Friday, August 23, 2019

WOODSTOCK: Back to the Garden

Last weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the defining event of a generation and one of the most iconic moments in popular music history. Despite its enduring cultural significance, no one has ever attempted to document the historic festival as it unfolded in real time. Until now.
Limited to 1,969 individually numbered copies, representing the year 1969, WOODSTOCK - BACK TO THE GARDEN: THE DEFINITIVE 50th ANNIVERSARY ARCHIVE features 38 discs, 432 audio tracks - 267 previously unreleased - providing 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.
Up until now only about 14 CDs have been commercially released with music from the WOODSTOCK music festival. A few, such as Janis Joplin, Sanata, Jefferson Airplane and Johnny Winter, provided complete performances. Others included the soundtrack from the 1970 motion-pictures with a few songs from selected performers. When the movie studio came knocking in 1970 for permission to feature performances by selected artists, John Fogerty declined. He felt the band's performance was subpar, the sound was terrible through the system, and the band was tired from playing late in the evening. Fogerty later regretted not signing off for the 1970 film and granted permission for four songs in the 40th anniversary movie/director's cut.
In recognition of the 50th anniversary, two full performances were just released on CD and LP, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Band, adding to the 14 CDs that were available until now. But the Rhino box set is the only way you can get an almost complete audio document of the entire three days. (Supposedly a total of six songs are missing out of the entire 38 CD set, no doubt due to rights issues, but careful review suggests it was the six songs played over the speakers from LP records to fill in time between acts.)

I spent the past two weeks listening to these CDs and never has there been a superior example of history candidly captured on recordings. So much was revealed when listening to the tracks that has yet to be documented in book form. After Canned Heat finished their encore, Chip Monck (the announcer) informed the audience that the intermission would extend an additional 15 minutes to replace the amps that Canned Heat blew out. Janis Joplin chatted with the folks in the front row of the audience between music. Tim Hardin apologized for the poor performance of one of his songs. Announcements delivered through the speaker system alerted audience members to call home, report to their car to fetch someone's medicine, and on one occasion a call out for someone to report to the back of the stage because his wife was about to deliver their baby. Even if you are not a fan of the music of that era, the historical significance cannot be denied. 
The Rhino box set retailed $799 plus postage and sales tax, was announced a month ago and has since sold out. Which goes to show you how the appeal of what might be considered the greatest music festival ever still commands top dollar. For a view of the product itself (and more importantly, a complete list of music and performers), click here:

Check out the link below!!

On the plus side, you can listen to a fascinating 52 minute documentary about the festival, loaded with tons of behind-the-scenes trivia, on NPR's ALL SONGS CONSIDERED here:
https://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2019/07/30/745214068/woodstock-at-50-the-unheard-recordings



Friday, August 16, 2019

WOODSTOCK: Celebrating 50 Years

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock musical festival. In August 1969, nearly half a million people gathered at a farm in upstate New York to hear music. What happened over the next three days, however, was far more than a concert. It would become a legendary event, one that would define a generation and mark the end of one of the most turbulent decades in modern history. Occurring just weeks after an American set foot on the moon, the Woodstock music festival took place against a backdrop of a nation in conflict over sexual politics, civil rights and the Vietnam War. This was an example of America in transition – a handoff of the country between generations with far different values and ideals – tangibly present at what promoters billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Music.” Woodstock will take center stage again in a few days as the anniversary presents a 50th anniversary concert in Bethel, New York, with Ringo Starr, Edgar Winter Band, Blood, Sweat and Tears, John Fogerty, the Doobie Brothers and others performing for an audience that can only enter the small town with permits -- ticket holders receive free traffic permits and fears that too many tourists will flood into town this coming weekend are calmed with knowledge that the state police will be checking for permits.

Woodstock, however, did not come off without a hitch: last-minute venue changes, bad weather and the hordes of attendees caused major headaches. Still, despite – or because of – a lot of sex, drugs, rock and roll and rain, Woodstock was a peaceful celebration and earned its hallowed place in pop culture history. What took place in that teaming mass of humanity – the rain-soaked, starving, tripping, half-a-million strong throng of young people – was nothing less than a miracle of teamwork, a manifestation of the “peace and love” the festival had touted, and a validation of the counter-culture’s promise to the world.


The Woodstock Music Festival was the brainchild of four men, all age 27 or younger, looking for an investment opportunity: John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang.
Lang had organized the successful Miami Music Festival in 1968 and Kornfeld was the youngest vice president at Capitol Records. Roberts and Rosenman were New York entrepreneurs involved in building a Manhattan recording studio. The four men formed Woodstock Ventures, Inc., and decided to host a music festival.
Extremely huge crowd at the Woodstock 1969 music festival.
The initial plan for Woodstock called for the event to be held at Howard Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, New York. Wallkill town officials got spooked, however, and backed out of the deal, passing a law that eliminated any possibility of holding the concert on their turf. This caused Woodstock Ventures to explore other venues, but none really panned out. Finally, just a month ahead of the concert, 49-year-old dairy farmer Max Yasgur pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil, figured out how much he would lose financially if he never grew crops that year, and offered to rent them (at the same cost he figured mathematically) part of his land in the White Lake area of Bethel, New York, surrounded by the verdant Catskill Mountains. (The name of the concert, “Woodstock,” remained while the event was truly held in Bethel.)
John Fogerty
Originally, about 50,000 people were expected to attend. But by August 13, at least that number were already camped out on location and over 100,000 tickets pre-sold.As an estimated half-a-million people descended on Woodstock, its organizers scrambled to add more facilities. Highways and local roads came to a standstill and many concert-goers simply abandoned their cars and trekked the rest of the way on foot. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller threatened to send in National Guard troops to break up the festival when he saw how huge the crowd was. Many of the musicians had to be flown in by helicopter.

Michael Lang later recalled in his fascinating book about Woodstock that Jefferson Airplane was the first band to confirm and as expected, the most expensive was the first to sign, but giving Woodstock the credibility it needed to attract other well-known musicians, a total of 32 for the three-day weekend including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, John Sebastian, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Joe Cocker, Blood Sweat and Tears, Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix.

Grace Slick and Sally Mann of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock.

Richie Havens was called for so many encores that he ran out of songs to sing, so he picked up his guitar and started singing “Freedom,” which was totally improvised. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” were the lyrics of “Freedom” that has since become synonymous with Richie Havens when Woodstockbecame a big screen event one year later in movie theaters across the country.

Carlos Santana was scheduled to go on during the latter half of day two, but due to all the delays the band was forced to go on much earlier. Santana had taken a dose of mescaline and was still peaking when the band was performing. As a result, he imagined that the neck of his guitar had become a snake and was moving. Fortunately, he was still able to perform and the band’s star-making performance went off without a hitch. Santana would achieve superstardom on the basis of their appearances at both the festival and in the 1970 motion-picture. Santana was the first to sign up for the 50thanniversary, performing some of those retro classics last month in Bethel, New York.

Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin stopped momentarily during her performance to ask the audience if they had enough water to drink and enough drugs to keep them high, confessing she and her group were stoned on stage. The newly formed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young confessed to the audience that Woodstock was the second time they ever played for a live audience. Jimi Hendrix was nervous about performing to a crowd so large that he quickly drank an entire bottle of wine before stepping onto the stage and performing what would become the legendary “Star-Spangled Banner.”Gravelly-voiced singer Joe Cocker was a new name at the time. He was an animated and impassioned front-man with a soul evocative of an old bluesman. His cover of The Beatles hit, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” was starting to pick up steam, and his performance at Woodstock was the final boost he needed to skyrocket himself to stardom. 

Joan Baez performing at Woodstock in 1969.

We could go on for pages with stories about the performers, about the funk-filled stylings of Sly & The Family Stone, of Michael Lang inviting Roy Rogers to close the festival by singing “Happy Trails” (Rogers declined), or how John Fogerty of CCR was disappointed in the timing of their performance that he chose not to allow any songs from the group to appear in the 1970 motion-picture… a business decision he later came to regret. But we will leave the history of the music festival to the historians who have taken time to research and write books about the subject.


Needless to say, cleaning up the venue was a mammoth task and required several days, many bulldozers and tens of thousands of dollars. The entire concert was filmed with a crew of enterprising individuals, with many of the acts licensed to Warner Brothers for a theatrical release in 1970.

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock
Fans flocked to Bethel annually for the concert’s anniversary, much to the disapproval of the town census until 15 or 20 years ago when the town accepted their place in pop culture history and decided to embrace the out-of-town tourism. In 2006, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts opened on the hill where the Woodstock Music Festival took place, along with a museum focusing on the festival. Today, it hosts outdoor concerts in its beautiful pavilion.
In 2009, for the 40thanniversary of the music festival, a director’s cut of the motion-picture was assembled and released on VHS, later DVD and BluRay, extending the film’s three-hour length to almost four hours. This included performances of Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix who were not seen in the original version of the film when it was released in 1970.
You can buy the BluRay-DVD combo set from Amazon for practically the same price as the DVD release but if you plan to revisit the music festival, you want to make sure you get the 40th anniversary director's cut. Link provided below for ease of purchase:




Friday, August 9, 2019

The Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention 2019

Shirley Jones poses for the camera with a fan.
Once viewed as a disease, nostalgia is now considered to be an important resource. Revisiting cherished memories from drive-in experiences to classic television programs of the 1950s and 1960s provide feelings of social connectedness. That is why the staff of the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention (MANC) provides people the opportunity to meet their childhood heroes. For three days every year in September, Hollywood celebrities are flown in to Maryland to meet and greet fans, answer questions, pose for photos and sign autographs. The celebrities at MANC, however, are not the same that attend those heavily-publicized Comic Cons. The convention itself is something altogether different. 

Next month marks the 14th year, with an average attendance of 4,000 over the three days. Over the past thirteen years, MANC has brought over 100 celebrities to Maryland including Patty Duke, Davy Jones, Shirley Jones, Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers, Robert Conrad, Lee Majors, Robert Fuller, the cast of Lost in Space, Tony Dow (Leave it to Beaver), David Hedison (The Fly), Roy Thinnes (The Invaders) and others.
  
Chucks; Comics poses with comic books he sells at the convention.

Thousands of people attend the convention annually from all over the globe; attendees fly in from Britain, Belgium, Finland, Germany and Australia. “What I value most about MANC is the personal attention,” says Josh Michnik of Vancouver, Canada. “At comic cons we are numbers and cattle. The convention promoters make it obvious that it is all about money. They herd you in to a room to pose for a photo with the celebrity, you pose for five to ten seconds, hand you a number for your photo, and herd you out. At the nostalgia convention, we are treated like family and the celebrities take their time answering questions and sign autographs. There is a laid-back atmosphere here.” 

For many of the actors and actresses, there is no shortage of accolades from attendees. Kent McCord, co-star of television’s Adam-12, was a guest at the show a few years ago and was pleased to hear from many who were inspired to become police officers because of his portrayal on the weekly program. “There were so many fans who came from so far away that I stayed behind my table until nine in the evening to sign autographs,” recalled Robert Conrad (The Wild, Wild West). Davy Jones insisted on not charging for his autographs. Ron Ely, television’s Tarzan, spent the evening hanging out with fans while sharing drinks in the hotel bar. Mark Goddard paid a visit to the movie room to provide commentary during a screening of television’s Johnny Ringo, which he co-starred back in the late fifties. Patrick Duffy decided not to do his Q&A panel on the stage; instead choosing to stand off the stage to answer questions from fans in a more intimate setting.

Wes Shank displayed the silicone used for the movie monster, The Blob.

“Fans bring everything to be autographed from LP records, board games, lunch boxes and original art,” explained Michelle Vinje, volunteer staff. “But all of the celebrities have glossy photographs for fans to choose for free when getting an autograph. Sometimes the collectibles are more appealing – especially when the actors stop to take a close look and admire their image on a product they never even knew was produced years prior. Patrick Duffy was amazed when he saw a Man from Atlantis collectible produced in Brazil that he never knew existed.”

“Like hundreds of fans lining the red carpet during the Academy Awards, we fanboys flock to this same hotel every year in September determined to memorialize a celebrity moment,” adds Mark Gross, staff photographer. “The time-honored scrawl on a glossy photo, or vintage memorabilia, that we now consider the gold standard of that brush with greatness now warrants bragging rights to our friends.” The photo of oneself for posting on Facebook and social media has become so popular that it has added a new word to the lexicon – “selfie.” Yep, more bragging rights. “Almost since the beginning of the convention’s inception, I have been able to snap photography of fans admiring the tens of thousands of collectibles on vendor tables, fans interacting with celebrities, fans enjoying the slide show seminars upstairs. Those, to me, have become the keepsakes that exceed Hallmark excellence.”

Mark Gross poses with the cast of The Six Million Dollar Man
and The Bionic Woman.

“Among my fondest memories was bonding with Davy Jones (The Monkees) who consented to a filmed interview about his career,” Mark continued. “Afterwards, he asked me subtlety if I could please take him over to meet the great Patty Duke and introduce him to her. Turned out Davy Jones was a huge fan of hers and was just as nervous of meeting her as most of us. According to Davy Jones, that was how a gentleman meets someone of Patty Duke’s stature. An introduction from an associate. I walked him over to her and he acted like a giddy fan boy.”

In an era where Comic Cons (fan gatherings primarily focusing on comic books and superhero motion pictures) dominate social media with the latest Marvel Cinematic entries, the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention focuses on days gone by when Abbott and Costello were among the biggest box office, and where people can attend slide show seminars hosted by museum curators and historians, watch old movies in a large dark room and shop with the vendors who offer vintage toys and collectibles. “We have been blessed to have the Hunt Valley Delta Marriott in Maryland host our annual convention,” Michelle remarks. “There are very few venues in the state larger than this hotel. It is large enough to allow for more than 200 vendor booths.”

Hammer horror stars Martine Beswick and Caroline Munro take
time to chat with the local television morning show.

It remains difficult to compare the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention to comic cons across the country simply because the business model is different from other counterparts. Besides being non-profit to benefit children with treatable cancer, the attendees come first and foremost. “Fourteen years have made us realize how vital it is to continue the tradition of bringing people together who share a common interest,” adds Michelle. “This is the weekend when we learn what has been happening in the hobby during the past year, examine vintage treasures on the vendor tables, meet our heroes and icons who flew in from California to sign autographs, and hang out for lunch and dinner with friends we see once a year.”

Every weekend contains a number of memories for the attendees. Whether it be a slide show seminar offering recent historical finds that change the way we thought about a particular television program or Hollywood icon, or the screening of a recently-preserved motion-picture found in a film archive, attendees have much to return home with. “A few years ago Lee Majors, Lindsay Wagner and Richard Anderson from The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman attended the convention,” recalled Mark Gross. “As Lindsay pointed out on stage at the beginning of the question and answer panel, this was the third time all three of them had been together for the same convention since the programs went off the air in 1978. That was history in the making; there can be no doubt that I snapped tons of photos from that event.” 

Dawn Wells (Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island) poses for the camera
with a fan, Clint Tsao.

In the grand scheme of things, fourteen years is not such a long time. Success if relative but in my view success is based on the size of the attendance. If the attendance continues to grow in size every year, then the staff and convention organizers did their job. And the attendance continues to grow every year. This year’s event will be held September 12 to 14, 2019 at the Hunt Valley Delta Marriott, in Maryland just north of Baltimore. Celebrity guests include Angie Dickinson, Richard Thomas, Maud Adams, Nancy Kwan, Loni Anderson, Tatum O’Neal and many others. 

For more information, visit www.MidAtlanticNostalgiaConvention.com


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood (Movie Review)

It should be noted about Quentin Tarantino's movies... every film is completely different from the others. From a heist film (Reservoir Dogs), a World War 2 movie (Inglorious Basterds), Spaghetti Western (The Hateful Eight), to a race car movie (Death Proof), it is impossible to compare one movie to another beyond the style of direction. Having followed The Hateful Eight, in what might be considered (production and visually speaking) his best film to date, Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood is a feast for cinema buffs. 

Hollywood movies about Hollywood have always held a special place in the hearts of cinephiles, from Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve to Sullivan's Travels, but always appreciated for the theater attendee who has practically seen it all. For the mainstream crowd rushing to theaters this weekend to see the next Quentin Tarantino classic, billed as his ninth movie (of which Tarantino said multiple times that he would only do ten movies in his career), I suspect they may find this movie a bit of a let down... considering the fact that this movie was clearly written with cinephiles in mind.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt

That said, this qualifies in the genre of Hollywood movies about Hollywood. Leonardo DiCaprio plays actor Rick Dalton, a faded television actor who, in 1969, realizes he is officially a "has-been." Hoping to achieve fame and success, he agrees to star in a series of Spaghetti Westerns over in Europe, a transition many actors at the time were more than willing to make in order to pay the bills. Brad Pitt plays Dalton's stunt man, Cliff Booth, a handyman with no illusions or expectations who lives every day based on what the stars (or the Fates) dictate. Along the way (as foreshadowed in the beginning of the movie), Rick and Cliff will have a brush with members of the Charles Manson cult, providing bloodshed for those with a violent expectation level from Tarantino's movies.


The entire story could have been dramatized in less than an hour but leave it to Tarantino to create a movie that stretches two and a half hours, with multiple scenes that dramatize the inner workings of Hollywood circa 1969, and maintain your interest. While I have yet to find myself looking at the clock while watching any of Tarantino's movies, including those that stretch over three hours, this is the first film that concluded without me wishing there was an additional half hour. A number of the scenes (such as Sharon Tate's visit to the local theater to watch herself on the big screen in The Wrecking Crew) could be removed from the final print and the story would have flowed without any noticeable scenes missing that are intricate to the story. This creates a disjointed method of storytelling, unlike the style of Pulp Fiction, and requires better scripting in the plot. (Tarantino is a good writer, but even good writers learn to write a four-hour movie, throw half of the pages away, and revise the remaining material. Here, Tarantino kept scenes in that should not have been included as intent and purpose is not clearly defined.)


But make no mistake: this movie was made for cinephiles. The opening scene demonstrated a 1950s television western complete with Andrew McLaglen and John Ford technique, stock music from the CBS library, and the Wilhelm scream. (If you do not know what the Wilhelm scream is, I recommend you check this out for amusement: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_scream). A movie poster for the 1949 Roy Rogers western, The Golden Stallion, can be seen hanging on the wall in more than one scene... a nod to Tarantino's insistence that director William Whitney was one of the best directors ever. The scene with Bruce Lee reciting his philosophy and the often-rumored "No one kicks Bruce Lee's ass" ends with a Mexican standoff is a joke only Bruce Lee fans will appreciate. Practically every 30 seconds there is a nod to vintage pop culture in the form of visuals, impersonators, references to television programs, movie posters, and billboards and music on the radio. The majority of these cultural references (such as DiCaprio insulting hippies by calling one of them Dennis Hopper) may go over the heads of most in the theater watching the movie. Cinephiles "in the know," however, will find many of these brief vignettes both hilarious and exceptional. Not as mini-movies but as scenes of cinematic brilliance.


There is not a bad performance throughout, as expected from any film directed by Quentin Tarantino. Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth and actress Margaret Qualley as Pussycat stand out above all others. Leonardo DiCaprio may have just given his best performance in a motion-picture. (DiCaprio is DiCaprio in every movie he stars in but for half of this movie you will find yourself forgetting he is DiCaprio.) The special effects to mimic 1969 Los Angeles, along with replication and alteration of retro television programs, screen tests and movie posters is top notch -- money well spent and deserving of acknowledgement. This may not be a superhero blockbuster but there should be an Oscar nomination for best special/visual effects.

Mike Moh as Bruce Lee
Knowing all of this in advance before going in to see the movie will help assure your enjoyment in a movie that is a feast for cinephiles, and an entertaining romp for others. But who can hate a movie created with a passion for old movies... especially one that features Tarantino-alumni Tim Roth in the closing credits if for no other reason than to acknowledge that his scene ended up on the cutting room floor?