Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jimi and a Prelude to Beauty/Hippies in Miami Pt. 1:

This is a the first of a Two-Part Post: Hippies in Miami
Pt. 1: Jimi and a Prelude to Beauty 
Pt. 2: Jim and a Prelude to Destruction

Hello and welcome back to Old Highway Notes. When last we were in Miami we spent some time driving up I-95. This week we go back in time to visit Miami in the 1960's where events in the world of hippies and rock music would converge as preludes to both beauty and destruction.

In the mid 1960's Miami was a swinging vacation destination attracting youth from around the country to come down to Florida to play in the sun and the sand. It was a pretty clean cut swinging scene.

By the later parts of the 60's a lot had changed. A new movement had swept the youth of America. Psychedelic drugs and harder rock music were popular and the kids created the hippy lifestyle. The movement centered around freedom in response to the repressed lifestyles of the 1950's and early 1960's. The freedom was celebrated in rock music, underground newspapers and comics, freaky fashion styles, "free love", communal living arrangements and alternative lifestyles. It showed up in trips taken both on the highways and in the mind. Psychedelic drugs became a staple in the scene with intrepid explorers pushing the limits of their consciousness. In the "real world", a nomadic culture of road trippers emerged that would travel from commune to commune and from rock concert to rock concert in beat up old jalopies, on motorcycles, and in in old vans and school buses converted to rolling crash pads. It was all a part of the hippy scene.  Here is some footage of hippies in action from the 1960's.

A Prelude To Beauty
Miami Pop Festival May 18-19, 1968

In 1966 as the hippy scene was gaining momentum, a young Michael Lang had relocated from New York City and had opened a 'head shop" in the Miami area. A head shop was a store that specialized in selling all of the accessories of the hippy lifestyle  from bootleg rock records to paisley scarves to pipes and rolling papers and other illicit drug supplies. As part of the emerging hippy movement, Lang was reported to have gone to California in June of 1967 to attend the legendary Monterey Pop Festival in Monterey, California. Like many in attendance, Michael was impressed by the scale of the event, the beautiful feelings that washed over the crowd, and the music. Jimi Hendrix put on a memorable performance in Monterey that likely also provided inspiration for the young Lang.

Students of music history might recognize the name of Michael Lang, he was to become the youthful promoter who created the legendary 1969 Woodstock Festival in New York. But in 1968 he was a small business owner in Miami who was putting on his first music festival closer to home at the Gulfstream Park, a horse racing track which is actually located just North of Miami in Hallandale, Florida. He had been inspired by the success of the Monterey festival and had decided to attempt recreating the festival for the East Coast. He announced a lineup that included Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and the Mothers of Invention, Blue Cheer, Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown.

Source: Poster Mania

Scheduled for May 18-19, 1968, the festival was a relatively simple affair with stages set up on flatbed trucks with acts alternating on the stages. The bands would play short festival sets twice a day. Of note were the performances by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. A live album of that days set has since been released: Miami Pop Festival  Also, PBS's American Masters aired a biography of Jimi Hendrix called Jimi Hendrix : Hear My Train A Comin' DVD/All Region that featured previously unreleased performances from the festival.

When the Jimi Hendrix Experience arrived in Miami for the festival there was a mix up with cars at the airport. To speed things along, Michael Lang had a helicopter contracted to fly them to the festival grounds. It provided a dramatic entry that energized the crowd. It was a move that would would late be made again to get acts to the stage at the Woodstock Festival when traffic clogged the highways of upstate New York leading to that festival. This excerpt from the film talks about the Miami Pop Festival.

After a grueling tour of 60 shows in 66 days this would be one of the last performances of the Experience. In addition to the footage that PBS found, this super8 home movie clips from a festival goer is a raw but very authentic artifact.

The sets scheduled for May 19 were cancelled for several of the artists, including the Jimi Hendrix Experience, due to heavy rains. This may have been a blessing in disguise as the rains (besides foreshadowing the Woodstock Festival) inspired Hendrix to write the song "Rainy Day, Dream Away". I have in my collection an unreleased demo version of the song that will be our lone addition to the Interstate 95 play list this week.
  • Rainy Day Dream Away    Demo    Jimi Hendrix    1:52
In less than a year, the Jimi Hendrix experience would be broken up and in August of 1969 Jimi would be performing at Woodstock with a different group of musicians. Michael Lang will have returned to New York and began making plans for the horribly mismanaged, yet legendary, Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Miami Pop indeed was a prelude to beauty that happened the next year in a small town in upstate New York.

Miami Pop II December 28-30, 1968

The first Miami Pop Festival was such a success that a follow up was nearly inevitable. Promoters Tom Rounds and Mel Lawrence, who had previously promoted the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California, were able to put together an outstanding line up of the top acts of the day. For the 7 dollar price of admission, festival goers were treated to performances from Procol Harum, The Turtles, The Grass Roots, Three Dog Night, José Feliciano, The Blues Image, The Box Tops, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Hugh Masekela, Pacific Gas and Electric, Fleetwood Mac, Richie Havens, The Sweet Inspirations, Joni Mitchell, Jr. Walker & The Allstars, The McCoys, Sweetwater, The James Cotton Blues Band, Canned Heat, The Charles Lloyd Quartet, Ian & Sylvia, Country Joe & the Fish, Buffy St. Marie, Steppenwolf, The Amboy Dukes, Terry Reid, These Vizitors, Iron Butterfly, Chuck Berry, Flatt and Scruggs, Grateful Dead, Marvin Gaye, and Joe Tex. With that sort of value 100, 000 young people, some hippies some not converged for a musical party. It was a continuation of the growing momentum of the festival scene in the US that would culminate with a half a million people at Woodstock the following August. 
Source: Wikipedia

The Harvard Crimson Review published a mixed opinion review in January, 1969 that was not favorable of the more West Coast laid back noodley psychedelic music. Rather, the author more preferred harder edged shorter songs such as the English and East Coast bands were producing, Regardless of his musical  biases he does provide an excellent description of the festivals atmosphere:

Held for three days in late December in a gigantic race-track cum park just outside Miami the Festival unrolled smoothly. It represented in its music a cross-section of the entire rock scene today: folk (Joni Mitchell, Buffy Ste. Marie, etc.), blues (James Cotton, Butterfield), jazz (Charles Lloyd), rock, progressive rock, Motown (Marvin Gaye, Jr. Walker) and even top-40 rock (the Boxtops, the Turtles). All this in a setting of serene scenic beauty.

There were two stages far enough apart so as not to interfere with each other's music, one in a meadow dotted with trees and the other in front of the racing track's grandstand. Vast open spaces in between with enormous Pop-Artifacts strewn along the way deliberately aimed at re-creating the Pepperland atmosphere of the movie "Yellow Submarine" and in the unfettered Florida sunshine amid throngs of healthy young people (46,000 on the last day) it came as close as is possible in real life to achieving its purpose.

Performers were carefully scheduled on each stage so as not to overlap, by catering to people's different tastes (thus Steppenwolf on one stage while Joni Mitchell was playing at the other, Ian and Sylvia in the meadow while Iron Butterfly played the grandstand) though even with diligent shuttling from stage to stage I inevitably missed some performances. This kind of sensible planning on the part of the Festival organizers marked most aspects of the three day show. Facilities were thoughtfully and adequately provided: free parking, food stalls, seating, elaborate and powerful sound systems. Not to mention the whimsical diversions on the site such as a "Meditation Grove," a display of walking fish (only in Florida . . .), and a giant three-layered slide. Above all, though, there was the music.

I had no recordings in my collection from this festival, so no tracks make the play list from this day. But, dear reader, I did find the Grateful  Dead's set available streaming on Archive, as well as on YouTube. Of course that is not really surprising, there is so much Grateful Dead music available.on the Internet. I have embedded both versions for you to enjoy. 


The Miami Festivals were a prelude to a beautiful time in rock history when weekend after weekend provided festivals of enormous size with incredible line ups. It would be a short era peaking at Woodstock before tragedy would strike at Altamont Speedway in California making the large rock festival an increasingly rare event in the 1970's and 1980's. It remained so until the Lollapaloozas and Bonneroos of the 1990's revived the concept for a new generation. But Miami also was to be the prelude to destruction. That is the story we will discuss when we next meet in three weeks on Interstate 95 for some more Old Highway Notes. Before then, we will return next week to Route 66 for more blues in Chicago and in two weeks we will be back in south San Diego County looking at the sights on old Highway 101. Join us, won't you. And until then: stay Experienced!

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