It’s hard to imagine a time when no one really knew Jimi Hendrix. But the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival was that time. When Hendrix took the stage that summer, he hadn’t made his mark on the American music scene.
That all changed when he finished his set with his song "Wild Thing." That’s when Hendrix became a legend for lighting his guitar on fire.
Janis Joplin was another big name who was virtually unknown until she made her appearance at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey. She blew the audience away with her band Big Brother & The Holding Company.
Many of the musicians went on to become superstars, if they weren’t already. The lineup for the three-day celebration of rock ‘n' roll included The Mamas & the Papas, Grateful Dead, The Who and Otis Redding.
Monterey Pop also became a model for future festivals like Woodstock and Coachella. It was a one-time event -- until now.
The 50th anniversary will be celebrated with a return of the Monterey Pop this weekend, June 16-18.
Penny Vierrege attended all three days the original festival in 1967.
“It had the cream of it all. L.A., England, San Francisco, and there was just so much love. So much incredible love," she says.
She remembers booths selling crystals, strangers handing out flowers and a man and his pregnant wife who set up a teepee in the middle of the fairgrounds.
“Mostly I was wandering around stoned, you know, appreciating everything,” says Vierrege.
Her late husband, Paul, was stage manager of the event. She says she generally stayed in the audience.
“Well I’m sitting there watching all of these chickies hanging from the set and around and stuff like that, all the followers. And I said to my husband, on Sunday afternoon, I’m going to be on that stage. Ravi is my man, and I’m going to be as close as possible,” she says.
Vierrege, now 88, lives in Big Sur. She pulls a record off her shelf. It’s "Live: Ravi Shankar at the Monterey International Pop Festival." The album cover has faded with time, but there she is in the corner practically on stage.
Also in the audience throughout the three-day festival were the performers themselves.
“There was no social media before that, so a lot of these performers had never spoken to or seen a performance by the other artists,” says Lou Adler, one of the co-producers of the original Monterey Pop.
The idea behind the event was to bring respect to rock 'n' roll as an art form. And it did that. Adler says after all these performers got together they were empowered.
“Up until that time, the record companies pretty much dictated how many albums you would do, what the cover would look like, how it would be marketed. That all changed after Monterey."
He says right away they knew it was such an iconic event that it could never be repeated.
That said there are connections between 1967 and this weekend’s Monterey International Pop Festival.
Eric Burdon and the Animals -- who also played at the original festival -- take the stage on Friday.
Norah Jones will perform Saturday night; she’s Ravi Shankar’s daughter. And Phil Lesh from the Grateful Dead, which also played the original Monterey Pop, will close out the show Sunday night.
There are unfamiliar names in the lineup too. Perhaps, 50 years from now we’ll be amazed that they were once virtually unknown.