Revisit Jimi Hendrix’s powerful show at the Isle of Wight Festival, days before his death
Jimi Hendrix has had many a notable performance at festivals. The guitar genius’ iconic set at Woodstock will undoubtedly live longest in the annals of music history among many flagrant displays of his virtuoso skills. But one of his final shows on British soil would be just as memorable.
The Isle of Wight Festival had rightly taken its place at the pinnacle of music festivals by 1970. The ramshackle event, taking place on a small community just off the south coast of England, welcomed the weird and the wonderful to tune in and freak out. It was an event unlike any other; the perfect place for an artist unlike any other, Jimi Hendrix.
Taking place in June of 1970, the performance from Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox is one of the final shows Hendrix would ever give before his untimely death on September 18th following a barbiturates overdose. It adds even more gravity to a performance that would weigh heavily on all those in attendance—and there was a lot of them.
With well over half a million people attending the mammoth show, a serious increase on the originally expected 150,000 the sheer magnitude of the moment was something that weighed heavily on Hendrix. As noted by Tony Brown in Hendrix: The Final Days, his girlfriend of the time, Kirsten Nefer, was worried about the imposing nature of the crowd: “He was so afraid of going on the stage, and all these people, all of a sudden he felt trapped you know, in this little caravan and getting his clothes on.
“There was so many people in there you know, it was terrible… I remember walking from the caravan and out onto the stage, that was like the Gladiators in the old Roman Empire must have felt like that.”
Like many idols, Hendrix had begun to grow weary of fame and the increased spotlight and pressures it provided. The guitarist had transitioned from the talk of the town to a global icon and the weight of expectation was beginning to bring the star down. But nevertheless, the artist was still just that; an artist. So, Hendrix got himself ready to go on stage and face the baying audience.
After navigating an ambush interview from French radio network who asked him: “How do you get your inspiration?” Hendrix replied: “From the people. When they really show that they’re really, you know, there for a genuine purpose to enjoy themselves and we try to do the same, you know. As long as they don’t be too critical, but we’d like to make blues with them. It’s not gonna hurt me anyway.”
With a huge audience waiting, not much was left to do other than bone up on how the British national anthem ‘God Save The Queen’ went, saving it for a special performance, and decide on an intro.
Brown remarks that Jeff Dexter asked Hendrix if there was anything, in particular, he would like to be introduced with: “Just say Billy Cox on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums and er, you know, whoever’s going to be playing guitar, you know. Okay? We’re called The Blue Wild Angels,” he replied. “The what?” asked Jeff. “The Wild Blue Angel music, yeah. Right, hit it.”
Hendrix arrives on stage to thunderous applause and begins one of his most legendary sets of all-time among a string of legendary sets. While backstage he would be vulnerable and afraid of the pitfalls that he may have to navigate under the spotlight, when he had his guitar in his hand there was nobody bigger or braver than the incredible Jimi Hendrix.
The entire event is most accurately captured in Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix at The Isle of Wight, a documentary about the momentous occasion, a trailer of which can be found below. But for now, sit back and watch one the aforementioned monstrous performances, as Jimi Hendrix performs ‘Dolly Dagger’ just days before his death.