Hendrix 70: Live at Woodstock
by Buck Quigley
The Amherst Theatre is bringing back midnight concert movies, starting this Saturday with a new rockumentary that displays almost the entirety of Jimi Hendrix’s show-closing performance at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in August 1969. The pioneering rock guitarist would have been 70 this year.
There’s the requisite introduction from Woodstock promoter Michael Lang, who explains that Hendrix wasn’t his original pick to close the show. Lang had pictured TV cowboy Roy Rogers singing a wholesome version of “Happy Trails” to the assembled baby boomers. That plan never took shape. As things turned out, more than 300,000 had spent three days sleeping in the mud by the time the headliner plugged in his white Fender Stratocaster and took the stage at 8:30am on Monday. Those who stuck around until 10:30am heard the psychedelic blues man deconstruct the “Star Spangled Banner,” turning it into the most recognizable guitar riff of the 1960s generation.
Those who have seen the Woodstock movie will find few surprises here. There’s Hendrix in the groovy shirt with the long fringe, blue velvet bell-bottoms, and moccasins on the wah-wah pedal. There are the extra percussionists on stage, including Jerry Velez, who appears to be piloting his congas on an astral journey around the Milky Way—if only you could hear him over the loose improvisations that comprise the bulk of the set.
Hendrix was at the height of his popularity and searching for a new direction in his music when he formed this new lineup—casually called Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, or simply the Band of Gypsys—with musical friends Billy Cox and Larry Lee from his days on the chitlin’ circuit. Drummer Mitch Mitchell is the only other member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience to share the stage at this historic performance, and his frenetic pounding drives much of the set.
What shines through is Hendrix’s utter command of the electric guitar. His use of primitive effects pedals is still a joy to behold, and his expressive solos are on full display. Crowd reaction to favorites like “Foxy Lady,” “Fire,” and “Purple Haze” show what a charismatic performer he was, and it’s still sad to watch and realize that he would be dead just one year later at the age of 27. Fans old and new will not be disappointed to experience the incendiary talents of this influential, legendary star on the big screen, in surround sound—a larger-than-life figure whose legacy continues to grow, four decades after his death.
Watch the trailer for Hendrix 70: Live at Woodstock
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