Spotlighting the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s appearance at the Miami Pop Festival in 1968, this invaluable documentary features performance footage, home movies, interviews and more.
A music “festival” in name only, the Miami Pop Festival of May 18, 1968 had but two major elements in common with the Woodstock extravaganza of the following year: Michael Lang was one of the promoters and Jimi Hendrix was a headlining act. Throw in a helicopter, an overwhelmingly white audience and a rainstorm, and the resemblances just about end there.
With none of the Jimi Hendrix Experience group members alive to add commentary, save for a brief quote from Noel Redding, “Miami Pop Festival: The Jimi Hendrix Experience” relies on the ever-boyish Lang, and the ever-voluble sound engineer and devoted Hendrix associate Eddie Kramer to act as guides for this 25-minute mini-documentary.
Focusing entirely on the terrific Hendrix performance — or at least three featured songs: “Fire,” “Tax Free” and “Foxey Lady” — this over-before-you-know-it hors d’oeuvre doesn’t make much of a case for the cultural or musical significance of this one-day event. (Scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, the second day was rained out. Notably, that didn’t much deter things a year later at Woodstock.)
But there actually was something special about the Miami festival. For a compact event, the advertised musical lineup was quite diverse. The outre rock of the Mothers of Invention and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown was set off by the deep blues of John Lee Hooker, and the roots rock ‘n’ roll of Chuck Berry; throw in the bombastic Blue Cheer and the pop-rock of Blues Image (two years before the hit single “Ride Captain Ride”) and you had a lineup more distinct in its extreme mix of musical styles — and certainly in its appreciation of African-American musical pioneers — than the vaunted Woodstock ‘69 event. The stylistic crazy quilt that was Miami begs for more extensive documentation; a whole other film is waiting to be unearthed.
Looking as cool as any human then alive in his skin-tight red pants, white ruffled shirt, streaked processed hair and natty black hat, Hendrix is having fun.
But let’s be thankful for what we have. The Experience is in splendid form (as can be heard in more extensive glory on “The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival” album and seen on the “Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin’” documentary, which is also available on the Coda Collection.) Looking as cool as any human then alive in his skin-tight red pants, white ruffled shirt, streaked processed hair and natty black hat, Hendrix is having fun, playing as much to bassist Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell as to the sun-dazed audience. (Mitchell, inspired by Hendrix’s loose-as-a-goose spirit, is in particularly good form.)
Hendrix does all the tricks the crowd expects — his arm jolting down the guitar neck, the one-handed runs, the teeth picking — but his superb six-string form is never in doubt. The instrumental “Tax Free” exhibits how the master would always leave plenty of room to please himself. (Gear geek alert: Though we get a photo of Hendrix playing an atypical Les Paul at the gig, the footage confines him to his emblematic white Stratocaster.)
Throw in some silent you-are-there home movies from Mitchell, and a microsecond shot of Hendrix schmoozing with Linda McCartney — then known as Linda Eastman, in her guise as an ace rock photographer — and you get a brief but satisfying glimpse of a not-quite-legendary event that nonetheless provides all the thrills that any footage of prime Hendrix naturally elicits.
Steve Futterman has been writing about music since the early ‘80s; his work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Emmy magazine. He has written the weekly jazz listings for The New Yorker since 1993. His first concert was the Doors at the Felt Forum in 1970.