Thursday, September 15, 2022



There were two legendary outdoor rock festivals in 1969. In August, there was the out-of-control, soggy, mystical mess known as Woodstock. And in December, there was Altamont, the anti-Woodstock, featuring not only music, but also paranoia and murder, courtesy of the Hell's Angels. In between these two events, there was another, lesser known, communal gathering called Big Sur Folk Festival. It was held on the grounds of the Esalen Institute, a non-profit organization specializing in humanistic, alternative education. The festival wasn't a one-off production like Woodstock and Altamont. Esalen sponsored folk festivals from 1964-1971.

There were other details that set the Big Sur fest of 1969 apart from the other aforementioned gatherings. Approximately 10-15,000 people attended Big Sur, as opposed to over 400,000 at Woodstock and over 300,000 at Altamont. Big Sur was well-organized and had all of the necessary facilities and human comforts. In plain English, there was plenty of food and water. And restrooms that worked.

The documentary film showcasing the festival was directed by Baird Bryant and Johanna Demekrakis. It wasn't released to theaters until 1971, whereas the films about Woodstock and Altamont were both released in 1970. CELEBRATION AT BIG SUR focused on the musical performances, but also featured scenes of the mostly young, hip crowd enjoying themselves. Since Big Sur wasn't a qualified disaster like the two more famous rock festivals, there was no serious drama or hardship to document. It had more in common with the beloved Monterey Pop Festival of 1967 and the excellent film it inspired. 

John Sebastian, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, and Stephen Stills

The list of musicians was quite impressive. Joan Baez had appeared at most of the Esalen Folk Festivals. The film opens with her stirring rendition of I Shall Be Released. Other highlights: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young perform Sea of Madness and Down By the River. Stephen stills goes solo with 4 + 20 and jams with John Sebastian on Mobile Line offstage. Joni Mitchell sings her song Woodstock and joins with Crosby, Stills & Nash and John Sebastian for Get Together, the anthem of peace and love in the 1960's. Dorothy Combs Morrison (One of the lead singers in the Edwin Hawkins Singers.) and the Combs Sisters sing their single All of God's Children Got Soul. The sound quality of the musical performances is first rate. John Sebastian goes solo with Rainbows All Over Your Blues.

The only moment of discord in this laid-back film occurs when a man starts heckling Stephen Stills when the artist is trying to perform. Since the sound quality of conversations isn't nearly as good as that of the music, I wasn't able to make out what the guy was saying. but the altercation turns physical when Stills throws a punch. Who knew Stills had it in him? But in no time, the atmosphere of peace and love is restored. This very enjoyable film concludes with everyone clapping their hands together and singing Oh Happy Day. There were no rainstorms, no mud slides, and even the police were having a good time. Maybe it was all that fresh mountain air. Whatever the case, this film is a loving look back at some of the positive things about the culture of the 1960's. And, as a huge fan of CSNY, it's wonderful seeing the guys young, healthy, and getting along with each other!


  1. Hi Mike. Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. I never saw it before. I imagine you have a DVD that now appears to be OOP and unavailable at least on Amazon. No streaming services but youtube had a version that was at least watchable. Great seeing how youthful everyone looked. Joan Baez especially and her amazing voice. And with sister Mimi recently widowed from Richard, they had a folk duo themselves.
    I was a big folk music nerd in the 60s. Do you remember Hootenanny every Saturday night on ABC? Never missed it. While checking the credits (and discovering that almost everyone is still with us) I saw Gram Parsons listed as uncredited. I didn’t spot him. He is one of my all time favorites- Wild Horses for the Rolling Stones, Hickory Wind when he was with The Byrds, amazing albums with The Flying Burrito Brothers, then his solo albums many duets with Emmylou Harris. And before CSN&Y we had Buffalo Springfield with Stills and Young. You again have jarred my memory bank. Those days are more vivid to me than last month! Great entry.

  2. Thanks for the great comments, Roger. My copy is from They have a long list of obscure titles that may not be available from other sources. A lot of their titles are copied from VHS and some have been recorded from television. I have several shelves of their DVD-Rs. The quality can vary, but most of the time I've been quite pleased. This film is very watchable. No, I'm afraid I don't remember Hootenanny on Saturday night. When I was a kid, ABC didn't come in very well, only when the wind was blowing in the right direction! My dad saw to it that we were a CBS family. Every once in a while we MIGHT switch over to NBC. PBS? Forget it. I don't know very much about Gram Parsons or the Flying Burrito Brothers, but I do love Buffalo Springfield. I'll explore Parsons' music on Youtube. I've probably heard a lot of it over the years but wasn't aware of the artist. I love folk music as well. Judy Collins was always a big favorite, and I saw her in concert back in 1976. Thanks again, Roger, for taking the time to visit my blog. I really appreciate it.