They All Went Down To Yasgur’s Farm, And Everywhere There Was Song And Celebration

…By the time we got to Woodstock/We were half a million strong/And everywhere was a song and a celebration/And I dreamed I saw the bomber death planes/Riding shotgun in the sky/Turning into butterflies/Above our nation… (excerpt from Joni Mitchell tune Woodstock)

Next week is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, which took place from August 15-18, 1969. Much has been written about this festival, which officially was titled the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. The initiators Michael LangArtie KornfeldJoel Rosenman and John P. Roberts. The selection of the venue, which ended up being Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y. The acts who were not invited or and those who were but chose to decline or didn’t make it there. The artists who performed at the event. The overcrowding with an audience exceeding 400,000 people, more than twice the 200,000 that had been expected, based on advance sales of 186,000 tickets. The mud bath conditions resulting from bad weather.

Woodstock Poster

As a huge fan of music from that era, it felt natural to commemorate this extraordinary moment in 20th Century entertainment history. At the same time, I did not want to create yet another write-up that recaps the history. Instead, this post focuses on what my blog is supposed to be all about: Music I love and therefore like to celebrate. Following are some performance highlights from Woodstock. Since I didn’t have strong feelings about a particular order, I decided to go chronologically.

Let’s kick it off with Richie Havens, the opening act on the first day, Friday, August 15, in the late afternoon, and his riveting performance of Freedom. It was an improvised encore based on the traditional spiritual Motherless Child. “When you hear me play that long intro, it’s me stalling. I was thinking, ‘What the hell am I going to sing?'” he later explained, according to Songfacts. “I think the word ‘freedom’ came out of my mouth because I saw it in front of me. I saw the freedom that we were looking for. And every person was sharing it, and so that word came out.” Sounds like a cool story.

Sweet Sir Galahad is a tune by Joan Baez. Like in other cases at Woodstock, her performance predated the actual recording and release of the song, which first appeared on her 1970 studio album One Day At A Time. BTW, when Baez played it at the festival, it was already past 1:00 am on Saturday, August 16. In order to squeeze the 32 acts into the three days, many artists ended up performing after midnight. As you might imagine, some weren’t exactly happy about it.

Undoubtedly, one of Woodstock’s highlights I’ve seen is Soul Sacrifice by Santana. The band played on Saturday afternoon. Credited to Carlos Santana (guitar), Gregg Rolie (keyboards), David Brown (bass) and Marcus Malone (congas), Soul Sacrifice was included on the band’s eponymous studio debut album, released two weeks after their iconic appearance at the festival. I’ve watched this clip many times, and it continues to give me goosebumps. These guys were lightening up the stage. Live music doesn’t get much better than that. This appearance in and of itself already would have justified Santana’s place in music history. Of course, there was much more to come.

Moving on to Saturday evening brings us to blues rockers Canned Heat and their great tune On The Road Again. Co-credited to the band’s vocalist Alan Wilson, who also played harmonica and guitar, and blues artist Floyd Jones, the track was adapted from earlier blues songs. It first appeared on Canned Heat’s second studio album Boogie With Canned Heat released in January 1968. At Woodstock, it was the band’s closer of their set – what a way to wrap things up!

Next up: Born On The Bayou, one of the killer tunes by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Written by John Fogerty, the song was included on CCR’s sophomore album Bayou Country from January 1969. The band was among the acts performing in the wee wee hours of Sunday morning, August 17. I recall reading that Fogerty wasn’t happy with that time slot, saying the audience was half asleep. That’s why he refused CCR’s inclusion in the 1970 Woodstock documentary, something this band mates felt was a mistake, but John was the undisputed boss. However, footage of CCR is featured in an expanded 40th anniversary edition of the film, which came out in June 2009.

Another highlight of the early hours of Sunday was Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band. Here’s Try (Just A Little Bit Harder), the opener of Joplin’s third studio album I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! from September 1969. The song was co-written by Jerry Ragovoy and Chip Taylor. I don’t feel there was any way Joplin could have tried any harder to sing that song than she did. Similar to Santana, the energy of her performance was through the roof. And all of this after 2:00 am in the morning – whatever substance she was on, it apparently worked!

If I see this correctly (based on Wikipedia), the set with the most songs at Woodstock  belonged to The Who with 22 tracks. They kicked their gig off at 5:00 am on Sunday. Again, what a crazy thought to play at that time! Still, the kids certainly were alright. Here’s We’re Not Gonna Take It/See Me, Feel Me, the final track from Tommy, the band’s fourth studio album that appeared in May 1969. Like most tunes on the record, it was written by Pete Townshend.

Apart from Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, perhaps the most iconic performance at Woodstock was With A Little Help From My Friends by Joe Cocker, the first act who officially opened the festival’s final day on Sunday afternoon. To me, Cocker’s version of The Beatles’ tune is the best rock cover I know. He truly made it his own. In fact, The Beatles were so impressed with it that they allowed him to cover more of their songs like She Came Into The Bathroom Window. With A Little Help From My Friends was the title track of Cocker’s debut album from May 1969. What an amazing performance!

On to 3:00 am on Monday, August 18 and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. For the most part, including set opener Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, it was actually David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash only. Neil Young skipped most of the acoustic songs but joined the band during the electric set. Neil being Neil, he also refused to be filmed, feeling it was distracting to both the performers and the audience. Written by Stills, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes was the opening track of CSN’s debut album from May 1969.

A post about Woodstock’s musical highlights wouldn’t be complete without the closing act: Jimi Hendrix. Playing on Monday from 9:00 to 11:00 am, it looks like he had the longest set. Here is his unforgettable rendition of the aforementioned The Star-Spangled Banner. Hendrix effectively used heavy guitar distortion, feedback and sustain to imitate the sounds from rockets and bombs. He truly gave it all he got and collapsed from exhaustion while leaving the stage after his encore Hey Joe.

Woodstock’s original co-creator Michael Lang also helped organize a planned 50th anniversary festival. However, after a series of production issues, venue relocations and artist cancellations, it was canceled on July 31, 2018. A second Woodstock anniversary festival was planned at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, but in February, the Center announced that instead it will focus on “A Season of Song & Celebration” for the entire summer. The anniversary dates coincide with concerts from Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band (Aug 16), Santana with The Doobie Brothers (Aug 17) and John Fogerty with Tedeshi Trucks Band & Grace Potter (Aug 18).

I’ll leave you with a little fun fact: Tickets for Santana with The Doobies start at about $128.00 (including fees). By today’s standards, sadly, this is fairly normal. But, to be clear, these tickets are the cheapest and will only get you the lawn, the area farthest away from the stage. By comparison, tickets for the entire Woodstock festival in 1969, which as noted above included 32 acts, sold for $18.00 in advance and $24.00 at the gate. That’s the equivalent of approximately $123.00 and $164.00 today. Once again, we see the times they are a changin!

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, Syracuse.com, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts website, YouTube

18 thoughts on “They All Went Down To Yasgur’s Farm, And Everywhere There Was Song And Celebration”

  1. I did a series on this a few years back that I’m going to reblog (or at least the first post) on Thursday. BTW, there’s a pretty good “American Masters” on PBS which focuses less on the music, more on how “groovy” it was to be there. My sister attended and said it captured the flavor of it as well as if not better than the movie. She is one of those who seess it entirely through rose-colored glasses.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I ate, breathed and drank the soundtrack album back in the day. I saw the flick in the theater and I’ve probably seen it (including director’s cut) 3 or 4 times. I had to tell my son who almost all the bands were. No clue.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I really feel that as a fan of music from that era, I need to watch the documentary. I’ve started looking for movie theaters in my area that are showing the film during the anniversary dates. Thus far, to my big surprise, I haven’t found much. Of course, there’s also on-demand TV, but watching it on the big screen sounds like a lot more fun to me!

        Like

      3. Found a show of the Director’s Cut for Thursday at a close by movie theater. Not sure why it didn’t come up when I checked yesterday.

        My wife heroically decided to accompany me. If she doesn’t like the film or finds it too long, she can easily return home. I suspect one of the two scenarios is going to play out.

        It’s gonna be a long evening!😆

        Like

      4. Well, it’s good both as documentary and musical extravaganza. I know you will dig it and your wife, I suppose, is a coin toss.

        BTW, I re-published my Woodstock post. Can you advise if you got an email notification? I’m not sure if that kicks in when I re-publish.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Thanks, Jim, looking forward to the film.

        And, to answer your question, no I, did not get an email notification for your re-post. I just read it though – very nice!

        Michael Lang certainly is a fascinating character. I do feel a bit sorry for him that he is associated with the doomed 50th anniversary event, though I have to say I had very mixed feelings about it after I had seen an initial lineup of artists.

        The idea of having contemporary acts like Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons and Chance The Rapper, who have nothing to do with Woodstock whatsoever, next to Woodstock legends like Santana, John Fogerty and David Crosby didn’t make much sense to me.

        I guess one can argue that “mixing old and new”, which I‘m not sure had been attempted before on such a large scale, was another bold undertaking. And to put something like this together, you can’t play it safe, so you have to be willing to take the risk to fail.

        As such, it appears Woodstock 50 was very much in line with Lang’s can-do spirit. While it didn’t work out this time, Lang forever secured his place in 20th Century music history with the original 1969 festival. Woodstock 50 won’t tarnish him.

        Like

      6. My Woodstock post was a series so you can find the other three if you’re so inclined. I must say I strongly disagree on limiting the artists who would have been at the show. For one thing, times move on. It’s almost impossible to put together a good show of artists from that time – Hendrix, Paul Butterfield, Joplin, Johnny Winter, Canned Heat, Richie Havens, Joe Cocker, Alvin Lee – all gone. Joan Baez wasn’t interested. Sly Stone is a wreck. I’m not necessarily a fan of say, Jay Z but I think you have to modernize and keep on moving forward. I liked the mix of old and new. I think it’s irrelevant what they did or did not have to do with Woodstock.

        Plus, there’s no way you’d get enough boomers and lovers of that era’s music to show up. You pretty much have to get the millennials in there. So had I been planning it I would have done exactly the same thing.

        You’ll see an email advertising the post but you can pretty much ignore it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Your point about moving forward and modernizing is fair. I guess my issue with it is do this under the banner of Woodstock. We may have to agree to disagree on this one.

    Given how many of the artists who played at the original festival have passed away or no longer are in a condition to perform, perhaps trying to put on a 50th anniversary festival doesn’t make much sense in the first place. Basically, you can’t bring it back in the form of a festival.

    But there are other ways, which I feel are more appropriate, such as TV specials (I saw CNN has scheduled one) or showing the different documentaries in movie theaters. Or even tribute shows. This evening, I’m planning to go to one. Basically, it seems to be a cover band playing songs that were performed at Woodstock.

    Like

  3. Hello Christian. Greeting from Germany! I think I mentioned some months back that we were going there on vacation. Well here we are! We are in Rhineland-Palatinate- have visited Cologne and Koblenz- leaving today for Berlin and then Stuttgart next week. Love the country and people.

    Anyway great post. Wanted to mention I heard a great episode on NPR All Songs Considered recently about new effort to put out entire concert – every single act in as close to how it would have sounded as possible. Check out the podcast if you have chance

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Paul, and I hope you enjoy Germany. Berlin is very exciting, in my opinion, as is Cologne – I grew up not far from there, so may be a bit biased.

      When you go to Stuttgart and have enough time, I would highly recommend visiting Tuebingen, which is about a 30 to 45-minute car ride from there. Tuebingen is a beautiful old university town. The old section is small and easy to walk, so it’s possible to at least get an impression, even if you only have a few hours.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s