Hear the Last Time the Jimi Hendrix Experience Ever Played Together: The Riotous Denver Pop Festival of 1969

You know it’s got to be bad when you quit the Jimi Hendrix Experience just months after the revolutionary, expansive Electric Ladyland hit number one on US and UK charts, but if you’re Noel Redding, you’re plenty fed up with the psychedelic circus. “The recording sessions were ridiculous,” Redding told Rolling Stone in a 1969 interview, “and on stage, it was getting ridiculous.” The last straw for Redding had come a few months earlier at the Denver Pop Festival in June. After tear gas forced the band offstage, fired by police at an unruly crowd, “I went up to Jimi that night,” says the bassist, “said goodbye, and caught the next plane back to London.”

Tensions had been building for months. Hendrix wanted to expand the band, without consulting Redding or Mitch Mitchell. Recording sessions for the double Electric Ladyland had been notoriously riotous. “There were tons of people in the studio,” Redding remembered, “you couldn’t move. It was a party, not a session.” Hendrix’s perfectionism had him pushing for 40-50 takes per song. But the problems weren’t all under his control. The three-day Denver festival—headlined by Three Dog Night, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa, Tim Buckley, Johnny Winter and the Experience—was beset with violence, part of the general devolution of the decade.

Overzealous cops battled gatecrashers who showed up looking for a fight. Tear gas wafted through the air. Iron Butterfly supposedly encouraged fans to bring a fence down. Festival promoter Barry Fey remembers Joe Cocker curled up in the bathroom in a fetal position: “He was scared to death. ‘Is this what America’s all about?’”

But Jimi’s drug use had also taken its toll on his relationships. Fey’s account of his state that night is sad and sobering:

There’s a lot of stories, but the worst one is Hendrix…. I had Jimi September 1, 1968 at Red Rocks. We had become such good friends in a year or so. I mean, I just loved him. He was such a great guy. And then nine months later at the Denver Pop Festival, I get to talk to Noel and Mitch, and they said, ‘We’re not going to play with him anymore, Barry.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ They said, ‘We can’t stand him. Since you’ve seen us last, he’s discovered heroin, and you can’t deal with him.’ And then he showed up, and he hardly knew who I was. 

But onstage, Jimi was Jimi, cracking esoteric jokes and shredding with abandon. In the audio at the top, hear the band’s full Denver Pop Festival set, which closed out the chaotic proceedings on Sunday night. Hendrix jokes about the tear gas as the band tunes up, then they launch into Swedish duo Hansson & Karlsson‘s “Tax Free.”

Jimi plays “The Star-Spangled Banner”—two months before his blistering Woodstock rendition—and the audio cuts out at the end of “Purple Haze,” right before the last song of the night, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” when the police fired off more tear gas and “the wind whipped in the stadium,” writes Ultimate Classic Rock, and “blew the toxic fumes back toward the stage. With their eyes burning and their lungs choked for air, the Experience set down their instruments for the final time and fled for cover.”

See the setlist, minus “Voodoo Child,” below:

  1. Tax Free
  2. Hear My Train A Comin’
  3. Fire
  4. Spanish Castle Magic
  5. Red House
  6. Foxy Lady
  7. Star Spangled Banner
  8. Purple Haze

Related Content:

Watch the Earliest Known Footage of the Jimi Hendrix Experience (February, 1967)

See a Full Jimi Hendrix Experience Concert on Restored Footage Thought Lost for 35 Years

Jimi Hendrix’s Final Interview on September 11, 1970: Listen to the Complete Audio

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness.

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  • William L says:

    Let me see this if this seems any less ludicrous written out:

    Noel Redding was in a snit because Jimi Hendrix wanted to expand the Jimi Hendrix Experience without consulting him…so Noel decided his best option was to quit the band.
    Nope, still an astonishingly boneheaded move.

    One wonders how many of us would have ever have heard of Noel Redding if it weren’t for Jimi Hendrix….any guesses, peeps? Somewhat less than millions of us is my guess.

    Further, I can’t imagine too many people approaching Noel Redding for advice of any sort after that decision, but most especially anyone seeking career advice.

  • Al Brown says:

    Denver in 1969 was not the last time Hendrix Experience played. He played at the Atlanta International Pop Festival July 4, 1970. I spend hours working myself to the front and I stood right in front of him for his entire set! About 500,000 people. He died only a few weeks later. That performance is now online for the first time called Electric Church. Goggle Electric Church.

  • friendlier says:

    Denver was the last time the Jimi Hendrix Experience played together, not Jimi Hendrix and his subsequent groups.

  • Bob Wyman says:

    Denver Pop Festival as described here is overblown and incorrect as far as police and tear gas is concerned. The Experience were not forced off the stage. I stood within feet of Jimi and watched as Noel casually just let go of his bass instead of of leaning it against something and walked off mid-song. He was clearly peeved about something. Mitch left a few minutes after Noel.The tear gas was lobbed outside the stadium where gatecrashers attempted to disrupt the shows. Tear gas naturally drifted in but that was earlier in the evening. No tear gas was detected by me toward the nights end. Gatecrashers had been let in to the seats called the “South Stands” by Bronco football fans.
    Read all about it here: https://web.archive.org/web/20060816045107/http://www.bobwyman.com/hendrix.html

    I have seen video of Noel Redding over the years talk about that night and he was incorrect about most of what he said was going on and understandably since he was working. It WAS his final gig with Jimi. Jimi did not perform for 6 weeks until he appeared at The Woodstock Music and Art Fair in mid-August 1969. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was no more after June 29 1969 in Denver Colorado but Jimi continued with Mitch and Billy Cox and also Buddy Miles.

  • Bob Wyman says:

    I totally agree. Numerous accounts had Noel in the studio always wanting to do one track and then go drinking whereas Jimi would stay and record all night. You can see Jimi listed on lp sleeves as Bass on numerous songs. Multi-track recording fixed the absence of any individual as instruments can be added to existing tracks easily. I record my own songs that way with nobody else involved except for an Alesis drum machine which is as good as any drummer I know and are actual drummers captured digitally.
    Noel had small groups and payed pubs mostly while trying to get more funds from Hendrix’ estate. I think he did receive something. His narrative that supposed to have been including Mitch I believe were not true and it was Noel that seemed to be the only source for tales of drunken Jimi or heroin addicted Jimi. If that were true it would be common knowledge as one cannot hide that sort of thing very well obviously. Users usually become lazy and unproductive and nobody could say that about Jimi as far as I know. (Example: Jim Morrison…)
    and Barry Fey would not be my choice for historical accuracy on anything he was involved with. He was all business and a local hot-shot. His employees would be who I would talk to.

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