Thursday, August 13, 2009

Woodstock stories: Jimi Hendrix

When Jimi Hendrix's name is mentioned in connection with Woodstock, the usual first reaction is to remember his playing of the Star Spangled Banner on guitar. The little known fact is that a small portion of the 500,000 in attendance actually saw Hendrix's performance.

Hendrix was the final act at Woodstock--a festival beset by massive traffic jams, torrential rains and thus long delays such that the finale did not occur until Monday morning. By this time, the audience had been reduced to 100,000-180,000--still a huge crowd but much, much smaller than the peak attendance.

The band was exhausted after having been up all night, waiting to go on. Hendrix, however, seemed to find some sort of energy from those who stayed to see him perform and played a two-hour set, the longest of his career. The blistering set ended with the national anthem, a solo improvisation by Hendrix which took band and audience by surprise. It became the musical symbol of Woodstock.

A year later, Hendrix was dead, victim of an overdose of sleeping pills which caused him to asphyxiate in his own vomit.

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