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Tuneful trip down Monterey Lane

Many participants of the pop festival gather to celebrate the 40th anniversary.

July 21, 2007|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

Some leading pop figures of a generation gathered to demonstrate and discuss how music can be an agent of social change.

It wasn't the recent Live Earth concerts, the Al Gore-spearheaded events geared to boost environmental awareness. It was a reunion of some key figures of the Monterey International Pop Festival, convened at the Egyptian Theatre on Thursday for a screening of the "Monterey Pop" documentary and marking last month's 40th anniversary of the landmark music weekend. The showing came as part of the eighth annual Mods & Rockers film festival, kicking off a three-day retrospective of the work of documentary maker D.A. Pennebaker.

Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, whose then-husband, John Phillips, organized the Monterey festival with music producer Lou Adler, greeted guests in the courtyard before the screening, reminiscing on the festival's status as the template for all future rock festivals and the launching pad for Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Who to global superstardom.

"We were flying by the seat of our pants," Phillips said, noting that there was less than two months of planning before the event. "No one had heard of what we were trying to do. A pop festival? Let alone asking everyone to play for free?"

The charity aspect, she proudly said, launched the Monterey International Pop Festival Foundation, which still gives hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to music programs, free clinics and other efforts, ongoing manifestations of the social change symbolized by the event itself.

Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick held court, talking politics and culture and mimicking Paris Hilton with a jokingly coy pose for photographers in front of an exhibit of her paintings, many of them colorful impressions of those times.

"We weren't pushing any particular agenda," she said, when asked the difference between Monterey and Live Earth. "We were the agenda. You have to become what you're interested in promoting. We were just us."

Also mingling in the courtyard were Monterey veterans Dewey Martin (Buffalo Springfield), Russ Giguere (the Association), Larry Taylor (Canned Heat) and Jerry Miller (Moby Grape), and Owen Elliot-Kugel, daughter of Mama Cass Elliot, and Hendrix's sister Jamie.

Inside the Egyptian before the film showing, Mods & Rockers co-producer Martin Lewis moderated a panel of Adler, Phillips, Slick and Animals frontman Eric Burdon, then read statements from the Who's Pete Townshend and original Monterey board members Paul McCartney and Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham before introducing a "surprise" guest. Donovan strolled in with his guitar as Lewis explained that, though the Scottish singer was on the Monterey board and had been booked to play the festival, visa troubles because of a British drug bust prevented him from coming. So he "made up" for that with a spirited acoustic performance of his 1966 hit "Sunshine Superman" for the delighted crowd.

A Q&A with Pennebaker followed the screening, a lively discussion in which he revealed that much of the music that weekend was new to him and that he and his crew were very much improvising as filmmakers. And he laughingly stated that his only real memory of the logistics was breakfasts at an International House of Pancakes, each day trying a different color of syrup.

Then he and a few dozen of the participants repaired to a back room at the neighboring Pig & Whistle pub to continue chatting, with Miller playing a few blues numbers with a small band before Donovan and Burdon got up for a ragged-but-right jam on Donovan's "Season of the Witch," Burdon improvising a couple of verses in light of time passed:

"When I went to my doctor," he sang, making specific reference to his age, 66, "he prescribed me something rich."

Maybe he can talk to Al Gore about a concert for healthcare reform.

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