June 18, 1967, was one of the most important days in the history of rock and roll. It was the final day of the Monterey Pop Festival (which took place just down the coast from San Francisco) and featured many now-iconic performances, including a blistering set by a young singer/guitar player and his band - one that would go on to change the face of music forever - Jimi Hendrix!
What was interesting about Monterey was that this was basically the “proto” modern music festival, the template from which all subsequent pop and rock festivals took shape (even today). This idea of bringing together many different musical genres into a multi-day outdoor festival with mainstream popular appeal remained the golden standard within modern festival culture throughout the years: Woodstock, Ottawa Blues Fest, Festival de Quebec, Coachella, Lollapalooza, Osheaga, Glastonbury, Primavera Sound, Sasquatch!, and the list goes on.
Back then, Monterey attracted over 200,000 hippies and music lovers from all over, with performances from Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Otis Redding, The Beach Boys, and more, but it was the Jimi Hendrix Experience that stood out most - and for good reason. This was THE performance that put Jimi on the map. The famous one, where he lit his guitar on fire and let it burn onstage, generating that otherworldly feedback that set the psychedelic (and rebellious) tone which would permeate all of his artistic output.
Jimi was an innovator, turning a right-handed guitar upside down and restringing it to accommodate the fact that he was left-handed - that was the birth of the Jimi sound. He was an innate guitar god, teaching himself how to play the instrument, and then breaking all the rules by being the first to really play the guitar feedback as an instrument itself.
It wasn’t always easy for Jimi, who had a difficult relationship with his own community at first - it was hard for him to be taken seriously by Black audiences early on, as he was often lumped in with those making “white people music.” Lest we forget, however, that Jimi and James Brown were the only two artists to perform the night of Martin Luther King’s assasination, and he played a special concert for black fans in Harlem in ‘69.
However, it was Jimi’s 1970 performance with Band of Gypsies, an all-Black trio featuring some of the most talented musicians of their time, playing powerful political anthems and funky soul music, that tuned Jimi into a Black superhero! His skills on the guitar were unrivaled - it was wild, and people in the crowd knew they were witnessing something unique and special. At that moment, Jimi was mostly unknown to North American audiences, as his career first took off in England - so Monterey Pop was like a launching pad for him, and he rose to the challenge with aplomb. Despite the fact that Monterey was all about music, love, and flowers, Jimi came along and brought the fire, the passion, the danger, and the searing guitar solos that live on forever.
Luckily the entire performance can be found on Qello Concerts.
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