Laura Nyro’s Monterey Pop Performance Lives!
One of music’s greatest concerts includes a controversial performance by one of music’s greatest singer / songwriters!
Welcome To Monterey Pop!
First, let’s remember what an amazing music event Monterey Pop was. This legendary California music festival was actually pre-Woodstock – it was held at the height of the “summer of love” in 1967 – and it is perhaps most well-known for launching the careers of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Mama Cass of The Mamas & The Papas is shown in the film being blown away while watching Joplin sing.
Among the incredible performances at the event are those by The Who, Buffalo Springfield, Otis Redding, Jefferson Airplane and Simon & Garfunkel. The resulting documentary is a perfect time capsule of the the “summer of love”, and a great look at the greatest artists of that time…
The concert was captured in a classic documentary – with all of the performances, the personalities, and the hippie “flower power” of the time…and of course, all of the music….well, not quite:
Laura Nyro’s On The Cutting Room Floor!
As amazing as the documentary “Monterey Pop” is in capturing this seminal music event, they left this brilliant singer/songwriter out! Let’s look at what happened, and the fascinating myth behind it:
In 1967, Laura Nyro was one of the hottest new talents in music. Still, she was making only her second major live appearance at Monterey Pop. Laura performed “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Poverty Train” and “Eli’s Coming”…yes, she wrote the song turned into a #1 hit by Three Dog Night! Nyro performed the three songs, but here is what they say on The Criterion Collection blu-ray about what happened next:
“Not all of the amazing acts from the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival made it into the final cut of D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary Monterey Pop. Among the casualties was Laura Nyro, who gave one of the more notorious performances.”
Why Notorious? The Myth Uncovered!
According to Criterion, a myth has built up that, after performing her three songs, Nyro left the stage in tears, convinced she had been booed — even though this has been disputed over the years! The great news is that her performance has been restored! In this footage from her set — included in the two hours of outtakes in the blu-ray collector’s edition of the documentary, you don’t hear any boos – and Criterion points out that, if you listen closely, you hear a “Beautiful!” or two from the audience!
The Legend Grows…
Over the years, the legend grew that Laura was booed off the stage at Monterey. This was widely reported in the biggest music magazines, like Rolling Stone at the time – and the myth stuck! Amazingly, it was even mentioned in several of Nyro’s obituaries after her death in 1997.
Judge for yourself! Here is one of her GREAT performances from the Monterey Pop Festival:
No Charge Singing!
One last piece of trivia from IMDB: “Most of the artists played for free and were only paid for their expenses – the only performer who was paid for his performance was Ravi Shankar. When John Phillips and Lou Adler took over the promotion of the festival from the original promoters, they decided to honor Shankar’s original contract.”
So Laura probably sang for free, got a warm reception, but the myth lived on! And, according to the film maker, Nyro may have had a hand in that!
This is fascinating to me: even though this myth stayed with Laura her entire life, the footage of her performance now seen on the blu-ray release shows that the singer clearly received a warm round of applause from the audience. Perhaps the fact the performance didn’t make the original theatrical cut allowed the myth to flourish….
And, As For Laura’s Role In That…
According to the Criterion Collection blu-ray, the documentary’s Director, legendary film maker D.A. Pennebaker believes Nyro imagined the negative reaction, and may have even helped spread the rumor herself. They don’t give an example, so it is just presented as a theory from the Director. I cannot find anything from Nyro on this subject, but it is a fascinating myth that is now cleared up by the concert footage…
Another interesting piece of trivia from the film: this was the next to last performance for The Mamas and the Papas. They performed one more time before breaking up a few months later.
And if you need more proof just how talented Nyro was, here it is: from youtube, here is Laura Nyro’s earliest recording of her classic song “And When I Die” from 1966, when she was just eighteen years old!
Thanks to S. Adam Bernstein for posting this online! It’s just one of many great live performances you can find, including such Nyro classics as “Stony End”, “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Stond Soul Picnic.”
I just went on iTunes and bought a great live collection from Nyro, and I encourage you to do the same. And of course, I wrote a story about Laura’s collaboration with my other favorite artist, Todd Rundgren! Todd not only produced one of her later albums, he recorded a tribute to her as well…
You can read all about it by clicking here….
If you have additional trivia or information to share about Nyro’s performance at Monterey Pop, feel free to share. And of course, let me know what your favorite Laura Nyro songs are!