of the bands at work. That’s a small complaint though, as the real highlight of Monterey Pop is the music, which comes through loud and clear.