The 1967 Monterey Pop Festival will never be duplicated. The original three-day event at the Monterey County Fairgrounds essentially invented the modern-day music festival and introduced iconic acts Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Otis Redding to the world. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the legendary event, California concert producers Another Planet Entertainment and Goldenvoice teamed up with the first fest’s organizer Lou Adler to pay tribute to the concert with a mix of 24 acts including three alumni from the original: Booker T. Jones, Eric Burdon, and Phil Lesh.
One of the most interesting aspects of the 2017 three-day celebration was watching how the various acts acknowledged the 1967 original. Dr. Dog’s impressively lively Saturday afternoon set ended with a hope to see the crowd again at the fairgrounds in 50 year, while Father John Misty, cast in a devilish red light on Friday night, sounded great but didn’t seem to tweak his set for the occasion.
The most exciting moments came when musicians nodded to the historic original and as several unexpected collaborations came together in wholly satisfying ways. Leon Bridge’s nailed Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” in a much talked about Friday night headlining set, while Nicki Bluhm was the perfect Grace Slick stand-in on Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” singing over the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s rumbling horns.
Saturday night headliner Jack Johnson truly got into the spirit of the celebration by dipping into snippets of Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker,” which prompted a sing-a-long. Even better was his set’s parade of special guests including Norah Jones on Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” Jim James on The Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon,” and G. Love with Donavon Frankenreiter on Johnson’s own “Rodeo Clowns.”
The other musical highlights could fill a small notebook and included Norah Jones’ stately version of “Ripple,” Jim James’ doing Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” Charles Bradley’s impassioned set, Gary Clark Jr.’s pedal inflected solo on “When My Train Comes In,” and Hiss Golden Messenger’s cover of the Dead’s “Brown Eyed Women” with impressively pealing licks courtesy of guitarist Josh Kaufman. There were so many great moments, but a true emotional peak occurred in the fest’s last hours when The Head & The Heart shocked the crowd by bringing out Michelle Phillips for The Mamas & the Papas, who performed at the original fest, for “California Dreamin.’” It was one of many moments that the crowd attending will likely never forget.