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How Jimi rocked Woodstock

How Jimi rocked Woodstock

Level B1/ B2

Hi there! To celebrate an iconic milestone – 50 years since Woodstock Festival, I’m going to look at how Jimi Hendrix closed the Festival. In actual fact, Jimi will do it himself with help from some classic clips from his memorable performance. So, let’s get it on!

Chaos before the success

Woodstock Festival was, in general, a real success. Many people might say that it went too well. Originally it wasn’t meant to be a festival with so many people attending. The company that originally thought of the idea went out of business because they were not expecting almost half a million people to arrive. There were problems then with finding a suitable location. They eventually found a farm in upstate New York whose owner, Mr Yusgur, wasn’t enthusiastic to begin with but eventually agreed to host the Festival. After other smaller problems, the Woodstock weekend had finally arrived!

Beautiful music, colossal culture

However, the weekend didn’t go quite so smoothly. Unfortunately, it rained at times and all the acts were delayed due to mile long traffic heading to the festival site. Singers and dancers came from all over the world. The individuals and bands who performed included Indian legend Ravi Shankar, Richie Havens (the first act to play on the Friday. He played for 3 hours); folk-rockers: Tim Hardin and Joan Baez; lightning Latin rock played by the band Santana (headed by Carlos Santana). From Britain came the bruising blues-rock bands Keef Hartley Band, Ten Years After and The Who, who well-known for their improvisation (the lead guitarist Roger Daltrey had already destroyed a guitar on stage before Woodstock). All of these musicians and many more kept the crowds going over the weekend. The music was of all genres: Indian ragas, folk-rock, blues-rock, classic country and mind-shaping psychedelic rock. Together these different musical genres created a mix that defined the culture of peace, love and harmony which brought the 1960s to a close. The audience were also encapsulated by this world, probably taking lots of drugs and having a great time. But it wouldn’t have been Woodstock without one man.

Enter the King of Rock

Yes, I’m talking about Jimi Hendrix. Leading up to the festival, Jimi and his band had a few hiccups along the way. The band ‘Jimi Hendrix Experience’ was reformed into a new band with different members in it. This band was solely a black musician group, from the bassist to the percussionist, something that was very rare for a rock band at that time. The band still didn’t have a name and had only practiced together for less than two weeks. What worried many leading up to their performance was that the demo tapes were very not good and that the band, according to one US professor of literature ‘could not play well together’. All of these factors led to festival organisers feeling a little scared about what might come.

Finally, on Monday morning, after lots of delays and three days of being awake Jimi Hendrix made it onto the stage in front of 20,000 people who were still at the festival. The band was introduced as ‘the Jimi Hendrix Experience’, but in actual fact they called themselves ‘Gypsy Suns And Rainbows’. Jimi explained this on stage by saying ‘For short, it’s nothin’ but a band of gypsys’.

The set

Altogether the band played an explosive 19 songs. The set was full of beautiful improvisations and typical Hendrix riffs. His hands moved like motors over the strings of his guitar. Hendrix played the guitar like it was a mini orchestra that had taken to the stage and not one single person playing the guitar. The audience were shell-shocked! Included in this sensational set were the songs ‘Foxy Lady’, ‘Hear My Train A-Comin’’ and a legendary melting medley of songs including the American national anthem ‘Star Spangled Banner’. Hendrix’s version, however, is not like any other version of the American national anthem that Jimi had played before. It was full of raw passion. It included sounds that some have said were like bombs exploding and machine guns firing. Some have said that this was Hendrix protesting against what was going on in Vietnam. It was very loud and distorted because of all of the guitar effects that Jimi had plugged in. To the naked ear, it seems just like a mess of noise. But this is an iconic piece of music. Those who were still there to see him were incredibly lucky! 

To end what was an awe-inspiring set of music with a very average band (except for Jimi), he ended with an encore, a Jimi Hendrix rarity. He played his first hit Hey Joe. It was beautifully played and full of stunning solo licks and improvisations. From the video, it is evident how tired Hendrix is, but despite this, he fights through.

Legacy of a legendary festival and performance

This festival, despite only being the best part of three days, is a symbol of the 60s counter-culture and rebellion. Whether it be the fine folk-rock of Arlo Guthrie and Joan Baez, the blistering blues-rock of British bands The Who and Ten Years After or Jimi Hendrix and his ‘gypsy band’, everyone was at Woodstock to promote three things: peace, love and drugs. The symbol of Woodstock will always be of a spontaneous idea that turned into a world-famous festival that popularised not only the people who played, but also celebrated the utopia that would finally end after this wonderful festival of music and arts.

Jimi Hendrix’s legacy will always be of someone, who died too early but who was decades ahead of many of his contemporaries. His performances, whether at Woodstock or at Monterey Pop Festival a year earlier were elaborate, bright and full of power and energy. We will never know whether he would have made it further, had he survived past the age of 27.

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