By the time Jimi Hendrix took the stage at Hallandale, Florida’s Gulfstream Park on May 18, 1968, the 25-year old guitarist, songwriter and visionary’s reputation preceded him. He had already released two studio albums (1967’s Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold as Love released in 1967 in the U.K. and 1968 in the U.S.) and established himself as an unpredictable performer not to be missed when he set his guitar ablaze amidst the peace and love of the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. With Jimi Hendrix, there was always fire – if not literally, always musically. Legacy Recordings and Experience Hendrix have recently released The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s full evening set at the first Miami Pop Festival of 1968 on a new live album simply entitled Miami Pop Festival (88883 76992 2). This release marks the first time this brief but exhilarating concert has been commercially issued.
There were actually two Miami Pop Festivals that year. Hendrix joined Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention, Blue Cheer, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and others for the May festival promoted by Flipper trainer Ric O’Barry and future Woodstock guru Michael Lang. In late December, promoters Tom Rounds and Mel Lawrence held another fest at the same venue, enlisting artists including Procol Harum, The Turtles, Jose Feliciano, Country Joe and the Fish, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The May event welcomed an estimated 50,000 people, and inspired Hendrix to pen “Rainy Day, Dream Away” (included on Electric Ladyland, released in September 1968) when his planned performance on the second day was cancelled due to inclement weather. Lang, proprietor of a Miami head shop that was one of the first such establishments on the East Coast, dubbed the event as “where the seeds of Woodstock were sown.”
Although The Experience – Hendrix, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding – performed both evening and afternoon sets at Gulfstream Park, Miami Pop Festival presents only the evening show in full, with the afternoon performance represented by two songs. The disc, produced by Janie Hendrix, Eddie Kramer and John McDermott, opens with two minutes of introductions, feedback and tuning up. Hendrix jokes, “And now I’d like to do our second song of the evening” before launching into a blistering “Hey Joe.” From the first notes, it’s clear that the stage is where Hendrix truly came alive. The expectations of the audience, and connection with it, drove him to greater and greater heights with each gig. That said, Miami Pop isn’t a surprising set; he relies largely on material from Are You Experienced and completely overlooks the more recent Axis. (“Foxey Lady,” “Fire” and “I Don’t Live Today” were all on AYU, with “Purple Haze” on the U.S. version and “Red House” on the U.K. release.) But it’s a worthwhile and vibrant performance all the same.
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The screeching feedback and wailing tones that signified “Hey Joe” almost seem in contrast to the sunny Florida setting, as Mitch Mitchell beats furiously behind Hendrix and Noel Redding provides a solid foundation. Ironically, “Hey Joe” (The Experience’s first single) would be Hendrix’s final song at Woodstock in August of the following year – indeed, the last song at Woodstock, period, as Hendrix closed the festival – and the first song in Miami. Though the set was relatively brief, the Experience gave their all on these nine cuts. There’s still a primal thrill hearing that incandescent riff on “Foxey Lady” in a live setting in front of an audibly-appreciative crowd.
Of the other AYU material, “Fire” is the shortest performance of the set, clocking in at under three minutes’ length. But it wasn’t the only scorching song! “I Don’t Live Today” is given an intense, spirited and furious reading. There’s a storming “Purple Haze,” and an impassioned “Red House.” The latter, a blues, is the most extended track on Miami Pop, running over twelve minutes’ length. Hendrix’s often underrated, expressive vocals, typically filled with character, are almost as soulful as his guitar, but he leaves room for a bass solo from Redding, too. Hendrix and his Experience dismantle the track, and then build it up again in a slow burn.
Hendrix seems most at home with the blues jams. The insinuating grooves of “Hear My Train A-Comin’” have a hypnotic feel. “Tax Free,” too, gleefully shifts style and tempi, with Mitchell contributing a drum solo. It’s a showcase for the trio’s expert blend of blues, jazz and rock, with Hendrix tossing off licks nonchalantly. Indeed, it barrels on with the force of a freight train as he stretches and elongates phrases with apparent ease. One of the joys of this release is the brief onstage banter, usually as low-key and dry as the music is anything but.
Though this concert has been unofficially circulated before, it’s likely never sounded as good as it does in Eddie Kramer’s vibrant remix as mastered by Bernie Grundman. There’s plenty of detail to savor in this sonically crisp presentation. The physical package, housed in a digipak, is also top-notch. The 24-page booklet features numerous photographs, many in color, and also includes a strong essay from Bob Santelli drawing on new quotes from Michael Lang. There are two bonus tracks, the afternoon performances of “Fire” and “Foxey Lady.” And good as the core evening tracks, are, there’s even a bit more energy and drive in these early-show excerpts.
Miami Pop Festival has been released in conjunction with the new documentary film Hear My Train A-Comin’, as seen on PBS’ American Masters and available on DVD and Blu-ray. This is an essential companion to Miami Pop, as it includes never-before-released color footage of the Experience in action in Florida. “Foxey Lady,” “Tax Free” and “Fire” are featured along with interviews with Eddie Kramer and Michael Lang. In addition, both stereo and 5.1 surround options are available. The documentary’s copious bonus material also includes performances from July 1970’s New York Pop Festival and September 1970’s Love and Peace Festival, plus a 1967 Top of the Pops appearance with “Purple Haze.”
The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s performance at Miami Pop may not have achieved the same legendary status as Hendrix’s Woodstock gig, but Legacy’s new release is well worth a listening Experience to hear some lesser-known, yet equally searing, sounds from the musician who changed the guitar forever.