In 1998, editor Steve Pesant at Experience Hendrix Magazine (published by the Hendrix family’s Experience Hendrix, LLC from 1996-2000) invited yours truly to contribute a 30th-anniversary flashback to seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the first Miami Pop Festival on May 18, 1968, at the Gulfstream Racetrack in Hallandale, Florida, a few miles north of where I grew up in North Miami. Here’s a slight return to the story published in the July/August 1998 issue (Vol. 2, Issue 3), with a few 2020 comments in italics.
Growing up in North Miami, Florida between the late ‘50s and the late ‘60s, I had my radio tuned to Top 40 (WQAM, WFUN, and, at night, WABC in NYC) and R&B (WMBM). On my Motorola portable stereo (a late-’50s relic handed down to me by my dad) were Beach Boys/Beatles/Stones records and jazz by Maynard Ferguson’s big band (the latter thanks to my drum teacher, Sonny Mangiamelli).
SoFLA in the mid-’60s was a bit behind the West Coast, NYC and London, counterculturally speaking. High school kids were either soshs/frats, greasers, surfers, or high-GPA nerds. At age 16 1/2 in spring ’68, my junior year at North Miami High School, I was an under-achieving, 3.0-GPA nerd into surfing, music and girls, not necessarily in that order.
Surf pal Tom “T.K.” Kounelis, a year older, had turned me on to “Are You Experienced” the previous summer (a friend of TK’s in England had hipped him to it), and Hendrix blew my mind as he had everyone else’s.
Pot had hit town by then, and a cute girl from my band class school had turned me on, one lovely Summer of Love night in the backyard at friend Danny Schecter’s house, a few blocks from mine, when his parents were out of town.
By spring ’68, beer was already pretty much passé among the nascent Miami hippie counterculture. Hendrix and Cream and Spirit and Love were getting major play on Rick Shaw’s late-night “UG” (underground) show on WQAM. (WEDR-FM was also just beginning to broadcast psychedelic rock stuff, and in stereo.)
“Are You Experienced” and “Axis: Bold as Love” were glued to my turntable; I knew and could play almost every Mitch Mitchell rhythm, riff, and fill.
So I was stoked when Jimi was booked to headline a big two-day rock festival in May at Gulfstream Park, a nearby horse racetrack.
A bunch of other bitchin’ underground bands were also on the bill. The flyer said the festival was being staged by Joint Productions. I immediately bought tickets for Saturday.
May 18 was a gorgeous subtropical spring day, deep blue sky, big puffy white clouds, warm but not too humid. DeeDee Ernst, the girl I’d asked to go with me, bailed at the last minute, so I called up Charlie Mallicote, my most literate surf bud, who’d turned me on to Jack Kerouac when we were 12.
I drove over to Chas’ house in my folks’ ’55 Olds Rocket 88 (British racing green, topped with much-used surf racks and big back seat — “The Big Green Pleasure Machine”).
I’d scored a little Colombian gold; we burned a joint in his garage, saving the rest for the fest. As we backed out of his driveway, giggling like idiots, his mother ran after us yelling, “What were you doing out there? What’s that awful smell? You come back here, Charlie!”
Gulfstream Park was just a few miles away, and we made it safely to the huge parking lot, walked up the long, royal palm-lined concourse into the grandstand, and to our seats.
Buzzing intensely, we looked down on three flatbed trailers parked on the dirt part of the racetrack, facing the grandstand bleachers. Each flatbed was stacked with scaffolding and the biggest sound systems we’d ever seen or heard. While one band played on one stage, the other two stages were being broken down and set up. It was non-stop bands from mid-afternoon to midnight, maybe 15 or so over the two-day gig. Way ahead of its time.
Part of the fun was watching all the goings-on backstage between and even during sets. The layout allowed us to clearly see the artists’ helicopters landing on the green behind the flatbeds, and limos pulling up to the stage stairs, bands and roadies and promoters scurrying everywhere.
Arthur Brown and his pyrotechnic Crazy World act were wild. The stage exploded during “Fire.” Blue Cheer delivered “Summertime Blues” so loud and hard my ears just about bled from 40 rows away. Charlie and I also think we recall seeing Sweetwater, Canned Heat, and Frank Zappa & The Mothers. Sorry if we’re wrong.
Finally, after some delay (long enough for us to sneak off and smoke our last reefer), Hendrix’s helicopter landed on the midway. Noel and Mitch, two skinny white guys, emerged first, followed by Hendrix, towering several inches taller.
They jumped onstage and plugged into two huge stacks of amps, and just erupted. The next hour was a flood of light show visuals, feedback, and otherworldly sounds we couldn’t believe could emanate from an innocent-looking upside-down Strat.
Among the tunes we can remember them performing were “Foxey Lady,” “Purple Haze,” “Fire,” and “Hear My Train A-Comin’.” Lots of outrageous improv within the basic song structures. And Mitchell was almost as fascinating to watch as Jimi; Mitch actually f**ked up a couple of times, giving me hope in knowing that even great drummers weren’t perfect.
Gulfstream is a memory Charlie and I both revere. Much more than the minute details, the vibe was significant, the thrill of watching someone explore uncharted music territory, of witnessing something profound and future-bound. We consider ourselves very lucky to have witnessed this epochal event midway through our 16th years.
My biggest regret was not taking a camera. Fortunately, others did. And Hendrix’s set was thankfully recorded and finally released in November 2013.
Experience Hendrix readers no doubt knew this long ago, but I only recently learned through reminiscing with Charlie that Michael Lang was one of the promoters at Gulfstream, running around barefoot, jumping out of helicopters and into limos backstage, and freaking out the local cops and businessmen.
Lang, of course, co-promoted the historic Woodstock Music and Art Fair a year and a few months later, in August 1969.
Charlie now owns a lodge and restaurant in Woodstock.
And here I am 30 years later, sharing this choice little memory with you.
What a circle!
This was the first of my three Hendrix experiences. The second was at Devonshire Downs in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley on June 22 and 23, 1969, and the last at the San Diego Sports Arena on July 25, 1970, less than two months before his death on September 18. Electric tales yet to be told.
Santa Clarita journalist and Grammy nominee Stephen K. Peeples was raised by career newspaper journalists and music-lovers in Miami and Los Angeles. He earned a Grammy nomination as co-producer of the “Monterey International Pop Festival” box set with Lou Adler and Geoff Gans (Rhino/MIPF, 1992). • Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from 1988-1990, and writer/producer of hundreds of WW1 programs in the preceding five years. • His first music industry gig was as an Associate Editor at Cash Box magazine in Hollywood in 1975. He went on to be a Media Relations-PR executive for Capitol Records (1977-1980), Elektra/Asylum Records (1980-1983) and Rhino Entertainment (1992-1998). • Moving online, he was Rhino’s first web editor (1996-1998), then elevated to content editor of Warner Music Group websites (1998-2001). • Based in the Santa Clarita Valley just north of L.A., Peeples was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal newspaper’s website from 2007-2011, and wrote-hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music TV show from 2010-2015 (archived online and still airing in reruns). • He is now a News Editor at SCVTV’s SCVNews.com, SVP/New Media Emeritus for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. and developing a biography of Texas Artlaw Boyd Elder. For more info and original stories, visit https://stephenkpeeples.com/. For exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to Peeples’ YouTube channel.
Article: Jimi Hendrix Rocks Gulfstream: Reliving First Miami Pop Festival, 1968
Category: News and Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: stephenkpeeples.com