Celebration at Big Sur (1971)

Genres - Music  |   Sub-Genres - Concerts  |   Run Time - 82 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Richie Unterberger

The 1969 Big Sur Folk Festival wasn't one of the most notable late-'60s gatherings of rock and folk musicians, in either size or the range and quality of the artists involved. Celebration at Big Sur, the documentary film of the event, is thus no match for the ones made of the festivals at Monterey and Woodstock in the late '60s, either in music or the sophistication of its cinematic technique. It was a smaller-scale production, too, with performances taking place near a swimming pool on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All that noted, approached with realistic expectations, it has some worthwhile sounds and images for those with an interest in the music and counterculture of the era in general, and an affection for the artists involved in particular. The most notable segments are of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young doing one of their first concerts, performing Neil Young's relatively obscure "Sea of Madness" (as well as his much more celebrated "Down by the River"). Stephen Stills is right at the center of the film's most notorious non-musical scene, scuffling with a rowdy heckler, though he then cools out with an acoustic performance of "4 + 20." CSN also help Joni Mitchell out on a cover of "Get Together," while Stills and John Sebastian duet on the acoustic "Mobile Line." Joan Baez is more respectable than outstanding, and Dorothy Morrison of the Edwin Hawkins Singers generates more voltage than the more celebrated folk-rockers on the bill with "Oh Happy Day."