Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Road to Woodstock, August 1969

Here's a fun bit of trivia. Name as many musicians as you can that performed at Woodstock in 1969. If you want to make it more challenging, try to do this without naming a musician or group that did not attend Woodstock. Small hint: The Rolling Stones and The Beatles did not perform at Woodstock.

For three days in August 1969, half a million music lovers happily braved torrential rains, endured lack of food and clean water, and grooved to the cosmic blues of the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, danced all night to the funky soul of Sly and the Family Stone and witnessed the birth of a new band called Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

This weekend marks the 45th Anniversary of what many consider the greatest rock concerts in American history. Such cultural movements are impossible to duplicate. Thankfully we have the DVDs and much of the festival can be revisited in the living room. To be fair, the music of the late sixties is not everyone's cup of tea. But if Joe Cocker, The Who, Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, and Arlo Guthrie is your cup of tea, this concert is essential for any fan. The entire concert was captured on film and Warner Bros. shrewdly purchased the footage for a theatrical release in 1970. But that movie, 184 minutes in length, never featured performances from Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. A number of years ago the movie was re-edited to 225 minutes in length and rectified that problem -- as well as additional musical performances of Jimi Hendrix.

The 40th Anniversary DVD set of Woodstock (1969-1970).
In June of 2009, a remastered 40th Anniversary edition was released on both Blu-ray and DVD. The 40th Anniversary edition is available as both a two-disc "Special Edition" and a three-disc "Ultimate Collector’s Edition." The film was newly remastered and provided a new 5.1 audio mix. Two extra hours of rare performance footage features 18 new performances as never before seen from 13 groups, including Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat, Joe Cocker and five (Paul Butterfield, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Johnny Winter and Mountain) who played at Woodstock but never appeared in any film version. This is the essential "must-see" version.

Even if you are not a fan of watching music documentaries, Michael Lang's book, The Road to Woodstock, provides a back-stage pass to the inner working of the festival. From winning over the agents, promoters, the townspeople, fleets of volunteers, construction of the stage, medical supplies needed for young kids who took too many drugs, the design of the poster, which musicians turned down the offer to perform and how much each group got paid... it's all here. In the back of the book, there is a complete list of every performer and every song performed on stage -- possibly in the order of their appearance on stage. (Not sure how accurate the list is. There are other lists in other reference books and they conflict.)

The book even has memories and recollections from performers such as Richie Havens, Alex Del Zoppo, John Sebastian, Fred Herrera, Country Joe McDonald, Carlos Santana, Paul Kantner, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, Peter Townshend, Roger Daltry, Leo Lyons, Joe Cocker, David Crosby, Graham Nash and more. There's even a reprint of a map of the festival.

Joe Cocker at Woodstock
Having watched the documentary half a dozen times over the past 20 years, I found the book an excellent way to educate myself. Now I know who the people are I see in the documentary speaking on the stage, the folks interviewed on camera and what some of the announcements coming over the loud speakers really meant. 

Michael Lang was the man responsible for making Woodstock happen so it seems only fitting to hear it in his own words. Would you rather read a biography about a Hollywood actor or read their autobiography and hear the story in their own words? That's why I bought this book. (The only mistake I caught was crediting Credence Clearwater Revival's Stu Cook on drums and Doug Clifford on bass. Should be the other way around.)

Despite the terrible weather (rain storm and lots of mud), insane crowds (roads were blocked with a serious traffic jam for three days), lack of food, medical services and sanitation, it all came off without any crime at all. No stabbings, no rape, no theft. It truly was three days of peace and love. If you plan to go to the beach this summer and looking for a book to read -- this New York Times bestseller is recommended.

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