Anatomy of a Love Festival - Part Two

Continued from Anatomy of a Love Festival - Part One

The real turn-on, though, was the music—twenty-two hours of it, divided into solid chunks that usually ran more than thirty minutes. Friday night was the epitome of what San Francisco calls plastic, but it didn’t matter. The almost offensively collegiate Association (long-hair collegiate, but collegiate) did their potsong qua lovesong, “Along Comes Mary,” and a ditty called “Enter the Young,” and a lot of tightly arranged songs and unfunny patter, and got good applause. Lou Rawls went through an entire nightclub act—“On A Clear Day You Can See Forever,” “Autumn Leaves,” everything—and got an ovation for being a soulful spade. Eric Burdon and the Animals played a blues-rock set (including a rendition of “Gin House Blues” that was the ultimate anti-alky statement—Eric introduced it as “a song of the past”) and brought down the house. And Simon and Garfunkel closed with their finely wrought, one-unaccompanied-acoustic-guitar-and-two-sweet-sensitive-voices routine and had to return for an encore. Except for Burdon and the unknown (and excellent) Paupers, none of the show was really rock. But the audience—not just the arena, but far, far back behind the cyclone fence at the rear, or wandering down the grassy midway between rows of concessions, examining the jewelry and light works and underground newspapers and listening over the P.A.—loved it. They would have loved anything.

There is a lot of talk about the new audience for rock—critical, unhysterical, intelligent. The Festival was predicated on such talk. But the issue is more complicated. The love crowd is an intelligent and mature audience, but its attitude toward intelligence and maturity is stubbornly emotional and childlike. It reveres enthusiasm. It is made up of teenagers who have no great desire to grow up and adults who have never completely renounced their adolescence. And like any kids, they know how to enjoy a good time—once the vibrations establish themselves, it’s uncool to cause static. That doesn’t mean the audience was totally uncritical—Laura Nyro and The Group With No Name were adjudged unqualified bummers by all, and three or four other acts aroused only lukewarm response. But there was lots of autohype as well.

Autohype is the process whereby the audience responds to itself rather than what is happening on the stage. On Friday, for instance, the bassist for The Paupers, Dennis Gerrard, a stubby bullfrog with bulging eyes that seem to rise clear out of his head when he gets going, started fooling around with the feedback—The Paupers really know how—and gradually worked into an unanticipated solo. It was good—Gerrard is the most expressive bassman I’ve ever heard in a rock band, one of the few to explore the kind of facility the electric bass was invented to provide—and he kept going, his eyes half-closed and showing nothing but white, and after a couple of good stretches he got scattered applause. Then he appeared to finish and was cheered enthusiastically. But Gerrard wasn’t through yet. He turned to the amplifier, doubling the cord so he got shuddering interference on every note, and played some more, not so well this time, but very intensely, perhaps even hoking it up consciously, and now, although the whole solo was turning into an exhibition, the place really broke up, unable to withstand the impulsion of its own excitement.

The love crowd also reacted easily to preconceived symbols—the spade, the supergroup, the guru. On Saturday, underground day, eight bands played, and seven of them did straight electric blues or blues-oriented rock. The first big hit was Janis Joplin of Big Brother and The Holding Company, a good old girl from Port Arthur, Texas, who may be the best rock singer since Ray Charles—that means since the beginning, brother—with a voice that is two-thirds Bessie Smith and one-third Kitty Wells, and fantastic stage presence. Her left nipple erect under her knit pants suit, looking hard enough to put out your eye as she rocked and stomped and threatened any moment to break the microphone, or swallow it. She got the only really big nonhype reaction of the weekend, based solely on her sweet, tough self. That was about two o’clock. By five, it was getting pretty hard to tell good blues from mediocre blues. I am told The Steve Miller Blues Band, which played seventh, was excellent, but although I was sitting twenty feet away I remember nothing about them except Mike Bloomfield’s group, The Electric Flag, followed.

Chet Helms had been emceeing most of the day, but John Philips introduced Bloomfield: “One of the two or three best guitar players in the world.” I think that’s excessive, but many don’t. Bloomfield is a legend. He was the first lead guitar for the first white blues band, Paul Butterfield’s. Soon he was the real star of the band. Early this year he quit and started his own outfit, and this was its first performance. There were cries of anticipation in the audience, most of which agreed with Phillips and the rest of which believed him. My head hurt and I walked to mid-arena to watch. Singing lead was a great fat Negro with an enormous pompadour. He also played drums, and his name was Buddy Miles. Miles is a great shouter. Bloomfield’s solos were fine, but the show just disappeared from under him. Miles let someone else sing and just drummed for one number and when he came back to sing some more the audience was screaming. After four-and-a-half hours of blues, one more bluesman just knocked everyone out. Miles really didn’t seem to want an encore—perhaps the band’s repertoire was too thin—but the cheering kept up until a girl literally pushed him back from the wings. It was very exciting.

Now, Miles was very good, but he was no better—or not much better, anyway—than the guy who sang with Canned Heat to open the show. Since Miles closed the show, the extra applause was natural. But position wasn’t the only reason he got it. He got it because he was with Bloomfield, who was so excited he looked as if he were about to blow up like a balloon. He got it because he was, as the Los Angeles Free Press so delicately put it, “a raunchy black mound”— after all those hours of white blues, he could finally give everyone the real thing. And he got it because the audience heard itself applauding, deduced that it was approaching hysteria, and slipped right over the line. That was what happened when Otis Redding came on that night, and Jefferson Airplane, too, although in each of those cases it was based on name as well, and although both Redding and the Airplane gave really great shows. In another form, it happened to Ravi Shankar next afternoon.

Shankar was a remnant of the Pariser-Shapiro Festival. Although he is an important figure in the new rock, which has been showing Oriental influences for several years, it isn’t likely that Phillips or Adler would have thought of him on their own. Shankar is the finest classical musician in India and possibly the world and is very sensitive about his stature—his hackles rise at the mention of “Indian folk music” and he has no use for rock, despite his guru-disciple relationship with George Harrison. He has no use for drugs either, insisting that his audience abstain even from tobacco during a recital so as to devote full attention to music. Shankar’s concert was the only one not sold out weeks ahead.

The no-smoking rule was obeyed respectfully, though who knows how much of the audience got stoned beforehand. I think a lot of people must have attended (like me) out of curiosity. In any case, there was not much sophistication evident. After Shankar tuned his sitar—a process that takes about twenty minutes—the audience rewarded him with applause. Shankar beamed. Then he did what I’m told was a flashy, rather easy raga. There was a thunderous ovation. The music filtered over the superb loudspeaker system, and slowly people began to buy tickets to come in and watch. It isn’t likely that a third of those present had more than the most rudimentary understanding of what was going on. But Shankar played to his audience. He complimented them on their choice of incense, threw back their orchids, and geared his invention (raga is nine-tenths improvisation) to what he knew would delight them. Before he was through he had a full house. That’s the good kind of autohype, the obverse of showmanship. It takes a very warm audience to open itself the way the love crowd did. Of course, when someone who looked like Paul McCartney walked down the aisle during the final section of the concert, the whole house craned for a peek. But you can’t ask for everything.

The same mood of sanguine goofiness characterized the whole weekend. Everything was beautiful. Those who had money spent it on food and trinkets—corn on the cob and a metallic pinwheel were big sellers. But the Los Angeles Diggers were there with free fruit, so no one went very hungry. Sleep was the same. Motel beds were full, and floors were often occupied. One local designated his field a “Sleep-In” and charged a buck to park the night. The lazy just rolled out their gear on the Fairgrounds. But the hip core of kids hiked over to the designated sleeping area at Monterey Peninsula College, where Dan Rifkin had set up his anti-Festival.

There were concerts at the football field Saturday afternoon, but the big action was that night, after Otis Redding had sent everyone to sleep happy. A flatbed had been converted into a sound truck, and as I arrived, some time after two, an anonymous group was testing the power. Near the truck the audience reclined in sleeping bags or blankets, some dozing. A hundred feet away there was a ring of standees ten deep, and beyond that a sea of sleeping bags stretching into the darkness. I waded through, stepping carefully, as one of the band members called for a B-flat harmonica. Cigarettes glowed here and there and every once in a while I was hit with a whiff of pot. Couples who hadn’t reached the age of consent slept in each other’s arms. Someone was at the controls of the scoreboard and was running an impromptu light show: 36-37-38-39…. There was giggling, murmuring. The musician blew into one instrument and called the donor back: “Hey, man, you sure this harp is B-flat?” The music began. It was mediocre, but everybody dug it anyway.

Sunday afternoon I decided to inspect the football field again. Traffic was heavy, so I left my car parked and hitchhiked. Four high-school kids from a small town in the Sacramento Valley picked me up. They wanted to know if I was holding any grass. The Festival was great, only someone had stolen their blankets.* [* A common complaint. If the churl who removed my sweatshirt and blanket from the press room Saturday night will send them to Esquire, he will enhance my opinion of the human race.] They had been up at the football field until it started to rain, then slept sitting in the car. The greatest thing was about four in the morning, when a new singer came on. They had been half asleep and were far from the bandstand; for a moment, they couldn’t make out who it was. Then:

“It was Eric Burdon, man. I couldn’t believe it, Eric Burdon, it was like a dream. It was all foggy and looked like a dream, you know? I really dig Eric Burdon.”

We reached the football field. It was completely abandoned—not a scrap, not a sleeping bag, not a soul. The kids told me most of the crowd had slept through the rain, then rose at eight or nine, wiped off the mud, and trooped back to the Fairgrounds. They took me to the road and turned for Pacific Grove. Some crazy chick had let them all take showers in her house that morning. Maybe she’d have some pills or something.

I walked back, making better time than the cars, my shaggy hair blowing in the breeze. An elderly couple in a Pontiac pulled over and honked. I saw no way to refuse the ride. Traffic backed up for two hundred yards as the husband reached back to open the door. The proprietary gleam in his eye told me he thought he had a live one. He seemed disappointed when he learned I was only a reporter, then perked up as his wife asked questions. Who were they? Why did they? What had they?

I offered standard answer number three: essentially religious blah-blah, never had to cope with the material environment blah-blah, self-indulgent sure, self-pity sure, drugs both good and blah-blah-blah. They were disappointed when I had to get out.

“Tell me just one thing,” the man said. “Do they believe in the one great God, Jehovah?”

I told him I didn’t know.

Even before the last concert began there was a sense of something ending. A few had already left. Many who had hitched coming were setting up rides home. One of the ushers with the uniform “Seat Power, We Love You” hatband also wore a sign that said “Oregon?” (He got his ride.) Starting time was seven-thirty and, as usual, it was accurate. The Blues Project did a short set. Janis Joplin and Big Brother came back for a reprise. The Group With No Name bored everyone into thinking them up: The Lead Balloon, Grundy’s Kite Tree, The Bummer, Lou Adler’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Dave Crosby of The Byrds sat in with The Buffalo Springfield, the only such admixture of the festival. Then The Who came on.

The Who is one of the finest groups in England but has never fired in the States. Leader Pete Townshend has gone so far as to attempt an opera and is an exceptional rock guitarist. While fooling around with feedback, he invented a stage technique that was eventually adapted (with The Yardbirds—because, Townshend claims, his group was too difficult to manipulate) by Antonioni for Blow-up. For over a year of steady performance in Europe, Townshend ended every act by smashing his guitar into the amplifiers while Keith Moon attacked his drums and Roger Daltry hit things with the mike.

Welcoming applause was rather light, but as always the group put on a good show. Moon is a spectacular drummer to watch, with a lot of armcrossing and a trick of bouncing one stick ten feet off the snare, then catching it on the beat. Townshend flailed his guitar as if he were sending semaphore signals. And Daltry, wearing a fringed shawl that looked about fifty years old, did the group’s best songs—“Substitute” (“I’m a substitute for another guy/ I look pretty tall but my heels are high/ The simple things you see are all complicated/ Look pretty young but I’m just back-dated/ Yeah”); the little opera, “A Quick One While He’s Away”; the one major U.S. hit, “Happy Jack”; and the current single, “Pictures of Lily”; and Eddie Cochrane’s “old rock and roller,” “Summertime Blues.” But although they performed in a class just below the top of the Festival, the audience wasn’t with them.

Then they did “My Generation.” The song is not what you’d think of as flower music; it is raucous, hard-driving, hostile (“People try to put us d-d-down/ Just because we g-g-get around/ Things they do look awful c-c-cold/ Hope I die before I get old/ My generation/ My generation, baby”). But then, no blues-based music is flowery in the obvious sense. “My Generation” really caught the crowd, and somewhere among the refrains the destruction started. The rumor is that The Who is bored with the whole routine—Townshend reportedly uses a breakaway guitar that can be repaired for the price of a neck—but they were obviously up for this audience. As bassist John Entwistle kept the beat, Daltry crashed his mike against the cymbals and Townshend thrashed the amplifiers. A smoke bomb exploded. The audience was in pandemonium and the stage crew, which had been magnificent all weekend, was worse. One hero tried to save a mike and nearly lost his head to Townshend’s guitar. Lou Adler, frantic and furious, protected one set of amplifiers. The love crowd was on its feet, screaming and cheering. Backstage, Jimi Hendrix muttered about encores.

But the task of following The Who fell to The Grateful Dead. Originally scheduled for Friday, seen lurking in the wings until Buddy Miles broke things up Saturday afternoon, The Dead finally made their appearance in a sunburst of San Francisco warm. “You know what foldin’ chairs are for, don’t you?” asked Bob Weir, his dirty blond hair hanging down past his shoulder blades and over his face. “They’re for foldin’ up and dancin’ on.” As the group drifted into “Viola Lee Blues,” the hangers-on in the wings started to dance, slowly gravitating toward the center of the stage, and some of the audience got up as well. Adler’s compulsive streak was really beginning to show. He was mad. Before too long he helped the stagehands hustle the dancers off, and the ushers did the same in the aisles. There was no resistance per se, but everyone was annoyed. The Dead looked as if they might leave the stage themselves. Then Peter Tork came on.

Tork, the ineffectual Monkee, had surprised everyone by emceeing part of Friday night and drawing a good many teeny shrieks. The surprise was because Tork had written a little thing in the program that began: “We wanted to do this Festival, only we’re in England now as the Festival goes on. We won’t even be able to watch.” But both he and Micky Dolenz (in an ancestral Indian headdress) were around all weekend doing their best to be likable. The Monkees have inferiority problems. Ever since their first album appeared with someone else playing the instruments, most of the people in rock have snickered at everything about them except their music. In San Francisco they are regarded as the height of L.A. plastic. “I was rapping with that guy backstage before,” a member of one San Francisco entourage said, handing me a joint as Tork waited for the audience to quiet. “His head is really nowhere.”

Tork’s mission was to quash a small riot. All weekend there had been Beatle rumors—their equipment was backstage, they were holed up in a motel, they were mingling incognito (“disguised as hippies,” Derek Taylor said). The Beatles are kings of the love crowd, and everyone wanted desperately to catch a glimpse of them. Now some kids were trying to get in backstage and hunt. Who better than a second-hand Beatle to stop them?

“People,” Tork said, “this is me again. I hate to cut things down like this, but, uh, there’s a crowd of kids—and this is to whom I’m talking mostly, to whom, are you ready for that?—and, um, these kids are like crowding around over the walls and trying to break down doors and everything thinking The Beatles are here….”

Phil Lesh could no longer resist. Lesh, The Dead’s bass player, is twenty-nine, classically trained, a Bay Area native, and there, right there, stood Los Angeles, this square, manufactured teen idol, the mouthpiece of safe and sane Adlerism, everything Lesh had hated all his life.

“This is the last concert, why not let them in anyway?”

“…and, um, last concert, all right, except that they’re trying to break things down, crawling over ceilings and walls and like, they think The Beatles are here and they’re not, you, those of you, they can come in if they want.”

“The Beatles aren’t here, come in anyway,” Lesh said.

There were cheers. Tork laughed nervously, mumbled, “Uh, yeah, there’s great things happening anyway. “

“If The Beatles were here they’d probably want you to come.”

“Yeah, except that, uh, just don’t, you know, bring down ceilings and walls and everything, and, uh, carry on.”

The cheering was for Lesh, and Tork knew it. As he limped off, crowds of non-ticket holders pressed through the rear gates and filled the empty field behind the stadium. The “Seat Power, We Love You” college kids did not try to stop them, and The Dead did the carrying on, much enlivened. By the end of the set Weir and Jerry Garcia were riffing back and forth in the best guitar-playing of the Festival.

It becomes clearer and clearer that the so-called psychedelic sound is moving toward jazz. San Francisco rock is basically Chicago and Texas blues plus electronic music, and Chicago blues is primitive jazz. Also, the structure of jazz meshes with the whole bias of the San Francisco scene toward “freedom.” The problem is that rock is much easier to play than blues and blues is much easier to play than jazz. Anyone can pick up an electric guitar and sound a few chords, but it takes real musicianship, not to mention a special kind of creative talent, to improvise melody. There was some good blues guitar at the Festival—Bloomfield and his replacement in Butterfield’s band, Elvin Bishop, were excellent. Dennis Gerrard of The Paupers and Jim Gurley of Big Brother played some good electronic stuff. John Weider of The Animals contributed a fine violin solo with “Paint it Black.” And that was it. Garcia and Weir were arresting, no more, but that was enough to make them the standout improvisers of the Festival.

But their performance was quickly obscured by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix is a Negro from Seattle who was brought from Greenwich Village to England by ex-Animal Chas Chandler in January. It was a smart move. England, like all of Europe, thirsts for the Real Thing, as performers from Howlin’ Wolf to Muhammad Ali have discovered. Hendrix picked up two good English sidemen and crashed the scene. He came to Monterey recommended by the likes of Paul McCartney. He was terrible.

Hendrix is a psychedelic Uncle Tom. Don’t believe me, believe Sam Silver of The East Village Other: “Jimi did a beautiful Spade routine.” Hendrix earned that capital S. Dressed in English fop mod, with a ruffled orange shirt and red pants that outlined his crotch to the thirtieth row, Jimi really, as Silver phrased it, “socked it to them.” Grunting and groaning on the brink of sham orgasm, he made his way through five or six almost indistinguishable songs, occasionally flicking an anteater tongue at that great crotch in the sky. He also played what everybody seems to call “heavy” guitar; in this case, that means he was loud. He was loud with his teeth and behind his back and between his legs, and in case anyone still remembered The Who, Hendrix had a capper. With his back to the audience, Hendrix humped the amplifier and jacked the guitar around his midsection, then turned and sat astride his instrument so that its neck extended like a third leg. For a few tender moments he caressed the strings. Then, in a sacrifice that couldn’t have satisfied him more than it did me, he squirted it with lighter fluid from a can held near his crotch and set the cursed thing afire. The audience scrambled for the chunks he tossed into the front rows. He had tailored a caricature to their mythic standards and apparently didn’t even overdo it a shade. The destructiveness of The Who is consistent theater, deriving directly from the group’s defiant, lower-class stance. I suppose Hendrix’s act can be seen as a consistently vulgar parody of rock theatrics, but I don’t feel I have to like it. Anyhow, he can’t sing.

The Mamas and the Papas, who can, provided the perfect anticlimax, a feathery landing back into the world of music, love, and flowers. (Oh yeah—music, love, and flowers.) Outfitted in royal robes, with Mama Cass fatter than ever in a shift—”Somebody asked me today when I was gonna have the baby. That’s funny”—and Philips beaming like the great father of his tribe, they bestowed their blessings on all of us. “Hasn’t this been something?” Cass began. “Something we can be proud of. Everybody. We’re gonna have this every year, you know. You all can stay if you want. I think I might.”

The act was familiar. “Straight Shooter,” “California Dreamin’,” “I Call Your Name,” “Monday, Monday.” Scott McKenzie came on and did Los Angeles’ version of the hippies, a top five song, “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” written by John Phillips, produced by John Phillips and Lou Adler. Then, “Dancin’ in the Streets”: “Philadelphia, Pee Ay/ Baltimore and D.C. now/ Don’t forget the Motor City/ Way down in L.A.,” and they cut it, and the Festival was over.

Thirty minutes later a dozen stragglers were still on the Fairgrounds, jumping up and down, or dancing, to a dozen different rhythms, or none at all. Others banged on trashcan drums. A cop approached warily and asked them to cool it.

“How come?” one of the kids asked. “We’re not hurting anyone.”

Uh-oh, the cop thought. He offered some dreary facts of life—people sleeping, maintenance crew had to work, etc.—and the kid thought for a second. The cop was still a cop, and he was afraid of trouble.

“I guess you’re right,” the kid said. Soon they had all gone.

Then there was aftermath. Mama Cass was right—the Festival was something for everyone to be proud of, even to the least teeny-bopper. The press was ecstatic, with the trades and underground and teen magazines and big city dailies echoing Newsweek: “They landed at Monterey last week and built a city of sound, a hippie heaven of soul and rock and blues and funk.” But no one stopped to wonder how soul and rock and blues and funk meshed with the “peace and acceptance” (Newsweek again) of Monterey. The new rock has very little of peace and acceptance about it. To the adolescent defiance of the Fifties has been added not only whimsy and occasional loveliness, but social consciousness and the ironic grit of the blues. The big beat has been augmented by dissonance, total volume, and a science fiction panoply of electronic effects. But the paradox is on the surface. Music is how the love crowd mediates with an unfriendly environment. And Monterey was their perhaps simple-minded stab at a replacement, a little utopia to show the bad old world it might be done.

But in Monterey, where the example should have had its strongest effect, a kind of post-hallucinatory reaction set in. Mayor Minnie Coyle had faced the press Saturday afternoon and told us our music was a pleasant surprise and our crowd just wonderful. Sunday Chief Marinello appeared and was even friendlier. He said he had “never encountered such peace-loving people” and planned to tour the Haight first chance. On Monday, after everyone had gone, Mayor Coyle announced that she had drafted a resolution for the city council. Its purpose: to prevent the State Fair Board from booking any event that would attract more than two thousand visitors without the permission of the city. In other words, no more Pop Festivals. A week later, Chief Marinello of the “Flower Fuzz,” inundated with thank-you letters, described his admirers as lawbreakers who had avoided capture and said he agreed with Mayor Coyle.

Personalities enter here. Mayor Coyle is said to be hurt because she wasn’t seated on the Festival Board (with Donovan and Jim McGuinn?). Marinello is a bit worried about his reputation. But while the only businessmen who oppose the Festival as a group are the bar owners, there is scattered opposition everywhere. Townspeople who hope the love crowd returns—and there are many—are sure the proffered excuses, which revolve in a narrow ellipse around lack of space and lack of kulchuh, are only covers for the real problem, which is style.

Especially if the difference between marijuana and alcohol is granted to be mostly a matter of legality and taste, style is the whole problem. The success of the Festival wasn’t merely a matter of love. Without organization—at once very tight and remarkably unautocratic, which is to say, intelligent—it might have been a shambles. The stage crew was the most efficient I’ve ever seen. The sound system was flawless. Head Lights, brought in from San Francisco to do the rear–projection light show, had prepared brilliantly. And Phillips kept every promise he made to the town. It was as if he and Adler and Paul Simon and all the others wanted to say: “See, you can have the best of both worlds.” When it came time to distribute the $200,000 profits, sentiments leaned not toward the Los Angeles Diggers, nor Monterey (which claimed $4,000 in unpaid traffic-control expenses outside the grounds—overbalanced, incidentally, by a record $18,000 in food-concession revenues) but to some kind of ghetto program. In the end a minimum of $50,000 went to the New York City Youth Board for guitar lessons in the ghetto. A tentative scholarship program for Negro music students was arranged with Atlantic Records and a sop for the Monterey Symphony Orchestra was considered. This from the dropout culture. It seemed an unspectacular end for all that lovely money.

But the love crowd doesn’t want anything spectacular. It just wants peace, tolerance, and the chance to work things out for itself. If Monterey doesn’t want the Festival, well, the Festival isn’t so sure it wants Monterey either. Repeating yourself is just a big drag, anyway. Entrepreneurs in the East are talking about holding their own Festival, in New York or Boston. Phillips has considered London and Stockholm. And Victoria, Australia, has offered to pay for everything if the Festival will come to Melbourne next summer.

It won’t be Monterey over again. The love crowd may never come together again. But something will happen, which is all that matters.

Reprinted from Esquire magazine, January 1968. Used by permission of the author.

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