I follow a page on Facebook called On This Day In Music, and on Sunday it gave me a helpful reminder that it was the anniversary of the Woodstock festival, which ran from 15-18 August 1969. This was originally scheduled to run for three days but, due to delays caused by bad weather, it ran over until the final act – Jimi Hendrix – took to the stage at around 8.30am on the Monday morning. Perhaps not surprisingly, only around 30,000 hardy souls remained of the 400,000+ who had been estimated to be there at the peak, but at least they could say that they saw Jimi play Woodstock. There is a movie of the festival but, rather than run the whole three hours of it, I thought that for this week’s tunes I’d share some music by some of the stellar list of acts that appeared there. Several of these are the actual Woodstock performances, mixed with a few others for good measure. So, back to my hippy days I go…
The Woodstock Music & Arts Fair was held on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in Bethel in New York, about 80 miles North of New York City. Attended by over 400,000 people, the festival was one of the most pivotal moments in popular music history. It was designed as a profit-making venture – tickets cost $18 in advance (equivalent to around $75 today) and $24 at the gate for all three days. Around 186,000 tickets were sold beforehand and organisers anticipated approximately 200,000 festival-goers would turn up. It famously became a “free concert” only after it became obvious that the event was drawing hundreds of thousands more people than they had prepared for, and was causing massive transport problems in the area around the site.
The first band to sign up for the festival was Creedence Clearwater Revival, who were at their peak then, and once the word got round that they would be playing the remainder of the 32 acts that eventually played were quick to sign up. I couldn’t find a video of CCR’s Woodstock performance, but this is of that vintage:
This was a track from the band’s third album, Green River, which was released a couple of weeks before Woodstock, and gave them their first US #1 album, also reaching #20 here in the UK. The track was released as a single four months ahead of the album, and became their only UK #1 hit. It peaked at #2 in the US: they have never had a #1 single there, surprisingly.
Like the CCR one, this performance by The Who isn’t taken from their Woodstock appearance, but it is also from the same year, and is so good that I just had to include it:
Now for the first of my choices from the festival itself:
Perhaps best known for its inclusion in the soundtrack of the Easy Rider movie, though in a cover version by Smith, for contractual reasons, this was a track on The Band’s debut album Music From Big Pink, which was released in July 1968. The album got to #30 in the US and #18 in their native Canada, but didn’t chart in the UK. I bought it at the time, and absolutely loved it – I still do. This track was released as a single, peaking at #63 in the US, #35 in Canada, #21 in the UK and #13 in the Netherlands.
I mentioned earlier that Jimi Hendrix closed the festival but the only video I can find of that performance is his version of the US national anthem, and I’m not really a fan of their obsession with that, sorry! So I thought I’d give you this live performance of one of his quieter, more reflective songs from a couple of years earlier:
That was a track from Are You Experienced?, the debut album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, released in May 1967. The album was a #5 US hit, and got to #2 here in the UK. This song was released as a single, reaching #6 in the UK but failing to chart in the US.
Time for another from the festival, I think. This is another band that I’ve loved since way back when:
This was a track on Santana’s eponymous debut album, which was released a couple of weeks after the festival, and got to #4 in the US and #26 in the UK. This was the second single to be taken from the album, at the end of 1969: it got to #9 in the US but wasn’t a hit here in the UK.
My final selection from the festival is an iconic one, one of the songs by which the generation became known:
To give the song its proper title, that was the I Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die Rag, the title track from Country Joe And The Fish’s second album, which was released in November 1967 and reached #67 in the US. The song became very much the signature tune for anti-Vietnam War protestors, and was the high spot of the band’s Woodstock performance. As you can see, it is preceded by the ‘Fish Cheer’ which comprised the ‘gimme an F’ beginning. More often than not (as here) the four letters didn’t spell out ‘FISH,’ which led to the band being banned from tv, perhaps not surprisingly!
Joni Mitchell was originally booked to perform at the festival, but cancelled at the last minute on the advice of her manager after seeing the traffic chaos on the TV news, as she didn’t want to miss a scheduled appearance on The Dick Cavett TV Show the same weekend. She did, of course, write a song about the event which captured the moment in time perfectly, and in her introduction to this performance she retells that background:
This was a track on Joni’s third album, Ladies Of The Canyon, released in April 1970. It reached #16 in her native Canada, #27 in the US, but did best here in the UK, where we took it up to #8.
The song was also recorded by those friends she mentioned, who were one of the bands who did play at Woodstock. This is, of course, slightly later, but it seems an ideal place to close this little trip:
I’m not sure how much, if any, of that footage is genuinely from Woodstock, but it gives a good feel for what it must have been like, as I imagine it and as other footage shows. The song was included on Crosby Stills Nash And Young’s second album, Déjà Vu – the first with Neil Young on board – which was released in March 1970 and was a US #1, also peaking at #5 here in the UK. It was also a hit US single, getting to #11, but didn’t hit the UK singles chart – we had to suffer the weedy cover version by Matthews Southern Comfort, which was a #1 here. Our bad!
That’s a wrap for this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed some musical history and some great tunes from what you’ve probably realised by now is my favourite era. I’ll see you again next time – until then, stay safe and well 😊