If there was one festival that spawned a plethora of incredible artists it was the Monterey Pop Festival…
The famous event saw the introduction of the unstoppable Janis Joplin as the leading lady of Big Brother and the Holding Company and, with it, the voice of her generation was given the stage she deserved.
The festival would see a range of some of the best musicians the world has ever known given their first taste of fame. The Who would find their feet across the pond with their performance, Jimi Hendrix would also gain the notoriety he deserved, Ravi Shankar also gained some American exposure. But there was only one performance which truly captured the burning intensity of the evolving counter-culture movement—Big Brother and the Holding Company with their diminutive lead singer.
The band’s debut record wouldn’t be out until August of that year but when the bubbling blues band left the stage on Saturday afternoon on June 17th, there wasn’t a member of the crowd who was left in any doubt: this band, and the 24-year-old Janis Joplin, were the real deal. Yet when they finished the set with their brilliant song ‘Ball and Chain’ to rapturous applause, one striking issue lingered.
The late D.A. Pennebaker, whose work as a documentarian for Bob Dylan and Ziggy Stardust puts him in the pantheon of great music filmmakers, had missed the show and the audience’s adoration. The group were therefore invited back to perform again on the Sunday of the festival (a pleasure no other act was afforded) and Joplin stepped up yet again to deliver an explosive performance.
Famed music producer and acclaimed The Rocky Horror Picture Show executive Lou Adler once said of the performance: “No one to that point had seen a White girl sing the blues like she sang it. And she was a tough Texas girl, she lived really tough, she drank tough, she did drugs, too many and too tough. But as a vocalist, her performance at Monterey was also one of the great concert performances of all time.”
The concert film, now part of the Criterion Collection, is one of the greatest concert films you’re ever likely to see. It shows not only the maturation of rock and roll to the standards of pop and jazz but the incendiary beginnings of one of the greatest voices rock and roll have ever known.
Watch Janis Joplin perform ‘Ball and Chain’ as part of Big Brother and the Holding Company’s epic set at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.