By Brett Peruzzi, Managing Editor
FRAMINGHAM – On August 25, 1968, at the height of his career, rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jimi Hendrix and his band The Jimi Hendrix Experience played the Carousel Theater in Framingham. It was a “theater in the round” with a large tent over a circular stage, surrounded by the audience, with about 2,500 seats. There were two shows that evening, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., and the opening act was the British psychedelic band Soft Machine.
The Carousel featured regular dinner theater musicals, but also numerous rock concerts during its 1960s heyday.
Hendrix and his band kicked off the first set with a cover of Chuck Berry’s song “Johnny B. Goode” before launching into originals like “Are You Experienced,” “Purple Haze,” and “Foxy Lady.” Other cover songs included “Sunshine of Your Love,” by Cream, and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the US national anthem written by Francis Scott Key. Hendrix would famously play this song in all its distorted, improvisational glory at the Woodstock rock festival in upstate New York the following summer.
Arthur Guercilena of Somerville was a high school student living in Framingham at the time and went to the show with some friends. An electric guitar player himself, Guercilena was excited about seeing Hendrix play live. “We had to see this guitar god who took the world by storm,” he recalled. But from his perspective, the show was somewhat of a disappointment. “Hendrix was ultra-loud,” he said, “and his equipment was in a constant state of feedback. For me it was just noise. I thought the opening act, Soft Machine, gave a much better performance.”
And, incredible as it may sound today, it wasn’t even a sold-out show, according to Guercilena. “I remember the theater as only half-full that night,” he recalled.
The sound problems were also noted by the Boston Globe writer Paul F. Kneeland, who reviewed the show, saying, “Jimi spent a lot of time between numbers apologizing for the fact that the amp system just wasn’t amping right.” But Kneeland seemed entranced overall by the performance, noting, “Jimi played the guitar turned around, upside down, behind his back, and then interpolated part of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ plucking the strings with his teeth.”
Kneeland summarized his review with perhaps prophetic praise, proclaiming, “If some latter-day Ben Jonson gets around to compile a pop music dictionary, the primary definition of ‘cool’ should be Jimi Hendrix.”
But unlike the sky-high ticket prices for rock concerts today, which routinely run in the hundreds of dollars, the Hendrix show was a relative bargain. “I think we paid between three and four dollars a ticket,” said Guercilena.
Just two years after his performance in Framingham, Hendrix died at age 27 in London, after taking a large dosage of barbiturates. He is recognized today as one of the most influential electric guitar players in popular music history, and perhaps the greatest rock instrumentalist ever.