My wife and I watched a tribute on PBS to Jimi Hendrix which was subtitled “The Electric Church.” Hendrix was the headliner at the second Atlanta Pop Festival in a small rural town south of Atlanta called Byron (population about 5,000). He played in front of an estimated 400,000 people over the 4th of July weekend in 1970. He would be dead in two months, so this was his last big fanfare.
The documentary type show interviewed people who helped pull this concert together. It was after Woodstock, the tragic event at Altamont and the first Atlanta event which barely broke even. Outside of seeing Hendrix perform which is always amazing, the behind the scene stories made the documentary. Plus, it is the first lengthy footage I have ever seen of Hendrix being interviewed, as he was reticent to do interviews.
Here are a few interesting take aways:
-Hendrix’s voice on civil rights was heeded because he made it less political and more about moving forward. He equated his innovative music with our need to innovate a better world.
-Byron was very unprepared to host the event, which was held at a speedway. For example, there was so much traffic, people parked on the shoulders of I-75 and walked to Byron to make the concert.
-Well-known Georgia governor Lester Maddox, who did not back away from his bigoted actions and rants, declared the event a disaster area. That only led to more people coming to see what it was all about.
-The event included the Allman Brothers, who are from nearby Macon, Bob Seger, Grand Funk Railroad, Procol Harem, Rare Earth, B.B. King, John Sebastian, among many others.
-Byron was powered by a rural co-op, so there was insufficient electricity to power the concert at all times. So, at night, only the performers on stage were lit up and poorly so at that. The roadies had to set-up the instruments and amps in the dark with flash-lights as the power was shut off until the act came on. And, the audience was in the dark, with a sea of lighters lighting the way.
-People from Byron who did not want the event, still came to see what was going on. Think Woodstock with all manner of clothing and not-so-much clothing. It was a must see even for the nay-sayers.
-Hendrix played at 12:30 am on the night/ early morning of the 3rd and 4th. He noted he could not see the crowd very well. What is interesting is when he played Woodstock, they were so far behind on scheduling, Hendrix only played to 40,000 people on Monday morning not the hundreds of thousands there over the weekend.
-Not unlike the event film only recently discovered and released about a Harlem music festival around the same time, the footage of the Atlanta Pop Festival was kept in a barn for thirty years. Note, I was unaware of this festival until the documentary.
Byron has a personal meaning to me as I went to university in Atlanta and would drive home down I-75. Byron is a speed trap and I found out the hard way back in the late 1970s. They wanted payment of the ticket then, but I did not have enough money and they would not take credit cards or checks. So, I left my watch as collateral and said I would be coming back through in two days and pay the ticket, which I did.
So, my event at the end of the decade was less unusual than Hendrix’s at the beginning.