It is rock 'n' roll's most storied event, the culmination of the
'60's and the defining moment of youth culture of the 20th century.
Under the establishment's noses, hippies took over for a weekend,
creating their own city and their own mythology. For a brief, shining
moment, it looked like peace and love might be a realistic way of life.
was the way it was portrayed at least. The reality was a lot of mud,
bad acid, traffic jams and unbelievable luck. That it didn't collapse in
riot or natural disaster is quite remarkable. Now 50 years later, most
of our knowledge of what happened comes from the famous film of the
event, and the many stars that remained iconic heroes in rock, often
thanks to their appearance at the festival.
film and the original soundtrack album were examples of great editing,
making the event and the musicians look a lot more exciting than they
probably were. For the 50th anniversary, greatly expanded collections
have been put together that give us a lot more music, a lot more stage
chatter and announcements, and a lot better idea of what it must have
been like on Yazgur's Farm those three days. There are smaller sets that
handle the best-known music, on five LPs or three CDs, nothing much new
there. On the other end, there's a mammoth 38 CD set, with virtually
every song played, 432 tracks in all, more than half of them previously
unreleased. If you're into it that much, I'd advised stripping naked
and rolling in mud while listening for the full experience. I'll stick
to the more feasible 10-CD box set.
everything, but it is everyone, each band who played the festival
represented by three or four cuts usually. Well, Ravi Shankar only gets
one, but of course, it's really really long. This means that unknowns
such as Sweetwater who played near the beginning get as good a look as
Hendrix or The Who, for better or worse. Sometimes that is a real
eyeopener. Troubled folkie Tim Hardin, sounds quite brilliant on "How
Can We Hang On To A Dream," and captivating on "If I Were A Carpenter."
He was notorious for bad shows, but this was a great one. Joe Cocker,
who became a huge star thanks to his captivating performance of "With A
Little Help From My Friends," has another four songs here, including an
epic and well-chosen "Let's Go Get Stoned." The Band, one of the groups
originally not featured in the soundtrack and film, do their usual
tremendous set, and it turns out "The Weight" was a highlight at
Woodstock, at least of the live audience.
all the original no-shows are as welcome additions. Every Deadhead knows
they sucked at Woodstock, and wasted tons of time with rain delays and
noodling. "Mama Tried" sounds okay but "Dark Star" is an embarrassment,
and its no surprise Woodstock did nothing for the group. The most
out-of-place act was Scotland's Incredible String Band, who made no
friends by refusing to play their first slot due to the rain, worried
for their trad instruments. When they finally got up a day later, there
was no excitement to their set, which had nothing to do with blues-rock
or hippy folk. Only die-hard fans will be pleased with their belated
Famously, the best moments
were in the middle of the night or early in the morning, with set times
thrown way off due to delays. The overnight Saturday/Sunday shows by
Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone and The Who is the best run, and
it is served well here, from "Ball and Chain" to the "Dance To The
Music" medley to "Pinball Wizard" at full force. It's interesting to
note that Jefferson Airplane followed, and didn't sound great. While
they were include in the film and soundtrack, they were clearly a band
being passed by, and while the other three are still considered
untouchable heroes, the Airplane has fallen in status.
of the fun of the Woodstock experience as most of us knew it, from the
film and album, was the stage announcements and sound bites. The "No
Rain" chant, the Fish Cheer, Max Yazgur's "I'm a farmer" speech, these
are all here, but now in context, and with much more. What you find out
is that the crowd was abuzz with rumours, especially about the brown and
blue acid, and whether it was poison or not. There are a lot of stage
announcements from Chip Monck about what to do for help for bad trips.
Hilariously, between almost every act, he also implored people to get
down from the PA towers. Imagine that today, they'd be getting roughed
up by security staff. There are stage moments as well, including the
notorious Abby Hoffman incident, when he commandeers the stage mic
during The Who's set, and Townshend bashes him in the head with his
guitar. Perhaps explaining her band's weak performance, Grace Slick
extends sympathy to those who suffered bad trips, while saying they had
the good acid, and the whole band was flying.
gone through the various versions of Woodstock over the years, as it
has been slowly expanded and released. You can now buy full sets by some
of the groups, including Sly and Santana. This, which gives you a
chronological look at the event, but not an overlong one, is I think the
best way to get the whole picture, warts and all. In the end, it's more
a cultural experience than a brilliant music one, but there are still
plenty of highlights.