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By Eric Johnson
Published Dec 11, 2023

California's Revolutionary Culture

In this week’s edition of the newsletter, we wish a happy 90th birthday to Lou Adler—a peerless impresario, brilliant producer of music and films, and a great Californian.

Lou’s first megahit was, fittingly, “California Dreamin’,” by the Mamas & the Papas—unless you count “Surf City,” by Jan and Dean, or “Wonderful World,” which Lou co-wrote with Sam Cooke. His biggest hit record was Carole King’s Tapestry, which won a Grammy in 1972 and is widely considered one of the greatest pop albums of all time. A man of vast depth and breadth, he also discovered Cheech and Chong and produced their first movie, Up in Smoke. And oh, that’s right, he gave us The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I would argue that Lou Adler’s most significant cultural contribution was the Monterey Pop Festival, and even more so the movie, Monterey Pop, which let the world see that something explosive was happening in California in 1967, and not just on the stage. Which gives us a segue to introduce this week’s first story.


Bringing California Music to the World

Monterey Pop is widely remembered for introducing both The Who and Jimi Hendrix (who got his start in London) to America. More importantly, if you ask me, the movie also introduced the California sound to a broad audience. The festival featured then-upstart bands from San Francisco including Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin, and brought them together for the first time with their counterparts from Southern California—The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Mamas & the Papas, who were the headlining act (!).

As you may have noticed, here at California Local, we are not shy about bragging up the fact that our state leads the world in many regards. While we mostly focus on the democratic institutions of government, policy and politics, this week my colleague Sharan Street presents a magnum opus about California music documentaries.

We all know in our bones how important cultural products like music and movies can be. Even just reading a little bit about the 50-plus films presented here gives a glimpse into the richness and diversity that defines California, and, more and more, the United States. And here’s how important one of these movies was to me: I’m pretty sure that if I had not seen Monterey Pop when I was in high school, I might still be in New Jersey. I was already predisposed to California thanks to my pre-adolescent passion for the Beach Boys, and it was the Dead that fully sealed the deal—but as I was reminded while listening to the still-mindblowing Monterey Pop soundtrack yesterday, when I witnessed the revolutionary scene captured by D.A. Pennebaker in his film of the world’s first big rock festival, it sparked a flame in my teenage heart that still burns. So, thanks, Lou Adler, and happy birthday!

On that note:


California Music Docs


Tune in, turn on, and drop into these California-focused documentaries—only some of which are about the ’60s San Francisco sound.

Green Giving, Cali Style

Sustainable shopping may or may not have been invented in California, but the notion certainly thrives here. In this piece, the first by our new colleague Veronica Yoo, you will find a bunch of cool earth-friendly stuff to make your people happy.


Sustainable Solstice


Looking for greener gifts? Buy local, try organic, and embrace upcycling with goods from these California makers.


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(12/11/2023) → Sacramento Bee

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(12/11/2023) → SFGate

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(12/10/2023) → CalMatters

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(12/08/2023) → Sacramento Bee

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(12/08/2023) → SFGate

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