Setlist History: Jimi Hendrix Closes Woodstock With a Bang

On August 19, 1969 Jimi Hendrix was the final performer at Woodstock, hitting the stage at 9am on Monday morning.

The guitar hero was supposed to close the show 'round midnight but due to the scattered showers, delays, screw-ups, and inability to quickly get bands in and out of the gig without a helicopter, the schedule was running about a half day behind schedule.

Jimi was offered the midnight slot anyway but he was being paid the equivalent of $100k to close the show so he was gonna close the damn thing.

Originally Woodstock's co-creator Michael Lang wanted singing cowboy Roy Rogers to be the last performer so he could sing "Happy Trails" to the hippies as they sauntered back to the world.

But when Rogers' manager told Lang "it wouldn't be a good idea," the left-handed guitar slinger got the honors.

Hendrix's performance was poised for doom. A few months before Woodstock, he and his trio, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, headlined the Denver Pop Festival where there had been riots from fans who wanted to get into Mile High Stadium for free.

Police battled the mob with teargas which wafted to the stage. As the band were rushed to an awaiting cargo van, crazy attendees jumped on the roof of the vehicle freaking out the performers huddled inside in fear.

"Tax Free" from the Denver Pop Festival. The city wouldn't try to have such an event again for decades.

Hendrix's bassist of three years Noel Redding quit for numerous reasons shortly after the show, including he had heard Jimi wanted to expand the band and hadn't bounced the idea off of himself and the longtime drummer.

“Jimi is a very good guitarist, but he was very hard to work with,” Redding told Rolling Stone in November of 1969. “I think he suffers from a split personality. He’s a genius guitarist and his writing is very good, but he whips himself. He gets everybody around him very uptight because he worries about everything. God knows why.“

In an interview with Dick Cavett a month after Woodstock, the guitarist was asked if he ever had a nervous breakdown, he said he had three since he began his career in music.

Redding continued, "I could never understand why he worried so much. I mean, we were earning a fortune on the road. On three occasions, we earned over $100,000 for a single performance. In the last 12 months, I don’t think we ever copped less than $25,00 for a night’s work.

"The recording sessions were chaos, and on stage, it was getting ridiculous. The audience wanted us to play the old Hendrix standards, but Jimi wanted to do his new stuff. The last straw came at the Denver Pop Festival when Jimi told a reporter that he was going to enlarge the band . . . without even consulting myself or our drummer, Mitch Mitchell," Redding said.

So heading into Woodstock, Hendrix was down a bassist, but his loyal drummer stuck by him and didn't finch when two Woodstock percussionists (Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez) were brought on along with a pair of Jimi's Army pals: guitarist Larry Lee and bassist Billy Cox.

After Woodstock, Hendrix would get rid of everyone except Cox and hire Buddy Miles to form the all-Black trio that would be known as the Band of Gypsys

According to legend the pre-Woodstock rehearsals were less than incredible. The new group which Hendrix called Gypsy Sun and Rainbow, was trying to work things out, which wasn't easy considering the complexity Jimi could bring to the music.

Plus, the guitar god was nervous he had become a cartoon of himself and wanted to shed any preconceived notions about his sound and style which is why he expanded the band and even invited Lee to sing on a few numbers.

If shaking up the formula didn't work in practice, it sure came together during the dawn's early light of Max Yasgur's Farm in Bethel.

Not even Lee's guitar falling out of tune for a good chunk of the set stopped Jimi from rewarding the 40,000 who stuck around in the mud, fatigue, and stench.

"Purple Haze" at Woodstock

At over two hours, it was one of the longest concerts Hendrix engaged in.

He zig zagged from songs no one in the audience knew, to his hits and after "Stepping Stone," Jimi whipped out the "Star Spangled Banner," a piece he had played several times before and after, but this is the performance solidified in music history.

Wayne Pernu at says the anthem almost didn't appear in the set:

"Speaking to journalist Jerry Hopkins, [Jerry] Morrison recalled, 'There was an argument between me and Mike Jeffrey (then Hendrix’s manager) over whether or not Jimi should play 'Star Spangled Banner.' Mike said no. It had caused a riot in Dallas, and he said that things were bad enough already here without making them worse. I disagreed. Because Jimi was going on as the final act, I thought he had to play the national anthem. It didn’t matter. When Mike left the house, I told Jimi to go for it,” Pernu wrote.

There have been countless thinkpieces about Hendrix's rendition and what it meant to pop culture and rock music, but one thing cannot be denied, Hendrix's unique take has remained the gold standard ever since that summer morning in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains.

And yet bands continue to play it.


Journey has played it 246 times, Ted Nugent 232 times; and Blues Traveler has done it 165 times - once at Woodstock '94.

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Last updated: 9 Dec 2023, 13:58 Etc/UTC