Atlanta 1970, the forgotten festival measured against Woodstock

Atlanta 1970, the forgotten festival measured against Woodstock

Atlanta 1970 the forgotten festival measured against Woodstock

If you are looking for a good concert, you will find a good documentary. The film Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church (in Filmin) collects What They Say was rock’s most innovative guitarist’s biggest mass bath: his performance at the Atlanta Pop Festival on July 4, a national holiday, 1970, two and a half months before he aged died aged 27. The music lover will enjoy Hendrix’s six-string skills, including this mythical psychedelic version of the US anthem The Star-Spangled Banner, which carried a powerful political message in those troubled years: This is our country too. The film, when it was released in 2015, also served to shed light on what happened that summer in Atlanta, the post-Woodstock one but without its myth.

It’s said that Atlanta had a bigger crowd than Woodstock: it’s unprovable, because a lot of people snuck into both without tickets; the aerial photographs show a similar crowd of people getting lost on the horizon of the respective esplanades. The poster defied comparison (besides Hendrix, who was the sensation of the moment, there was BB King, The Allman Brothers Band, Richie Havens or Ten Years After), although it wasn’t as overwhelming. There were big differences. The main thing is that no film was shot in Atlanta like that of Michael Wadleigh, who carved the legend of Woodstock in stone. And another not insignificant one: Georgia was and is a much more conservative state than New York, and then barely got out of racial segregation. There, the invasion of hippies, including many nudists, caused even more excitement.

Half a movie tells us what life was like in Byron, a town of 5,000 people. We meet the sheriff who, from the start, kept the festival flowing with no more supervision than his own. He then recruited some bikers to patrol the perimeter: the compound itself was a lawless place. We meet other neighbors who are perplexed by what happened, some outraged and others who have helped feed this crowd.

It was the last big hippie festival, the film says again and again. It would be in the US, because in August the Isle of Wight in England followed, where Hendrix also played and triumphed just 18 days before his death. Nothing serious happened in Atlanta, although the same could have happened months earlier in Altamont. Chaos couldn’t be the norm and the concert business became more professional. That time won’t come back, but we can’t stop visiting it again.

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