When I think back on the 1967 "Summer of Love" it's amazing it could even be called that.
The first generation raised on television and rock 'n' roll came of age that summer and there was much for them to be negative about.
John F. Kennedy had been assassinated only 3 1/2 years before. A huge U.S. military buildup was underway in Vietnam. The antiwar movement was roaring. Martin Luther King Jr. urged massive civil disobedience and Stokely Carmichael was calling for a black revolution. Race riots erupted in eight U.S. cities. The Six Day War pitted Arab nations against Israel. China tested its first A-bomb while youthful Red Guards overwhelmed that nation in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Meanwhile, the youth of America were involved in their own cultural revolution, against traditional values and beliefs. The times, they were a-changin'. . . .
The Summer of Love obviously got its name from something else: the behavior of an alternative face, or counterculture. I became a part of it by co-producing the event that kicked off that summer, the Monterey International Pop Festival.
In early 1967, promoters Alan Pariser and Ben Shapiro proposed a two-day rock music event at the Monterey County fairgrounds. They booked Ravi Shankar and approached John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas. Because I was the group's producer and manager, John Phillips came to me.
He said it was to take place at the Monterey fairgrounds, home of the Monterey Jazz Festival. It brought to mind a recent conversation we had with Paul McCartney at Mama Cass Elliot's house about how rock music, for all its growing sophistication and creativity, was still not regarded as an art form like jazz.
John and I realized two things: One, the festival ought to have an international bill of the best performers from every pop genre, and two, no one could afford to pay them. The answer was to have all the participants donate their performances to charity. Shapiro was not interested in a nonprofit event, so John and I, Paul Simon, Johnny Rivers and Terry Melcher bought him out.
To validate what we were doing, we put together a board that included such names as Simon, McCartney, Brian Wilson, Donovan, Mick Jagger, Smokey Robinson and Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones. Although it never met, the board served its purpose.
We wanted not only to present the most amazing rock show the audience had ever seen, but to have the best of everything for the performers as well. We started by contacting artists in our own back yard on the Sunset Strip. Our office was the old Renaissance Club building, now the site of the House of Blues.
In late 1966, you could hear innovative L.A. bands on the Strip at nightclubs like the Whisky a-Go-Go, the Trip and London Fog. Foreshadowing the Summer of Love, the audiences were in love with love, as well as with marijuana and LSD. Youngsters mobbed the sidewalks wearing a strange and colorful potpourri of styles and accessories. The street was a two-way traffic jam from which arose a great clatter of tambourines.
It was an electric time and place. The Sunset Strip riots in November 1966 resulted in the classic Buffalo Springfield song "For What It's Worth," which announced that a generation was becoming self-aware.
From L.A., we enlisted Buffalo Springfield as well as the Byrds. Simon & Garfunkel and Otis Redding came aboard. Andrew Oldham and Paul McCartney brought us the Who and an unknown act called the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
John and I knew that in order to have a successful as well as a meaningful festival, we needed ground-breaking San Francisco groups like the Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother & the Holding Company (whose lead singer was Janis Joplin). The scene in San Francisco carried the mark of the colorful LSD commune of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. The center of the action was the 85-block Haight-Ashbury district, a ghetto taken over by a new breed called "hippies," and so-called "flower children."
San Francisco's bands had learned their trade at psychedelic street festivals, and concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom. They were suspicious of anything from L.A., and it didn't help that John and I had recently produced Scott McKenzie's hit, "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)."
With just six weeks to go, we flew to San Francisco to meet with representatives of the city's groups. They besieged us with what we considered counterproductive demands and threats of an "anti-festival." We respected that they knew things about the area and lifestyle that we didn't, so we listened and learned. Although obstacles remained, San Francisco's Ralph Gleason (the first member of the daily press to report on pop music) and promoter / Fillmore owner Bill Graham finally surrendered enough approval that we were able to sign the San Francisco groups.