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"Turn It Up!": Monterey Pop Revived after 40 Years

"They got their money's worth": (L-R) Lou Adler, Michelle Phillips and Anthony DeCurtis chat Monterey Pop Tuesday at IFC Center (Photo: Chris Willard)

By Chris Willard

There wasn’t a stationary toe in the house Tuesday when The Reeler attended a 40th anniversary screening of D.A. Pennebaker’s landmark 1967 documentary Monterey Pop at IFC Center. The footage for the film was shot over three days at the Monterey Pop Festival in California, where rock legends Jimi Hendrix, The Who, the Mamas and the Papas, Janis Joplin and others donated their services for the non-profit fest. Music producer Lou Adler and Mamas and the Papas vocalist Michelle Phillips, who were both involved in the programming of the festival, stopped by the theater for a brief pre-screening discussion with Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis.

"There was a conversation that took place about two months before the festival -- a general discussion on the state of rock and roll being considered an art form in the same way folk music was and jazz music was," Adler said. "So when the possibility of the festival (became) part of the conversation between John (Phillips) and I and Paul Simon at Monterey, where there was a jazz festival and there was a folk festival, that in some way would validate what we were doing."

Before the film rolled, Adler and Phillips also discussed their experiences in organizing the festival, the featured rockers and the importance of the festival audience, which was a "very hardcore music group," in Phillips' words. "And they were there to hear the music," she said. "And that was really wonderful because they got such a diversity on that stage of wonderful music. They got jazz and blues and Ravi Shankar and Janis Joplin, who was the first white woman I ever saw singing black woman blues. They got their money’s worth.” Phillips laughed. “Six dollars and 50 cents.”

When the first notes were played during the film’s opening credits, the audience at the IFC Center made it known that they were ready to hear the music, with a man in the back of the theater yelling, "Turn it up!" The performances featured in the doc were still breathtaking after four decades, and Pennebaker perfectly balances shots of the audience and the performers, setting the mood for the festival. During Joplin’s performance of "Ball and Chain," reactions in the theater echoed those of the festival crowd when "wows" were voiced throughout the auditorium and viewers erupted in applause. One of the only visible differences was that fewer filmgoers appeared to be high at the time. The cheers continued when Jimi Hendrix did everything but actually stripping down and having sex with his guitar during Wild Thing, ending his set in flames when he took a bottle of lighter fluid and a match to his instrument before breaking it into pieces on the stage floor.

"Hendrix and The Who, both groups knew each other from England," Adler said. "They did, at the end of their acts, very similar (things) with the destruction of amps and guitars, and so the discussion backstage was on who was going to go on first. They both wanted to go on first. John Phillips' story is that he flipped a coin, and The Who won, and they went on first. But (The Who's Pete) Townsend, recently at South By Southwest I saw him, and he said actually he at one point just looked at Jimi and said, 'We’re going on first,' and Hendrix got up on a chair and said, 'That's fine. I’m pulling out all the stops.' "

Posted at June 6, 2007 8:36 AM

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