The Monterey International Pop Music Festival took place from June 16 to June 18, 1967 and was the brainchild of Lou Adler. Over 200,000 people attended, and it is regarded as the first big rock festival, precursor to Woodstock and all the others of that period.
Otis Redding was at the pinnacle of his career at that time. He was booked as the closing act on the Saturday night of the festival, June 17, 1967. Otis came to the stage following a set by his backup band, Booker T. & the MG's. However, Otis' high charged performance ran into a time limit under the festival's permit, resulting in his having time to perform only 5 short songs. At the end of Try a Little Tenderness, Otis can be heard explaining to the crowd that he is being rushed off the stage by the organizers. All 5 songs appear on the album. The performance came on the end of a successful European tour. The tour helped Otis gain popularity in the white youth record market of that time, particularly since the Monterey show was attended by so many people from the U.S. music business. Otis died less than 6 months later.
Jimi Hendrix performed on the final evening of the festival, June 18, 1967. Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, who did not perform at the festival, introduced The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix was almost entirely unknown in America at that time but was very well known amongst the rock stars of London, where he had been playing club gigs and recruiting the members of his trio. Pete Townsend of the Who knew the incendiary power of Hendrix's act and refused to follow the Experience at Monterey. Hendrix performed 9 songs that night, only 4 of which were included on this album. The other 5 songs left off the album were: Killing Floor, Foxy Lady, Hey Joe, The Wind Cries Mary and Purple Haze. Studio versions of 4 of those omitted songs appeared on the Experience's first US album released later that same year.
Reprise was restless for a new album release from one of its hottest stars, but Hendrix had not delivered new material to Reprise in two years. Reprise decided not to wait any longer and released the Monterey album. It was an opportune move because Hendrix died just after the album hit stores. The album hit 15 on the Billboard album chart. It was impressive for an album of material that had sat on the shelf for three years. It also fueled the idea at Reprise and other record companies that old material could be repackaged and sold to Hendrix fans. Although the Monterey International Pop Festival album was released three years after being recorded, it became highly acclaimed.
In a contemporary review of the album, Jeffrey Drucker of Rolling Stone magazine said that "memories are made of sets like this" and that, "even if you weren't [there], you'll find some very satisfying music by two of our most gifted artists." In a 1981 review, music critic Robert Christgau called it "as evocative a distillation of the hippie moment in all its hope and contradiction as you'll ever hear." He called Redding and Hendrix "two radically different black artists showboating at the nativity of the new white rock audience", and critiqued that, although "both have performed more subtly and more brilliantly," they were "equally audacious and equally wonderful" at the festival. In a mixed review, Allmusic's Bruce Eder felt that, although it was a significant album upon its release, it is now "purely of historic interest as an artifact of the time."