Woodstock: The Garden Turns 50; A Rock 'n' Roll Legacy for the Ages, Captured In Film, Birthday Concerts, and the Ultimate Box Set
"Woodstock" by Joni Mitchell
I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me
I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try an' get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man
I don't know who l am
But you know life is for learning
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Joni Mitchell wrote, pretty much, the perfect song about Woodstock ...and she wasn't even there. Joni was scheduled to appear but stayed behind in NYC. Her manager, Elliott Roberts, asked her to stay behind as he did not want her to risk missing her Monday booking on the Dick Cavatt Show. According to JoniMitchell.com, when she debuted the song Woodstock at a concert later that year, Mitchell introduced it:
“Everybody knows about Woodstock. (applause) I started off to go there. I was playing in Chicago. And then…my manager…and the group…and, uh, we’d just finished playing in Chicago. They were on their way to the festival. And I was on my way with them, except I had to do a television show the following Monday.Graham Nash told Rolling Stone,
So Sunday afternoon we arrived at the New York Airport and there were all sorts of hassles with helicopters and transportation into the festival. And, uh, so I got abandoned there; I got left behind, and I felt really terrible. I went back into New York City and turned on my television in my hotel room and watched the little bits of it that they put on the news and felt sorry for myself.
And then when I saw the magazine articles and pictures of them and everything, I really, really felt sorry for myself, because it’ll never happen again, of course. They’ll try and recapture it, you know, and it’ll just get worse and worse and worse. Well, maybe that’s a pessimistic way to look at it, but, I don’t know.
It was really something, that people could be so good to each other. Even if it was only for three days. All those people being good to each other for three whole days. Fantastic. (Laughter)
So I wrote a song for that group to sing. Actually I wrote it for myself to sing. And, uh, here I’m gonna sing it anyway. I hope everybody’s….(inaudible).
"...It’s one of the great credits to her as an artist that she was able to write the song “Woodstock” without having been there. Of course, when you’ve got all these people babbling at you about what happened, I guess it’s pretty infectious."Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had the hit single with an electrified version, but purists favor the simpler Joni version.
Woodstock was something very special. If you were there, you knew it immediately. Bob Lefsetz wrote, "I'm trying to paint the picture for you. The counterculture was hiding in plain sight, but the establishment didn't see it. And Woodstock was evidence of its humongous size, even its members were overwhelmed. It was a tribe. And from thereon forward, the younger generation ruled."
In a ten year old interview (just published) Joan Baez told Rolling Stone,"I guess the collective memories that people have, I have in a sense. It’s the mud and the cops roasting hot dogs and people wandering around in the nude. And the fact that, looking back, it was in fact a huge deal. I think of the events that happened around that time, it was a perfect storm, which is why people wish they’d been there. And not just Woodstock, but the whole time period when it was music and people feeling community with each other because they had either been in the civil rights movement or the movement against Vietnam."
One of the best things about the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock, amidst the saturation media coverage, there have been some nice remembrances. Here are a few that I found worthwhile. Read the complete Joan Baez interview in which she also talks about sharing a helicopter with Janis Joplin and much more. Despite admittedly being on mescaline at the time of his Woodstock performance, Carlos Santana gave a rather clear headed account to the NY Times. Frank Fitzpatrick wrote a nice piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer about four attendees and where their lives took them. The story of how Jerry and Judy Griffin met on the way to Woodstock is a quick and fun read at People.com. Jon Pareles wrote a fine analysis for the NY Times that included his first hand experience at the festival. Finally, Bob Weir discusses in Rolling Stone why Woodstock was important to the Grateful Dead and what went wrong.
For part of the 50th anniversary celebration, the first thought was to have a concert. Original Woodstock promoter Michael Lang fronted a group of financial backers in the primary attempt to hold a festival. The many roadblocks he encountered have been amply documented in the press. The articles are too numerous to link here but, one early article talked about two concerts that had been proposed and listed the prospects of seeing the artists who had played at the original 1969 festival.
While the details of Lang's Woodstock 50 cancellations dominated the headlines all summer, Bethel Woods quietly stuck to their plans for a golden anniversary celebration of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair. The Former Yasgur alfalfa farm turned out to be the place to celebrate the 50th as an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal describes.
On Thursday, August 15th, Bethel Woods offered a concert by Arlo Guthrie followed by a showing of the Woodstock movie (Director's Cut). Friday's concert headliner was Ringo Starr and his All Star Band. The festivities continued Saturday night with a Santana concert, which included opener The Doobie Brothers. The celebration wrapped up on Sunday night with a terrific concert line up with openers Grace Potter and the Tedeschi Trucks Band followed by a blazing set by John Fogerty, recapturing the essence of his Credence Clearwater Revival set fifty years ago. Read more about the Bethel Woods Celebration.
Watch a long version trailer for the 1970 documentary from Michael Wadleigh
For the 25th anniversary a director's cut was released. After a recent viewing of this edition, which adds a few songs that were previously unseen, I became nostalgic for the original. I am not the only one who feels this way; a quick internet search reveals many who have documented the changes. The most notable addition is probably Janis Joplin who was left out of the original (in the director's cut, she does "Work Me, Lord"). There is an additional song performed by Canned Heat, "A Change Is Gonna Come", as well as two additional numbers added to the closing set by Jimi Hendrix. The songs shown by Jefferson Airplane have also been changed. Another change that I noticed was that Santana's iconic performance of "Soul Sacrifice" appears later in the film than it used to. One of the detailed articles on the subject lamented the lost moment of filmmaking magic involving the Santana portion of the original movie. The rhythmic rain chants segue nicely into Santana; the beginning of "Soul Sacrifice" establishes the rhythm on conga drums, which mix seamlessly with the crowd scene. There were other minor changes, but these major ones just make me want to see that original theatrical version of Woodstock. That said, I would not hesitate to show the director's cut to anyone who has not seen the movie. It's still amazing.
There were new box sets released to celebrate the 25th and 40th anniversaries, with each one digging a little deeper for previously unreleased tracks. Along the way, there were a few full sets released. Jimi Hendrix's estate released his Woodstock set on both audio and video. Sony/BMG released a nice series of double CD packages that offered an artist's complete Woodstock set on one disc and their then-current album on the other. Artists in this series included Jefferson Airplane, Johnny Winter, Santana, Janis Joplin and Sly and the Family Stone. These albums shared common artwork and the name The Woodstock Experience, and all five were also offered in a box set. To a Woodstock fan, all these releases were absolutely essential.
"Limited to 1,969 individually numbered copies, WOODSTOCK - BACK TO THE GARDEN: THE DEFINITIVE 50th ANNIVERSARY ARCHIVE features 38 discs, 432-tracks - 267 previously unreleased - a near complete reconstruction of Woodstock clocking in at 36 hours, with every artist performance from the festival in chronological order. Housed in a screen-printed plywood box with canvas insert inspired by the Woodstock stage set up, the set also includes a Blu-ray copy of the Woodstock film, a replica of the original program, a guitar strap, two Woodstock posters, a reprint of a diary written by then 17-year-old Kevin Marvelle during the festival, two 8x10 prints from legendary rock photographer Henry Diltz, and essays by Andy Zax, acclaimed music scribe Jesse Jarnow, and trailblazing rock critic Ellen Sander. The archive also contains a copy of Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music (Reel Art Press), a comprehensive new hardbound book about the event written by Michael Lang, one of the festival’s co-creators."Although I've read lots of press during the nearly one year run up to the 50th anniversary, the motivation behind this box set is unclear. First, there's the obvious, the creation of a complete audio archive (no easy task), plus the income derived from this. Curious though is the small number of sets produced (1,969). One thing that the release of this set accomplishes, is that it protects these recordings from becoming part of the public domain in the EU. Due to a quirk in the European copyright law vault recordings, such as this, must be placed on sale before they are fifty years old; otherwise, they become fair game for anyone to sell. We've already seen these tapes start to hit the bootleg market. Amazon-US has already listed for sale CDs of complete Woodstock sets by The Who and by The Band. These CDs originate in the EU and are of dubious legality. None of this has been stated by the sets' label or producer (that I know of), but it's a more than reasonable theory. Plus, it might begin to explain the limited number of sets produced, which were all sold out before they were shipped.
The way that these master tapes were produced to create the ultimate audio archive is quite a feat of audio production and engineering. NPR Music's Bob Boilen interviewed producer Andy Zax in an utterly fascinating episode of the "All Songs Considered" podcast, embedded below for your enjoyment. One of the most interesting aspects of the remixing and remastering of these tapes was the artistic decision, for the most part, to leave in the noises and flaws to create almost an audio vérité document of the event. Similarly, the occasional decision to make corrections is also discussed in this podcast.
To listen to the box set now, after 50 years, is at once interesting, informative, enjoyable, and educational. Some of the sets are utterly amazing while some are more, shall we say, variable; more on that in a moment. I think the movie captured the best music performances it could given that it had to skim the surface and present a sampler of the live music. Those artists who did not appear in the film, were to some degree, written out of history. According to the podcast, there were multiple possible reasons for this. There might not have been good film of an artist. Or, an artist may have declined to be included for various reasons.
The best part of listening to this set is that the feeling that you are there, listening to great sound quality, perhaps better than what many of the people who were there heard. Plus, you don't have all the inconveniences; no traffic jam, no mud, no bad drugs, etc. The stage announcements are key.
Here are a few of my reactions while listening to the 50th Anniversary Archive.
Day One, Friday August 15, 1969
Richie Havens, Friday 5:07 pm, Disc 01: For years, I had read that Richie Havens opened the festival with a three hour set playing everything he knew. The consensus of research on this suggests that Havens' memory of the duration might have been skewed. The facts show that Havens was scheduled to appear later, but when Sweetwater was delayed they asked Havens to go on early. I also read that Havens had only prepared four songs to play at Woodstock. Disc 1 answers some of these questions and raises a few more. Obviously, he performed longer than he had planned. I could understand him thinking that he had played everything he knew, but it's hard to believe judging by the actual set. Also, how does someone like Havens, in 1969, not know the words to "With A Little Help From My Friends"? He was known for his Beatles' covers and that song had been out for a good two years at the time. The one superb feat of performance that no one can argue with is that he wrote the song "Freedom", which incorporated the standard "Motherless Child", live on the spot as he performed. It was the last song of his set, it was well-captured in the movie, and the rest (as they say) is history.
Sweetwater, Friday 6:15 pm, Disc 02: Sweetwater was a prototypical rock band for the late 60s. I don't recall ever hearing Sweetwater before or since but on first listen they sound like a more than adequate opening act.
Bert Sommer, Friday 7:15 pm, Disc 03: Bert Sommer was an unassuming singer-songwriter whose career might have gone completely differently had he been featured in the movie, even for one song. The best candidate in his somewhat uneven set was his cover of Paul Simon's "America", which received a standing ovation and was featured on his next album.
Tim Harden, Friday 8:45 pm, Disc 04: Tim Hardin had a blues band backing him on a few extended workouts. But, when Hardin played his folk compositions, like "Reason To Believe" and "If I Were A Carpenter", we have the first transcendent moments of the festival. Fun Fact: Tim Harden's band included Ralph Towner went on to notoriety in Oregon, one of the first groups to mix folk and jazz.
Ravi Shankar, Friday 10:00 pm, Disc 05: Ravi Shankar's explanations made this set of sitar music a lot more listenable than it might have been.
Melanie, Friday 11:00 pm, Disc 06: Melanie Safka was little known outside the coffeehouse circuit in New York when she played solo acoustic at Woodstock. Her set was uneven to be sure, but her natural charm was hard to ignore. When the audience held up lit matches and candles, she took that inspiration to later record "Lay Down (Candles In the Rain)", which became a major hit and became the title track of one of my favorite LPs.
Arlo Guthrie, Friday 12:00 am, Disc 07: They managed to put Arlo Guthrie's best moments in the movie, specifically his observations that "The NY Thruway is closed, man," "There's supposed to be a million and a half people here by tonight," "Can you dig that?" The movie also featured "Coming Into Los Angeles". They did Arlo a favor by keeping the rest of his set under wraps for the last fifty years. I only say this from the viewpoint of a fan, but the 10+ minute long "Story of Moses" is downright cringeworthy. Far out, man!
Joan Baez, Saturday 1:30 am, Disc 08: Joan Baez closed out "folk night" with perhaps the most polished and professional sounding set of the night. The anti-war movement was front and center for her set as she talked about her then draft resister husband David. Her songs in the movie catapulted her career into top ten singles and concert tours of large venues like the Philadelphia Spectrum, which is where I saw her. Truth be told, part of my motivation in going was to experience a little of that Woodstock mojo.
Day Two, Saturday August 16, 1969
Quill, Saturday 12:15 pm, Disc 09: Quill opened the rock portion of the festival on Saturday afternoon. Although their material was road tested in club-type venues and they were especially popular in the Boston area, they were left out of the movie. It was said that there was trouble synchronizing the audio with the video. Other sources say that it was simply because the band was relatively unknown and the movie was very long as it was. On first listen, Quill incorporated many styles, leaning toward the psychedelic, but their four song set seems unmemorable. Still, it is good to hear this performance from a historic perspective.
Country Joe McDonald, Saturday 1:00 pm, Disc 10: One of the coolest aspects of this box set is the presentation of the correct chronology of the event. I have read that, for years, Country Joe McDonald had the memory that he had performed second on opening day, after Richie Havens. In fact, he did go on second, but it was Saturday and he followed Quill. McDonald actually had two performances at Woodstock, Saturday solo and Sunday with his band. This solo set was actually unplanned. Appearing by himself with just acoustic guitar in front of that many people must have been daunting. But you don't hear that in the set he delivered, with originals and (mostly) covers. After his first eight songs failed to ignite the crowd, McDonald broke out "The Fish Cheer" (which quickly got everyone's attention) then rolled right into his anti-war anthem, "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag". When the movie came out, no one was more happily surprised at the inclusion of the uncensored "Fish Cheer" than Country Joe McDonald.
Santana, Saturday 2:00 pm, Disc 11: Santana's incendiary set is great to hear in full. Their "Soul Sacrifice" is already familiar to anyone who saw the movie. Their appeal was a combination of Carlos Santana's guitar prowess, the strong (unstoppable) Latin rhythms and great material. The myth was that they appeared at Woodstock unsigned, but the reality is that they were in fact under contract to Columbia and they were working on their first album, which had not yet come out. At the time of Woodstock, they were (in fact) complete unknowns, but it is true that they were booked to play Woodstock as a favor to their manager, San Francisco promoter/mogul Bill Graham. The rest, as they say, is history.
John Sebastian, Saturday 3:30 pm, Disc 12: "I don't know if you can really tell how amazing you look, but you're truly amazing, you're a whole city..."
The three most amazing things about John Sebastian's set are:
1. He wasn't even scheduled to play.
2. He looked the part totally, all denim and tie-dye, all hair and smiles.
3. Nearly half a million people watched a solo performer with an acoustic guitar.
Keef Hartley Band, Saturday 4:45 pm, Disc 13: The Keef Hartley Band played a solid five song set of jazz-tinged British blooze. The jazz influence came from bandleader Hartley's time playing drums with John Mayall's band. The Keef Hartley Band's appearance at Woodstock went almost completely unknown due to their absence from the movie. This is attributable to the band's manager who demanded payment up front for the right to film (woodstock.fandom.com).
Incredible String Band, Saturday 6:00 pm, Disc 14: These eclectic Brits were also omitted from the film and soundtrack, rendering their Woodstock performance a surprise even to fans. Festival lore has it that the ISB was scheduled to be part of folk night on Friday evening but they refused to go on because they feared that the rain would mess up their instruments; hence the Saturday afternoon time slot. The set opened with a poem followed by five numbers, of which none had been released at the time. Still, accounts of the festival say that they were well received by the crowd.
Canned Heat, Saturday 7:30 pm, Discs 15/16: Canned Heat's brand of blues, they called boogie, came along at the right time to capture America's imagination, including three hit singles in the late 1960s (“On The Road Again”, a cover of Wilbert Harrison's "Let's Work Together", and "Going Up the Country"). With band melodrama and lengthy head-spinning solos the Heat delighted the enormous crowd, the set was replete with the aforementioned hit singles and lengthy boogies. In the Woodstock movie, Michael Wadleigh used the studio version of "Going Up the Country" to accompany shots of people approaching the festival site.
Mountain, Saturday 9:00 pm, Disc 17: Mountain played a solid set despite being somewhat of an unknown quantity at the time. The band had just come together, lead by guitarist Leslie West. They played a good portion of the first Mountain album including the hit single "Mississippi Queen". The familiar voice on "Theme From An Imaginary Western" was none other than Cream producer Felix Pappalardi who played bass in the group. The first Mountain album, Climbing!, didn't come out until the following year. As for why they weren't included in the movie, according to the author Mark Voger in his book Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed In Pop Culture, West recalled that there was a fire and the footage of both Mountain and Johnny Winter was lost.
Grateful Dead, Saturday 10:30 pm, Discs 18/19: Individual accounts may vary on the details, but it remains clear that there was a massive delay when it was the Grateful Dead's time to perform. What happened was the Dead's sound system, designed by Owsley Stanley (yes, the same Owsley of LSD "fame"), had an electrical incompatibility issue that took over an hour for his crew and the festival electricians to resolve. Bethel Woods dissects the problems they encountered and they conclude that the Dead ultimately triumphed with a forty minute version of "Turn On Your Lovelight". If we are to believe the reports of the massive amount of drugs consumed both on and off the stage, then these recordings offer the possibly rare experience of hearing this performance straight. The Dead's absence from the movie can be blamed on bad lighting, while they also refused to be on the album because they considered their set to be "a disaster".
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sunday 1:00 am, Disc 20: Despite the reasons that John Fogerty had for not wanting to be in the movie (delayed start, following the Dead), Creedence clearly belted it out of the park during their Saturday night set. The details are fully described above.
Janis Joplin, Sunday 2:30 am, Disc 21: Janis Joplin's late Saturday night set is one of the cornerstones of Woodstock, musically speaking, and her omission from the movie and soundtrack is inexplicable, so much so in fact that when they issued the current expanded cut of the movie on DVD they put her back in. But that was forty years later and she was missing from the historical record that played on movie screens starting in 1970. The performance was classic Joplin. To place it in time, she had left Big Brother and the Holding Company and had formed her own band. Their focus was R&B and they were working on what would become her next album I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! They played a good chunk of that album, some choice covers like the Bee Gees "To Love Somebody", and some familiar favorites from her Big Brother material. According to the Bethel Woods website, she was daunted by the size of the crowd and with assistance of some liquid courage she gave it her all, and then some.
Sly & The Family Stone, Sunday 3:30 am, Disc 22: To say that Sly & The Family Stone's set was successful would be an understatement. Stone and his group were having a moment. Their singles were frequent flyers in the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100. Their then current album Stand! was doing the same on the album chart on the way to selling 3 million copies. The crowd at Woodstock was primed for their high energy mix of rock and R%B. According to Bethel Woods, Sly had a reputation for being difficult when performing live. "... Living up to this reputation, Sly attempted to hold off actually taking the stage, forcing further delays to the already well-behind Saturday schedule. As the story goes, it took Woodstock production manager and emcee John Morris slamming Sly up against a backstage trailer and threatening bodily harm to convince the reluctant Stone to go on with the show." Even though it took place in the wee hours of Sunday morning, The Family played a thrilling eight song set that, reportedly, had the enormous crowd deliriously happy, singing and dancing (if you'll excuse the expression) to the music.
The Who, Sunday 5:00 am, Disc 23: By the summer of '69, The Who was totally at the top of their game. Earlier that year they had released the groundbreaking rock opera Tommy, which they followed with The Who Live at Leeds. The single vinyl LP was packaged in a cover that made it look like a bootleg (as great as it was, the single vinyl LP only hinted at the superb performance that was presented in its entirety, in order, on the double CD Live at Leeds Special Edition). In fact, in my book, that CD might be one of the two greatest rock albums ever, with the other being the very next Who album, simply titled Who's Next. The Woodstock crowd was treated to a first rate performance by the British group that included most of Tommy plus six additional tunes, sounding of a piece with the Leeds recordings. As a bonus you get to hear Pete Townsend, quite literally, throw Abbie Hoffman off the stage mid-performance.
Jefferson Airplane, Sunday 7:00 am, Discs 24/25: Scheduled to headline the Saturday night concert lineup, Jefferson Airplane's set didn't start until Sunday morning. "Alright friends, you have seen the heavy groups now you will see morning maniac music... Good morning people." (Grace Slick) The Airplane proceeded to rock their hearts out for about an hour and forty-five minutes. It was the classic lineup with Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, and Spencer Dryden, with session musician Nicky Hopkins on piano. Bethel Woods tells us that by the time the Airplane hit the stage at 7am, they had been awake for nearly 24 hours, tripping most of the time, and were understandably exhausted. They played a lengthy and hearty set that included the hits, some album tracks, and some unreleased songs from their upcoming album Volunteers, which was perfectly politically charged for this event. They also played an electrifying cover of the David Crosby/Stephen Stills composition "Wooden Ships", which they turned into a twenty-two minute jam. The song, which originated on CS&N's first album, also appears on Volunteers. Bethel Woods called their performance "ragged and spirited at the same time" and despite the hour and despite the exhaustion and despite the all nighter of live music excellence, the same might be said of the audience. The Airplane obliged the crowd's demand for an encore with a couple more songs to conclude the night at 8:45 am.
Day Three, Sunday August 17, 1969
Joe Cocker (The Grease Band), Sunday 2:00 pm, Discs 26/27: Day 3 of the festival got underway at about 2:00 pm with a little speech by site owner Max Yasgur. The moment was captured in the Woodstock film; a nice touch. The first act was Joe Cocker. His backup band, The Grease Band, opened with two instrumental Traffic covers. Cocker then took the stage and sang Bob Dylan's "Dear Landlord" in honor of Max Yasgur ("that farming guy"). Cocker's set of mostly covers gradually revved the crowd. Ray Charles' version of "Let's Go Get Stoned" was particularly well received. The set concluded with a show-stopping cover of The Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends". Although that tune didn't make much of a splash on the US charts, it was Cocker's first top ten in Britain. According to Bethel Woods, there was no encore because storm clouds were gathering, which shortly doused the site with a strong soaking rain.
Country Joe & The Fish, Sunday 6:30 pm, Disc 28: After a 2-hour rain delay, the music resumed with a powerful set by Country Joe & The Fish. Having played solo on Saturday, Country Joe McDonald holds the distinction of being the only artist to play Woodstock twice. When I saw Country Joe & The Fish that same year in Philadelphia, they may have been the loudest band I have ever seen. So, I don't doubt that they entertained the Woodstock crowd, what with Barry Melton's lead guitar and a wide ranging set. For an encore they reprised the “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag,” complete with the “Fish Cheer”.
Ten Years After, Sunday 8:30 pm, Disc 29: Ten Years After had a small but loyal following in 1969. Their brand of British rock was steeped in the blues. Their set was initially hampered by technical problems having to do primarily with the rain and humidity. By about halfway through the set, the problems seemed to resolve and the crowd got into it. The set had been blues covers until singer-guitarist Alvin Lee unleashed a ten minute tour de force version of his own composition "I'm Going Home" to end the show. That song, as captured in the movie and on the soundtrack, made Alvin Lee a star.
The Band, Sunday 10:00 pm, Disc 30: The Band had worked as Bob Dylan's touring band in 1965 and 1966, and after Dylan's motorcycle accident they ensconced in a house near the actual town of Woodstock, NY to record with Dylan while he recuperated in 1967. Those recordings were famously bootlegged and they were circulated as The Basement Tapes. In 1968, they released their own first album called Music from Big Pink, so named to honor the house that they had turned into a recording studio. The album also contained their first hit single, “The Weight”. When they appeared at the festival, they had not yet released their most iconic record simply named The Band. Even with the rain delay, they had a fine time slot for Sunday night's concert. Their set was a solid one that included songs that would soon become mainstays of their live shows. They did tracks from their first album, other covers, traditional and original tunes. In 1969 much of the set was not that well known, but when they closed with “The Weight" the crowd brought them back for an encore. The Band's very participation in the Woodstock festival was not widely known by virtue of their absence from the movie and the album. The story is that the band thought its performance was lacking and chose not to be included.
Johnny Winter, Monday, midnight, Disc 31: Sunday night became Monday morning when Johnny Winter took the stage. Winter laid down a prima facie case for himself as the cutting edge of blues and rock roll with an explosive set that left nothing to the imagination. Johnny's prowess with his guitar work was already legendary when he gave the crowd a demonstration. For the second half of the set, he brought his brother Edgar on stage to play keyboards, including Edgar's signature version of "Tobacco Road". Having seen Johnny in concert in the early 70s, I am certain that he would have been a natural in the movie were he in it. According to Edgar, Johnny's manager thought that his Woodstock appearance would be viewed negatively and so he advised Johnny not to sign any release to be included in the movie or album.
Blood, Sweat, & Tears, Monday, 1:45 am, Disc 32: Even though the Woodstock Saturday night lineup was as high voltage as you can get, Sunday night was not to be outdone and regardless of the late hour, the crowd was treated to a fine set by Blood, Sweat, & Tears (BS&T). By 1969, BS&T had undergone personnel upheavals and released their self-titled second album, arguably their best. It not only spawned three hit singles and spent two months as #1 on the Billboard Album Chart, but the Bethel Woods website reminds us that this album went on to receive the Grammy for Album of the Year, despite competition like Abbey Road by the Beatles. BS&T played a dynamite set drawn from their first two records. The only possible fly in the ointment was that the intense humidity was playing havoc with the tuning of the various horns in the band. During that era, the technology did not exist that could fix a recording such as this. Andy Zax, producer of the recordings, explains in detail in NPR Music's "All Songs Considered" (above) that all horns were not out of tune the same amount and it took advanced computer technology to isolate and correct each horn separately. The result is that the music on this CD sounds better than it did at the time (note that this was an exception and that most of the music in this box set is presented as it happened, warts and all). This performance was also absent from the movie and soundtrack, specifically because of the out of tune horns.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Monday 3:30 am, Disc 33: I may have said that I consider the release of this box set to be a gift. To be able to listen to this event in its entirety is like the powers that be were reading my mind for the last fifty years. With all that, the set that seems like the rarest privilege to hear even, or I should say especially, fifty years on would be Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Even though that first CS&N album had only been out for a matter of months, it was clearly right in the wheelhouse of the Woodstock Nation. All the songs sounded amazingly familiar, though at that time their only single was "Marrakesh Express." They did an acoustic set first, just stools, acoustic guitars and microphones. For the movie, director Michael Wadleigh wisely chose the first number, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” You can hear CS&N shake off their rattled nerves during the first minute or two, then when the three voices click in, suddenly the hair on the back of your neck stands up and they sing like that for the remainder of the acoustic set. After that they added Greg Reeves on bass and Dallas Taylor on drums for a full electric set. They may not have invented that concert format, but for their all too brief performing career, CSN&Y made it a thing. The set is a winner start to finish. They did songs from the first album, a Beatles cover ("Blackbird"), songs from the forthcoming second album, they even went back to Buffalo Springfield for a pair of tunes, "Mr. Soul" and "Bluebird". There were more unrecorded or unreleased gems like “Sea Of Madness.” and “Find The Cost Of Freedom”, which was poignantly used to end the film. Wadleigh may have chosen the first song for another reason. Not wanting to be in the movie, Neil Young spent the first few songs on stage hiding from the cameras. He joined the other three when it was time for "Mr. Soul".
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Monday 6:00 am, Disc 34: By 6 am Monday morning only the hardiest members of the crowd were left to see The Paul Butterfield Blues Band deliver a sizzling seven song set of harp drenched Chicago blues and soul. This might have been manna for aficionados but for the average person, let's just say that Butterfield was not exactly a household name. Still, with his band that included Buzzy Feiten on guitar and David Sanborn on alto sax, Butterfield and his nine piece band seemed to please those who were listening.
Sha Na Na, Monday 7:45 am, Disc 35:
"Rock ’n’ Roll tribute band Sha Na Na wins everyone’s prize for the most out-of-place act at Woodstock. Performing songs from the 1950s and looking nothing like the young people in the audience, they danced, dit-dit-dited, and doo-wopped their way through a high-energy half-hour set that left people delighted and bewildered." (Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, August 1969–2019). I must admit that for the last 50 years I never knew that Sha Na Na was a tongue-in-cheek tribute band made up of mostly Columbia University students; I thought that they were actually a band from the fifties. That's just how good they are.
Jimi Hendrix, Monday 9:00 am, Discs 36/37: Jimi Hendrix paid his dues as a session musician and by touring as an opening act before becoming a star in 1967. At the time of Woodstock, The Experience had broken up although drummer Mitch Mitchell stayed with Hendrix as he formed a new band for Woodstock. The accounts may say that 90% of the crowd had gone home by the time Hendrix took the stage at 9:00 Monday morning but I would also point out that even though the movie shows the site largely deserted save for tons of trash, that the 40,000 who remained represented a huge audience nonetheless, about twice the capacity of your average arena. Hendrix treated the faithful to a full two hour set that demonstrated why he was one of the most anticipated acts at Woodstock. He played old songs, he played new songs, he acquiesced to crowd requests for favorites and he even surprised his own band when he played material such as his take on the "Star-Spangled Banner". Hendrix put on a truly amazing performance, which was either the best way, or the only way, to close the Woodstock festival.
Appendix 1-4, Disc 38: In the interest of completeness, this disc contains all the scraps of spoken word audio whose time sequence could not be determined.
I want to take this opportunity to say that the stage announcements that precede each act really gives the listener the feeling that you are there. I have never encountered anything comparable in over fifty years of music obsession; I am in awe of this production.
Wade Lawrence & Scott Parker wrote a blog series about all the musicians of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, which ran for 32 months from January 2017 to the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival in August 2019. It is published on the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts website. All performance times courtesy of this blog series.