New York Pop Festival 1970 Complete Audience Recording (No Label)
Downing Stadium, Randall’s Island, NY, USA – July 17, 1970
(53:39) Intro, Stone Free, Fire, Red House, Message Of Love, Lover Man, All Along The Watchtower, Foxy Lady, EZY Ryder, Star Spangled Banner, Purple Haze, Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
If there was a Music Festival that ever sounded like a complete pain in the ass it would be the 1970 New York Pop Festival held at Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island, a borough of Manhattan in New York City. From the word go it seemed like a headache, radical youth groups wanted to use the festival as a political platform and even wanted to share in the profits although they were making no investment themselves. The festival itself was plagued by gatecrashers so much that on the third day, it was declared a free festival. With so many people getting in free, the gross revenue was far below expected numbers and some acts cancelled due to this lack of funds.
Jimi Hendrix was certainly the most popular act on the three day bill, playing on the first day, that also featured a line up of Jethro Tull, Steppenwolf, John Sebastian, and Grand Funk Railroad. There are several recordings of Jimi’s performance, an excellent yet incomplete soundboard recording, a nearly complete excellent audience recording that is the subject of this release, an incomplete second audience recording of lesser quality, and a third source that does not widely circulate. The soundboard was released in the mid 80’s on the vinyl title Live At Randall’s Island 7-17-70 (Moon Tree Records PH 1692), then on CD as Message Of Love (Triangle Records PYCD 043), Live USA (Imtrat imm 40.90036), and Rescued From Randall’s Island (Tendolar TDR-088). The version of Red House from this performance was officially released in 1982 on the Jimi Hendrix Concerts double LP by Reprise Records. A little over ten years ago Watchtower released a soundboard / audience mix as Before The New York Sunrise (Watch Tower WT 2005149/50).
The recording featured on this new release is an excellent audience recording and to my knowledge is making is silver disc debut 49 years after the performance. All instruments and vocals are clear in the mix and are in near perfect balance and sounds like it was recorded close to the stage. It is an open air recording and is thus lacking the lower frequencies making it just a bit thin. There is just a small amount of distortion around the edges and a touch of hiss as one would expect. Lastly there is some crowd noise near the taper so you get the typical shouts of “Sit down”, it is not distracting and actually gives a bit of historical ambiance.
Jimi’s set for this festival was just under an hour and featured most of his crowd pleasing hits of the day plus a few newer songs in for good measure. This recording has Jimi’s intro, “this cancers killing me…hey we got Billy Cox on bass…we got Mitch Mitchell on drums…yeah right, yours truly on public saxophone” and they get into Stone Free. At the 3:20 mark there is a bit of disturbance near the taper and he has to protect his equipment while shouts of “Sit down” are louder than the music, this is the worse of it. The band is playing well and turns in a nice version of the song, curiously the song had just been released in America the year prior as part of the Smash Hits compilation. Typical for events like this, the evening news is being picked up on the PA system. Jimi has a technical issue about 40 seconds in that is quickly resolved and he gets into the riff to Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love at the 2:30 mark followed by The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction. The slow blues of Red House does little to sooth the audience and sporadic shouts of sit down are elicited from the crowd. The fact that this song was released officially speaks volumes as the playing is excellent, Jimi just explodes during the solo, incredible fluent and powerful, once he segues the band into the slow part he is greeted with a round of applause.
Just prior to All Along The Watchtower Jimi does a hilarious Mighty Mouse impression…”here I come to save the day”. At the songs conclusion is the only tape flip, no music is lost and the recording begins prior to the band playing Foxy Lady. EZY Rider is one of the only newer songs in the set and flows rather strangely into the Star Spangled Banner. This is a decent version that has Jimi playing a bit of Auld Lang Syne during the coda then instantly goes into the riff to Purple Haze quite nicely. Jimi thanks the audience then amid boos he says “fuck off these are my friends”…while the crowd has been mellow for the last 30 minutes or so, it seems like there was a constant presence of tension. The band play an energetic version of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) to end their performance, all in all a very well played concert.
The packaging is typical No Label, full color live shots of Jimi from the actual concert as well as little pictures of the hand bill. Of course picture disc and numbered sticker all housed in a slim lined jewel case. This is a very nice release, only wish they would have made it a two disc set and included the soundboard recording on the other disc.