Monterey Pop Festival, Monterey County Fairgrounds, June 16-18, 1967. A melting pot of music ranging from blues, rock, folk, psychedelic, R&B, spoken word, and Indian ragas blends into one tasty musical stew that paves the way for all future rock festivals to come. Jefferson Airplane takes the stage, sporting paisley shirts and painted faces, while a lava light show morphs behind them. Grace Slick’s deeply hypnotic voice, Marty Balin’s sweet lyrics and Paul Kantner’s trippy guitars ensure that the group would become the poster group of the ’60s “Hippie Generation.”
Kantner, a founding member of the group with Marty Balin, and later co-founder of Jefferson Starship with then-wife Grace Slick, is the only band member to have appeared on all Jefferson Airplane/Starship albums, and today, at 69, is still going strong, getting ready to drop a new CD next spring. Kantner and Balin reformed Jefferson Starship in 1991 and continue to tour and record together.
His ties to Monterey Pop are legendary, but Kantner’s connection to the Peninsula goes back even further. As he recalls, “It was always a place for us to go. I was heavily influenced by John Steinbeck, so it was very inviting. When I was in my 20s, a friend who went to [experimental] Emerson College in Pacific Grove worked with me one summer at Ripplewood Resort in Big Sur. We ran their gas station, worked in the dining room, and took care of the cabins.”
Kantner attributes the free-spirited atmosphere at Monterey Pop to the style of San Francisco’s burgeoning music scene. “The Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and us would play for free all day long,” he says. “We’d bring our own sound systems, because back then people didn’t even have monitors. Bands like [us] were the [ones] who created them. [Famed LSD producer] Owsley Stanley also made sound systems…The Dead started using them and brought his monitors and speaker systems to other bands.”
When the scene of free concerts exploded and the “Summer of Love” mentality spread, music promoters took notice, leading also to Woodstock several years later. “…That eclectic idea… made [Monterey Pop] a great show,” Kantner says. “That whole weekend was just extraordinary.”
But much more than simply music was a whole new type of social experience, which, for better or worse, at the time was heavily drug dependent. Kantner says that drugs were not as big a deal as the media claimed, but one piece of the gathering that he says expanded creativity and awareness and even fostered environmental sensitivity.
“Monterey Pop exuded a really friendly vibe… everyone liked each other and supported each other,” he recalls. “So much was going on you could barely contain it all. We were in the middle of this huge rumbling of experiences…full of exciting things…We managed to play our music on acid, and it didn’t seem to inflict anything negative.”
Asked about today’s tunes, Kantner is adamant in his views. “I find it generic and all rather boring. I like to listen to The Weavers [with Pete Seeger] and Fred Neil.” Nor is he a big fan of computers. “I may just be an old person who doesn’t have time to sit at a computer all day. I’d much rather pick up my guitar and make real music.”
Will Jefferson Airplane ever get back together? Kantner muses, “Never say never. We said that once before and got back together for a summer in the late ’80s for one album and one tour. We’d previously said we’d never talk to each other again, and yet there we were…”