About 100 miles south of Atlanta, next to a field just outside the town of Byron, there stands a plaque erected by the Georgia Historical Society marking the location of the Second Atlanta International Pop Festival, where from 3 July through 5 July 1970, "Over thirty musical acts performed, including rock icon Jimi Hendrix playing to the largest American audience of this career."
In the sweltering Georgia heat, amongst intimidating bikers who were hired as security, hundreds of thousands of mostly young music fans descended upon the festival grounds, eventually knocking over fences and leaving the organizers with no choice but to declare it a free event. Law enforcement, not equipped to handle such crowds, adopted a hands-off policy with regards to crowd control, drug use and nudity. Against incredible odds, the event proved to be largely peaceful. By the time the Jimi Hendrix Experience took the stage on the evening of July 4, the audience swelled to more than 300,000.
Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church, a new documentary film about the music legend's Atlanta Pop set and the circumstances surrounding it, will debut on SHOWTIME on 4 September at 9PM ET/PT.
The film documents the massive festival hailed then as the 'Southern Woodstock' and recognized now as the last great US Rock Festival. The film presents the story of how rock music's burgeoning festival culture descended en masse to the tiny rural village of Byron, Georgia and witnessed Hendrix's unforgettable performance.
The film details the efforts by Atlanta promoter Alex Cooley to create the definitive music festival.
Cooley secured such talent as Bob Seger, BB King and the Allman Brothers, but Hendrix was the critical component he needed to elevate the three day festival to a major cultural event.
Electric Church features interviews with Hendrix's Experience band mates Billy Cox and the late Mitch Mitchell as well as Paul McCartney, Steve Winwood, Rich Robinson, Kirk Hammett, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, festival organizer Alex Cooley and many others. The film contains breathtaking, color 16mm footage of Jimi Hendrix's Independence Day appearance, a mere ten weeks before his untimely passing.
Standout performances include such Hendrix classics as "Hey Joe," "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," "Purple Haze," as well as confident, compelling versions of songs such as "Room Full Of Mirrors," "Freedom," and "Straight Ahead" that had not yet been issued by Jimi on an Experience album, but were intended to be part of the album he was working on that summer. "The Star Spangled Banner," played against a backdrop of exploding fireworks, is another highlight, which Cooley recalls as having "knocked peoples' socks off."
The Atlanta festival footage in Electric Church was shot by Steve Rash, later known for directing such Hollywood films as The Buddy Holly Story and Can't Buy Me Love. Rash intended for the footage he and his team were filming to be used for a documentary in the vein of Woodstock. When a deal couldn't be secured, virtually all of the film lay undeveloped inside Rash's barn for over three decades. The full-color film stock held up remarkably well, and makes for a transcendent viewing experience.
Massive, anarchic music fests in the U.S., unencumbered by high ticket prices and corporate sponsors were soon to be extinct, and the Atlanta Pop Festival was the last of this dying breed.
"This was, certainly in retrospect, sort of the end of an era, and a great end to an era. It was a powerful moment," said Glenn Phillips of the Hampton Grease Band.