Legendary Rocker, Jimi Hendrix, is the focus of the new film Electric Church. An entertaining blend of documentary and concert film, Church proves why Hendrix has remained so iconic 45-years after his death. The Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles hosted a private screening and panel discussion on Thursday, September 17th just over a week after the film’s debut on the Showtime cable network. It was presented by Jimi’s sister, Janie Hendrix, and featured a post screening panel discussion with director John McDermott and the legendary Eddie Kramer who was Jimi’s long time studio engineer responsible for the mixing the concert audio for this movie.
Based around the recently discovered documentary footage of the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival, the film features an uninterrupted set of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s headlining slot in front of 500,000 fans. This was Jimi’s largest audience of his career. The concert footage is bookended by a documentary that informs us of Hendrix’s status in 1970 and is an anecdotal tale of a small country town confronted with an army of counter culture hippies descending upon them for 2 days of debauchery. Toted as the Woodstock of the South and remembered as the last major Rock festival of that generation, Atlanta Pop took place on the 4th of July in Byron, GA, about 100 miles outside of Atlanta. The town had a farm with a race track that the promoter, Alex Cooley, felt would be ideal to host upwards of 150,000 attendees which would double the attendance from the previous year’s first Atlanta Pop Festival. The only way to get those numbers was to book a true to form international headliner and at that point in Rock & Roll you couldn’t get any bigger than Jimi Hendrix.
Hippie culture was still something most Americans had never seen and only heard of negatively on television and in newspapers. With the Woodstock movie being released in May, 2 months before Atlanta Pop, the exposure to the free unbridled lifestyle of the counter culture along with the power of Rock & Roll had now penetrated middle America creating a demand amongst youth from Canada to Texas who now wanted to experience it first hand. On July 3rd roads leading into Byron were jammed for miles with cars carrying half a million people, a huge leap from the 150,000 the organizers hoped for. The story, although touching on the prejudices of the deep South, is incredibly light hearted and humorous in it’s tale of naked hippies, a 104 degree heat wave and the technical difficulties in pulling off an event that trumped Woodstock but was overlooked over the coarse of Rock history. As revealed during the panel discussion, without DVD’s and On Demand, films had to be produced and edited before the summer schedule of releases or else they were pushed to the following year. With the concert happening in July it was forced to be a 1971 release at which point no studio was interested in releasing it a year after it happened. The footage was then stored away for decades until now.
Ultimately the Festival story is just a set up to showcase never before seen footage of Jimi Hendrix at the apex of his career. The Experience tear through a set of now classics including “Fire”, Spanish Castle Magic”, “Foxy Lady” and “Purple Haze”. Unlike the Woodstock film which was shot by a major studio, Atlanta Pop Fest’s film crew was a hodgepodge group of videographers from across the US who had been focused on perfecting the craft of shooting Rock shows having all been part of the culture as it grew. Despite the lower quality of film and equipment, what we get here is something unique, a focus not just on his stage performance but close ups of his hands as he plays throughout the show. This insight will be a treat to all guitarists and Hendrix aficionados when watching Church as they get a detailed look at the tremendous technique he had. The climax of the film is Jimi playing a 4th of July rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” as fireworks pop over-head. It’s a magical experience that had the Grammy Museum crowd clapping after each song. 10-weeks after this, the biggest show of his career, Jimi passed away.
Electric Church stands as proof of why he changed music forever and testament to him not just being a symbol of cool for dorm room posters and graphic T-shirts. His genius mastery of the guitar has yet to be surpassed and is praised throughout the film in interviews with Paul McCartney, Steve Winwood, Derek Trucks and Kirk Hammett of Metallica. The final Showtime cut is at 90-min which forced the director to remove 3-songs from Jimi’s show. He has promised to add those 3-songs plus more treats to the DVD release so keep watch for that. Check out Sho.com to see when it will air again on your local cable network.
– Dominic Painter