Celebration at Big Sur

Celebration at Big Sur
Directed by Baird Bryant, Johanna Demetrakas
Produced by Ted Mann, Carl Gottlieb
Cinematography Baird Bryant, Johanna Demetrakas, Gary Weis, Peter Smokler, Joan Churchill[1]
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
Running time
Language English

Celebration at Big Sur (also known simply as Celebration) is a film of the 1969 Big Sur Folk Festival in Big Sur, California, featuring Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY), Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and others.

Released in 1971, the film was directed by Baird Bryant and Johanna Demetrakas. A young Gary Weis was among the cinematographers;[3] other members of the camera and sound crew also went on to become famous in their fields, including Peter Smokler,[4] Peter Pilafian,[5] and Joan Churchill.[6]

As of 2011, the film has finally been released as at least a Region 1 DVD.

The festival, one in an annual series of concerts held on the grounds of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur from 1964 to 1971, was held on the weekend of September 13–14, 1969,[7] only one month after the famous and considerably larger Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which is referred to repeatedly. Celebration at Big Sur did not receive the same critical acclaim as the 1970 Woodstock film.[8]


The concert occurs on a low stage by the Pacific Ocean, which the audience faces. Musical performances dominate the film, with footage of surrounding occurrences interspersed and montaged into the music sequences.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

The film includes early footage of Neil Young,[9] 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.[10]

Joni Mitchell

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.

Although Mitchell had made earlier televised appearances, this may be her earliest filmed performance.[11]

Joan Baez

Baez was a Big Sur-festival regular whose folk-music workshop at Esalen in 1965 helped attract pop/rock acts later to the festival.[12] 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.


In addition to CSNY, Baez and Mitchell, 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.[8]

While Ruthann Friedman, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Incredible String Band performed at this event,[7][13] they do not appear in the film.

In the opening scene the filmmakers attempt to interview local patrol police, but fail to get permission.

Songs performed

  1. "I Shall Be Released" Baez
  2. "Mobile Line" Sebastian with Stills
    • offstage
  3. "Song for David" Baez
    • shown rehearsing offstage, with stage performance of same song cut in
  4. "All of God's Children Got Soul" Morrison and the Combs Sisters
  5. "Sea of Madness" CSNY
  6. "4 + 20" Stills solo performance
    • Stills introduces this number discussing his interaction with a heckler in the previous scene
  7. "Get Together" Mitchell with Crosby, Stills & Nash and Sebastian
  8. "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" Morrison and the Combs Sisters
    • incomplete
    • non-musical footage of nude sauna, audience happenings
  9. "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" various
    • offstage, incomplete
  10. "Rainbows All Over Yours Blues" Sebastian
  11. "Woodstock" Mitchell
    • non-musical footage of self-identified "freak" with Woodstock-themed bus
  12. "Red-Eye Express" Sebastian with Stills
  13. "Changes" Fariña and Payne with Stills
    • incomplete
  14. "Malagueña Salerosa" Cisneros
  15. "Rise, Shine, and Give God the Glory" The Struggle Mountain Resistance Band
    • incomplete
  16. "Down By the River" CSNY
    • incomplete, over 7 minutes
    • folk musician improvising outside the festival
  17. "Sweet Sir Galahad" Baez
  18. "Oh Happy Day" Morrison and the Combs Sisters with Baez
    • opens with Baez rehearsing same number with Morrison


  1. "Celebration at Big Sur (1970)". Hollywood.com. Hollywood Media Corp. Retrieved April 10, 2008.
  2. "Overview for Celebration at Big Sur (1971)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 10, 2008.Turner Classic Movies lists this run time as 80, 82 or 85 minutes.
  3. "Gary Weis". The Internet Movie Database. IMDb.com. Retrieved April 10, 2008.
  4. "Peter Smokler". The Internet Movie Database. IMDb.com. Retrieved April 25, 2008.
  5. "Peter Pilafian". The Internet Movie Database. IMDb.com. Retrieved April 25, 2008.
  6. "Joan Churchill". The Internet Movie Database. IMDb.com. Retrieved April 25, 2008.
  7. 1 2 Hopkins, Jerry (October 18, 1969). "Big Sur". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 6, 2010. Retrieved April 10, 2008.
  8. 1 2 Greenspun, Roger (April 10, 1971). "Celebration at Big Sur (1971)". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved April 9, 2008. The movie making ... ranges from the obligatory coy to the needlessly reverent.
  9. "Neil Young Biography (1945-)". Film Reference. NetIndustries. Retrieved April 10, 2008. This is the earliest listed film appearance by Young.
  10. Unterberger, Richie. "Big Sur Folk Festival September '69". Allmusic. Macrovision Corporation. Retrieved April 10, 2008.
  11. Irvin, Les; et al. "Biography: 1968-1970 Emerging Popular Artist". JoniMitchell.com. Archived from the original on December 13, 2007. Retrieved April 10, 2008. N.B.: fan site.
  12. "Chronology". The Joan Baez Web Pages. Joan C. Baez/Diamonds & Rust Productions. Retrieved April 10, 2008.
  13. Cooke, Douglas. "The Big Sur Folk Festival, 1964-1971". The Richard & Mimi Fariña Fan Site. Retrieved April 9, 2008.

External links

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