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The Untold and Deeply Stoned Story of the First U.S. Rock Festival

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P.F. Sloan
Helie Robinson

MIXING AND MINGLING 

With the absence of any formal backstage area, there was virtually no divide between fan and musician. Janis Joplin, two months before her studio debut with Big Brother & the Holding Company was released, hung out on the grounds with her friends in the Hells Angels. Sly Stone, then best known as a DJ on San Francisco's KSOL 1450 AM, took a break from recording Sly and the Family Stone's debut to check out the scene on Mount Tam. While the Grateful Dead were gigging for the first time in New York, Owsley Stanley stayed behind to bless any willing artists with LSD.

Barbara Losel (Attendee): I was 15. I remember watching the Doors and then just seeing them leave the stage and lay around on the grass with the crowd after they did their set.

Hirsch: Yeah, that was crazy to see the Doors just sitting on the grass eating their lunch. There was no real "backstage." 

Lawrence: We didn't have an artist entertainment area or VIP or anything. The artists just mingled with the crowd because it was a different vibe then.

Sloan: A lot of the artists would just go off with fans and sit under a tree and smoke a joint. But the next week [at Monterey], artists were sheltered from any interaction with fans whatsoever.

Jon Sagen (Stage Manager): Months before, we bought an old Mercedes bus that Lufthansa used to ferry pilots and crews to their planes. I parked it backstage at the festival and it became a dressing room and a place artists could go to if they wanted to be left alone.

York: Usually you don't go out to the audience at these things, but I remember just strolling around listening to some of the music. I remember listening to Dionne Warwick and thinking, "God, she is so talented."

Davis, Jr.: Man, I was out there mixing and mingling. I wanted to dance with folks.

Morton: There was absolutely no security. It was a plain wooden stage with no fence around it. We walked around to backstage and all the musicians were hanging out. The first thing we saw was David Crosby and Grace Slick sitting on the back of a pickup truck. Not having been to many concerts at 13, I didn't know what to expect, but even then, I remember thinking, "Wow, this is amazing." It was the hippie thing of no barriers or boundaries.

Mahler: There were no cops. I went to high school dances that were more heavily chaperoned.

Casady: When you weren't on stage, you became part of the audience. You weren't separating yourself as the "glorious performer." You were considered part of the community as the audience was considered a big part of your life as a musician. There was a mutual respect. People were really trying to put their best energy into this thing called "the community."

Kaukonen: When we played shows in the Bay Area, we weren't just performers, we were part of the audience. I remember just going out front to see the Doors play that day. I didn't walk around the front of Woodstock, but I walked around at Magic Mountain. I don't think you could've done that even two years later.

The Doors' eponymous debut album had been released five months prior to the festival, but despite a month-long weekly residency at the Avalon, this would be the first time many in the audience saw the band perform.

Miramon: I remember waiting for the band and hearing the scrambling of a Harley engine and seeing Jim Morrison brought on stage on the back of a motorcycle by the Hells Angels.

Hirsch: You couldn't take your eyes off of Jim. They didn't have a headline spot, but they were phenomenal.  

Paul Carlson (Attendee): I promoted concerts and took the Doors on their first tour of Bakersfield, Fresno and Sacarmento when they were just a frat boy band out of UCLA. When they did "Light My Fire" [at Magic Mountain], the place was mesmerized. Everybody just stopped whatever they were doing.

The Doors perform at Magic Mountain Festival.
Helie Robinson

York: I remember seeing the Doors and thinking it was more theatre than music. Jim was like Hamlet or Macbeth; he's created some kind of a character that generates this energy where people want to see what happens next.

Brown: Morrison had a freakish kind of stage presence compared to what we were used to seeing. They put on a show that had a much different element than any of the San Francisco bands.

Mahler: Morrison was young and slim and throughout the festival, they were the band everyone was talking about. They went from this cool band from L.A. to being right at the edge of being a phenomenon.

Mazza: I was 7 and got to walk up to the stage when the Doors were singing "Light My Fire." Even to this day, being that close to [Morrison] is my claim to fame. The energy in the crowd — I'm getting chills right now just talking to you about it — was unreal.

500 Greatest Songs of All Time: The Doors, "Light My Fire"

Sagen: The only asshole I ran into the whole time was Jim Morrison. I'm up there on the stage getting set up for the Doors and there's this guy on the stage while I'm trying to get stuff moved around with my team. I walked up and said, "Sorry, man, but could you please vacate the stage until we get set up? We got the Doors coming up next." He looked me straight in the eye and said, "I am the Doors" and just stared at me. It was so arrogant. Everyone else was like, "Let's be friends."

Selvin: Morrison was shit-faced drunk and there were these two poles on the corner of the stage that held lighting. He was swinging around it. One minute he was there, the other, he wasn't. He fell off the stage about 15 feet, but came back and finished the song like nothing happened. He was really drunk, and that was odd because we were all high and very tuned in to what we called "Juiceheads," people who drank. They were looked down on. Bad consciousness. 

(Below: Footage of the Doors at Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival)

Footage courtesy of Steve Brown

Brown: I shot some amateur footage of the Doors with my camera. Oliver Stone contacted me when Val Kilmer was preparing for [the 1991 film] The Doors and wanted to see performances of Jim. Val studied my footage from the band's Magic Mountain set to see some of Jim's moves. 

One week after Fantasy Fair, the music world looked 130 miles south to Monterey, California, where producer/impresario Lou Adler and the Mamas and the Papas' John Phillips were producing the Monterey Pop Festival. The festival attracted Jimi Hendrix, the Who and Otis Redding, among many others. Helped by the 1968 release of the Monterey Pop concert film, the festival quickly became one of the era's most enduring musical events. Rounds, too, hired a film crew to document Magic Mountain, but nearly all of the footage has been lost and virtually no audio of any of the performances exists.

Lawrence: My crew worked hard at putting up scaffolding, building and decorating the stage, putting up all those concession booths, et cetera. When Adler and Phillips came up to see our festival, they asked, "How did you get all this done? Would you bring them down to Monterey?" So we went down there and did the same thing.

Lou Adler (Monterey Pop co-producer): I don't know what Mel's talking about. I never went to the festival. If we had any conversations, it would've been about getting promotions on the station for Monterey. John and I didn't have any direct hiring of the people that built the stage. I'm not putting it down, but Monterey wasn't looking at Mount Tam and saying, "Let's do that, but do it better." Nobody ever said, "They're doing this at Mount Tam, why don't we do that?" 

The crowd watches as Country Joe & the Fish perform.
Henry Diltz

Casady: [Fantasy Fair] felt the most at home. Monterey was more something that came out of Los Angeles with big-time promoters.

Brown: These guys were coming up to exploit the whole scene and pump it up for the music industry by doing this "big deal" thing. They felt that they would set the landmark for what would be as far as commercial entertainment for rock & roll. That was looked down on [in San Francisco]; it was more about the audience bonding with the bands. 

Sloan: The Fantasy Fair fest was Tahiti. The Monterey Pop was Death Valley. Picture all the colors of Tahiti where your mind's getting blown and it's, "Oh my God, look at those colors." then Monterey, it's, "Oh my God. Is that dust coming in? Are there any flowers here? This place is a dust bowl with barbed wire fences." The beauty of the Fantasy Fair was that it was so innocent. It was the best of the love generation and it happened naturally and harmoniously. The Monterey Pop Festival was the first business aspect of it. "We're going to make a lot of money." You could see the dollar signs in their eyes.

Adler: P.F. Sloan is harsh about everything that's happened to him in life. A lot of people think that Monterey was beautiful, including all of the artists there. 

Nichols: Magic Mountain was a weekend that symbolized how we were and how we felt at the time. By the time Monterey comes around, now we're all feeling self-aware of how important we are.

Darrow: Monterey was the beginning of the end. Until that time, it was all West Coast and easygoing. After Monterey, all the guys I knew who were so laid back were thinking about their royalties and getting big cars.

Adler: Magic Mountain was the closest thing to Monterey, but the difference between us and them was that Monterey was the first major rock festival. It was the Monterey International Pop Festival. It just took it to a different level. But the idea that they pulled off two days of a lot of music — not necessarily historical or breakthrough music — but a lot of different genres, that's great. It didn't influence the way we did Monterey, but it certainly deserves a place in the history of music and music festivals.

Selvin: It was in a sense a little bit anomalous, and that's because these people weren't connected. They weren't part of that scene. As hip as they were for Top 40 guys, those cultures were still discreet at that point. In the coming months, Top 40 would become more underground and the underground would become more Top 40. But at that point, there was no underground radio outside of San Francisco. So it was a very advanced, little underground culture, and these guys were dabbling in this underground they weren't really quite hooked up with.

Lawrence: I think the basic thing was a consideration for the audience and realizing that there were other options than just sitting them down in a seat and watching a show. And you had to care for their welfare because you're the promoter. We came out of the Magic Mountain experience and brought that over to Monterey, Newport and the Miami Pop Festival in 1968. The same crew from the Miami Pop Festival went up and did Woodstock.

Lang: [Fantasy Fair's] reach was limited in terms of the impact it had, except for those of us who took it in as brain food and for that, it planted seeds.

Nichols: It was a real communion. It was the essence of the experience of being in San Francisco at that time. There was so much going on with bands getting signed and people moving around and we were all so young then. It was like a little moment captured in time; a moment where everybody stopped rushing around, getting their deal together or going to Europe and we were all there together at the top of that mountain. And we were all really stoned.

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