The Complete Monterey Pop Festival (Criterion Collection Blu Ray/DVD 2017)
Readers of this website likely don’t need to be told what the Monterey Pop Festival is. The three-day musical extravaganza that ushered in the Summer of Love is considered by many music heads to still be the most memorable event of its kind. Papa John Phillips, Lou Adler and other festival organizers were after nothing less than including a vast, diverse collection of performers who, all put together, summed up the finest in psychedelic rock, blues, folk, pop, soul, raga, etc. etc. of the heady times. It’s easy to think of some acts who weren’t on the bill that would have made it better – Love, Judee Sill, and James Brown come immediately to this writer’s mind – but it’s hard to find fault with the roster of acts that were on hand.
Documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker was in attendance to shoot the festival, and in its aftermath put together a 79-minute feature, which was released in ’68. Some might have quibbles about which band/song selections Pennebaker included in the movie. But just about anybody would have to agree that he captured the essence of the event via his documentary. And, fantastic as some of the musical selections are, among the most enjoyable moments of the film are the parts where we see and hear various, random festival go-ers who, in their looks and the things they say and the ways they respond to the sounds, put the viewer squarely in the time and place as much as does the music. Enjoyable as it is to watch the film on disc, it makes you long to be in 1968 and seeing it at a drive-in theater, preferably while stoned.
Criterion Collection is noted for the extras they include with their film reissues, and this deluxe package is overflowing with bonuses that will thrill anyone interested in Monterey Pop and/or the music and culture of youthful late 1960s in general. The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Otis Redding put on utterly electric performances at the festival, of course; this release contains separate mini documentaries about their sets. For anyone unsatisfied with the choices and/or amount of artists and songs exhibited in the main film, there’s a separate disc here that contains over two hours’ worth of music not included in Pennebaker’s original release. There’s also a 70+ page booklet that has tons of Monterey Pop pictures, as well as essays by music journos such as David Fricke and Barney Hoskyns.
Ok, I have to stop writing now. I’m watching the bonus performances as I type, and The Byrds just came on and launched into “Chimes of Freedom.” Full attention required.
- Brian Greene
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