Sixth Big Sur Folk Festival September 14–15, 1969 Esalen Institute, Big Sur, CA
Joan Baez Joni Mitchell Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young John Sebastian Johanna Demetrakas Dorothy Morrison & the Edwin Hawkins Singers Mimi Fariña Julie Payne Ruthann Friedman Carol Ann Cisneros The Comb Sisters Chris Ethridge Flying Burrito Brothers Struggle Mountain Resistance Band
A documentary film, 'Celebration at Big Sur', was made about the festival, which featured many performers who had played at Woodstock a few weeks earlier. Released in 1971, the film was directed by Baird Bryant and Johanna Demetrakas. A young Gary Weis was among the cinematographers. Other members of the camera and sound crew also went on to become famous in their fields, including Peter Smokler, Peter Pilafian and Joan Churchill. The film was released in 2011 as a Region 1 DVD. The Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported that the performers donated their time for the concert and film in exchange for a portion of the net profits. The Daily Variety reported in April 1970 that the film's profits were divided between the Big Sur Folk Festival Foundation (88%) and the crew (12%). Another source reported that Baez' Institute for the Study of Nonviolence benefited from the film's profits.
About 10-15,000 people camped out for three miles up and down Highway One for the two-day festival. The event audience was so well-mannered that those without the $4.00 admission price listened from the highway, even though there was no gate. The artists performed on a low stage behind a pool, backed by the Pacific Ocean. Musical performances dominate the film, with footage of surrounding occurrences interspersed and montaged into the music sequences.
The film includes early footage of Neil Young, who had recently appeared at Woodstock with Crosby, Stills & Nash, but refused to be filmed. Here, fortified by session drummer Dallas Taylor and Motown bassist Greg Reeves, CSNY perform Young's "Sea of Madness" and "Down by the River". Perhaps the film's most famous scene is an altercation between Stephen Stills and a heckler.
Joni Mitchell, who did not appear at the Woodstock Festival, performs the song "Woodstock" prior to any album release, first attempting to teach the audience to sing the melodically complicated refrain. Ironically, Mitchell would later develop a well-known distaste for festival gigs, but in this performance her enthusiasm is evident. Mitchell talks about having spotted whales off the coast, and is generally seen with then-boyfriend Graham Nash of CSNY. She also sings "Get Together" with members of Crosby, Stills & Nash in a seemingly impromptu jam.
Joan Baez was a Big Sur-festival regular whose folk-music workshop at Esalen in 1965 helped attract pop/rock acts later to the festival. She is featured prominently throughout the film. Celebration begins with Baez opening the festival with Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and closes with her leading a large crowd in singing "Oh Happy Day" in the event's finale. She also sings two of her own compositions, "A Song for David" and "Sweet Sir Galahad", during the course of the film.
Other performers featured in Celebration included John Sebastian, Dorothy Combs Morrison and The Combs Sisters, Mimi Fariña, Carol Ann Cisneros, Julie Payne, Chris Ethridge and The Struggle Mountain Resistance Band. While Ruthann Friedman, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Incredible String Band performed at this event, they do not appear in the film.
Joan Baez - "I Shall Be Released" John Sebastian with Stephen Stills - "Mobile Line" (offstage) Joan Baez - "Song for David" (shown rehearsing offstage, with stage performance of same song cut in) Dorothy Morrison and the Combs Sisters - "All of God's Children Got Soul" CSNY - "Sea of Madness" Stephen Stills solo performance - "4 + 20" (Stills introduces this number discussing his interaction with a heckler in the previous scene) Joni Mitchell with Crosby, Stills & Nash and Sebastian - "Get Together" Dorothy Morrison and the Combs Sisters - "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" (incomplete) non-musical footage of nude sauna, audience happenings various - "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" (offstage, incomplete) John Sebastian - "Rainbows All Over Yours Blues" Joni Mitchell - "Woodstock" non-musical footage of self-identified "freak" with Woodstock-themed bus John Sebastian with Stephen Stills - "Red-Eye Express" Mimi Fariña and Julie Payne with Stephen Stills - "Changes" (incomplete) Cisneros - "Malagueña Salerosa" The Struggle Mountain Resistance Band - "Rise, Shine, and Give God the Glory" (incomplete) CSNY - "Down By the River" (incomplete) folk musician improvising outside the festival Joan Baez - "Sweet Sir Galahad" Dorothy Morrison and the Combs Sisters with Joan Baez - "Oh Happy Day" (opens with Baez rehearsing same number with Morrison)