The Root of Rock Festivals

Music festivals are rarely perfect. In decades past, such happenings have been marred by violence and drug use. More recently, they have been planned and have not happened at all. But a half-century ago, music fans and musicians were new to the idea of bringing together a bulging roster of bands, adding culturally relevant attractions, and keeping the fun going for more than one night. In June 1967, the two festivals that have come to symbolize “The Summer of Love” began; at the end of it, more than 100,000 young people had raised their collective consciousness, and rock music, at risk of stagnation in some ways, found a means to reinvigorate itself.

The Music Mattered

It was the late 1960s, and America was at war with itself. There were Civil Rights marches, anti-Vietnam protests and various other civil upsets. Not all young people were pleased with the state of America. And the timing was perfect for rock and roll, no longer in its infancy, to speak out on behalf of the youth contingent that kept it going. Rock music infused with surrealistic themes encouraged listeners to go beyond the basic thoughts of their rational minds. Searing, chunking, wailing guitar riffs made history and changed the way Americans thought about rock music. Boundaries for expression were pushed and finally trampled. Bands like the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Rolling Stones, Big Brother and Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), the Grateful Dead, The Who, and The Mamas and The Papas, among many others, not only played for record numbers of people, but likewise broadened horizons. Note, also, that some bands that played at The Summer of Love also played at Monterey Pop. Two years before Woodstock, rock music was finding its own path to consciousness during the Summer of Love.

Two Festivals, One Cultural Happening

To clarify: There was a festival in San Francisco called “The Summer of Love.” Almost two weeks later, the Monterey Pop Festival was held at the Fairgrounds in Monterey County. Unlike the Summer of Love, Monterey Pop charged admission and the crowds were not as big. However, it did introduce the world to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Otis Redding among many others. The Monterey Pop Festival was where Hendrix set his guitar on fire. That flaming, iconic performance is seared in the memory of all those who have seen the footage.

Expressions of love and creativity did not stop Vietnam. There might be other notable effects from the Summer of Love, but for rock music fans, the framework that led to progressive rock, album-oriented rock and heavy metal was created during the Summer of Love. And so, the Summer of Love did not fail. Whether there were larger goals to be achieved or not, the Summer of Love allowed rock and roll to engage in the most American of activities—the act of reinvention.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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