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Celebration at Big Sur (1971).

February 27, 2009

The Scoop:
“Celebration at Big Sur” is another one of those rock festival documentaries that came in waves in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But it is one of the better ones, and definitely worth a look.

This film, much like the concert it chronicles, is a sort of mini-Woodstock. The bill featured a lot of the same music (although strictly focused on folk rock this time around), many of the same performers, and the same peace-and-love vibe. The film, too, carries a similar aesthetic as the “Woodstock” film. There are also several moments in the Big Sur festival (and film) that are conscious, or maybe not-so-conscious, looks back at that weekend at Yasgur’s farm.

From 1964 to 1971, the Esalen Institute at Big Sur hosted an annual music festival, which drew the luminaries of the folk rock world. This film chronicles the sixth festival, held on Sept. 13-14, 1969, just a month after Woodstock. There are great performances from the likes of Joan Baez, John Sebastian, Crosby Stills & Nash, and Joni Mitchell, as well as scenic shots of the beautiful Northern California coast.

The relatively small size of the crowd, coupled with the fact that the musicians all perform next to a swimming pool, gives the concert the feel of a backyard party. It is this intimacy in particular that sets “Celebration at Big Sur” apart from the other hippie festival flicks, which all feature the performers onstage towering above crowds of thousands of kids.

This rarity, still sadly unavailable on DVD, is worth the effort of tracking down.

Best Bit:
Neil Young dropping in on his buddies Crosby Stills & Nash for a show-stopping version of “Down By the River.”

Side Note:
This concert featured Joni Mitchell’s public debut of her song “Woodstock,” which was later popularized by Crosby Stills & Nash.

Companion Viewing:
“Woodstock” (1970).

Big Sur Festival, 1964-1971.

Take a Look:
Down by the deep end of the pool… er, I mean “Down by the River”:

Joni Mitchell performs “Woodstock”:

Joni and friends belt out that hippie chestnut, “Get Together”:

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