This rendition of the National Anthem will bring you to your knees.
Happy Independence Day.
It was reported recently that actors Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are reuniting to film “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” the third installment in the “Bill & Ted” series. The 1989 original film saw Reeves and Winter portray a couple of California high school slackers who dream of becoming rock stars. When the likelihood of flunking a final history exam most heinously threatens their lifestyle, they are visited by a futuristic character at a Circle K who stresses the importance of passing this particular test. Apparently the future of mankind depends on it (because Bill & Ted are, like, the Chosen Ones, dude.)
The pair travel through time in a telephone booth to prepare for the exam by meeting up with the likes of Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Freud, Mozart, and Lincoln and bringing these historical characters to present day San Dimas, California.
Cue the space-time continuum high jinks.
News of this upcoming film prompted me to think, not what I feel about Keanu Reeves using the term “bodacious” in 2018, but about time-travel and what-ifs, as in,
What if I could travel in a time machine?
Where would I go?
The answer is simple really.
At this very moment, I would go back to this very day, 50 years ago, May 18th, 1968.
Gulfstream Park, …
Hallandale, Florida, …
the site of The Miami Pop Festival.
The Miami Pop Festival was the first of its kind on the East Coast. Co-founder Michael Lang, a New Yorker who had settled in Coconut Grove and ran a head shop, and Ric O’Barry, a dolphin trainer at the Miami Seaquarium, decided to partner up and bring a music festival to Miami because – I don’t know – it was the 60s and it would be a groovy thing to do (?).
For Lang, the festival served as something of a test run; he would go on to co-produce Woodstock, in August 1969.
Now let me indulge some more in my time-travel fantasy ∼∼∼∼∼∼∼
Once I arrive at Gulfstream Park, I would take a seat near one of the two flatbed trucks that were rented to serve as a performance stage. Just after noon, I’d listen to the trippy musical rants of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, get my R&B fix with John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry, then I’d persuade someone to save my spot, go for a snow cone, and come back for the headliner, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
In the book, Woodstock Festival Remembered, Michael Lang remarked about the Miami Pops Festival:
It was going to be a two-day event; two shows a day, afternoon and evening. We rented out booths to sell head-shop gear and assorted psychedelia. We managed to get everything arranged and the crowds came. After the music began we realized somebody had forgotten to pick up [Jimi] Hendrix at the airport. I sent cars out to get him, but Jimi had gotten impatient and decided to rent a helicopter. This turned out to be beautiful. Just as Jimi was due to go on stage and we were going berserk, this helicopter came hovering over the stage…
Hendrix was fresh off his US festival debut performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival the year before and his debut LP, the masterful and incomparable Are You Experienced (1967). It’s fair to say he was the biggest rock star of the moment.
This electrifying performance would be one of Hendrix’s most memorable shows. The set list would include Hey Joe, Purple Haze, Foxey Lady, and Hear my Train a Comin’.
By the fifth song, I would pump my fist when Hendrix announces to the crowd that one of the amplifiers had blown out:
It’s really very bad trying to play on ashes. That’s all that’s left. Nothing but ashes.
The second day of the festival was canceled early by the organizers due to rain. Yet Hendrix wasn’t discouraged. He reportedly was inspired to write “Rainy Day Dream Away” which was featured on his third album Electric Ladyland (1968).
Look, I get it, Woodstock was and remains the mother of all music festivals, but it was the Miami Pop Festival that established the roots.
Or as Michael Lang once claimed:
This is where the seeds to Woodstock were sown.
Fortunately, you have a chance to time-travel too. Sort of. The HistoryMiami museum will launch a new exhibition this weekend titled “Miami Rocks” to honor the 50-year anniversary of the Miami Pop Festival. The exhibition will run until September 30, 2018.
(Photo credit for the above pictures belongs, with all due respect, to Ken Davidoff.)
Here is the virtuoso performing Foxey Lady 50 years ago today.