50 Years After the Monterey Pop Festival, Photographers Share Stories About the Coachella of Its Day

Janis Joplin by Elaine Mayes.jpg
Photo by Elaine Mayes, courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Long before the hullabaloo of Coachella, Governors Ball, Fyre, and even Woodstock, the Monterey International Pop Music Festival marked the “Summer of Love” in 1967 California. Ticket prices ranged from $3 to $6.50 to see the first major American appearances by Jimi Hendrix and The Who, as well as the first large-scale public performance by Janis Joplin and the introduction of Otis Redding. Of the estimated 25,000-90,000 people who attended—a mix of musically-inclined college kids and flower crown-wearing hippies—no one was arrested. Yet marijuana and LSD were passed around freely, according to the photographer Elaine Mayes who was on the ground that weekend. Despite the fact that the festival was the first of its kind, and would go on to inspire decades of musical events, it is still perhaps the least known. Thanks to the Morrison Hotel Gallery, though, for the 50th anniversary of the festival they’ve collected iconic images by photographers both backstage and in the crowd. You can see moments like Pete Townsend smashing his guitar and more in person at 116 Prince Street in New York City as well as the Sunset Marquis Hotel gallery in Los Angeles starting today.

Festival crowd photographed by Henry Diltz

“These are all young concert goers waiting for the doors to open and the music to start. It was a mixed crowd—not like the tie-dyed hippies at love-ins, but more college-type crowd. This was the meeting of the San Francisco music people and the Los Angeles music people. All the bands in SoCal had never seen the S.F. jam bands and vice versa—they’d only heard about each other. It was a good meeting; everyone got along great and we all expanded our musical horizons.” — Henry Diltz

Janis Joplin photographed by Elaine Mayes

“Janis was known in San Francisco—she lived nearby in the Haight. But no one except for the people from San Francisco knew anything about her. I knew she would be a huge hit, and I was right. Big Brother performed twice, and everyone was stunned. Mama Cass just sat in the audience with her mouth open in astonishment.” — Elaine Mayes

Jimi Hendrix photographed by Henry Diltz

“Backstage, which was actually underneath the stage, Jimi Hendrix was sitting and eating fried chicken and waiting. His set wouldn’t start for a few hours. Behind him are John Entwistle, the bass player for The Who and Noel Redding, the bass player for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. This was my first time meeting and working with Jimi. He was a quiet and shy guy, the total opposite his stage presence and his music. He played the guitar in a way that no one else can or will. He could make it talk. Being there, watching him play, we were witnessing something no one had ever seen before—a kind of music that was a brand new sound. I was amazed. He wasn’t imitating anyone; he was a true original.” — Henry Diltz

Otis Redding photographed by Elaine Mayes

“Otis Redding was amazing. Most folkies and rock people had never heard of this Motown wonder. The audience stood up, and Otis told them to sit down because he could not perform unless the audience behaved. His blue suit seemed out of place, but no one cared.” — Elaine Mayes

Policeman photographed by Elaine Mayes

“On Sunday, I saw a policemen stringing orchids on their antennae. They didn’t arrest anyone during the festival because the crowd was so peaceful, and this gesture meant that they were in accord with the thousands of people attending. I heard later that there was no alcohol at the fairgrounds, which was no surprise to me because the hippie crowd didn’t drink. Smoking pot was everywhere, and no one cared. LSD was around, too, but it was available mostly to the musicians and their close crowd.” — Elaine Mayes

Nico photographed by Elaine Mayes

“Nico was in the audience, next to Brian Jones. The musicians sat in the audience when they were not performing; everyone sat next to everyone else. If you got into the festival, then anything could happen in terms of musicians you could see and photograph. At first, I wanted to photograph backstage, but once the music started, I discovered that seeing the performers was what I really wanted to do. So, I stayed put in the Press Pit in front of the stage. Nico was no more than six feet away from me.” — Elaine Mayes

The Who photographed by Henry Diltz

“The Who made their first major American debut appearance at The Monterey Pop music festival. We had all heard about The Who smashing their instruments at the end of their shows, but no one in the U.S. had ever seen it until this moment. We couldn’t imagine what this would look like. I was standing in the wings when they finished their set, and suddenly all hell broke loose and pieces started flying. I watched in amazement through my camera lens as instruments were flying through air. It was like a kind of a musical orgasm. Pete Townsend, who has his back to us in this photograph, is pounding his guitar onto the stage floor. Then, he attacked his amplifiers with it. In the next moment, after this frame, Keith Moon kicked his drum kit all over the stage. The guy on the left is the sound engineer trying to rescue the expensive microphones.” — Henry Diltz