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The film's working title was Celebration. The opening cast credits conclude with the statement, "Big Sur, the Pacific Ocean and the audience." David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Neil Young, Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves are listed individually in the closing credits, but are listed by their band name, "Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with Taylor & Reeves," in the opening credits. Similarly, Dorothy Morrison and The Combs Sisters are listed separately in the closing credits only. The producers thank several companies and individuals in the onscreen credits, including Cinebound, Folklore Productions, Elektra Records and The Esalen Institute. A final credit reads, "The Big Sur Folk Festival is a Carlen-Kates Production, produced annually by Nancy Carlen and Paula Kates for The Big Sur Folk Festival, Inc. (a non-profit California corporation)."
The film was shot during the Big Sur Folk Festival in September 1969 at the Esalen Institute in California. The festival began in the early 1960s under the leadership of folk singer and songwriter Joan Baez, who lived at Esalen on and off for years. As noted in the LAHExam review, the perfomers appeared in the concert and film for free, to receive a portion of the profits after all expenses were paid. According to an April 1970 Daily Variety article, eighty-eight percent of the picture's profits went to the Big Sur Folk Festival Foundation, with the remaining twelve percent going to the crew. Filmfacts, however, stated that the film's profits went to Baez' Institute for the Study of Non-Violence.
In March 1971, Daily Variety reported that Twentieth Century-Fox had acquired worldwide distribution rights to the independently produced film. A modern source adds the Edwin Hawkins Singers to the cast. Producer Carl Gottlieb and interviewers Christopher Ross and Don Sturdy were members of the San Francisco comedy group The Committee. For more information on The Committee refer to the 1968 film Funnyman (see below). Later in his career, Sturdy was more commonly known as Howard Hesseman, the actor who rose to fame as "Dr. Johnny Fever" on the late 1970's television series WKRP in Cincinatti.
Reviews compared the picture unfavorably to the similarly themed concert film Woodstock (1970, see below), noting that Celebration at Big Sur lacked an organizing principle. Many reviewers also criticized the filmmakers' choice to accompany the songs with images from the lyrics and special effects shots, including superimposed opticals and negative images.