Festivals Then and Now: Lou Adler and Nic Adler Talk Monterey Pop and the Sunset Strip
The Adler posse knows a thing or two about the concert business. Lou Adler, the patriarch, is responsible for some of the great American cultural touchstones of the past 40 years, and a few of these moments are showcased on the wall of his home office in Malibu.
There's the movie poster for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a film he introduced to America as an executive producer. Next to it is a framed poster for Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke, another production deal he spearheaded. He oversaw the production of Carole King's Tapestry, one of the best-selling albums of all time. And then there's the poster for the D.A. Pennebaker rock documentary Monterey Pop.
The film captured the first-ever open-air American rock festival, the Monterey Pop Music Festival; Adler the elder organized the festival along with John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas; legendary Beatles publicist Derek Taylor; and producer Alan Pariser. Among the 32 acts performing over the three days: the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding (backed by Booker T. and the MGs!) and Ravi Shankar.
Four Adlers (l-r): Manny, Lou, Nic and Ike
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Lou Adler also opened Sunset Strip rock club the Roxy with the backing of Elmer Valentine and David Geffen. It's this business that Lou's son Nic Adler is in charge of. Adler the younger has been an integral force in turning the tide on the Strip, which, after the high times of the hair metal years, had fallen behind the Eastside and Hollywood clubs in drawing the attention of the musical masses. One piece of the puzzle Nic has been working on for the past year is the fledgling Sunset Strip Music Festival, which occurs this weekend and features some 50 bands playing stages both on Sunset Boulevard and in the many clubs that dot the neighborhood. West Coast Sound recently sat down at the Adlers' Malibu compound overlooking the Pacific and talked with Lou and Nic about Monterey Pop, the Sunset Strip Music Festival, and how the times have changed.
West Coast Sound: Lou, how did you get the word out about the Monterey Pop Festival in the weeks leading up to it?
Lou Adler: We advertised in Billboard and Cashbox, which were really big as far as publications went at the time. Each ran a free full-page ad for us. FM radio was just starting, especially in the San Francisco area, so we contacted FM stations. That was pretty much it. We had PR. Derek Taylor was the head of that. Because it was the first festival, and because it included the names that were going to be there, every publication that did anything about rock covered it.
Was this before Rolling Stone started publishing?
Lou: Just before Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner covered our attempt to do a second one, and that was in the first issue of Rolling Stone.
And what happened with the attempt to do a second one?
Lou: That's too complicated to go into. We did the thing before there were any rules and regulations. The city wasn't quite sure what it was going to be. After they saw what happened, they not only wanted to protect themselves security-wise, but they got greedy. All the prices went up. And it just didn't feel right at that point. We knew right away that we couldn't duplicate because the atmosphere was so different.
How many people were at Monterey Pop?
Lou: Probably 200,000 to 250,000 came to through Monterey, a big influx from San Francisco. We were in the middle of the Summer of Love, everyone was headed west, and they came through Monterey. It was a very strong stadium, actually. If we hadn't let the walls down - we could only seat about eleven or twelve thousand. But they were all over the fairgrounds, and we broadcast it all over the fair grounds. The fences came down at some point.
Was that a decision, to take down the fences?
Lou: A combination. The un-Grateful Dead were trying to do that the whole time. They took down part of it. Then we just decided that it was the right thing to do. It was a six dollar ticket.
That's a pretty good deal.
Lou: We stopped charging at a certain point.
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The atmosphere has changed now with the sheer volume of festivals.
Nic Adler: True, but I hear a lot of the same things for the Sunset Strip Music Festival that I'm hearing from my dad. The Internet is just finding itself as far as how to promote shows. We have print ads, and we have radio, but it's not as important as it used to be. So as things were happening and FM radio was finding itself in my dad's time, we're going through a similar thing. And at the same time, there are so many festivals and so many concerts. I think just this past weekend there must have been at least 150,000 [attendees] at concerts and festivals. For us, the way to get our message out has been to find new ways to do it, whether it's through the Internet or social media. It is a new time. And it is a new festival, and we're trying to explain to people that, yes, the actual Sunset Strip will be closed, and it is a festival that's more than you're used to [on] the Sunset Strip.
Lou: In comparison to the time when we did Monterey there were just three or four clubs in L.A.: the Whisky, the Troubadour, the Roxy, and one other I'm forgetting.
Have you given Nic advice on planning the festival?
Lou: No. I think it's by osmosis, actually. If he questions me, or if I have a thought about it, I'll share. But it's such a different time. I can give him ideas that relate to how I did things, but they don't always relate to the time.
Nic: But the idea does. Maybe not the way it's done.
Lou: Well, the biggest thing is, we gave away all of the money. Ours was a non-profit. That allowed us to get the names that appeared there. And billing. Nobody cared about billing or order. The only question that ever came up was Hendrix and the Who, between themselves, as far as who was going to go on, because they had some similar things - the destruction of the amps and those kinds of things. They knew each other from England. Most of these acts that we had hand not seen each other play. But other than the conflicts with San Francisco and LA - and that was much more on an executive level - as far as the artists were concerned, no problems as far as billing.
Nic: And this festival is on behalf of a non-profit, which is the Sunset Strip Business Association, but we are definitely in a different time. Bands are very hungry for money, there are so many shows out there, LA is a major market. I'm asking them to play in LA, and they're like, well, this is where we make our money, in this market. For us, it would be a little bit different if we were somewhere else not in a major market, and we could get some favors. But because people are basically saying, 'Hey, this is my big play, this is going to put us out of the market for a couple months. So you have to pay us.' But most of the bands have been good about where they play. The ones that get it are just happy to be on the festival. And then there are the ones who are trying to use it as a vehicle. And that's fine. It is a vehicle, and it's going to get the word out. But most understand that they either came from the Sunset Strip on their way up or on their way down, and they want to get back and be part of that.
Lou: The other thing is, we dealt directly with the acts. We didn't deal with any managers or attorneys. Well, we dealt with some managers, but we didn't deal with any agents. Either managers or the acts. And now you're dealing with attorneys and agents.
And you had a thick enough Rolodex to secure that roster?
Lou: Well, basically, artists and producers - Andrew Oldham, myself, John Phillips -- the board was all artists. So we were dealing with each other, a lot different than having to call an agency, who is not only concerned with that act, but also concerned with what other acts they could get on, and how to use it. There were none of those politics.
And what about programming the festival?
Lou: Well, we had three days to program, and it was the same way we booked the acts. We had headliners for the nights (the Mamas and the Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, and it was supposed to be the Beach Boys but ended up being Otis Redding) and then we tried to fill it in -- not with the same music but with different genres. We were trying to expose what rock & roll was really about at that time. It encompassed different kinds of artists, from Simon & Garfunkel and Otis Redding, to the Grateful Dead and the Group with No Name. That helped us, too. We didn't have to stay with a particular kind of music. We just exposed all the different music. I think it's a very difficult thing, what Nic's doing, as far as getting a lineup for one day.
Nic: The Sunset Strip, on any given night, you've got a hard-rock band at the Whisky, you have a pop band at the Roxy, you have a hip-hop act at the Key Club, you have a singer-songwriter happening at the Kat Club. And that was something we wanted to bring into the festival. When you look at the lineup, it all has some rock in its DNA, whether it's Korn or Schwayze or Pepper or Fishbone or the Donnas. What we've done is if you're a reggae fan, we're making sure that you can hit one stage at a certain time and see that reggae band, and then have enough time to run over to the Roxy to catch that other band, then run to the Whisky to catch another band, then get back to the main stage to see another band. We've tried to do it all in one day, where you get some movement and you're not having to stay at one stage. You have a little bit of that South by Southwest thing, where you might leave in the middle of the last song by a band so you can catch another band somewhere else.
That's a huge benefit, the ability to jump around rather than stand on concrete all day.
Lou: Logistically, we only had to deal with one stage, and we had 32 acts that we had to get on and off. But the audience was there.
The Sunset Strip Music Festival occurs on Saturday, September 12 at various locations along the Sunset Strip. For a full line-up, check here.
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