Monterey, California, might not be thought of as a hotbed of rock music but the coastal NorCal city played an important role in the genre’s history. In June 1967, the three-day Monterey Pop Festival featured the first major American performances by future rock legends Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and The Who. It was seminal moment in the Summer of Love, and the festival’s multi-day, destination format would be duplicated to much greater fanfare two years later with Woodstock.
Nearly a half-century has passed since the Monterey Pop Festival and now a new generation of concert promoters are looking to reclaim the cities rock history by staging a new festival on the same grounds. The First City Festival -- scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 23 and 24 -- will feature headliners Beck and The National, along with a host of other indie favorites, including Phantogram, Best Coast, and CocoRosie on Saturday, and The Naked and Famous, Cults, and Future Islands on Sunday.
The impressive lineup illustrates the changing face of rock music in the 50 years since The Beatles exploded onto the U.S. charts in 1964. While the dramatic sweep of The National and the fuzzy garage pop of Best Coast are relatively straightforward in their appeal, many of the other artists scheduled to perform meld a rock sensibility with thoroughly modern production techniques, be it the programmed beats meets guitars of Phantogram or the dynamic synth-rock Future Islands.
No one epitomizes the malleability of modern rock better than Saturday’s headliner, Beck. In the 20 years since he released his “Alternative Nation” classic Mellow Gold, Beck has evolved into one of the premiere songwriters of his generation. His most recent album, Morning Phase, has several songs that immediately sound like longtime standards, and its pristine production emphasizes the live instrumentation. Yet Beck has managed to remain a vibrant and compelling artist thanks largely to his ability to navigate and synthesize disparate styles (hip-hop, soul, tropicalia) into his music, which is built on a foundation of singer-songwriter folk.
So it goes with many of the other artists on the bill. While most fall under the umbrella term “indie” (an admittedly ambiguous designation that’s reached the same threshold of ubiquity that “alternative” occupied in the ‘90s), their common denominator is live band instrumentation, rather than sound. With electronic elements encroaching on the territory once held exclusively by guitars, drums and bass (with the occasional keyboard), the term “rock” is becoming as outdated and loose-fitting as, well, indie or alternative.
Ultimately, rock, like all music-based jargon, is more of a descriptor of attitude than style. After all, to those whose eardrums were scorched by Pete Townsend’s fiery riffs, the name of the Monterey Pop Festival didn’t quite jibe either.
Single day and weekend tickets to the First City Festival are available. And, check out Beck’s video for the totally rocking (and Beastie Boys-sampling) “E-Pro” above.