By the time Jimi Hendrix arrived onstage at the Woodstock Festival on the morning of August 18, 1969, the crowd of nearly 500,000 people had dwindled to fewer than 40,000. Much of Max Yasgur’s farm looked desolate. Litter was strewn everywhere and — hard as it may be to imagine — scores of people were streaming out as Hendrix played.
The festival was billed as “3 Days of Peace & Music,” but rain and other problems delayed Hendrix’s festival-closing performance until 8:30 on the morning of the fourth day, a Monday. The people who remained were exhausted and wet and just waking up. As festival organizer Michael Lang writes in The Road to Woodstock:
The massive stage was sparsely populated compared to how packed it had been all weekend with musicians, crew, and friends. Jimi, a red scarf around his head and wearing a white fringed and beaded leather shirt, looked almost like a mystical holy man in meditation. His eyes closed, his head back, he’d merged with his music, his Strat — played upside down since he’s a lefty — his magic wand. Though he was surrounded by his band, he projected the feeling he was all alone.
As he almost reverently started the national anthem, the bedraggled audience, worn out and muddy, moved closer together. Those of us who’d barely slept in three days were awakened, exhilarated by Jimi’s song. One minute he was chording the well-worn melody, the next he was reenacting “bombs bursting in air” with feedback and distortion. It was brilliant. A message of joy and love of country, while at the same time an understanding of all the conflict and turmoil that’s torn America apart.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience had broken up a few weeks earlier, with the departure of bassist Noel Redding. At the festival, Hendrix and drummer Mitch Mitchell were joined by two musicians Hendrix had worked with before he was famous — bassist Billy Cox and guitarist Larry Lee — along with conga players Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez. The group had rehearsed for less than two weeks in Hendrix’s rented house near Woodstock. They called themselves “Gypsy Sun & Rainbows,” or “Band of Gypsys” for short.
Hendrix’s psychedelic performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was immortalized in Michael Wadleigh’s Academy Award-winning 1970 film, Woodstock. A two-disc DVD capturing most of Hendrix’s nearly two-hour set, called Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock, was released in 1999. The 57-minute film above is an abridged version. It begins with an excerpt from “Message to Love” (the song Hendrix opened with) played over general scenes of the festival. It goes on to show Hendrix onstage, playing the following songs:
- “Red House”
- “Jam Back at the House”
- “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”
- “Star-Spangled Banner”
- “Purple Haze”
- “Woodstock Improvisation”
- “Villanova Junction”
The songs in the film are not presented in the order Hendrix played them in, and some have been omitted. Second guitarist Larry Lee (who can be heard soloing in “Jam Back at the House”) sang lead vocals on “Mastermind” and “Gypsy Woman/Aware of Love,” but those songs have been cut from this version. Also left out are “Spanish Castle Magic,” “Hear My Train a Comin’,” “Lover Man,” “Foxy Lady,” “Stepping Stone,” and an encore of “Hey Joe.” Despite the omissions, this abridged version of Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock is a fascinating and enjoyable look at one of the great moments in rock and roll history.