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Monterey Pop 50th anniversary party a love-filled success

A fan dances as Hiss Golden Messenger performs during the Monterey International Pop Festival 50th anniversary celebration at the Monterey County Fairgrounds and Event Center in Monterey on Sunday, June 18, 2017. (Vernon McKnight/Herald Correspondent)

Monterey – Over three days at the Monterey County Fair & Event Center, another chapter in the history of the Monterey International Pop Festival was written. “It Happened in Monterey” has a deeper meaning than it did before.

Twenty-four bands took to the historic stage where, in 1967, Jimi Hendrix played like a demon and burned his guitar, Otis Redding turned on the “Love Crowd” to his intensely delivered soul music, and singer Janis Joplin, who delivered a second performance that she wanted included in the film “Monterey Pop.” With that second performance she now lives on forever.

The 50th anniversary Monterey International Pop Festival had an overall solid lineup, and some artists brought their best performance, but at the time of this writing Sunday afternoon no real barn-burning moment had occurred. Performances that stood out came from Leon Bridges, Father John Misty, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Jim James, and Jamtown featuring Cisco Adler, Donavon Frankenreiter and G. Love. This is all up for debate, of course, and debates did happen quite a bit over the course of the festival.

What was really special were the tributes that were sprinkled throughout the festival. Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” got two renditions delivered. Eric Burdon did his “Monterey,” although in a way that didn’t really deliver the punch of the original recorded version. ALO did The Who’s “My Generation,” which James was expected to do, but he decided “For What It’s Worth” was a better choice. Nikki Bluhm delivered Jefferson Airplane’s two biggest hits to end her set with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit.” Mostly the classic songs were received warmly by the crowds assembled to celebrate the history, enjoy the music and have a great party.

Saturday brought out the biggest crowds pretty much all day, although Sunday was catching up when the culminating bands’ countdown to the end of a really fun weekend filled with sunshine, smiles and intoxicating music.

Jack Johnson’s end-of-day performance had the biggest crowd, the arena floor filled to the back and the seating surrounding it maybe three-quarters filled. Smoke rose in the air and Johnson’s soothing voice and warm delivery brought everyone together in a loving way. He brought on guests like Norah Jones, G. Love, James and Frankenreiter, making unique memories and a heightened sense of surprise. He closed out Saturday’s lineup with a couple of songs performed solo with his guitar.

This festival was a great idea to celebrate a piece of history that Monterey can claim as an important moment, not only in the development of culture and music festival form, but as something that strangely enough is now codified as almost ancient history. Fifty years doesn’t seem that long ago to those who were at the original festival, but for the young music fans who constituted the majority of the audience, it was a time to connect to the seed of what has blossomed into what can be considered as mainstream culture, at least here in California. The sun shone down on the proceedings, anointing it with a positive vibe and an excuse to wear summery colorful bohemian clothes.

Whether there will be another festival like this remains a mystery. No one was willing to go down that road, joking that perhaps in another 50 years they could do it again. There certainly are plenty of people who would like to see that happen.

Without firm numbers available at press time, it’s difficult to assess whether financial goals were met. Other than the inevitable complaints heard in how the festival was run compared to what locals are used to in all the other festivals put on here in Monterey, most people appeared happy and were having a great time.

Posters, photographs, a film, the museum exhibit chronicling the development of the ’60s culture and the Monterey Pop Festival’s part in it has been firmly established and brought to those who attended over the weekend. Lots of locals came out to touch base with that history and be a part of the continuing history. Word has it a permanent museum could be established, and perhaps there will be a strong swell of support to elevate further the status of Monterey as being a music town on par with others like Austin and Nashville.