The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Contributed by Joe Knap, Bay High School, Bay Village, OH


The major rock festivals have been viewed as seminal mileposts of the counterculture era. Not only were there significant musical performances from the festivals themselves, but music was created before and after these concerts to publicize and commemorate the events. Further, full length movies of each festival were produced and now are readily available on video. Events such as Monterey Pop, Woodstock, and Altamont, although viewed in conflicting ways, have usually been invested with significant social, historical, economic and musical importance. While this unit may not resolve all the issues surrounding the festivals, a study of these famous gatherings can open a number of educational doors.


The student will be able to.

  1. Discuss how the festivals reflect their respective time periods and locations.
  2. Recognize how specific details Of the festivals lead to symbolic interpretations of the festivals’ significance.
  3. Draw social and economic inferences about the times from their knowledge of the festivals.
  4. Use viewing skills to compare and contrast the styles of the three movies and discuss how this affects our attitude towards the concerts.
  5. Employ literary analysis skills to identify the themes and tone of the songs written about the festivals and the songs performed at the festivals.
  6. Compare and contrast recent festivals to those of the 1960’s.


High school American Studies class

Time Frame

Two to three days up to two weeks, depending upon which activities are selected from the “Procedures” section.


Tape/CD player, tapes, CD’s and lyrics of selected recordings, VCR and videos of Monterey, Woodstock and Altamont festivals.


“Paraphrasing Don McLean’s religious metaphor in “American Pie,” the holy trinity of rock festivals are Monterey, Woodstock, and Altamont. Monterey is the father, for without it, none of the others would have been born. Woodstock is both the son and the holy ghost, because it inherited the mantle from Monterey, and seemed to save the (youth) world with its transcendent spirit. Altamont would then have to play the role of the devil, for which it was well suited.” -Francese and Soffell, From Tupplo to Woodstock: Youth, Race and Rock-and-Roll in America,1954-1969

Monterey International Pop Festival
Held June 16, 17, and 18, 1967, at the Monterey (California) County Fairgrounds, this was the first big rock festival. Total attendance over the three-day period was estimated at 200,000. The festival motto was “Music, Love, and Flowers” (100,000 orchids were flown in for the festival) and advertisements for the festival advised “substantial housing for every guest,” “Dress as wild as you choose. But remember that it’s sometimes cool in the evenings,” and “Bring the family. This is a Festival for all.” “San Francisco (Be sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” written by Papa John Phillips and sang by Scott McKenzie reached the Top 40 the week before the festival. Billed as a non-profit event, with pr going to various charities, the event was organized by Lou Adler and John Phillips. The performers, who played for free, represented a remarkable cross-section of new and established artists. The audience was treated to such diverse talent as The Association, Lou Rawls, Canned Heat, Country Joe and the Fish, The Steve Miller Band, Hugh Masekela, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Booker T. and the MG’s, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, The Grateful Dead, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Who, and The Mamas and the Papas. This concert marked one of the first times Otis Redding played to a white audience, and it was most Americans’ first time to see Jimi Hendrix and The Who’s extraordinary (and somewhat shockingly violent) acts. Bill Graham’s involvement brought together the San Francisco and LA. music scenes. With 1,100 media people invited to the festival, it’s not surprising that it was well chronicled. Additionally, the more-than-expected attendance at the festival insured that record companies would recognize the earning potential of this music. Many new groups, including Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, would be “discovered” here. The film crew missed Janis’ set, but the performance was so strong she was asked to do a second performance for the cameras. Jimi Hendrix and the Who tried to outdo each other with their stage theatrics. As John Phillips explains, “The Who knew how good Jimi was and wouldn’t be outdone, so they blew the entire stage up with bombs and fireballs and things. That’s why Jimi burned up his guitar...” The legacy of Monterey was assured with D.A. Pennebaker’s award winning film “Monterey Pop.”

The Woodstock Music and Art Fair
Held August 15, 16, and 17, 1969, Woodstock attracted between 400,000 and 500,000 fans to Max Yazgur’s farm at White Lake, (Bethel) New York. Although the location for the festival was changed, it had never been planned to take place in Woodstock. The name, however, evoked not only a rural atmosphere, but also was associated with a well-known artists’ community, and perhaps most importantly, the location where Bob Dylan had recuperated from his motorcycle accident. His collaboration with the Band at Woodstock resulted in “The Basement Tapes” and the “Music from Big Pink” albums. With many more fans arriving than expected or planned for, Woodstock was a potential disaster. Despite the rain, the lack of medical and security personnel, and the shortage of food, the crowd was well-behaved and despite three deaths, the overall impression of the event was that, as Max Yazgur said, a half million kids could have fun and music and “nothing but fun and music.” Woodstock was hailed as proof that the counterculture values, when put to the test in a large society (for the weekend, Woodstock was the third largest city in New York) were valid and possible. Like Monterey, Woodstock provided the opportunity for groups to become stars. Santana, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Joe Cocker were pleasant surprises for most of the audience. Other notable sets were performed by Richie Havens, Country Joe McDonald (the “Fish” cheer and “I Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag’ )Ten Years After, and Sly and the Family Stone. Jimi Hendrix closed the festival Monday morning with a set which included his famous version of the “Star Spangled Banner” By this time, however, most of the audience had left; only an estimated 40,000 witnessed his show.

Also like Monterey, the profits came from sources other than ticket sales. Both the triple album of the concert and the Michael Wadleigh movie “Woodstock” were highly successful. The Woodstock album has been called the soundtrack for that era, for the reputation of the event and the popularity of the album ensured that the music on the album would help define the artists. In addition to the movie, Joni Mitchell’s song “Woodstock” also performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, would commemorate the event.


The Rolling Stones, on tour for the first time in three years, decided to hold a free concert in San Francisco at the end of their American tour. Billed as a “thank you” to their fans, but also perhaps an atonement for charges of high ticket pricing, the Stones worked with the Grateful Dead to arrange the concert. Twenty-four hours before the concert, the location was moved to Altamont Speedway, forty miles east of San Francisco. The lineup included Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Dead, and the Stones.

“Security” was provided by the Hells Angels, reportedly in exchange for $500 in beer The vibes of Dec. 9, 1969 quickly turned bad as Hells Angels used cue sticks to beat fans who came too close to the hastily constructed, low stage. Lead singer Marty Balin, of the Airplane, was knocked out by Angels when he tried to intervene during a confrontation between fans and Angels. The Dead, who had ties with the Hells Angels, decided not to play. After a delay, the Stones took the stage. During the fourth song, “Under My Thumb” (following “Jumping Jack Flash” and an interrupted “Sympathy for the Devil") Merideth Hunter was stabbed to death in view of the stage after he started wielding a gun. Fearing what would happen if they stopped, the Stones continued their set, and then ran to a waiting helicopter and escaped. In all, four people died, the other three less violently.

There was plenty of blame to be distributed, but much fell on the Stones. Critics felt they were responsible for the hastily thrown-together event, the poor choice of security, and the dangerous atmosphere created with songs of murder and violence ("Midnight Rambler,” “Street Fighting Man,” and “Gimme Shelter” in addition to those mentioned earlier). The Maysles brothers’ film, “Gimme Shelter” delves into some of the issues, and includes footage of the murder, as well as shots of Mick Jagger later talking about the events.

While a December, 1969 event easily can be over-simplified as representing the end of an era, Altamont did seem to represent that. Noted rock writer Ralph Gleason called Altamont the end of rock innocence. The negative publicity from Altamont virtually ended festival-style concerts as the 1970’s began.


Teachers may select from the following approaches as appropriate for their objectives:

  1. Discuss, or have students research Monterey, Woodstock, and Altamont concerts and fill out “Festival Facts” sheet. From the data collected, have students discuss what made each festival special.
  2. Pass out the lyrics and play the songs associated with each festival (see background information) and have students evaluate how accurately these songs reflect their respective events.
  3. Distribute the lyrics to, “Woodstock” and “New Speedway Boogie,” and play the songs. Ask students to identify the themes from the songs and relate them to their respective festivals.
  4. View selected scenes from the three films of the festivals. Analyze the films for content, non-musical scenes, filming techniques, mood, and overall effect. Have students consider in what ways do the films confirm, conflict with, add, or change one’s view of each festival.
  5. After watching the videos, have students describe the audiences. Are there discernible differences between the three audiences? What role does the audience play in each movie? What elements of youth culture arc present in each film? What sociological Phenomena appear to be illustrated in each film?
  6. As historians viewing these documentaries of specific moments in history, what might we surmise about the era? Are these ideas consistent with other knowledge of the era? If not, what might account for the discrepancies?
  7. Discuss or research the after-effects, especially economically, of each concert in terms of future festivals, popularity of performers, and record sales.

Listen to the fifth stanza of “American Pie” by Don McLean:

And we were all in one place,
A generation lost in space,
With no time left to start again.
Come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick,
Jack Hash sat on a candlestick,
Cause fire is the devil’s only friend.
And as I watched him on the stage,
My hands were clenched in fists of rage.
No angel born in Hell,
Could break that Satan’s spell.
And as the flames climbed high into the night,
To light the sacrificial rite,
I saw Satan laughing with delight,
The day the music died.

Have students find the many allusions to Altamont.

“All in one Place”
Maybe Woodstock, more likely Altamont

“a generation lost in space”
References the Who’s “My Generation” and the 1969 moon landing

“Jack Flash”
Rolling Stones song “Jumping Jack Flash”

“the devil”
Mick Jagger ("Sympathy for the Devil")

“angel born in hell”
Hell Angels, the security force at Altamont

“sacrificial rite”
the stabbing of Merideth Hunter near the stage


The objectives for the unit and the procedures which were employed will determine the appropriate evaluation. The specific procedures suggest certain topics for written or oral expression. Other possibilities may include:

  1. Using the completed “Festival Facts” chart, compare and/or contrast two (or three) festivals in terms of specified criteria.
  2. Analyze the directing techniques used by any one of the directors of the films, or compare/contrast two different presentations of the festivals.
  3. Write a persuasion paper or editorial taking a stand on one of the following topics:
    • The Rolling Stones should be held accountable for the events at Altamont.
    • Woodstock Nation was a triumphant display of counterculture philosophy in action.
    • Monterey was the most “successful” or “authentic” of the counterculture festivals.
    • Altamont ended the 1960s in more ways than just its 12/69 date suggests.
    • Major rock festivals are accurate barometers of the youth culture.
    • Today’s festivals don’t measure up to those in the 1960’s.

Selected Recordings

The Monterey International Pop Festival, Rhino, 70596,

Woodstock, Cotillion Records, SD3-500

The Rolling Stones, Hot Rocks 1964-1971, London Records, 606/7

“New Speedway Boogie,” Grateful Dead, Workingman’s Dead, Warner Brothers, 1869-2

“Monterey,” Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Best of Eric Burdon and the Animals 1966-68, Polydor Records 849 388-2

“Woodstock,” Joni Mitchell, Hits Reprise 46326-2

Selected Videos

“Monterey Pop,” Rhino R3 2353

“Woodstock,” Warner Home Video, 13549

“Gimme Shelter,” Maysles Films, Inc. ABKCO, 1001-3

Museum Connections

In the ground-level psychedelic exhibit, the 1967 “petal’ contains memorabilia from the Monterey festival. The 1969 “petal” focuses on Woodstock with memorabilia, costumes, stage layouts, and memorabilia. The film “Feed Your Head” has footage and discussion about Monterey and Woodstock. The Rolling Stones exhibit, also on the ground floor, does not make specific reference to Altamont, but does include costumes and memorabilia from that time period.

“Now” Connection: Have students research more recent festivals. For example:

1970’s - Watkins Glen

1980’s - Live Aid, US Festival

1990’s - Woodstock 11, Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair

Include these facts on the “Festival Facts” sheet. Discuss the trends, similarities, and differences in more recent events compared to those studied from the 1960’s - 1969.

Enrichment/Additional Resources

The Monterey International Pop Festival box set includes a 96-page booklet with much information about not just the performers, but also the era, the behind-the-scenes planning of the festivals and excerpts of news stories following the concert. Other sources include:

Francese, Carl and Sorrell, , Richard S. From Tupelo to Woodstock: Youth, Race, and Rock-and-Roll in America 1954-1969. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1993.

“Let It Bleed.” Rolling Stone, January 21, 1970.

Santelli, Robert. Aquarius Rising: The Rock Festival Years, New York: Delta Books, 1980.

Spitz, Robert Stephen. Barefoot in Babylon: The Creation of the Woodstock Music Festival, 1969, New York: Viking, 1979.