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

Roger Daltrey Releases Soulful Album

First solo record in 26 years almost didn’t happen

Today, Roger Daltrey released As Long As I Have You, his ninth solo album after 1992’s Rocks In The Head. The voice of the 74-old-year-old frontman of The Who has never sounded better, which is amazing. In September 2015, Daltrey was diagnosed with viral meningitis during The Who Hits 50! North American tour, forcing the band to reschedule the remaining dates until 2016. “I was a month in the hospital, touch and go for a few days,” Daltrey told British tabloid The Sun during a recent interview. “I had a long recovery and you never quite get over it…My feet hurt and my thumbs have gone.”

Daltrey credits his longtime bandmate and brother-in-arms Pete Townshend for finishing the record, on which he had started work after the March 2014 release of Going Back Home, his great collaboration album with Wilko Johnson. “I had eight of the 11 tracks,” he explained to The Sun. “I listened to them and thought, ‘None of this will do anything’…But my manager sent the material to Pete, who rang me and said, ‘What’s up with you? This is fabulous, you’ve got to finish it…Then out of the blue, he said he’d like to play guitar on it. That gave me the confidence to carry on.”

The result is a compelling 11-track collection. Among the nine covers are the title track (Jerry Ragovoy and Bob Elgin), How Far (Stephen Stills), Where Is A Man To Go (Jerry Gillespie & K.T. Oslin), Get On Out Of The Rain (Parliament), Into My Arms (Nick Cave) and You Haven’t Done Nothing (Stevie Wonder). There are also two original songs, Certified Rose and Always Heading Home, a co-write with English novelist Nigel Hilton. Townshend plays acoustic and some electric guitar on seven of the tracks. Other guest musicians include Mick Talbot (keyboards) and Sean Genockey (lead guitar). The album was produced by Dave Eringa, who also served in that capacity on the Wilko Johnson collaboration album. Time to get to some music!

One of the album’s standout is the opener and title track with its groove and soulful backing vocals. The tune was first recorded by soul singer Garnet Mimms in 1964 and is a song The Who covered when they were starting out.

Where Is A Man To Go is another soulful gem. Daltrey’s voice shines.

Another nice cover is Get On Out The Rain, which originally was recorded by American funk band Parliament as Come In Out Of The Rain and included on their 1970 debut album Osmium.

I’ve Got Your Love is a tune written by Boz Scaggs, which was included on his 1997 studio album Come On Home. This is one of the songs, on which Townshend plays lead guitar. Daltrey described his solo to The Sun as “beautiful and sensitive.”

Certified Rose, one of the two original tunes on the album, has a nice Stax vibe and is about watching Daltrey’s eldest daughter Rosie grow up. “I had Rod Stewart in mind for that but I woke up one day a few months ago and I could hear Certified Rose as a soul song,” Daltrey told The Sun. “I just needed to add the right ingredients and change the bridge.”

The last track I’d like to highlight is the record’s closer Always Heading Home, the original tune Daltrey co-wrote with Hilton.

“For Pete to say he wanted to play on my new record was such an honour because he’s my ultimate guitarist,” Daltrey told The Sun. “He’s the most original. He can play like Clapton if he wants and he can play like Hendrix but when Pete plays Pete, where does that come from? It’s that rhythmic thing he does. He will always take chances and doesn’t mind playing a hundred bum notes for four great ones that make you go, ‘Wow!’ Rock doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs bum notes and beads of sweat.”

He added, “We love each other and always have. We used to do this wrestling in public but if anyone came between us, God help them! I’m very happy just to be his singer and have him, at the end of my life, saying, ‘Roger sung my songs better than I ever could.’ That means a lot to me.”

Sources: Wikipedia, The Sun, The Who official website, YouTube