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Miami Pop Festival May 1968

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The first rock festival held in Miami was a small scale event which was marred by bad weather. An estimated 25,000 people attended. It was promoted by Richard O’Barry and Michael Lang, later famous as the hip, curly-haired, motorbike and horse riding promoter of Woodstock. 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!

The stage was just flat bed trucks. 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. The closing act was the Hendrix Experience. In a Guitar Player piece, it’s said that “as they climbed onto Miami Pop’s 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!

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. Their performance at the festival was released on CD a couple of years ago and it’s a scintillating gig. There is also YouTube footage available.

On the first day, 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 on Zoot Allures. It was inherited by Dweezil who unsuccessfully tried to sell it for a million dollars.

This first Miami show went down in history primarily because of Lang’s involvement. He later said the seeds of Woodstock were sown at Miami. On the 4th of July, 2012, a historical marker was unveiled at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale to commemorate the festival.

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

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