The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival

Troubled Hendrix scorches his biggest ever US crowd on new film soundtrack.

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Jimi Hendrix would rather have been elsewhere when he took the stage at the Atlanta Pop Festival on July 4 1970 to face the largest US audience of his career. He just wanted to hole up in the womb-like sanctuary of his state-of-the-art new Electric Lady studio and craft his next album, but manager Michael Jeffery had him doggedly traversing the brutal pinball itinerary of the Cry Of Love tour.

Hendrix felt creatively stifled by being forced to play to huge crowds craving hits and guitar pyrotechnics but, with innate chitlin circuit professionalism and on-tap virtuosity, delivered a blinder that night.

The Atlanta Pop Festival became known as the “southern Woodstock” after an estimated 500,000 punters braved fearsome heat to descend on a vast field near the sleepy Georgia town of Byron to witness Hendrix, Mountain, the Allmans, Chambers Brothers and a clutch of local talent. Fears of biker beatings and redneck hostility were thankfully unfounded before Hendrix took the stage with bassist Billy Cox and drummer Mitch Mitchell and launched into Fire.

The set, available on bootleg for decades, has never sounded so good. An eloquent Red House and savage Spanish Castle Magic sit alongside songs from his projected new triple album, then called People, Hell And Angels. Sadly, these songs which were most dear to Jimi that night, including Freedom and Room Full Of Mirrors, would be released posthumously.

The magnificent solo on Hear My Train A Comin’ (criminally omitted from the film) is long held as one of his very greatest, up there with Machine Gun, as Hendrix soars to one of those stratospheric, out-of-body peaks where he seems to be dogfighting with the angels.

The home stretch ram-raids through a sizzling Purple Haze, laconic Hey Joe and scorching Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), before encores of Stone Free, searingly dramatic Star Spangled Banner (at that time the ultimate Vietnam war statement) and funky new Straight Ahead.

Ten weeks later, Jimi would be dead. In 2012, a Georgia Historical Society marker was erected on the festival site. Now this landmark show in Jimi’s career also has the audio and visual monuments it deserves. Maybe patchy and pained at times, but vital for fans.

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!