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9 p.m. Saturday, June 16
This superb installment of the “VH1 Rock Doc” franchise from producer-director Erik Himmelsbach returns us to the weekend of June 16-18, 1967, and the legendary Monterey Pop Festival, which somehow pales historically beside the notorious Woodstock but was at least as musically and culturally significant. Looking 40 years into the rearview mirror, the first of the gargantuan rock/pop happenings proved a seminal moment for the emerging drug culture and exploding underground music scene.
“Monterey 40” gathers many of the survivors (including David Crosby, Grace Slick and promoter Lou Adler) for interviews that, paired with the abundant footage, weave a vivid tapestry of images that do the event — and the era — full justice. At the same time, the docu spells out the values war that had erupted between the music acts based in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In a time of such conservatism, intolerance and apathy, this hour feels less like climbing into a time machine than witnessing the social tsunami of a different planet entirely.
The bill of acts that played that weekend at the Monterey Fairgrounds reads like a musical hall of fame: Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Mamas and the Papas, the Jefferson Airplane, Simon & Garfunkel, Otis Redding, Big Brother & the Holding Company (headed of course by the wailing Janis Joplin), Country Joe and the Fish and Eric Burdon and the Animals. Joplin and Hendrix were still relative unknowns who used the festival as their own personal coming-out party. But at least equal to the bracing performances was the open consumption of weed and acid — the LSD use so prevalent that a “bad trip tent” was set up on site.
But despite the presence of cops in riot gear, Monterey Pop never veered out of control, proving a peaceful, eccentric affair that helped define a distinctive period. The fine “Monterey 40” brings it all back in style.
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