First things first. For all but the most committed of fans, knowledge of what transpired, how it transpired and when it transpired at the now-legendary 1969 Woodstock Music & Arts Fair has, despite a variety of initial, 25th and 40th Anniversary audio and video releases, been severely limited. As engaging, entertaining and well-constructed as these various snapshots have been of the event dubbed "Three Days of Peace and Music," the variety of releases to date have ranged from absolute truth to moderate inaccuracies and, even, a few flat-out lies.
The fact is, Michael Wadleigh's Academy Award
-winning 1970 documentary, Woodstock
, and its two associated soundtrack albums, the triple-LP Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More
(Cotillion, 1970) and double-LP Woodstock Two
(Atlantic, 1971)both audio releases also including bands and/or performances not included in the filmhave ultimately failed to tell the real story, and on a number of fronts.
The good news? With 2019 representing Woodstock's 50th Anniversary, this historic event, attended by well over 400,000 people at Max Yasgur's farm (actually, in one of his hay fields about three miles from his home farm) in Bethel, NY over three days beginning on August 15, 1969, is finally getting the treatmentand verisimilitudeit deserves.
WoodstockBack to the Garden: Three Different Releases
There are four different versions of WoodstockBack to the Garden
, representing three different sets of track listings. The 42-track triple CD and quintuple LP sets may not contain performances from every act that played the festival, but with music from 21 artists and a small but nevertheless significant variety of announcements, these more budget-friendly releases still provide a more accurate "you are there" experience than any prior audio or video release.
While intersecting with the original film and soundtrack albums, WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Collection
finally corrects the order of events, using material only recorded at the festival, and providing either far less edited or, in most cases, complete versions of music previously more invasively altered. And that's not to mention a vast amount of music that has never been heard on any prior commercial Woodstock releases, audio or video.
For those who want more (and have fuller wallets), the 10-CD WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Experience
includes representative documentation of each and every performer that graced the functionally challenged rotating stage over the course of Woodstock's three days. It's the first time that each and every act, including lesser-knowns Quill, Sweetwater and Bert Sommer, has been collected, in proper chronological order, on a Woodstock audio release, with a total of 162 unedited tracks, totalling over 12 hours, that include (excluding a bevy of announcements) roughly 90 previously unreleased or unedited songs. The discs are stored in an oversized hardcover book, with liner notes, photographs and other memorabilia, much of it also appearing for the first time.
And for those with even fatter wallets and greater interest (and patience), the limited-to-1,969-copy, 38-CD WoodstockBack to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive
is a 36-hour, near-complete reconstruction of the three-day festival. This super deluxe box contains 37 discs that feature entire sets from all 32 acts plus even more announcements, ultimately recreating, as best as possible, a complete aural experience of being there, with everything presented in chronological order and, with a grand total of 432 tracks, a whopping 267 pieces being heard for the first time ever in a commercial releasein many cases, for the first time ever
The final, 38th disc in WoodstockBack to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive
is an addendum, containing Fillmore East lighting designer Chip Monck's "Farewell" speech, along with four appendices containing "ancillary recordings and a few bits of audio whose placement within the sequence could not be confirmed."
The super deluxe box also includes: a Blu-ray of the Director's Cut of the Woodstock
film; Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music
(Reel Art Press), a hardcover book by festival co-producer Michael Lang; and a variety of "ephemera" including a replica of the original program, replicas of posters, prints of photos by Henry Diltz, and a guitar strap.
The entire contents are housed in a screen-printed plywood box, with a canvas insert designed by Grammy Award
-winning graphic designer Masai Koike. Also included: a Dale Saltzman Woodstock poster set and the Woodstock 50th booklet in PDF format, for reading on portable electronic devices. Additionally, those ordering the box at Rhino.com
, released two months after the other editions in August, 2019, receive four exclusive Dale Saltzman 18x15 lithographs, based on banners that were onsite at the original festival.
More About Woodstock @50: Why It Matters
Every track in every version of WoodstockBack to the Garden
has been remixed and, where relevant, restored to full, unedited length. There are a few tracks that appear on Woodstock 2
that do not show up on WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Collection
, WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Experience
and WoodstockBack to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive
, but the only versions that do not appear are those culled from sources other than the festival, though there is also one small bit of confusion: "Hear My Train' A Comin,'" a Jimi Hendrix
performance, is alternately known (and credited) as "Get My Heart Back Together" on Woodstock Two
In a nutshell: the various versions of WoodstockBack to the Garden
finally tell the story as it was meant to be told, with the 10 and 38 CD versions containing performances from every single act that performed at Woodstock, with no tracks sourced from anywhere but
With better technology available to co-producer/co-engineer Zax, co-producer Steve Woolard and co-engineer Brian Kehew, the music sounds as good as it's likely ever going to sound. While the music is largely "what you hear is what you get," it's also a testament to the producers' ears and the engineers' acumen that certain flaws, like tuning issues during Blood, Sweat & Tears 50-minute set, could be repaired without actually altering the intent of the performances. Still, while the sonics are surprisingly good (even in 24/96 high res versions available for download and streaming), this was
, after all, a festival recorded in a field half a century ago.
Wadleigh's reordering of events can be considered "artistic license," presenting a personal vision that contributed to the film's successful If not entirely truthful narrative. Beyond its timeline, however, the director also took greater liberties with the actual performances, in some cases swapping out original Woodstock versions of songs for ones recorded in other venues at different times.
Granted, Wadleigh's overall decisions for doing so were largely altruistic. From Zax's liner notes to the 38-disc edition (one of a number of essays included in the 50th Anniversary Archive
), it's rendered clear that, for example, guitar legend Hendrix's now-iconic, distortion, feedback and whammy bar-infused film version of "The Star Spangled Banner" was really a falsely constructed climax, despite being a vivid protest of the Vietnam war and a potent way to end Wadleigh's film:
"It's generally considered not just a great performance but an important one. But why, exactly? Hendrix had been playing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in concert since April 196816 months before Woodstock. There are, in fact, at least 40 documented "Star-Spangled Banner" performances prior to its Woodstock appearance and another 20 after. It wasn't unique. Nor was it especially well received, because by the time Hendrix got around to playing it on Monday morning, near the end of the festival, there weren't many people there to hear it; most of the audience had already gone home.
"So, the Woodstock 'Star-Spangled Banner' is," continues Zax, "a performance whose cultural status stems entirely from its climactic role in Wadleigh's film and from its appearance on the soundtrack. (Want to know which of the acts at Woodstockthe ones, unlike Hendrix, people actually sawmade the largest impact in the moment? Judging from the audience response: Ten Years After, Sly & The Family Stone, and Canned Heat.) Wadleigh's film tells a story of Woodstock, but it doesn't tell the
story. There are a lot of Woodstock stories: about the artists, about the music, about the audience, about the people who made the festival happen, and about the people who came along later to try and figure out what it all meant."
Not that the guitarist's Woodstock performance wasn't stellar; but the film, especially at the time, led many to believe that this was a spur-of-the-moment improvisation by Hendrix when, in fact, he had been playing it many times in the previous sixteen months.
All possible attempts were made, at the time, to ensure faithfully capturing each and every performance accurately, translating into hundreds of hours of film, not to mention two multi-track tapes recording simultaneously. Doing so in a field was an even greater challenge, thanks to not just the one rainstorm shown in the film, but three
, all taking place at different times during the festival. The result was that some recordings became unsalvageable... at least, at the time. Combined with a variety of other factors, it's taken until now to put together an accurate representation of Woodstock, an "audio-verite documentary" of a defining moment of '60s history. And it took more than a decade to do it.
The Challenge of Creating WoodstockBack to the Garden
Just the task of bringing together all the various audio recordings from the festival was a nearlynearlyinsurmountable challenge. First, two eight-track tape machines located in a truck a few hundred feet behind the stage and operated by engineers Eddie Kramer and Lee Osborne were, according to Zax, "run at staggered intervalsthereby increasing the odds that a lengthy song would be captured intact on at least one of the reels. (It also added a certain amount of helpful redundancy; two machines meant that for every performance there would be nearly two complete sets of multitrack masters.)"
These eight-track rigs did not, however, represent the entirety of the audio documentation. A pair of mono reel-to-reel recorders were located onstage, with the intention of capturing direct soundboard feeds by the on-stage crew. Still, one of many spanners thrown into the works occurred when an intercom system, meant to facilitate communications between on-stage crew and Kramer and Osborne, broke down almost immediately after the event began. Over 65 multi-track and one hundred soundboard reels captured the festival, neveetheless, and almost in its entirety.
That said, according to Zax "There was never a single moment when all of those reels were assembled in one place. Some were removed before the festival had even ended. Still more tapes were sent to various labels, managers, and the artists themselves. Others just vanished.
"After the Wadleigh film was completed in 1970," Zax continues, "the remaining tapeswhich now included about 200 additional boxes of edits, safeties, mixes, trims, sound effects, and overdubswere sent to the Atlantic Records tape storage facility in New York. They remained there until 2003, when they were shipped across the country to the Warner Music vault in California, where they presently reside. There are mislabeled tape boxes, empty tape boxes, safety copies in boxes marked 'master,' master reels in boxes marked 'safety,' boxes that appear to have contained music at some point but whose reels are now blank, and boxes that contain audio that has nothing to do with Woodstock whatsoever."
The situation was further complicated by Wadleigh's decision to use both heavily edited versions of some of the material and, worse, music not even recorded at the festival. Nearly ten minutes of Sly and the Family Stone's buoyant 23-minute medley, for example, were cut from the film and soundtrack, while Canned Heat's 29-minute "Woodstock Boogie" was reduced to a mere 13 minutes on Woodstock Two
Elsewhere, versions of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Sea of Madness" and "Wooden Ships," from Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More
, are significantly different than those appearing on WoodstockBack to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive
and 50th Anniversary Experience
, having apparently been recorded at New York City's Fillmore East a month after the festival. Mountain's "Theme For an Imaginary Western," heard on Woodstock Two
, is also a different performance than that on the 50th Anniversary
releases, culled from an unknown source.
Arlo Guthrie's audio was culled, in part or in full, from a show at Los Angeles' The Troubadour, while Ravi Shankar
's subsequent At the Woodstock Festival
(World Pacific, 1970) was, at the very least with respect to the 21-minute, second LP side "Raga Manj Kmahaj," drawn from a studio recording rather than the festival recording included on WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Experience
and WoodstockBack to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive
While these decisions may have been based on then-understandable reasons ranging from technical to legal and more, current technology, label merging and better negotiations have now allowed better restorations of the original versions performed at the festival. Still, Wadleigh's choices, for better or worse, created even more problems, when it came to reconstructing the festival's chronology and complete performances for Woodstock's 50th Anniversary celebration. Zax recalls:
"While some of the multi-tracks had never been touched until Brian Kehew and I played themthe original rubber bands from 1969 were still wrapped around the Keef Hartley Band's performanceothers had been extensively chopped up in order to create shorter versions of songs. Finding the pieces that had been removed and returning them to their proper places was a process that, in some cases, took years.
"There's no getting around the fact that most earlier Woodstock music releases suffer from after-the-fact intrusions," Zax concludes. "Some of these were necessitated by technical realities; some were misguided attempts to improve the un-improvable; some were simply inexplicable. These recordings have suffered a lot of indignities over the years: bad mixes, poor mastering, vocal and instrumental overdubs, re-recordings, sweetenings, deceptive edits, fake applause, fake cricket noises, fake rain chants, fake audience members yelling along with "The 'Fish' Cheer," and entirely fraudulent tracks recorded [elsewhere]."
Despite it being impossible to feature even small representations of each of the 32 acts that played at the event in the original film and associated soundtrack recordings, with just under half of the acts finding their way into Wadleigh's film, the director's significant re-sequencing (barring opening act Richie Havens and closing performer Jimi Hendrix) meant that the order of the performances in his film was a long way from what actually happened, making every WoodstockBack to the Garden
release a welcome event, even if it took fifty years to make it happen.
Indeed, there are some truly iconic performances that elevated artists from unknowns into superstars virtually overnight, but under circumstances that were, despite not being their fault, still less than admirable.
Case in point: Santana
, a sextet featuring 22 year-olds Carlos Santana
(guitar) and Gregg Rolie (organ), was managed by Bill Graham, with its first album already in the can by the time of Woodstock. Chicago
(then, still, Chicago Transit Authority) was originally booked to play Woodstock but Graham (with whom CTA had a contract) forced the band to cancel its Woodstock date when the concert promoter "conveniently rescheduled" the band's date at San Francisco's Fillmore West to August 17, thus opening up a slot for Santana.
While it's absolutely true that Santana deserved every accolade it received from its nuclear Woodstock performance and subsequent superstardom, the question still remains: had the band not played Woodstock, and had it not been featured in Wadleigh's film, would its ultimate ascension have even happened? Right place, right time often factors, after all, as much as talent, so the answer has to be: perhaps, but far from an absolute certainty, especially for a group that was largely instrumental.
Previous Woodstock Releases
That tracks included in the film were edited down is, in some cases, unfortunate, in others, perhaps a blessing. But it's just one more example of how Wadleigh took the material recorded at Woodstock and shaped it to his vision of the film, rather than documenting the event, even if it was impossible to include songs from every performer in a film that was already 185 minutes when it was first released in 1970, a remarkable seven months after the festival concluded.
With a multitude of reasons for tracks being shortened it is, perhaps, unfair to critically judge Wadleigh for all of his decisions, especially given how successful the film has been on its own merits. Wadleigh's inclusion of Sly and the Family Stone's booty-shaking, 14-minute medley featuring "Dance to the Music," "Music Lover" and "I Want to Take You Higher" remains one of the film's high points, despite being edited down from an even more exhilarating 23-minute continuous string of songs that begins with "Everyday People" before moving into a longer version of "Dance to the Music."
In terms of commercial releases (and with 1970 coming well before the emergence of home video, rendering the two original soundtrack albums the only way to experience Woodstock in any way at home), an expanded 25th Anniversary Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music The Director's Cut
came to theaters in '94 with an additional 39 minutes of footage added to the film proper. A four-CD soundtrack album, Woodstock: 25th Anniversary
(Atlantic), was also released in '94. While adding more performances, it removed much of the between-act/song patter that made the original soundtrack such a "you were there" experience. And despite their significant additions, Wadleigh's Director's Cut
and associated soundtrack remained less than entirely verisimilitudinous for reasons already cited.
Finally released on home video for the festival's 40th Anniversary in 2009, Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition
three/four-DVD and two-Blu Rays issues dovetailed with a six-CD soundtrack box, Woodstock 40 Years On: Back To Yasgur's Farm
(Rhino Records, 2009), all further expanding the amount of music available in an audio and video formats and, for the first time, restoring the represented acts and announcements to proper chronological order. It wasn't perfect, but it was a start. The Blu Ray and DVD releases also included one ore more disc of special features, with eighteen or more additional performances never before seen in video format.
The 40th Anniversary Revisited
twin Blu Ray version of Wadleigh's Director's Cut
, released in 2014 (in addition to single-DVD editions containing only the film), now sported, in addition to a new 2K video master and 5.1 surround soundtrack, a second disc elevated from standard to high definition, with, amongst other features, more than two hours of bonus performance footage.
Fast forward another decade however, and the 50th Anniversary celebration of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Fair has finally given documentation of the event the treatment it deserves. There's nothing to be done about the many inaccuracies of Wadleigh's film (in either original or Director's Cut versions), but it finally rights all past audio wrongs, with edited versions and chronology restored, along with set lists that are entirely drawn from recordings made at the festival.
The quality of the performances vary widely, as do the sonics, though this is truly the best that recordings from the festival have ever sounded, ranging from very good to stellar, compared with any of the original or anniversary soundtracks, or already separately released full sets from artists including Hendrix, Santana and Joe Cocker. Hearing everything in proper chronological order also reveals certain truths that were less clear in prior Woodstock films, LPs or CD box sets.
Any festival is bound to possess inconsistencies, but Woodstock's first day, now restored to chronological order, reveals it to be, overall, the festival's weakest. Still, with a largely folk-centric lineup including Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie and Joan Baez (and occupying the first two of WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Experience
's ten CDs), there are enough gems to make it a good start to a festival that would get better and better with each passing day.
Day One: Richie Havens
Brooklyn-born Richie Havens had already established himself as strong participant in the early '60s folk clubs that were thriving in New York's Greenwich Village, releasing his first album, Mixed Bag
(Verve), in 1966. Utilizing open tunings that allowed him to play with only his thumb moving around the neck of his guitar, Havens' Woodstock set, accompanied by guitarist/vocalist Paul "Delano" Williams and conguero Daniel Ben Zebulon, provided the singer/songwriter/interpreter's career the push it needed, leading to even higher charting albums, live performances on shows like The Ed Sullivan Show
and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson
and even a second career as an actor in films like Michael Schultz's 1977 vehicle for comedian Richard Pryor, Greased Lightning
, and 1974's Loose interpretation of Shakespeare's Othello
, Catch My Soul
Havens' WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Experience
five-song, 24-minute set excerpt may only represent a little under half of his full performance, but it's still in chronological order. His medley, combining the propulsive original, "From the Prison" (from his 1968 Verve album Something Else Again
), with Chet Powers' "Get Together" makes for a potent set-opener. An even fierier interpretation of Billy Edd Wheeler's "High Flying Bird," from Mixed Bag
, heats things up even further, followed by an audience participation version of The Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" that, largely hummed by Havens because the singer had yet to learn the lyrics, is more joyous, providing a dynamic break to the set.
But it's still Havens' blistering anti-war song, "Handsome Johnny," co-written with actor Louis Gossett, Jr., and his set-closing improvisation "Freedom," which also includes snippets of the traditional African American spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," both appearing in the original film (but only the latter appearing in the original soundtrack), that remain the high points of his set. Between Havens' rich but, at the same time, raspy voice, his almost supernaturally fast strumming, and the singer's trade-offs with Williams, it's a truly career-defining performance that is exceptionally well-represented in WoodstockBack to the Garden
Day One: Sweetwater
Sadly, the 13-minute excerpt from Los Angeles-based Sweetwater' set does little to recommend the then eight-piece band, led by singer/guitarist Nansi Nevins but also including bassist/vocalist Fred Herrera, keyboardist/vocalist Alex del Zoppo, flautist/vocalist Albert Moore, guitarist/vocalist/bongo player R.G. Carlyle, conguero Elpido (Pete) Cobain, drummer Alan Malarowitz and cellist August Burns.
Sweetwater's three-song set in the 10-disc box is absolutely dated, though it would be unfair to call the band's performance bad; it just doesn't stand the test of time. And who knows what might have happened, had Nevins not been injured in a serious car accident just four months later (though the band did release two albums subsequent to its eponymous 1968 Reprise Records debut before dissolving)?
Day One: Bert Sommer
Bert Sommer first emerged as a member of The Left Banke, though not joining until after the original incarnation released its two biggest 1967 hits, "Walk Away Renée" and "Pretty Ballerina." While he'd never garner massive acclaim, his Woodstock set (of which fourteen minutes over four songs are included in the 10-disc box) is a pleasant combination of Baroque pop ("When It's Over") and straight acoustic folk ("Jennifer"), both from his 1968 solo debut, The Road to Travel
(Capitol), alongside a mellotron-drenched version of Simon & Garfunkel's "America" that, building in power, garnered the singer/guitarist a standing ovation (Woodstock's first), followed by his own anthemic "Smile."
Likely booked due to his work with Woodstock co-creator/co-curator Artie Kornfeld, who produced Sommer's The Road to Travel
and two subsequent post-Woodstock albums, his performance at the festival was nevertheless an impressive one.
Sommer's voice ran the gamut from gently vibrato'd falsetto to a more powerful natural range (with an even more pronounced vibrato), and this brief excerpt (also featuring electric guitarist, keyboardist and harmonicist Ira Stone and bassist Charlie Bilello) from the singer/songwriter's full ten-song set, only makes his lack of subsequent success all the more curious. Even more tragically, Sommer died in 1990, age 41, following a lengthy period of respiratory problems.
Despite never garnering the success he may have deserved, like Richie Havens, Sommer also ended up acting, first as Woof in the original 1969/1970 Broadway production of Hair
and, later, as Flatbush, of Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, on 1976's The Kroft Supershow
. Still, with his Woodstock set now fully revived, it may be time to reassess this fine singer/songwriter's work.
Day One: Tim Hardin
By the time he appeared at Woodstock in 1969, singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist Tim Hardin was already a bona fide folk star, with five albums under his belt, all for major labels. His 1966 debut, Tim Hardin 1
(Verve) included "How Can We Hang On to a Dream," a song that was subsequently covered by everyone from early Fleetwood Mac and Denny Laine-era Moody Blues to progressive rock groups The Nice (and, later, Emerson, Lake & Palmer
) and Gandalf; even hard rockers Nazareth covered it on Snakes and Ladders
(Vertigo) in 1989. But few could come close to the vulnerability of Hardin's delivery, and his set-opening rendition at Woodstock reveals itself, with just Hardin singing and accompanying himself on piano, as a particularly memorable one.
The even more successful "If I Were a Carpenter," from Tim Hardin 2
(Verve, 1967), is met with huge applause at the start of his Woodstock performance. Hardin's more countrified "Reason to Believe" and gently balladic "Misty Roses" round out this 18-minute excerpt from Hardin's ten-song Woodstock set. As was the case with his studio albums, which featured contributions from jazz artists including vibraphonists Gary Burton
and Mike Mainieri
, double bassist Eddie Gomez
and pianist Warren Bernhardt
, the group he put together for his Woodstock set included future Oregon
bassist Glen Moore
and guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner
(who takes a lovely nylon string guitar solo during "Misty Roses").
Hardin also recruited cellist Richard Bock, guitarist Gilles Malkine and drummer Steve "Muruga" Booker for a set that is, thankfully, now available in full (download-only, ranging from compressed MP3 to 24/44.1 high resolution formats), for those who cannot spring for the 38-CD box. The full set also includes Hardin's version of "Simple Song of Freedom," returning the favor to that song's writer, Bobby Darin, who'd made "If I Were a Carpenter" a Top 10 single in both the UK and USA in 1966/67. Hardin's single of the song, released two months before Woodstock, only managed to crack the Top 50, with his burgeoning heroin addiction and severe stage fright only rendering his Woodstock performance all the more specialand more tragic, given how he was found dead in his apartment of a heroine overdose a little over a decade later, having just turned 39 six days earlier on December 23, 1980.
Day One: Ravi Shankar
"Raga Manj Kmahaj" represents a fine showing from Ravi Shankar, all the more so since the six-CD Woodstock 40
included the sitar legend's set-opener, "Raga Puriya-Dhanashri/Gat In Sawarital." The two lengthy pieces, separated by a tabla solo from Alla Rakha, are the only full trio pieces in Shankar's 35-minute set, which also features tamboura player Maya Kulkarni. And so, those who still have the Woodstock 40
set get to hear the set's other long trio track.
Shankar's Woodstock performance is all the more special for his ceasing to participate in American rock festivals soon after (feeling that they were more about the event and the spectacle than the music), and is all the more remarkable for his playing during a rainstorm, during which the originally slated Incredible String Band refused to go on and were, consequently, moved to the festival's second day. Given that his set was, indeed, so short, it's most welcome to hear "Raga Manj Kmahaj," a vital performance combining shifting complex meters, diverse rhythms and stunning linear melodies across its 18-minute duration.
Day One: Melanie
Melanie's 14-minute set excerpt reveals another folk singer/guitarist whose overall success, such as it has been, remains suspect, fifty years later. With a somewhat shrill, overly vibrato-laden voice, Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk (of Ukrainian/Italian descent) was sent onstage unexpectedly to help fill in the time left by The Incredible String Band's refusal to play during the rainstorm, and so she still deserves some props for going on with no notice.
Still, with four of her seven songs included in the ten-CD box, all originals with the exception of a pedestrian version of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" that's also included on her debut LP, Born to Be
(Buddah, 1968), Melanie delivers competent but less than compelling versions of "Momma Momma" (from Born to Be
), "Beautiful People," from her first post-Woodstock album, Affectionately Melanie
(Buddah, 1969), and "Birthday of the Sun," which would not show up until The Good Book
(Buddah, 1971). While never garnering massive success, Melanie has nevertheless managed to build a lifelong career in music, with over forty albums to her credit and a surprisingly full touring schedule to this day.
Day One: Arlo Guthrie
By the time he played Woodstock, Arlo Guthrie's career had already peaked. Alice's Restaurant
(Reprise, 1967), featuring the side-long, talking blues title track that the singer/songwriter claims actually happened and would ultimately become his most famous "song," peaked at #27 in the Billboard
Top 100 in March, 1968.
Guthrie's four-song, 13-minute set culled, in the 10-disc box, from his surprisingly short, half-hour performance, finds the son of legendary protest folk singer Woodie Guthrie in full-on Dylan mode, especially during his interpretation of the famous singer/songwriter's "Walkin' Down the Line." Early in the song, the clearly stoned singer stops to tell his audience: "that's not where it's at, man; I mean, there's a lot of people here, man, and obviously you're not walkin' down a line. Hey, man, when he [Dylan] wrote it, you know, he probably wasn't walkin' down a line, but you should sing it, 'cause sometimes you might be walkin' down...I mean, if an earthquake hits California, and all the electricity goes and there's no more electricity, you'll have to walk to wherever you're going, you know, and you might want to sing that song...or you might not. You might want to stay at home; but you could sing it staying at home too, man." A mind is, indeed, a terrible thing to waste.
It's just one of many stoner comments Guthrie makes during his set (though, truthfully, how many of the artists playing at Woodstock who weren't under the influence of something
could likely be counted on the fingers of one hand), including his between-song comment: "It's far out, man. I dunno, like, how many of you can dig how many people there are, man. I mean, I was talking to the fuzz, right, can you dig it? Man, there's supposed to be a million and a half people here by tonight...lotta freaks!," as he giggles his way into his own "Wheel of Fortune," another Dylan-esque song from Guthrie's second studio album, Running Down the Road
While Guthrie would continue touring and releasing albums (over thirty of them, between '67 and 2016), between Alice's Restaurant
and the undeniably well-played Woodstock set the singer/songwriter's greatest acclaim had been achieved. For All About Jazz
fans, Guthrie's band featured, alongside guitarist John Pilla and bassist Bob Arkin, drummer Paul Motian
, he of pianists Bill Evans
, Paul Bley
and Keith Jarrett
fame (not to mention his own recordings until his passing in 2011, age 80).
An announcement that follows Guthrie's set also makes clear that, while the festival was largely about music, peace and love, there were people who, nevertheless, illustrated the darker underbelly of humanity as production coordinator John Morris warns the growing crowd of "a bit of acid sickness going around...there's somebody out there...there's something...you don't need that...let's not pass anything to anybody else tonight. Anything that could be dangerous, let's just forget about it...with all of this...nothin' can make you as high as this."
Day One: Joan Baez
And with that, the first of a number of warnings about a bad batch of blue LSD going around, the first day covered in the 10-CD edition of Woodstock Back to the Garden
concludes with four songs drawn from activist singer Joan Baez's thirteen-song performance (not including her encore of Pete Seeger's "We Shall Overcome," only found in the 38-CD set).
Baez's voice is an acquired taste; with a surprising range that unfortunately suffers from a rapid and largely uncontrolled vibrato. Still, her commitment to political and social activism in areas including nonviolence, civil rights, human rights and the environment is clear here, an admirable devotion that has defined her entire career, still ongoing. Her then-husband, David Harris, was in prison at the time for draft resistance and, according to Baez, "is fine...and we're fine, too," to a massive round of applause. She also celebrates how, having been moved from county jail to federal prison, "after he'd been in jail for two-and-a-half weeks he had very, very good hunger strike going with 42 federal prisoners, none of who were draft people," before moving into a moving version of Earl Robinson's organizing song "Joe Hill."
The 10-disc box also includes Baez's duet with guitarist/vocalist Jeffrey Shuftleff (one of three in her set), covering Roger McGuinn and Gram Parsons' "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man," from The Byrds' Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde
(Columbia, 1969). Baez has long been more an interpreter of traditional material and songs written by others than a writer herself, with her twelfth album, David's Album
(Vanguard) released just three months prior to her Woodstock performance (though her set only included one track from that album, "Hickory Wind," included only on the 38-disc box). Still, despite some challenges in appreciating her voice, Baez's set is a solid demonstration of her craft, with a supporting group that, in addition to Shurtleff, also included guitarist Richard Festinger.
As Woodstock's first day ends, John Morris announces that "this brings us fairly close to the dawn," followed by a suggestion to get some rest and "say thank you to yourself for making this the most peaceful, most pleasant day anybody's ever had in this kind of music," as the day fades with a number of the many announcements made, throughout the event, concerning more mundane (sometimes more imperative) affairs.
Day Two: Quill
It was a representation of the kinds of things that arose throughout the festival, and became increasingly common as the crowd gradually grew to over 400,000 for Woodstock's second day, with WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Experience
's recreation of events beginning with Quill, a northeastern USA group whose career peak was, no doubt, at Woodstock. With two of its four songs included here, representing 14 minutes from its short 30-minute set, Quill had spent that last couple of years touring its neck of the woods extensively and opening for bigger acts like Jeff Beck
, The Who and The Kinks. Still, its rather eclectic sound and penchant for occasionally bringing its audience into its performances as a kind of performance art, doesn't translate particularly well here, though "That's How I Eat' is a sometimes humorous, rocking blues that, in addition to siblings/band co-founders Dan Cole (vocals) and Jon Cole (bass, vocals), also features guitarist/vocalist Norman Rogers, keyboardist/saxophonist/flautist Phil Thayer and drummer Roger North.
According to Wikipedia, "Quill spent the week preceding the festival living at the setup crew's camp at a nearby motel, providing entertainment for the stage crew, hog farmers and festival workers. Quill was also hired by festival promoters to play a series of goodwill concerts at nearby state prisons, mental institutions and halfway houses as a gesture to assuage community concerns about the upcoming festival. This proved to be among Quill's strangest tours; though enjoyed by the band, there were moments of unpredictability, as members of the very animated audiences ranged from the insane to the incarcerated."
The first of many announcement from lighting designer and technical director Chip Monck, that becomes increasingly irritable over the course of the next two days, asks people to get down from the scaffolding on which the PA system speakers were mounted (beyond safety, they also blocked others from seeing the stage), followed Quill's set. Monck also mentions, in addition to asking the crowd to raise its hands if it could hear (the sound system for Woodstock was surprisingly sophisticated, considering that it needed to get the sound to reach a growing crowd that ultimately went back farther than the eye could see), and that a woman at the festival was giving birth...the first of many signs that those attending Woodstock had become more a city than an audience.
Day Two: Country Joe McDonald
Country Joe McDonald, leader of the "rock and soul" band The Fish, follows with a solo set. While undeniably representative of the Woodstock era, McDonald has nevertheless subsequently released over thirty albums (with and without The Fish), across a career that is still going (his last album, 50
, was released in 2017), though his following is definitely in the cult category.
With three of his ten song, 30-minute set included in the 10-disc edition, it had to include one of the festival's (and film's) more memorable moments: the anti-war, audience-participation "Fish Cheer/I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag," which has appeared on virtually every Woodstock soundtrack album barring, for obvious reasons, Woodstock Two
. Monck's post-set announcement was so well-received that McDonald ultimately reprised his set-closing "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag" before leaving the stage.
Day Two: Santana
If the start of the second day, barring McDonald's "Fish Cheer/I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag," was a bit underwhelming, the next performer kicked the day (and the entire festival) into high gear. Santana was still a relatively nascent group, at least with respect to recordings. Formed in 1966 by guitarist Carlos Santana (then just 19 years old) as The Santana Blues Band, only keyboardist/lead vocalist Gregg Rolie (also 19) remained by 1969, when the more Latin-infused septet (also featuring bassist David Brown, drummer Michael Shrieve, and percussionists Jose "Chepito" Areas and Mike Carabello) bucked commercial trends at the time by being a largely instrumental group.
The young, percussion-heavy Latin/jazz-inflected group's incendiary Woodstock setmost notably the lengthy "Soul Sacrifice," featured in the film and rendered all the more visually compelling through Wadleigh's split-screen editing, was all the group needed to rocket it to stardom. Between Rollie's dense organ chops, Carlos Santana's piercing guitar lines and an even more impressive feature for drummer Michael Shrieve
at 20, the youngest musician to play Woodstockand with the group's debut recording, Santana
(Columbia, 1969), released just two weeks after its August 16 afternoon performance, it was the start of a hugely successful career that, especially for the guitarist/leader, continues to this day.
Four songs from Santana's eight-song set are included in the 10-CD edition, all culled from Santana
. Being largely instrumental (representing a full half of the album) and relatively unknown to the Woodstock crowd didn't stop the improv-heavy Santana from becoming one of the most significant acts of the festival, and not just for its mind-boggling film highlight, "Soul Sacrifice."
The 19 year-old Shrieve may have garnered international attention for his stunning drum solo during that song, but his feature during the equally fiery "Savor," following an impressive percussion duo from Areas and Carabello, displays a drummer equally capable of a sparser, less chops-heavy approach, with his cymbal-work acting as the perfect segue into "Jingo," the band's first (less-than-successful) single.
While "Evil Ways," which would become the band's first major hit (reaching #9 in the Billboard
Top 10), it's not included in the 10-disc box. Still, between its 45-minute Woodstock performance, first released in its entirety, along with Santana
, in the Legacy two-CD set The Woodstock Experience
, and the sheer inimitability of the band's debut album as a whole, it did even better, reaching #4 on the Billboard
200 Album Chart and pointing to even greater things to come for the band and, more specifically, Rolie (who would co-found Journey, The Storm and Abraxas Pool) and the guitarist, who continues to own the band name. With personnel shifting many times throughout his fifty-plus year career, Santana even reformed the original lineup in 2014 for Santana IV
(RCA, 2016) and has moved into a different direction with his latest album, Africa Speaks
(Concord, 2019), debuting on the Billboard
Album Chart at #3.
Day Two: John B. Sebastian
The festival returned, albeit briefly, to a more folk-oriented vibe for an unexpected set by John B. Sebastian, ex-Lovin' Spoonful. In his introduction to his off-the-cuff, 25-minute set, beginning with the appropriate "How Have You Been," the guitarist/vocalist says "I don't really know how amazing you look, but you're truly amazing you're a whole city. And somehow, you're something that an awful lot of us talked about, eight and ten years ago, in little living rooms."
That song, as warm, friendly and human as Sebastian's demeanor, delivery and overall performance, was culled from his upcoming leader debut, John B. Sebastian
(Reprise), released five months after Woodstock in January, 1970. Of his brief, five-song set, the 10-CD box thankfully includes all but one, the closing "Younger Generation," released two years prior on the Lovin' Spoonful's Everything Playing
(Kama Sutra, 1967). It's a reminder of the kind of peaceful positivism that still defined the youth culture, on the cusp of moving into the next decade where everything began to change, in many ways not for the better.
Day Two: The Keef Hartley Band
The eighteen-minute "Halfbreed Medley" that closes Keef Hartley Band's 45-minute set and brings together three songs from the band's 1969 Decca debut, Keef Hartley Band
, is a terrific and wholly representative inclusion in both boxes, with a guitar/horn-heavy lineup that includes, in addition to drummer Hartley, guitarist/vocalist Miller Anderson, bassist Gary Thain and saxophonist Jimmy Jewell, trumpeter/violinist Henry Lowther, who would go on to become a busy session player (in addition to his jazzier proclivities), ultimately playing on albums by Bryan Ferry, Elton John, Richard Thompson
and Talk Talk. His lengthy trumpet solo during the vamp-driven "Leaving Trunk," in the middle of the medley, speaks volumes.
It's unfortunate that Hartley's performance didn't make it into any of the original or subsequent Woodstock films or soundtrack releases; who knows if it might have given the group, which released a subsequent five albums between 1969 and 1972, a greater push into the spotlight?
Day Two: The Incredible String Band
Also from the UK but more decidedly Scottish and traditional, psychedelic folk group The Incredible String Band was already a success at home, with three of its four albums, already released by the time of its half-hour Woodstock set (with another already in the can and planned for release in November of the same year), reaching into the UK Top 30 chart and one, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
(Elektra, 1968), making it all the way to #5.
Perhaps this is why the group felt it could refuse to play during the rain on the first evening, and perhaps the reason why it was afforded such a short slot the following afternoon, though its reason may have been more understandable, with the band apologizing for all the time spent tuning between songs, the result of the instruments getting wet the night before. With half of its six-song set included in the 10-disc box, it's most remarkable that not a single song comes from its already released records, not even from its planned next album, Changing Horses
(Elektra, 1969). Instead, the set contains three tracks from 1970's I Looked Up
(Elektra), one from U
(Elektra, 1970), one from Be Glad the Song Has No Ending
(Island, 1971) and one, "Gather 'Round," only ever performed live.
The band's combination of traditional-informed poetry and instrumentation was remarkably broad for such a relatively small group. Co-founders/songwriters/singers Mike Heron and Robin Williamson contribute "various instruments," in addition to guitar and piano, as well as violin (Williamson), singer Christina "Licorice" McKechnie's organ, and Rose Simpson's bass recorder, vocals and percussion. From Williamson's spoken word "Invocation" to Heron's Renaissance-inflected "The Letter" and Williamson's 10-minute set-closing epic, "When You Find Out Who You Are," it's clear that The Incredible String Band was, to British traditionalism, what The Band
would become to roots American music. Both contemporary yet, in their own ways, timeless.
Day Two: Canned Heat
Canned Heat followed The Incredible String Band, bringing the Woodstock audience back to American blues and boogie, for an hour-long set represented, here on the 10-CD set, by just three songs, albeit, together, occupying nearly 45 minutes. "Going Up The Country" was used in the film and original soundtrack, but was taken from the band's two-LP set, Living the Blues
(Liberty, 1968), written and sung by guitarist/harmonicist Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson who, alongside singer/harmonicist and fellow blues enthusiast Bob "The Bear" Hite, formed Canned Heat in 1965. Here, the group's actual Woodstock performance is used, and with much more exciting results.
By 1969 the group had settled into a lineup that also included Harvey "The Snake" Mandel (replacing original guitarist Henry Vestine, this was only The Snake's third gig with the band), bassist Larry "The Mole" Taylor and drummer Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra, and it was with a clear sense of chemistry that the band attacked the 29-minute "Woodstock Boogie," sung by Hite and first appearing in its entirety on Woodstock 40
but sounding substantially improved here. Mandel and Wilson, in particular, get a lot of solo time as the rest of the group carries the groove. The set-closing "On the Road Again," another boogie but with an abstract intro sung, again, by Wilson with his soft alto, is another largely improvised song, with guitarists Mandel and Wilson once again going at it, both alone and in tandem, in addition to Hite's impressive harmonica solo.
That the producers chose to include a full three-quarters of Canned Heat's set speaks to the strength of the band's Woodstock performance. The group continued to record and perform throughout the '70s, before Hite sadly passed away, age 38, in 1981 after snorting a vial of heroin that, given to him by a fan between sets, he thought was cocaine. Turning blue and collapsing, Hite was driven to a nearby home by the band's roadies, where he passed away.
It's hard to believe, but day two of Woodstock, already running for over eight hours since commencing at 12:15PM, continued for another thirteen
hours, with some of its biggest ticket performers to come, and with sets ranging from 40 to 100 minutes.
Day Two: Mountain
Woodstock was just the third live date for the relatively nascent Mountain, featuring another impressive guitarist (and vocalist), Leslie West, alongside thundering bassist/vocalist Felix Pappalardi (already known for his work as writer/arranged/producer with British supergroup Cream
) and keyboardist Steve Knight. While not making it into the film, the hard rock/blues rock band's hour-long set (appearing, in part, on Woodstock Two
) cemented a reputation that ascended to even greater heights with the release of Mountain Climbing!
(Windfall, 1970) seven months later.
(Windfall) was the debut Leslie West solo album that ultimately led to the formation of a group assuming the album's name as its own soon after, but with Corky Lang replacing original Woodstock (and Mountain
) drummer Norman D. Smart II for Climbing!
. That album, in turn, led to the group biggest hit, "Mississippi Queen" and two additional studio albums before disbanding in 1972, when West and Lang joined up with ex-Cream bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce
for the even shorter-lived power trio West, Bruce & Lang.
Mountain has periodically reconvened over the decades for a number of tours, in addition to more studio and live recordings. Still, it's unfortunate that the group never regained its early heights, or that West, a supremely tasteful guitarist filled with plenty of attitude, an inimitably thick tone and, for a guitarist emerging when he did, a remarkably spare approach, never garnered the reputation he deserved in rock and roll history, ultimately a footnote rather than a better-known name.
The 10-disc excerpt opens three songs into Mountain's set, with Pappalardi's interpretation of Jack Bruce
's "Theme For an Imaginary Western," from the ex-Cream bassist's 1969 solo album Songs for a Tailor
(Polydor), produced, coincidentally by the Mountain bassist/vocalist and delivered with a similar (but softer), vibrato-laden voice. But it was West who got the crowd going with the more groove-heavy "Long Red," where the New York-born guitarist/vocalist's Jersey upbringing was immediately evident as he yelled at the crowd, backed by Smart's funk groove, "Are you out there? Louder! Well clap your hands to what he's doing...on tempo, Jack!"
The entire nine-song set is surprisingly light on material from Climbing!
, focusing more on Mountain
, released just a month before Woodstock. "Who Am I But You and the Sun," subsequently retitled for "Yasgur's Farm" for Climbing!
, features lyrical verses sung by Pappalardi and a heavier chorus sung by the raunchier, more blues-inflected West, all driven by Smart's powerful kit work and Pappalardi's seriously fuzz-toned bass. Closing both the set and the 10-CD mini-set with the hard rocking blues of "Southbound Train," even just the brief 20 minutes included from the band's hour-long set is enough to feel the excitement and energy that was the start of a mammoth twelve hours of memorable performances from another half dozen bands.
But before the Grateful Dead, an announcement from the stage warning people who've taken a particular acid to go to the medical tent. An unfortunate event, indeed, but a fantastic reminder of just how prepared the festival was for such events, and how it managed to ultimately adapt to a variety of other circumstances seen and unforeseen, despite a crowd that was ultimately far, far larger than any of the organizers had expected (and a festival which became a free concert soon after it started as the crowd far exceeded the original space intended for the event).
Day Two: The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead was truly one of the most important American groups of its time, its reputation built upon improvisational freedom combined with, by this time, a nascent move away from psychedelia towards a repertoire of definitive American country, folk and rock-informed original music and covers. Even to this day, multiple superbly recorded archival sets have been released every year since guitarist, vocalist and, truly, the band's heart and soul, Jerry Garcia, passed away in 1995, age just 53, found dead at a rehabilitation clinic, the result of decades of substance abuse and other poor health decisions.
That the band wasn't documented (albeit in part) until the 40th Anniversary Woodstock 40: Back to Yasgur's Farm
seems almost criminal, except that the band was, apparently, not at all happy with its 95-minute set. For those unable to acquire the 38-disc set, the 28-minute, three-song excerpt included in the 10-disc box may not represent the band at its finest, but it's far from a poor performanceand, thankfully, omits a 50-minute version of "Turn on Your Love Light," always a feature for Ron "Pigpen" McKernan's lengthy, improvised spoken word, that was apparently particularly long, rambling and, worse, meandering. Perhaps the three-song excerpt included in the 10-disc set is enough.
Guitarist/singer Bob Weir, whose pitch has always leaned towards slight inconsistencies but, nevertheless, possesses an instantly recognizable voice, delivers a short but strong rendition of the Merl Haggard standard "Mama Tried." A slightly longer version of "High Time" finds Garcia in equally fine, characteristically fragile and vulnerable voice, though the harmony vocals are, indeed, a little pitchy. Still, this performance of a song that would not appear on record until June, 1970 with Workingman's Dead
(Warner Bros)one of the band's best studio recordings, representing a significant stylistic shift as the band embraced roots music more fully and eschewed the longer jams that defined even its studio recordingsis also plenty strong enough.
The centerpiece of the Dead's 28-minute excerpt is a 19-minute version of "Dark Star," written by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter. First appearing as a 2:45 single in 1968 that, according to bassist Phil Lesh, "sank like a stone," it was an odd choice for a single, given the song often ran anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes, sometimes even longer, and the 23-minute version that would appear on Live/Dead
(Warner Bros, 1969), just three months after Woodstock, was an even better representation of the Dead's burgeoning improvisational prowess and, in particular, Garcia's ever-growing acumen as a guitarist.
In addition to Weir, Garcia, Lesh and Pigpen, drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, who played together with empathic interaction, were joined by keyboardist Tom Constanten, who was on the two-LP Live/Dead
but was typically only recruited for live performances.
Woodstock's "Dark Star" may not be the best version on record. Still, its extensive explorations and Garcia's growing skill as a guitarist with growing harmonic sophistication (exceeding most of his peers at the time), coupled with the entire band's deepening chemistry, is certainly a welcome addition that sounds considerably better than the Woodstock 40
mix/master. And its segue into the balladic "High Time" is a perfect example of how the band, rarely working from a set list, often moved seamlessly from one song to the next.
While the absence of "Turn on Your Love Light" on the 10-disc version is likely a blessing, it would have been nice to have had the set-opening "St. Stephen," from Aoxomoxoa
(Warner Bros and released just two months before Woodstock). But that said, the 28-minute, three-song set is still a great representation of where the Dead was...and where it was going.
Day Two: Creedence Clearwater Revival
25 minutes later, Creedence Clearwater Revival delivered a surprisingly short, 50-minute set that was, nevertheless, filled with the many hits already released by the group, with four songs from Bayou Country
(Fantasy), from January, 1969, two from Creedence Clearwater Revival
(Fantasy, 1968) and three from Green River
(Fantasy), released just twelve days before the festival and including two songs that reached #2 in the Billboard
Hot 100 chart.
The brief, 11-minute excerpt from Creedence's set is unfortunately too short, but with two hits delivered faithfully and almost literally ("Green River" and "Bad Moon Rising"), alongside a potent version of a Screamin' Jay Hawkins' blues ("I Put a Spell on You"), it's a good, representative extract from the group's Woodstock set. Lead guitarist/vocalist John Fogerty had become, like the rest of his band mates, a complete pro by this time, delivering the set with confidence, energy and commitment.
Day Two: Janis Joplin and the Kozmic Blues Band
By this time, singer/blues belter Janis Joplin was already a megastar. Her performance of "Ball and Chain," with Big Brother and the Holding Company, that was included in D.A. Pennebaker' successful 1968 film of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, Monterey Pop
, was absolutely mesmerizing. And if the band's first album didn't fare particularly well, its second album, Cheap Thrills
(Columbia, 1968), reached #1 on the Billboard
Album Chart and stayed there for a full eight weeks, and included mega-hits like "Piece of My Heart."
But Joplin had, by this time, moved on from Big Brother, forming a larger, horn-driven band for her first album as a leader, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!
(Columbia), slated for release the month after Woodstock. Despite the album ultimately going platinum, it was less favorably received by critics, largely for her desertion of the psychedelic rock of Big Brother and more decided move into soul and R&B territory.
Still, her hour-long performance, which featured her seven-piece Kozmic Blues Band, including three horns, was a potent one, with half of its songs culled from I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!
, three from Cheap Thrills
, and two tracks that never appeared on her studio recordings (neither, sadly, appearing in the 10-disc box): a set-opening cover of Eddie Floyd's "Raise Your Hand"; and Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose."
Still, the 23 minutes culled from her set is a strong selection from a visceral and inspired performance. As the 10-disc mini-set opening with the Woodstock audience yelling "We want Janis! We want Janis!," the singer launches into a gritty, soulful version of the Bee Gee hit "To Love Somebody," which, beyond her own vocal strength and interpretive skill, is made all the better by the Kozmic Blues Band. Surpassing anything of which Big Brother and the Holding Company were capable, compelling horn charts and a rhythm section that included guitarist John Till and keyboardist Richard Kermode strongly suggests that Joplin's first album as a leader needs, at the very least, to be re-examined and reappraised.
It may have been titled "Kozmic Blues," but this Joplin collaboration with Gabriel Mekler (who produced the album in addition to contributing keyboards to the record) was as far from twelve-bar blues as can be. Joplin's vocal performance, always defined by in-the-moment spontaneity, in this case included an a cappella
ending that's as good a reason to try and hear the full set (hopefully slated for release) as possible.
A thrilling version of "Piece of My Heart" and the Kozmic Blues Band's more expansively arranged "Ball and Chain" follow. Her second, posthumously released (following her death by heroin overdose, further exacerbated by alcohol abuse) solo album, Pearl
(Columbia, 1971), was a more polished affair, but Joplin's Kozmic Blues Band and its lone album certainly deserve more attention, if for no other reason than its high octane Woodstock performance. The second of three iconic '60s artists to die in the course of a single year, Joplin's passing in October, 1970 was, along with Jimi Hendrix's passing (also of an overdose) just 16 days prior, amongst the greatest losses of the era. They were a sign that things were indeed changing; like Hendrix, the question of where she ultimately might have gone is a mystery that will never be solved.
Day Two: Sly and the Family Stone
The 14-minute excerpt from Sly and the Family Stone's longer medley included in the Woodstock
film is one of its most electrifying, the sheer energy of Stone and his well-tooled band virtually leaping out of the screen and speakers. With the medley restored to its full 23-minute length on the Woodstock Back to the Garden
10 and 38-disc box sets, it's simply double the soul, double the funk and double the R&B.
The medley opens with "Everyday People." Initially released on Stand!
(Epic) three months prior to the festival and the band's first single to hit #1 on the Billboard
charts, it's a somewhat relaxed intro to a medley that literally explodes when the band segues into the title track from Dance to the Music
(Epic, 1968), the band's first Top 10 single (peaking at #8).
A song with a simple message, "Dance to the Music" proves to be a far better live vehicle than its studio counterpart, also acting as a feature for every member of the band but especially for bassist Larry Graham, who still performs the song (and just as loud
) today, having delivered an incendiary version at the 2013 Burkhausen Jazz Festival
with his post-Sly band, Graham Central Station. Still, as strong as Graham's Sly medley is to this day, it simply doesn't capture the full energy and vibrancy of Sly and the Family Stone's Woodstock performance, with trumpeter Cynthia Robinson's background screams of "Dance! Dance to the music! Dance to the funky music!"
"Dance to the Music" segues in the bright funk of "Music Lover," taken from Stand!
's "Dance to the Medley," but it's when the Afro-laden, heavily tasseled white shirt-clothed Sly Stone not only takes front and center stage for the medley-closing "I Want to Take You Higher," but truly owns
it, that the medley kicks into its highest gear. As long as it is, Stone's enticement of the crowd for a little audience participation, with a firm drum beat behind him, is as compelling as the music: "What we would like to do is sing a song together, Now you see what usually happens is you get a group of people that might sing, and for some reasons that are not unknown anymore, they won't do it. Most of us need approval; most of us need to get approval from our neighbors, before we can actually let it all hang down, you dig? Now what is happening here is we're gonna try to do a singalong. Now a lot of people don't like to do it because they feel that it might be old fashioned, but you must dig that it is not a fashion in the first place but a feeling, and if it was good in the past then it's still good.
"We'd like to sing a song called 'Higher,' and if we could get everybody to join in we'd appreciate it. What I'd like you to do is say 'higher' and throw the peace sign up, it'll do you no harm. Still, again, some people feel that they shouldn't, because there are situations where you need approval to get in on something that could do you some good. Now if you throw the peace sign up and say 'higher' and get everybody to do it, there's a whole lotta people here, and a whole lotta people might not wanna do it because they can somehow get around it and feel that there enough people to make up for it, and on and on, etcetera, etcetera. We're gonna try 'higher' again and if we could get everybody to do it we'd appreciate it, it'll do you no harm."
It may have taken a few tries, but by the last time Sly encourages the crowd to shout "higher" and raise the peace sign, in the film it truly sure looks (and sounds) like there are hundreds of thousands
of people joining in. It's a remarkable conclusion to a medley that, now fully restored from previous edits, is an even stronger 23 minutes from a set that ultimately concludes with "Love City," from Life
(Epic, 1968), and Stand!
's title track. But truthfully, the full seven-song set (nine, if considering the medley as three separate songs) would have ended better with the medley.
Like Santana, the full Woodstock set was released by Sony/Legacy in 2009 as part of a two-CD set that also includes the full Stand!
album (The Woodstock Experience
). Stilll, the new mixes/masters definitely transcend the previous version, so hopefully the full set will be released separately again, at some later date.
Day Two: The Who
British rock stars The Who, came next and the band's 22-song, 65-minute set was remarkable enough for its inclusion of a slightly reduced, 16-song live version of Tommy
(Decca), the band's game-changing, success-reviving rock opera released just three months prior to the festival, a 75-minute story that reached #4 in the US charts and sold 200,000 copies in its first two weeks alone.
And with a set that also included hits like "I Can't Explain" "Summertime Blues" and "My Generation," along with exhilarating live staples like "Shakin' All Over," It would have been enough, especially with the brief edit of Tommy
's "We're Not Gonna Take It" in the film now restored to its full length. But, with Abbie Hoffman coming onstage prior to the band's set to speak against the jailing of the White Panther Party's John Sinclair (also manager of Detroit's left wing, back-to-basics proto-punk band, MC5), it was when the activist returned to the stage in the middle of The Who"s set, following a blistering version of Tommy
's hit single, "Pinball Wizard," that things went a little awry, resulting in one of the festival's most memorable non-performance onstage moments.
Grabbing a microphone and yelling "I think this is a pile of shit while John Sinclair rots in prison," while Pete Townshend was busy adjusting his amplifier, the Who guitarist/vocalist (and primary writer) responds by yelling "Fuck off! Fuck off my fucking stage!" While the story descends into uncertainty from then on, Townshend allegedly ran over and hit Hoffman in the back. Townshend later said that, despite agreeing with Hoffman on Sinclair's imprisonment, the activist had violated the "sanctity of the stage"the right for artists to perform interrupted by distractions irrelevant to the showand would still have knocked Hoffman offstage.
Despite not being captured in the film, the audio remains, first heard as the "Abbie Hoffman Incident" in the Who's 1994 Polydor box set, Thirty Years of Maximum R&B
, and included here in both 10 and 38-disc box sets.
And if the full set is something that will hopefully see the light of day, the 27-minute, five-song excerpt that, in addition to the opening "I Can't Explain," includes Tommy
's "Pinball Wizard" and a fully restored, nine-minute "We're Not Gonna Take It/See Me, Feel Me," alongside a gritty "Shakin' All Over" and seven-minute "My Generation/Naked Eye" medley is plenty thrilling enough. And if shorter than on albums like Live at Leeds
(Decca, 1970) and not including the band destroying its instruments, "My Generation/Naked Eye" does still include Townshend putting his Gibson SG to some serious physical abuse, before throwing it out into the audience. One lucky person might have taken it home (and imagine its value on eBay today), had a roadie not recovered it immediately after the performance.
Day Two: The Jefferson Airplane
That The Who's set, originally scheduled for 10:00pm on August 16, actually began at 5:00am the following morning only serves to demonstrate the challenges faced by the event, ranging from getting bands onto the site (ultimately resorting to a helicopter when most roads surrounding the farm were closed) to a revolving stage that rarely worked as planned (meant to allow one band to be set up while another was performing). It also meant that psychedelic rockers Jefferson Airplane, then one of the festival's biggest names, didn't make it onstage until 8:00am. After a day (or two) dropping acid and ingesting other substances, it's actually remarkable that the band managed to play as well as it did, with singer Grace Slick commenting, mid-set, "sorry about those who got the green; we got a whole lot of orange and it was fine...still is fine..."
The 10-disc box includes a six-song, 32-minute excerpt from the band's 100-minute set . The hit single "Somebody to Love" and deeper album tracks "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds" and "Plastic Fantastic Lover," are performed from its 1967 debut with Slick and drummer Spencer Dryden, Surrealistic Pillow
(RCA), which made it to #3 on the Billboard
chart, along with "Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon," from the band's more experimental follow-up, After Bathing at Baxter's
(RCA), released nine months later in November, 1967.
While the complete, thirteen-song set also included a track from Crown of Creation
(RCA, 1968), the reduced set in the ten-disc box features only the title track from the more politically charged Volunteers
(RCA). Released three months after Woodstock, it omits the album's "Eskimo Blue Day" and "Wooden Ships," the latter a collaboration by Airplane guitarist/vocalist Paul Kantner, Stephen Stills and David Crosby, and already released on Crosby, Stills & Nash's self-titled Atlantic debut, released three months before the festival.
While bassist Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen would achieve further acclaim for their collaborative blues/jam group Hot Tuna, and their work with Jefferson Airplane is certainly admirable, this mini-set also illustrates the deficiencies that plagued the band (despite or, perhaps, in spite of, its success): sloppiness overall, and the at-times annoying combined vocals of Slick and Marty Balin, which often seemed more like caterwauling than singing. Tuning was always an issue (at one point, Slick exclaims, "Let's play it out of tune") and, while the 10-disc edition has to represent Jefferson Airplane, if only because, barring Jimi Hendrix, no other artist played so long a set, it's a performance that many might quickly listen to once and skip upon subsequent spins of the box.
And with that, a marathon second day of Woodstock concluded at 9:40am on Sunday, August 17, 2019, nearly 22 hours after it began, with day three beginning just a short four-and-a-half hours later at 2:00pm, when Britain's answer to soul singer Ray Charles
, Joe Cocker
, hit the stage following a brief opening set by his aptly named and well-oiled The Grease Band.
But before that, American entertainer and peace activist Hugh Romney, AKA Wavy Gravy, delivers his "Good morning," in a horse voice, saying "what we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000." Promising good food that will be passed around throughout the massive crowd, he exclaims, "we're all feeding each other; we must be in heaven, man! There's always a bit of heaven in a disaster area," speaking to the second rainstorm that, with heavy winds, threatened everything from the PA towers to those onstage and people in the crowd (thankfully there were no reported injuries or worse).
But, as WoodstockBack to the Garden
demonstrates at a number of points and to varying degrees across its four releases, all was not entirely well. Romney continues, "There's a guy up there, some hamburger guy, that had his stand burned down last night. But he's still got some stuff left, and for you people who still believe that capitalism isn't that weird, you might help him out and buy a couple of hamburgers." Still, the announcement ends on a lighter note, with "and remember: kissing builds up your mouth."
With John Morris announcing the roads were now clear for those who might have had enough music ("there may be one or two"), and that for those who do, "help us with the water and the garbage," as some of the pipes feeding water to the grounds had broken. And with that, the festival took a break for a few hours (about four), giving everyone a chance to get "a little cat nap." It's probably a good time for listeners to take a little breather from WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Experience
Day Three: Joe Cocker and The Grease Band
The north England singer had just released With a Little Help from My Friends
(A&M, 1969) three months before Woodstock, and it had done quite well, achieving an admirable #35 on the American Billboard
chart, with the title track, a soulful version of The Beatles
tune from Sgt. Peppers' Lonely Hearts Club Band
(Parlophone, 1967), becoming Cocker's first major hit single in the UK, topping the British singles chart in 1968 and staying in the top 10 for 13 weeks, despite only achieving a still respectable #68 in the USA.
Cocker's potent Woodstock set was ultimately released, in its entirety, by A&M/Universal in 2009, and for good reason. The film made Cocker a star, if only for the singer's extended version of "With a Little Help from My Friends" that, beyond Cocker's persistently strong and soul-filled delivery, included a visceral scream from the singer that remains one of the festival's defining moments. Post-Woodstock, the singer's star began to rise far more rapidly, with his November, 1969 follow-up to With a Little Help from My Friends
, (Joe Cocker!
, also on A&M), reaching a far more impressive #11 in the US charts and, again, #29 in the UK.
Cocker's 1970 double live album, Mad Dogs & Englishmen
(A&M)a massive project that documented his tour with a 23-piece band featuring pianist/vocalist Leon Russell
as its musical directormight have been a disaster for any other artist, but it managed to leap to #2 on the Billboard
album chart, selling over half a million copies alongside a double A-sided single of "The Letter" and "Cry Me a River" reaching #7 and #11, respectively, on the American Billboard
singles chart. Cocker's career would ebb and flow over the years, but he was always considered a star, with a largely successful recording and performing schedule throughout the rest of his life until his passing in 2014, age 70.
But in many ways it all started here, in a field in Bethel, NY, where Cocker and the Grease Band delivered an outstanding 85-minute set, represented in the 10-disc Woodstock box by a five-song, 36-minute excerpt that, in addition to "With a Little Help From My Friends," also includes a rousing version of Bob Dylan's "Dear Landlord," from Joe Cocker!
, featuring a perfectly greasy solo from guitarist Henry McCullough, who'd subsequently turn up, albeit briefly, as a member of Spooky Tooth, and Paul McCartney and Wings.
Traffic guitarist Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright," also from With a Little Help From My Friends
, grooves in an easygoing, ambling way and features American percussionist Bobby Torres, who wasn't an official member of the UK-based Grease Band but was recruited for the gig, along with a gritty electric piano solo from Chris Stainton, who would continue playing with Cocker periodically over the years, in addition to a plethora of albums by ex-Cream/ex-John Mayall guitarist Eric Clapton
, and seemingly countless sessions with everyone from Leon Russell, Ian Hunter and Ringo Starr to Pete Townshend, B.B. King
and David Gilmour
Oddly, Cocker's intro to one of two Dylan covers from With a Little Help From My Friends
, the balladic "Just Like a Woman," is kept, even though the song is not included in the 10-disc box. Instead, Cocker launches into a soulful reading of Ashford and Simpson's "Let's Go Get Stoned," which would ultimately appear on Mad Dogs & Englishmen
and features some exhilarating howls and screams from Cocker, along with another superb solo from McCullough, and a spontaneous, two-minute vocal/piano outro that begins with Cocker exclaiming, church-like, "I spent the last two weeks of my life in New York City, I was living on 8th Avenue, that crazy place," but ultimately goes to weird and unexpected places before finally returning to a closing, hard-driving chorus.
A buoyant "Hitchcock Railway," one of many songs that extend past the six-minute mark, is another McCullough feature, thrillingly bolstered by Stainton, bassist Alan Spenner (Spooky Tooth, Peter Frampton) and drummer Bruce Rowland (Fairport Convention, Ronnie Lane), before Stainton ends the song with an electrifying Hammond organ solo.
But, even fifty years on and heard many, many times, it's Cocker's closing "With a Little Help From My Friends" that made the set such a career-defining one, and led to his becoming a major star. Beyond his incomparable vocal interpretations, and that piercing scream in response to the the second bridge's "Do you need anybody?," the entire band is on fire, as the tempo accelerates and, rather than featuring any single member, is as potent a reminder of just how great the Grease Band was as a whole.
Day Three: Country Joe & The Fish
With a thunderstorm disrupting the festival for 40 minutes after Cocker's stunning set, the festivities were unable to resume for a little over three hours, with Country Joe & The Fish's insufferable 90-minute set beginning at 6:15pm, beginning a run of acts that would take things right through until until just after 11am the following morning.
If Country Joe McDonald's solo set on the festival's first day was fair but unexceptional, truly only notable for his "Fish Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag" that made it into the film, then his third day set with his band The Fish was even less impressive.
Playing what McDonald calls "rock and soul music," his group, with the passage of time, has proven even more dated and sloppy, especially compared to the loose yet completely in the pocket Cocker set that had just concluded a couple hours prior.
Sloppy was, indeed, the order of the day, with Mark Kapner's cheesy organ work and guitarist Barry Melton's fuzz-toned, thoroughly conventional and out-of-tune bends, the whole thing driven by the noticeably fluctuating time provided by bassist Doug Matzner and drummer Greg Dewey. The backup vocals are even worse, and if the 23-minute excerpt from the band's 90-minute set is a representation of what the entire performance was? It's no wonder the band didn't achieve greater acclaim.
Citing James Brown as an influence, neither McDonald nor his band could be called anything remotely resembling soulful, especially following Cocker's set. Extended solos that go on far too long, vocals that try to have soul but are nothing short of poor imitation, it's another set that only deserves to be here in order to maintain the release's intention of presenting every Woodstock performance in some way, shape or form. That said, from here on the festival largely went from one peak to another, beginning with Britain's Ten Years After.
Day Three: Ten Years After
Ten Years After, featuring virtuoso guitarist Alvin Lee, had already begun building a reputation in the UK, with two albums released on the Deram label. But it's the band's nuclear Woodstock set, in particular its epic set-closer, "I'm Going Home," that was included in the film and placed Lee front and center for a little over nine minutes (edited down from its full 12-plus minute runtime), that gave the band the push it needed to break into the American market with its third album, Ssssh
, released the same month as Woodstock, and its highest chart-topper, Cricklewood Green
, the following year (both, again, on Deram/Chrysalis). Like Mountain, the group would reform periodically in the ensuing decades, until Lee passed away, too young, in 2013, age 68.
Based upon audience response, Ten Years After's set was one of the best-received, and while it did lead to increasing popularity for the group, like others including Canned Heat and Mountain, its success was, unfortunately, relatively fleeting, leaving the band another relative footnote in rock history, as opposed to artists like Santana and Joe Cocker, whose careers were truly launched at Woodstock and would maintain both strength and commercial success in the decades to come.
Still, and again compared with Country Joe & The Fish's weak performance, Ten Years After delivered a powerful, blues-heavy set that was a major step up. The 10-disc box not only includes the fully restored version of the high velocity set-closer "I'm Going Home," but also the slower bump 'n grind of "Help Me" that preceded it. With "Help Me" lasting over 15 minutes, barring a brief break for Lee to replace a broken string, "I'm Going Home" closed the set with a 12-minute medley that included a number of rock and roll classics like "Blue Suede Shoes," Whole Lotta Shakin'" and "Boom Boom."
But, beyond the firm support of band members Chick Churchill (keyboards), Leo Lyons (bass) and Ric Lee (drums), all eyes were on Lee, whose masterful playing was likely some of the flat-out fastest playing heard at the entire festival. It may have veered into excess at times, and his slide playing during 'Help Me" may have been a little problematic intonation-wise, but none of that ended up mattering. Lee was, indeed, prone to guitar pyrotechnics, but he clearly and completely captivates the audience.
While both songs are major features for his guitar work, "I'm Going Home," in particular with its inclusion of a number of rock classics, managed to balance Lee's guitar gymnastics with plenty of vocal breaks to make it more than just 12 minutes of six-string histrionics. Ten Years After's 28-minute excerpt from its hour-long set still sounds terrific, fifty years onbetter, even, with the new mix and master.
Day Three: The Band
There are plenty of examples of The Band live, later in the seven-year run that included all five original members, like Rock of Ages
(Capitol, 1972), The Last Waltz
(Warner Bros, 1978) and Live at the Academy of Music 1971
(Capitol/UMe, 2013). But there are precious few live documents of the original group (guitarist/backing vocalist Robbie Robertson, pianist/drummer/singer Richard Manuel, organist/pianist Garth Hudson, bassist/vocalist Rick Danko and drummer/vocalist Levon Helm) as early on as its 50-minute Woodstock set, which came just 13 months after its stunning debut, Music From Big Pink
(Capitol, 1968) and one month before the release of its commercial breakthrough, The Band
That the 24-minute excerpt from The Band's full set is one of the 10-disc box set's most riveting gems and wonderful surprises is a complete understatement, as is describing the performance as absolutely enthrallingtight, while, at the same time, absolutely loose, with harmony vocals that seemed to evolve spontaneously, song after song, and every player a complete master, yet with absolutely nothing to prove.
Opening with an intro to Big Pink
's "Chest Fever" that was shorter than the lengthier feature it would soon become, Garth Hudson's organ improvisation, loosely based upon Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor," along with his two solos during the song, remain an immediate reminder of just how talented and, more, inimitable Hudson was as a player: truly The Band's secret weapon and sonic mad scientist.
A largely Canadian-born/bred group (only Helm was American) that began as rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins' backup band The Hawks in the early sixties, moving on to collaborate with Bob Dylan (before and after they decided to go solo as The Band), by this time the group's five members had been playing together for anywhere between six and eleven years. Not only had The Band developed a profound and incomparable chemistry; it had also developed a unique sound and approach. Even looking at the cover of The Band
, its members seemingly dressed in clothes from the 1800s and looking more like farmers than musicians, the group seemed to distance itself from its time, instead rendering it absolutely timeless.
With The Band's full, 11-song Woodstock set featuring seven songs from Big Pink
, the ten-disc excerpt focuses entirely on songs from that album. In addition to the organ-rich "Chest Fever," the excerpted set includes versions of the balladic "Tears of Rage" and "I Shall Be Released" (one of three Dylan songs and/or collaborations on the record). The set also features a more up-tempo "This Wheel's on Fire" and Robertson's "The Weight," one of Rolling Stone
's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
Like Hudson, whose unique ability to bend organ notes in a most musical way rendered him instantly untouchable, Robertson's stinging guitar work and overall tone sounds like nobody else, while Danko's approach to electric bass feels closer to a tuba. Helm's drumming is the epitome of behind-the-beat sloppiness in the best possible sense (as could be said for Manuel, when he would leave piano for a second drum kit).
And as fine a pianist as he was, it was Manuel's painfully open, expressive and soulful voice that defines the group and, more specifically, much of this 10-disc mini-set, with his falsetto-laden interpretation of "I Shall Be Released" a clear highlight. Still, Danko's plaintive vocals on "This Wheel's on Fire" and Helm's southern grit during "The Weight" are no less impressive. But, even more, it's when the three sing together that The Band best demonstrates its in-the-moment interpretive skills in a way few other groups have managed, past and present.
The full set also includes two Helm covers which would become live staples over the next few years (the 1964 Holland-Dozier-Holland hit for Marvin Gaye, "Don't Do It," and Stevie Wonder
and Ivy Jo Hunter's 1966 single for The Four Tops, "Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever"), in addition to the non-album traditional prison work song, "Ain't No More Cane." Dylan's "Don't Ya Tell Henry" wouldn't appear on record until the Dylan/Band collaboration The Basement Tapes
, released by Columbia in 1975 but culled from a series of home recordings made in 1967 at various houses in and around Woodstock, NY, where Dylan and The Band were residing, including one dubbed "Big Pink," where Music from Big Pink
That the group later dissolved along a very specific fault line between Robertson and the rest of the group was unfortunate, but the troubles that ultimately led to the group breaking up after The Last Waltz
, a farewell concert recorded on Thanksgiving Day in 1976, were already brewing. Just one example, as per Wikipedia and in reference to "Chest Fever": "Total authorship is typically credited solely to Robertson, although the lyrics, according to Levon Helm, were originally improvised by Levon Helm and Richard Manuel...Robertson has since said the lyrics were nonsensical, used only while the instrumental tracks were recorded...He has also stated the entirety of the song does not make sense."
What a terrible shame. The Band would reform in the early '80s without Robertson, but with additional members that would include, at various times guitarist Jim Weider, drummer Randy Ciarlante, keyboardist Richard Bell (a former member of Janis Joplin's final Full Tilt Boogie Band) and others. Following Manuel's tragic suicide in a hotel room while on tour in 1986, the remaining members released three less-well received but still engaging albums, two of them including single posthumous songs that featured the deceased pianist/vocalist: Rhino's 1993 release, Jericho
, followed by 1996's High on the Hog
. The Band's final bow came following 1998's Jubilation
(River North), with Danko passing away quietly in his home from heart failure in 1999, largely attributed to years of alcohol and substance abuse.
With Helm gone in 2012, age 71, after a long battle with cancer, the only remaining members, Robertson and Hudson, seem not to collaborate much, though the keyboardist does make guest appearances on a number of Robertson solo albums, including Robbie Robertson
(Geffen, 1987) and Storyville
But while it lasted (and when it was around), the original Band was (and remains) one of the most timeless groups in rock history, and while this mini-set only begs even louder for a separate release of The Band's full Woodstock set, with Robertson largely in control of all things related to the group, it's uncertain whether or not it'll actually happen.
Day Three: Johnny Winter
While blues guitarist/vocalist Johnny Winter would not achieve greater international acclaim until the formation of his band Johnny Winter And in 1970, he'd already released three albums with bassist Tommy Shannon (who would ultimately garner even greater fame with another blues-rock six-stringer, Stevie Ray Vaughan
) and drummer Uncle John Turner, including two for Columbia: Johnny Winter
, released four months before Woodstock; and Second Winter
, his three-sided LP that followed, hot on the heels of his Columbia debut, just two months after the festival.
Winter's 65-minute midnight show featured two songs from Johnny Winter
, one from Second Winter
, one from his 1968 debut, The Progressive Blues Experiment
(Sonobeat), along with two that would be never appear on a studio album. His set also included three songs featuring younger brother Edgar, a keyboardist/saxophonist who would attain greater success than his older sibling just a couple years later. While these songs"Tobacco Road," first appearing on his 1970 Epic debut, Entrance
but becoming a live staple with his first touring band, White Trash the following year; "Tell the Truth," which ended up in the bonus live show included on the 2004, two-CD Legacy reissue of Second Winter
; and "I Can't Stand It," which only appears, with the rest of the set, on Legacy's 2009 The Woodstock Experience
double-disc set, which pairs Johnny Winter
with a second disc including Winter's entire Woodstock performance.
Still, a reissue of the full Woodstock set with its new mix and master would be most welcome; the three-song, 22-minute excerpt included in the 10-disc box is a solid representation of Winter's broader capabilities, from the chugging "Leland Mississippi Blues" to a more frenetic, 11-minute "Mean Town Blues" that really gave Winter a chance to stretch, and a high energy look at the Chuck Berry hit, "Johnny B. Goode," which later appeared on Second Winter
. Back to back with Ten Years After and between Lee and Winter, the Woodstock audience got a double dose of two of its most virtuosic blues players...until Jimi Hendrix, that is, just a few hours later and, to a lesser extent, the Butterfield Blues Band's Harold "Buzzy" Feiten.
Day Three: Blood, Sweat & Tears
With the entire Blood, Sweat & Tears set recently released, with the new mix and master, in various digital formats and platforms, the 23-minute, four-song excerpt in the 10-disc box may still be enough for many (though the full set has plenty to recommend). Featuring two hit singles from BST's second, self-titled 1968 Columbia release (the balladic "You've Made Me So Very Happy" and more buoyant "Spinning Wheel"), along with two other album tracks (the bright set-opener "More and More" and an extended look at the nonet's distinctive version of "Smiling Phases," originally from the 1967 Island Records debut album by UK band Traffic. Mr. Fantasy
), it may be shorter than the full hour-long set that began at 1:30am, but, like most sets in the 10-CD box, it provides a comprehensive representation of the group's strengths and potentials.
From detailed charts that shone a spotlight on the group's four-piece horn section (sometimes five, with keyboardist Dick Halligan
occasionally picking up flute or trombone), most notably trumpeter Lew Soloff
's impressively swinging solo in the middle of "Spinning Wheel," to wide open solo passages in "Smiling Phases" that demonstrate Halligan's impressive electric piano chops alongside bassist Jim Fielder and drummer Bobby Colomby, Blood, Sweat & Tears' set bristled with near-unrelenting excitement.
The earlier, Al Kooper
-led version of the band, responsible for its Columbia debut, 1968's The Child is the Father to Man
, was considered a creative success but only managed to reach #47 on Billboard
's Pop Album Chart. Blood, Sweat & Tears
introduced new players to the remaining core, most notably singer David Clayton-Thomas, whose muscular vocals gave the group and its second album (a combination of originals and covers ranging from Traffic to classical composer Erik Satie, jazz singer Billie Holiday
and folk artist Laura Nyro) the voice it needed to reach the #1 spot on Billboard
's Pop Album Chart, in addition to three Top Ten singles.
And if Blood, Sweat & Tears
was, perhaps, a little more commercial-leaning than its predecessor, it still remains one of the most influential and significant recordings from the series of horn-heavy groups that emerged in the late '60s/early '70s, including Chicago (Transit Authority), Dreams, Electric Flag, Butterfield Blues Band, Lighthouse, If and others. With some gentle tuning corrections, BS&T's Woodstock setwhether in full or in partsounds terrific and continues to raise the festival's game as it enters into the home stretch.
Day Three: Crosby, Stills & Nash (& Young)
Between the original trio's 16-minute excerpt and a further 17-minutes including later addition, guitarist/vocalist/organist Neil Young
, Crosby, Stills & Nash (& Young's) 33-minute excerptfeaturing fellow Buffalo Springfield alum, guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Stephen Stills
, alongside ex-Byrds singer/guitarist David Crosby
and, relocated from the UK, ex-Hollies singer/guitarist Graham Nashis another powerful representation of a performance that extended to an hour and opened with an all-acoustic set before turning electric with the addition of bassist Greg Reeves, drummer Dallas Taylor and, subsequently (mostly on organ), Young.
This was only the band's second gig, though the trio's Atlantic debut, Crosby, Stills & Nash
had been out for nearly three months (with two singles nearly breaching the Top 20 and the album making it to #6 on the Billboard
Pop Chart), and its followup as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Déjà Vu
, was already in progress, seven months before it was ultimately released in March, 1970 (again on Atlantic), an album that took longer (many months) than almost any other to produce.
"We're scared shitless," exclaims Stills, after a masterful version of the three-part, eight-minute "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," before the trio launches into a positively lovely version of The Beatles' "Blackbird," with rich, three-part vocal harmonies transforming the song, supported only by Stills' acoustic guitar. Surprisingly, the trio does an all-acoustic version of their hit single "Marrakesh Express," before turning electric with a searing version of Young's "Sea of Madness," a song that has, so far, only appeared on Woodstock releases and, later, at the Big Sur Folk Festival. Surprisingly, given Young's more unschooled and visceral electric guitar playing, he plays organ on the song, with Stills soloing throughout.
Still, it's great to finally have the proper Woodstock version on record, along with a nearly seven-minute version of "Wooden Ships," a fictional tale of post-apocalyptic survival that also features Stills' tasteful guitar work. The second encore, Crosby, Stills & Nash
's closing "49 Bye Byes," is a little touch and go, with Young's voice a tad pitchy and his electric guitar seeming to be searching for a way into the songthough it ultimately finds it.
It's another fine mini-set that will hopefully be issued as a stand-alone release in full; since the 10-disc box set was released in June, one or two seem to be making their way onto digital platforms every week or two, with half a dozen already available.
Day Three: Butterfield Blues Band
Already on the scene for four years and with five albums released by the time leader, harmonica player and singer Paul Butterfield brought his brash, horn-heavy nine-piece to Woodstock for another exhilarating set, this time of electrified Chicago blues.
Despite some of the band members fading into the past, Butterfield's band featured a couple of names that would go on to greater success as both session players and, in one case, a leader in the jazz world: guitarist Howard "Buzzy" Feiten and alto saxophonist David Sanborn
. Still, with a horn section also featuring two trumpeters alongside tenor and baritone saxophones, the Butterfield Blues Band possessed a lot of juice, and really gave out during its 45-minute Woodstock performance, of which three songs totalling a full 27 minutes are featured here, including a six-minute, riff-driven, altered blues harmonica workout, "No Amount of Loving."
An 11-minute "Love March," is introduced by tenor saxophonist/vocalist Gene Dinwiddie, "We don't carry no guns and things in this army we got and stuff, don't nobody have to be worried about keepin' in step and we ain't even got no uniforms, we're a poor army and whatnot. But we run around, and in order to keep our heads above water we sing to one another, and play to one another, and we try to make each other feel good..."
A quick army reveille follows, with drummer Phillip Wilson leading the march as the band ultimately moves into a topical song from the band's latest record, Keep On Moving
(Elektra, 1969), shifting between remarkable rubato sections and fierier in-time sections that feature Feiten's scorching and surprisingly rapid-fire guitar lines. It's an epic expansion of the album version, which doesn't even make it to the three-minute mark. As is "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," the only song not taken from Keep On Moving
and a bright twelve-bar that's another feature for Butterfield's searing harmonic work and Feiten's gritty, blues-centric playing, backed by a truly mighty rhythm section and the band's powerful horns.
While no Butterfield would ever get higher than #65 in the Billboard
Top 200 album chart, considering its relative blues purity and, even more, devotion to a very specific Chicago blues sound, that's still a remarkable achievement. It allowed Butterfield to continue touring and releasing albums until his untimely passing in 1987, age 44another drug casualty that was, more than likely, the result of self-medicating his serious (and painful) peritonitis, as well as depression that grew following the passing of two friends: blues guitar legend Mike Bloomfield
in 1981, age 37, of uncertain circumstances; and entrepreneur/manager Albert Grossman, nearly five years later in '86, of a heart attack, age 59.
Day Three: Sha Na Na
It's seems hard to believe that Sha Na Na, the doo wop group "from the streets of New York" that formed the same year as Woodstock, would become the festival's penultimate performance. It is, perhaps, equally surprising to learn that this group, which has simultaneously parodied and revived '50s hit songs, not only continues to exist to this day, but still tours and records, with literally dozens of studio and live albums to its name. The band even hosted a syndicated TV variety series that ran from 1977-1981, and appeared in Randal Kleiser's highly successful 1981 film adaptation of the 1971 musical, Grease
Sha Na Na's brief Woodstock set was, at the time, engaging enough, with the group's even shorter film appearance filled with plenty of energy and humor, its twelve members performing with coordinated moves, eschewing the gold lamé or leather jackets they often wore (also regularly sporting pompadour or ducktail hairdos) for open-chest vests, muscle shirts and tight trousers, and distinctly un-Woodstock generation hair cuts more associated with the '50s. The band's set may have been short, but the group made the most of it, including two men who seemed there simply to dance and run, either on-spot or around the stage.
The film appearance represented an energetic couple of minutes; the fourteen-minute, six-song excerpt from Sha Na Na's thirty-minute, twelve-song set even more so. The mini-set includes hits from the Silhouettes (the fast-tempo'd "Get a Job," later reprised at the end of the set), The Del-Vikings (the ambling rock and roller, "Come Go With Me"), The Rays (the 12/8 ballad, "Silhouette"), Gene Chandler (the slightly brighter "Duke of Earl") and, most notably, Danny & The Juniors, whose high-energy "At the Hop" would later be featured, thanks to Sha Na Na's Woodstock
film appearance, in George Lucas' 1973 hit coming of age comedy film, American Graffiti
With a solid five-piece band, most notably keyboardist Joe Witkin, whose electric piano solos were as era-credible as the rest of the band's overall support, Sha Na Na's seven singers rip through the set with unstoppable energy. The concept may have been a combination of '50s revival and performance shtick, but there's no doubt that the group was (and likely remains) both professional and completely credible. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but for those with a predilection for '50s doo wop music and early rock and roll, Sha Na Na remains, if nothing else, a lot of fun...and that's plenty good enough.
Day Three: Jimi Hendrix (as Gypsy Sun and Rainbows)
Most of the crowd had already left by the time (already) guitar legend Jimi Hendrix hit (or, more accurately, ambled onto) the stage at 9:00am for the longest set of the festival, running for two hours and ten minutes. Still, it didn't seem to bother the guitarist, whose 10-CD WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Experience
mini-set contains a relatively generous 28-minute excerpt, culminating (how could it not?) with Hendrix's by-now iconic medley that concluded the festival (and film).
Emerging from the flat-out jam of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," a lengthy guitar vehicle from the Jimi Hendrix Experience's third (and final) studio album, Electric Ladyland
(Reprise, 1968), the medley includes, in addition to the brief segue from the end of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)": a paradoxically vicious yet, at times, soaringly beautiful performance, in duet with ex-Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell
, of "The Star Spangled Banner"; an early hit, "Purple Haze," from the Jimi Hendrix Experience debut album Are You Experienced
(Reprise, 1967); and the softer, melancholic and aptly, posthumously titled closer, "Woodstock Improvisation/Villanova Junction."
The entire set has already been released, in slightly edited form, as the two-CD Live at Woodstock
(MCA, 1999), with the full 16-song set restored to full length for WoodstockBack to the Garden
's 38-disc set, though the producers have wisely reduced some of the assorted and lengthy between-song tune-ups and other technical delays.
Still, they do include Hendrix apologizing for those delays, explaining that "we're tryin' to get things together in between times because ... we've only jammed a couple of times. But it's the first ray and there's a whole lot more to go," before the guitarist launches into a soaring, eight-minute "Hear My Train A Comin,'" a blues-based Hendrix original that's another jam-heavy vehicle, not unlike "Voodoo Chile [Slight Return)."
Hendrix dubbed this band Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, featuring, in addition to Mitchell: soon to be-Band of Gypsys bassist/backing vocalist Billy Cox; rhythm guitarist Larry Lee; percussionist Juma Sultan; and conguero Gerardo "Jerry" Velez. The group's set was largely comprised of Experience material, mostly taken from Are You Experienced
(British and American releases) and including, in addition to "Purple Haze," the blues "Red House" brighter-tempo'd"Foxy Lady" and "Fire," and Hendrix's '67 UK chart-topping version of Billy Roberts' "Hey Joe." And, in addition to Electric Ladyland
's Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," the set also featured "Spanish Castle Magic," the lone track from Axis: Bold as Love
The set also featured a hint of what was to come from the yet-to-be-formed Band of Gypsys ("Message to Love"), and one song ("Lover Man") that would only first be released, posthumously, on his 1971 soundtrack from the Isle of Wight Festival.
Thankfully, both 10 and 38CD box sets also include the riff-driven, soul-rock song "Izabella," which debuted at Woodstock but would ultimately appear, taken from a studio recording, as the flip side of "Stepping Stone," the final single released during Hendrix's lifetime on April 8, 1970 and credited to Hendrix Band of Gypsys, featuring Cox and former Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles.
Even just the 28-minute set on the 10-disc box is an exhilarating ride, with Hendrix, by this time, freed from the more showy demands of the Experience to focus more completely on his playing. Yes, the band was a little sloppy, but Hendrix was as stellar as ever, with "Woodstock Improv/Villanova Junction" also feeling, somehow, like a prescient elegy to the guitarist, who passed away on September 18, 1970, age 27, of a drug overdose.
It's unfortunate that neither the three-CD or five-LP WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Collection
include anything from Hendrix's performance, but between time constraints and the realization that, were Hendrix to be included, it would have to be his long set-closing medley (and it's easily available elsewhere), it seems a fair enough exclusion. Still, with the sonic upgrade, even a shorter song from his set would have been a worthwhile inclusion.
With new mixing and mastering, WoodstockBack to the Garden
's four different editions and three separate track listings right pretty much every wrong that's defined past releases, ranging from unfortunate edits and poor mixes to incorrect chronological order and, worse, performances culled from other shows at other venues. Whether opting for the three-CD/five-LP WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Collection
, the 10-CD WoodstockBack to the Garden: 50th Anniversary Experience
or the as-complete-as-possible, 36-hour, 38-CD WoodstockBack to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive
, the music has never sounded better, nor has the "you are there" experience ever been so well-defined.
It's hard to imagine improving upon Rhino's 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, an event that helped to define a culture, but which would sadly end just a few months later with the Altamont Speedway Free Festival, where peace and love was replaced with violence and murder. Still, and even with this 50th Anniversary series making clear that Woodstock was far from without its problems, WoodstockBack to the Garden
will provide baby boomers and younger folks alike the chance to open up a time capsule and return to a time when anything and everything seemed possible, if even for just a short while.