In 1969 four young men had a dream – to produce the greatest rock concert ever held. Little did they know at the time how enormous a reality their dream would become. Woodstock, the festival, was a milestone in rock music history – a once in a lifetime event – a spectacular event that became symbolic of the sixties and labelled a generation to be remembered forever as the ‘Woodstock Generation’. Although those at the festival itself numbered in excess 500,000, over 2 million attempted to get to the 660-acre dairy farm in White Lake, NY. It was a statement of a generation, epitomised by a voice that shouted ‘make love, not war’ and championed by a massive variety of stunning musicians who, like the festival itself, have since made an indelible stamp on the history of popular music culture.
Woodstock – the album – a triple gatefold – captures a snapshot soundbite of those three days. It’s one I have played and re-played countless times – the stage announcements, crowd noise and particularly the rain chant immediately preceding the epic ‘Soul Sacrifice’ from Santana on side 4- admirably capturing the ambiance of the event.
The festival site was declared a disaster zone, sometimes remembered as much for the rain as it was for the music. But it was a warm rain and the storms only lasted a while and the sun came back out and all was well again. Richie Havens (who sadly passed away in April 2013) sums it up so well…
″The rain made the people interact with each other. The rain made it necessary for us to share whatever we had – the plastic that went over our heads, the coat or whatever – and it was the natural forces that played a great deal in what happened. So I balance it out as a cosmic accident. It was half ours and half God’s″
Woodstock was about a lot of things, but the music was always the kingpin. And there was so much of it. I have many favourites; Soul Sacrifice has already been mentioned, but there’s also Richie Havens’ ‘Freedom’, ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ – the first ever live performance anywhere from Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joe Cocker’s brilliant Beatles cover of ‘With a little help from my friends’ and of course, ‘Purple Haze’ from Jimi Hendrix. But, as suggested by my last blog – the ubiquitous Ten Years After helping of ‘I’m going home (by helicopter)’ always wins it for me. In Woodstock – the movie (which I also have on DVD now) these nine minutes of guitar mayhem finish with a totally knackered Alvin Lee dropping his signature Gibson ES335 and staggering off stage with a huge watermelon.
Woodstock was and is THE festival. There’s never been anything quite like it since, and probably never will be. But, if it wasn’t for the bravery of a dairy farmer from upstate New York who stepped in at the eleventh hour when the original festival site plans flopped, it might never have been.
″Max Yasgur for President: That’s the way it is, Baby″ (Times Herald Record, Middletown, N.Y. 24.09.69)