The late guitar god, fittingly, arrived in South Florida in dramatic fashion, touching down on Gulfstream’s horse-racing track in a helicopter. Over two days, Hendrix would be joined onstage by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and Chuck Berry.
There to capture the Miami Pop Festival was then-high-school photographer Ken Davidoff, who raced to the horse track, camera in hand, to capture the arriving Hendrix. Fifty of Davidoff’s photos, along with festival programs, video footage, posters and other artifacts, are part of HistoryMiami Museum’s new photo retrospective “Miami Rocks: The Miami Pop Festival, May 1968,” opening Friday, May 19, with a performance by Leon Hendrix, Jimi’s younger brother. The exhibit will close Sept. 30.
“It must have been amazing for a high-school student to hear the helicopter blades, realize, ‘Wow, that must be Jimi Hendrix,’ and then take pictures of a legend,” says Jorge Zamanillo, HistoryMiami’s executive director.
The Miami Pop Festival was the first rock festival on the East Coast – California’s infamous Monterey Pop Festival had taken place less than a year before – and laid the blueprint for the massive hippie fest Woodstock in 1969, Zamanillo says. The festival was organized by Coconut Grove resident Ric O’Barry (best known for his activist work with endangered dolphins and whales) and future Woodstock promoter Michael Lang, who later claimed Miami Pop was where "the seeds of Woodstock were sown.”
A second Miami Pop Festival took place in December 1968, also at Gulfstream Park, featuring performances by Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell and the Grateful Dead. Davidoff, now of Lake Worth, loaned his photos from both festivals to the museum for the exhibit, Zamanillo says.
“The show plays out like a slice of life,” Zamanillo says. “1968 belonged to the counterculture, and Coconut Grove was the center of it back then. This festival exemplified the protests of the time and the rock music that reflected their feelings.”
Friday’s opening reception (recommended attire: 1960s-themed) will also feature tribute performances from the Miccosukee Tribe band Tiger Tiger, who performed at the Miami Pop Festival 50 years ago.
Leon Hendrix and Tiger Tiger will perform 6-9 p.m. Friday, May 18, during the opening party for “Miami Rocks: The Miami Pop Festival, May 1968” at HistoryMiami Museum, 101 W. Flagler St., in Miami. Admission costs $10 for the party, $5-$10 thereafter. The exhibit will close Sept. 30. Call 305-375-1492 or go to HistoryMiami.org.