50 Years On: Jimi Hendrix at Merriweather Post Pavilion
Everyone has a list of shows he wishes he’d gone to or bands she regrets not seeing. At the top of my list of regrets is James Brown. The opportunities were there. I just didn’t seize them.
The show I most regret missing was Jimi Hendrix at the Baltimore Civic Center (of blessed memory) on 06/13/70. I had just finished my freshman year at Lehigh, and with singular confidence I announced to anyone listening (which was nobody) that I would see him in New York in the fall. Or not.
That Civic Center show still sounds pretty spectacular.
However, that would have been my second Hendrix show. The first was at the brand new Merriweather Post Pavilion in the brand new community of Columbia, Maryland, a city built at an intersection between Baltimore and Washington which has since exploded. ( Did you know that Marjorie Merriweather Post, the New York socialite and daughter of C.W. Post, was the person who built Mar-a-Lago?) Columbia and MPP both opened in 1967.
We had been following the Hendrix phenomenon ever since he appeared on the Smothers Brothers show and we latched onto Are You Experienced? We’d heard about Monterey Pop and the famous flaming guitar. We were pumped. A show was announced for Merriwether Post with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Soft Machine, and Eire Apparent. And this was only the second rock show at MPP; the first? Tiny Tim, with The Amboy Dukes opening (yep, Ted Nugent).
[A quick detour for my most favorite music story of all time: sitting in the living room of Skip Wolf, my best friend at the time (and I was dating his sister, Suzy). We were listening to Are You Experienced? when his dad walked through the room. He paused for a moment, picked up the album cover, stared at the garish fish-eye lens cover shot, and said: DID YOU PAY AMERICAN MONEY FOR THAT?]
My brother, Phil, and his best friend, Ted Schultz, piled into my newly acquired 1962 Corvair station wagon (two on the dash) and headed to Columbia for the show. We were a good ways back on the lawn, looking at tiny figures on the stage. This was our first rock show (our second was Steppenwolf and Iron Butterfly). My two previous shows were The Platters and The Marvelettes (both awesome). When Eire Apparent hit the stage, we could barely tell what was what. One guy had a poofy ’fro. Was that Noel Redding? Apparently not, although this was a band he was helping to produce. I really don’t remember anything about them.
[Eire Apparent were from Northern Ireland, promoted initially by Chas Chandler of The Animals and then by Hendrix, who produced the band’s first album, Sunrise. Eire Apparent were: Mick Cox, guitar, vocals; Ernie Graham, guitar, vocals; Chris Stewart, bass; and Davy Lutton, drums.]
1968 Soft Machine was the Kevin Ayers rock version of the band before they turned to brilliant electronic fusion jazz. This was the progressive band with Ayers on guitar and vocals, Mike Ratledge, organ, and Robert Wyatt on drums and vocals. For this tour, Andy Summers (The Police) played guitar. I remember only that it was interesting. It wasn’t until several years later I discovered how great a band this was in its evolution.
Both Eire Apparent and Soft Machine were being handled by Hendrix’s management team.
Finally it was time for Hendrix. Recently, my brother sent me a CD of the show a friend of his had recorded at the time! I had not looked for this one in the archives, and at first I thought there must be more, but the show really was just an hour long. But what an hour!
They opened with “Are You Experienced?”, an interesting choice, I thought. From that space stuff, Hendrix moved into the blues with “Rock Me Baby.” They followed that with five of the smash hits from that first album, beginning with “Foxy Lady” and “Hey Joe” (a cover of the song by The Leaves). “Fire” certainly whipped the crowd into a frenzy despite a steady drizzle. “Purple Haze” did the same. I was most excited for the tune sandwiched between those two: “I Don’t Live Today.”
Next Hendrix introduced “Wild Thing,” the Troggs’ hit, which was the centerpiece of the lighter fluid finale at Monterey. And he segued that into what would become, one year after this show, the finale at Woodstock (with the slow “Villanova Junction” coda): “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
As best we could hear, the whole show was great. Not sure I remember what he said between songs, but we could certainly see him gyrating on stage, ’fro-ed Redding static and Mitch Mitchell driving the beat.
Two important notes: this was the last time Hendrix performed “Rock Me Baby,” and it was the very first time he ever played “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Talk about a bust-out!
Phil Hopkins remembers:
You, me and Ted in the Corvair wagon. My first concert, so being at Merriweather was an amazing place to start. Still one of the best venues I’ve ever been to. We were sitting up on the lawn. Lots of kids, cute chicks in hip-hugging bell bottoms. I was surprised to find out recently that his set was so short, 45 min. The huge wall of speaker cabinets on stage blew me away. Sound wasn’t very good given today’s standards, but it was loud, and you sure could hear his screaming guitar. Vocals were muddy.
It was hard to see — but a very electric and exciting atmosphere. Jimi’s white Strat. I remember most of the songs from the first album. “Fire,” “Hey Joe.” Especially “Purple Haze” and “Wild Thing.” I don’t recall when it started raining, but it was towards the end of the set, maybe the end of “Purple Haze.” At the end of “Wild Thing,” when he started his guitar theatrics, we went up by a tree on higher ground to catch a glimpse. No encore. Then the skies opened up, and all hell broke loose. New sod was floating down the hill. A river of water down the walk to the parking lot. We got drenched, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
We may be old, but we DID get to see most of the cool bands!
[JHE: Are You Experienced?, Rock Me Baby, Foxy Lady, Hey Joe, Fire, I Don’t Live Today, Purple Haze, Wild Thing, Star-Spangled Banner]
And here is that Civic Center show I missed: