This Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of the "Woodstock Music & Art Fair," or in its very shortened form: "&". I kind of missed the boat on the whole Woodstock thing, being as I am so much younger than you. I am 50, which is the new 30, and the even NEWER 20. Which means I am much more interested in free beer. But I do remember I was very intrigued by the soundtrack album, and some of the great bands that were on it. And I remember thinking: “Man this SUCKS compared to the studio version!”
Yes, there was rain. Yes, there were drugs. Yes, there were inadequate toilet and dining facilities. But there was also something more. Something even bigger. And that something was: really bad parking. What a muddy friggin’ mess. I can picture me trying to parallel park on the middle of the NYS Thruway, and there are no meters or anything there, so I write one of those “notes to the cops,” hoping that they will show you some mercy: “PLEASE DON’T TOW- CAN’T GET THRU AND OUT OF ACID”
Of course I wanted to hear the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young… But there were also so many lesser known acts there that made a big splash. For instance, a band called Canned Heat really made a name for themselves, and their lead singer, Kermit the Frog. They were an LA blues band named after Sterno.
I know it’s hip to say how GREAT Richie Havens and Joan Baez were, but jesus to me that whole first day was a snorefest. I guess I am just not a folk music guy. After Richie led off the festival, Swami Satchidananda gave an invocation. I would hate to be a Swami and try to follow the Who, so this was probably good scheduling. He did a lot of blah-blah-blahing then made the whole crowd chant “Rama Rama Rama Rama Rama Rama Rama Ram.” So it turns out he put the “ram” in the “rama-lama-ding-dong.”
Joan Baez closed the first evening with some protest songs and such. She always sings like she is driving over a REALLY bumpy road.
The next day had some good bands. Santana was reportedly high on mescaline the whole set, and he still killed. Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of the headliners at Woodstock, hugely popular at the time, but nobody knows it because they weren’t on the soundtrack or the film. They took the stage at about 3AM, pissed off at the Grateful Dead because they droned on way past their allotted time until everyone went to sleep.
Country Joe and the Fish famously offered the “Fish cheer,” where he calls on the audience to spell “FUCK” in cheerleader style. I can imagine how I would have screwed up Woodstock if I had been in the band. Since this was in the days before spellcheck, I would have spelled “FUCK” wrong, and Country Joe would have brained me over the head with a microphone stand. Hey- whatever happened to 3 days of peace and love? Or he would have yelled, ‘GIVE ME AN F!” And me, not paying attention of course, thinks he means the note, so I blare an F on my bass, obscuring the whole “Fish cheer,” and ruining Woodstock.
With my sister I attended Woodstock ’94, a cheap imitation of the original, and when I say cheap I mean we didn’t pay for our tickets, which she won in a radio contest, and we didn’t use them anyway since we snuck under the fence because it was so “establishment.” We got to the main stage and there was Melissa Etheridge singing a medley of Janis Joplin songs, and she killed. It was then that I realized we had come full circle. Meaning that we had gone the entire perimeter of the grounds and still not found the bathrooms. We saw Crosby, Stills & Nash perform the song, “Woodstock,” which of course was not written yet for the original Woodstock.
But it was fun; the intermittent rainstorms lent a sense of déjà vu to the proceedings, and also made things very wet. People were sliding around in the mud, going nuts, and you had to steer clear of the mud people or else they would push you right down the hill in the slime and soak you right down to your undies.
Incidentally, Martin Scorcese was one of the editors for the Woodstock documentary. Since the Band, Blood, Sweat & tears and the Grateful Dead were left on the cutting room floor, they are probably pretty pissed off at him.
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