Miami Pop Festival, Gulfstream Park, May 18 & 19, 1968

Miami Pop Festival, Gulfstream Park, May 18 & 19, 1968
Authored By John Nicholson

There were 2 Miami Pop Festivals in 1968 held at Gulfstream Park, a racetrack in Hallandale, just north of Miami. This was the first one held May 18–19 and was promoted by Richard O'Barry and Michael Lang, yes, the Michael Lang who would go down in history as the hip, curly-haired, motorbike and horse riding Woodstock guy.

Bands featured at the festival included The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Mothers of Invention, Blue Cheer, Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. It's not a massive line-up, but all solid festival performers. You have to wonder what on earth Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker made of Zappa, don't you?

The festival was publicized on promotional materials and in radio ads as the "1968 Pop and Underground Festival," and "The 1968 Pop Festival" which suggested they had big hopes for it being a significant cultural event. An estimated 25,000 people attended though, so it didn't turn out to be the massive affair that the show in December did. That pulled in over 100,000.

The stage was just flat bed trucks. How glamorous. We forget now that a festival in '68 was a totally different sort of thing to today's corporate sponsored events, more akin to putting on a free show in a park today. That the biggest bands of the day might have to stand on flat-bed trucks to play seems odd, but the rock world was more simple, basic and down home back then.

The opening act on Saturday was, as tradition usually demanded, a totally anonymous band. Here it was The Package who I've been able to find out absolutely nothing about. A daytime & night time set was performed by Blue Cheer, Chuck Berry, and Jimi Hendrix, but the second day was marred by rain.

By the time Jimi came on to end the festival, it's reported that only about 400 rather soggy people were left. The rain and technical difficulties which plagued the Hendrix set resulted in Jimi tossing his guitar into the audience.

Later it was claimed by Frank Zappa and he played it years later on 'Zoot Allures' which blows my mind. It was inherited by Dweezil who unsuccessfully tried to sell it for a million dollars. 

In a Guitar Player piece, it's said that as they climbed onto the unconventional stage, Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell were seriously wacked on STP, a powerful, speed-spiked hallucinogen. How on earth do you play an instrument when you're so whacked out, let alone make it any good? I'm useless on guitar after a glass of wine. Listening to the recording of the show, you'd never know. Jimi's words are cryptic and otherworldly as ever, but that apart, you might think they were playing straight. 

Originally scheduled as a two-day event, Sunday's concert was virtually rained out. But there was at least one beneficial result - it inspired Hendrix to write 'Rainy Day, Dream Away'. 

This first Miami show went down in history primarily because of Lang's involvement. He later said the seeds of Woodstock were sown at this Miami show. It gave him a grounding as to what could be achieved and also what could go wrong if it rained. He'd need that experience soon enough.

On the 4th of July, 2012, a historical marker was unveiled at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale to commemorate the festivals.

Miami Pop Festival May 1968 wasn't the big Miami fest, that would happen in December, but it deserves it's place in history all the same.

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