Star-spangled ban: thoughts on the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival

By Dennis Hartley

46 years ago today, the 3-day 1970 Atlanta International Pop Festival opened.  Attendees were estimated to be around 200,000.

Historically overshadowed by Woodstock (held 11 months earlier), it still boasted an equally impressive roster of performers. Granted, a number of Woodstock luminaries were there (Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter,  Ten Years After, John Sebastian, Richie Havens, Mountain, but there were top acts exclusive to the Atlanta Festival like The Allman Brothers, B.B. King, The Chambers Brothers, Procol Harum, Grand Funk Railroad, Spirit, Rare Earth, Mott the Hoople, and It’s A Beautiful Day (just to name a few).

The cost of a ticket?  $14.  I’ll spell that out, so you don’t think it’s a typo: fourteen dollars. Yes, I know, inflation, yadda yadda…but still (a front row seat at this fall’s Desert Trip will only set you back $9,400).

But I digress. Back to Atlanta, 1970.  At midnight on July 4th, Jimi Hendrix performed to the biggest domestic audience of his career (sadly, just over two months later, he was gone forever). He played a rousing set, which is documented in the excellent 2015 Showtime production, Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church (currently available  on Showtime’s In-Demand feature, if you haven’t caught it yet). Hendrix included his idiosyncratic “Star Spangled Banner” salute (how could he not do it on the Fourth?), with fireworks. Pretty awesome stuff.

Unfortunately, despite the “right of the people peaceably to assemble”  (not to mention that whole freedom of expression thing) someone didn’t find Jimi’s paean so awesome (there’s one in every crowd). The “someone”?  Governor Lester Maddox. Two days after the festival, he announced he was going to push for legislation to ban any future such DFH events in his state.  Because you know…freedom.

Oh, Georgia. Happy holiday weekend, everyone!

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