Album review

Jimi Hendrix’s Miami Pop Festival sets finally available in all their glory


Special to the Miami Herald

On May 18, 1968, The Jimi Hendrix Experience helicoptered into Hallandale's Gulfstream Park to perform at the two-day Miami Pop Festival. Having missed their ride from the Miami Airport, Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell were choppered onto the race track at the request of festival organizer Michael Lang, who would provide similar transport for performers at Woodstock the following summer.

Lang, who ran a head shop in Coconut Grove, and guitar god Hendrix, whose star was rapidly ascending, would cement their iconic status at Woodstock, the seeds of which were planted among the squat concrete condos of Hallandale.

In between his breakout, guitar-immolating set at the Monterey Pop Fest in 1967 and his legendary, early-morning wake-up call on the last day of Woodstock, Hendrix's Miami Pop performances were rumored to be among his best. While bootleg recordings had circulated, only now has the music, in all its feedback-drenched glory, been made commercially available.

At this point, the Experience had already released its second album, Axis: Bold As Love. But for the Miami Pop sets — one in the afternoon, one in the evening — the trio drew mostly from its debut LP, Are You Experienced?, unleashing torrid renditions of Fire, Foxey Lady, Purple Haze and a particularly inspired I Don't Live Today.

Hendrix wasn't content to merely rehash hits, as his squalling, free-form intro to Hey Joe demonstrates. The trio also delved into a couple of new tunes, the instrumental Tax Free and the slow blues Hear My Train a Comin'.

Hendrix's intuitive interplay with the hard-hitting Mitchell shines throughout, while the solid if unspectacular Redding lays down menacing pulses. Channeling Albert King and Buddy Guy, Hendrix builds towering climactic statements on a slow-burning, 12-minute Red House, his knife-edged licks and deep-chested vocals steeped in the blues.

The set's accompanying booklet contains informative liners by Bob Santelli and festival images by Palm Beach photographer Ken Davidoff, who was 19 at the time.

Now available on DVD, the documentary Hear My Train a Comin' also features never-released footage of Miami Pop (and Hallandale, 45 summers past). The camera pans the young crowd, sitting on the track in front of the enormous flatbed trailer from which Hendrix performs. They're somewhat sedate, but obviously enjoying the psychedelic bluesman's flamboyant performance.

"There are no lights in the parking lot," an announcer says at the end of the evening's concert, urging caution. "So if everyone will go out the same way you came in, we're gonna do the whole thing again tomorrow."

That didn't come to pass. Heavy rains washed out most of the next day's festival. Hendrix did, however, write Rainy Day, Dream Away — which would appear on his next recording, Electric Ladyland — on the car ride back to the Castaways Hotel in Miami Beach.

While not as mind-blowingly expansive as his Woodstock performance, Hendrix's Miami Pop sets reveal great joy and commitment to craft. As he improvises jaw-dropping solos and teases out razor-edged tones that hum, fuzz, wail and moan, Hendrix never loses the structure of his sturdy, riff-rich songs.

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