Various Artists

Celebration: Live at Big Sur

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This album contains otherwise unavailable live performances taken from the October 3, 1970, Big Sur Folk Festival held in Monterey, CA, at the same fairgrounds that hosted the Monterey International Pop Festival three years earlier. Although the titles are undeniably similar, this disc should not be confused for the soundtrack to the Celebration at Big Sur (1971), documenting the 1969 event. With the exception of the Beach Boys -- who were rumored to be releasing their entire set at one point -- each artist donated a pair of performances to this package. According to the original LP jacket, "With this record, the money that ordinarily goes to the artists and producer, will go to the institute for the study of non-violence, Palo Alto, CA, to be shared with the united farm workers and war resisters international." Joan Baez -- one of the coordinators of the gathering -- is accompanied by an uncredited group of backing vocalists and acoustic guitar players on both "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" -- which is given a ragtag singalong reading -- as well as an exceedingly affective and hopeful version of the Beatles' "Let It Be." Linda Ronstadt's countrified rocker readings of "The Only Mama That'll Walk the Line" and "Lovesick Blues" are among the high points, recalling her post-Stone Ponies' work. It also stands as a reminder of the influence that groups such as the Flying Burrito Brothers and Nashville-informed the Byrds had on the vocalist prior to her more familiar status as a mid-'70s rocker. Fittingly, Merry Clayton's soulful and show-stopping versions of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and the emotionally charged "Bridge Over Troubled Water" are at the heart of this release. Although primarily known for her backing vocals -- most notably on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" -- Clayton also issued a handful of solo platters in the early '70s. By comparison, the Beach Boys' might as well have stayed home. Their half-baked attempt at "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is one of this effort's few disappointments. Luckily, both Country Joe McDonald and Kris Kristofferson -- who are the only artists playing their own compositions -- counter with some incisive and profound contributions. McDonald's self-effacing showbiz parody "Entertainment Is My Business" can be found on his then yet-to-be issued Incredible! Live (1972), while "Air Algiers" hails from his concurrent long player Hold on It's Coming (1971). Amazingly, Kristofferson was probably one of the least-known names on the bill at the time. However, the politically charged "The Law Is for the Protection of the People" and the sublime rendering of "To Beat the Devil" are considered primal entries from his self-titled debut. Initial vinyl pressings also included a four-panel insert with passages from Leo Tolstoy's Working Classes of All Nations, as well as "The Teeth-Mother Naked at Last" by Robert Bly. Sadly, this folio is not replicated on the CD reissue.

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