Thursday, August 15, 2013

44 Years Ago Today

So 44 years ago today Richie Havens picked up his guitar and walked onto a stage that had been erected in the middle of a cow pasture in upstate New York. The phenomena known as Woodstock, billed as 3 Days of Peace and Music, had started. The event was a concert gathering together the known and the unknown from all corners of the musical rock & roll world, and in an age with no internet, no facebook or tweets, no smart phones or even cell phones, almost half a million people gathered to celebrate music. Many of you reading my blog are too young to have remembered the late 1960's, but others of us have special memories of those years and for me, life has always separated into before Woodstock and after Woodstock.

The location was changed abruptly when the original site
restricted attendance to no more than 5000 people. The
organizers were expecting 50,000, and what they got instead
were almost 500,000. 

I'll be right up front - I did NOT attend the festival. Not for lack of an invitation (from some very interesting dude on a motorcycle that my parents would have totally forbidden) or from lack of desire to go. I didn't go to Woodstock because despite my rebellious desire, I was basically a good kid - thus I survived my teenage years without being raped, without overdosing on drugs, and without running away from home. All of those events were distinct possibilities in my mid- to late-teenage years and in some instances, I was just very lucky.

Woodstock brought together some of the most amazing musical acts - people and groups that would influence music and be remembered for their appearances at this crazy temporary city for decades to come. There were two births and two deaths and thirty-two acts, there was a reaching out of help to the people nearby, sharing food and blankets. There was rain - a lot of rain, mud and also some sun. And there was history made. The festival itself lost $1 million in 1969 money - a hell of a lot of money lost. To help pay the bills and recoup the initial investments a movie was made using film clips taken while the festival was going on. This film, still seen today, paid all outstanding bills and actually, after many years, made a small profit for the four young men whose idealism had brought the concept to reality. Here are pics of some of the performers.

Richie Havens wasn't the first performer scheduled, but most of the others were
caught up in the massive traffic jam of the crowds coming to attend the
festival. He kicked things off with a bang, though. 

Joan Baez was the final act of Friday night (actually Saturday
morning) appearing from just before 1:00 a.m. until 2:00 a.m.

Saturday was a hell of a line-up -
Country Joe McDonald,
John Sebastian,
Keef Harley Band,
The Incredible String Band,
Canned Heat,
The Grateful Dead,
Creedence Clearwater Revival (beginning just after midnight on what was actually Sunday),
Janice Joplin,
Sly and the Family Stone,
The Who (playing into sunrise) and finally,
Jefferson Airplane who played until 9:40 a.m. on Sunday morning. What a line-up, just for Saturday's listing.

Janice Joplin was already well known, musically, but her
appearance at Woodstock helped cement her in the
musical consciousness of America. 

Roger Daltry's fringed leather vest - we all had total
fringe envy and it spawned a fashion statement for a year
to come. The Who - iconic and memorable.

Sunday's lineup was equally amazing, getting underway after 2:00 p.m. It featured
Joe Cocker and the Grease Band,
Country Joe and the Fish,
Ten Years After,
The Band,
Johnny Winter,
Blood, Sweat & Tears,
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young,
Paul Butterfield Blues Band,.
Sha Na Na, and finally,
Jimi Hendrix with Gypsy Sun & Rainbows.

Joe Cocker was a force for anti-war sentiment couched in gritty music.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young defined Woodstock with their iconic
song and their blended vocals. I loved this group - still do for that matter. 

Jimi Hendrix blew people away with his guitar work and his
Star Spangled Banner has gone down into musical

The film "Woodstock" was released in 1970 and saved Warner Brothers Studio. Two soundtrack albums were also released. A variety of albums by individual artists about their Woodstock experiences and soundtracks of their performances were also released. What really comes down through the ages is that almost 500,000 young people came together in peace to celebrate the joy of music together. There was rain and sun, there were drugs and alcohol, and there was birth and death. For a short time the Woodstock Music Festival was one of the larger cities in the state of New York, and everyone managed to get along - no fights, no murders, and a willingness to help out the other people attending that defined the "Woodstock Generation" for years to come. I wish we were as caring today.

The 'blanket couple' got married, had two children, and in fact are still married. 

Rock on, people!

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