Undoubtedly one of the biggest events in pop culture history, the Woodstock festival of 1969, will be remembered for countless reasons. The festival was brimming with a new way of thinking, a revolutionary spirit and enough fire-breathing jams to confirm the two former propositions. A huge array of artists performed at the now-iconic festival, but perhaps the finest performance came from Jimi Hendrix.
The counterculture poster boy Hendrix operated as the beacon of hope for a new generation. The sixties had provided a new sense of self, a creative spirit and a refusal to turn back to the old ways. But while the decade had promoted artistry over revenue, few artists stuck to their guns as well as Hendrix.
With his guitar and his know-how, Hendrix was determined to swirl brains and change minds with every performance. Using his own songs, he was one of the most daring performers around, and, to compound that notion, he delivered a rousing rendition of ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ for the bustling crowds at Woodstock.
Woodstock festival was jam-packed with incredible names. Everyone from The Who to Jefferson Airplane to Joe Cocker and beyond were in attendance and ready to tear up the stage. But none did it as effectively as Hendrix when he stepped on the stage and delivered this insane performance of the US national anthem. As ever with Hendrix, the show wasn’t just a throwaway moment; he performed the song for a reason.
Speaking to Dick Cavett after the performance, Hendrix revealed that he intended to show his discontent for the continuing war by performing the song. Hendrix cunningly decided to use the music’s own bombastic nature to project the violence carried out under his nation’s flag. He managed to do this by holding a keynote longer than he usually would and applied a little more pressure to his Stratocaster’s tremolo bar, which created an unsettling effect. With a guitar in his hands, he was more effective than his words could ever be. He then stopped playing the song in its original form and just turned the lyrics about bombs bursting in the air and rockets lighting up the night into music.
“I don’t know, man,” Hendrix said on his decision to play the track before adding, “I’m an American, so I played it. They made me sing it in school, so it was a flashback.” Cavett then points out that Hendrix is likely to find himself on the receiving end of a barrage of hate mail because of his decision to cover the national anthem in an unorthodox manner, to which Hendrix proudly stated, “It’s not unorthodox, I thought it was beautiful.”
The performance is certainly not the most cohesive version of the anthem we’ve ever heard but the way Hendrix manipulates the music to share his expression is a key indicator of his supreme genius. You can watch the moment Jimi Hendrix played the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ for the Woodstock festival back in 1969 below.