Tuesday, August 18, 2009


As I write this at seven in the morning, exactly forty years ago today, Jimi Hendrix had just ended his two hour set at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, the final act of the four day event (it was billed as 3 days of peace and music, but due to many factors it stretched out to four), arguably the greatest concert ever produced, at least the best known. He was scheduled to begin at three in the morning, but again due to delays, began near eight o'clock local time to a diminished crowd, as it was now Monday morning and many of the concert's weekend attendees had to, or already had departed. The festival's producers had offered Hendrix a midnight spot, but realizing the magnitude and historic nature of the concert, he desired to keep the position as the final performer.
And he dominated. The film "Woodstock" begins and ends with Hendrix guitar licks (except for the song, "Woodstock," played during the end credits), he will ever be linked to this event, and his rendition of The Star Spangled Banner will remain a symbol of the concert.
He died exactly 13 months later, on September 18, 1970.
Last night I spent a little over three and a half hours watching the musical documentary, "Woodstock," and considered it time well spent. Although the concert was a tad before my time (I am glad there at least a few things that remain before my time, the Vietnam War being one of them. I was only 13 years old at the time of the concert, and most likely oblivious of the event), though throughout my later teens and twenties I became familiar with the festival and its music, by the film and the albums.
But watching the movie again aroused my curiosity, and the film hardly represents what actually occurred during those four days in August of 1969.
And I can't tell the whole story here, but I can tell a little, and this is what I found out.
The film rightly states the the concert was a commercial enterprise, meaning the promoters wanted to make money. The bands wanted to make money. Max Yasgur, the owner of the property that the concert took place on, a dairy farm, wanted to make money. Everyone wanted to make money. Whether they did or not is not known. Certainly the producers didn't, the reason being, too many people showed up, and they had not anticipated the crowds, did not plan far enough ahead, were basically caught with their pants down, and were pretty much forced to declare the concert as being "free."
The band, Creedence Clearwater Revival was the first act to sign up for the festival, agreeing to play for $10,000.00. In all 32 acts performed before crowds estimated between 300,000 to half a million. The local community was overwhelmed. Traffic was at a standstill, sanitation facilities were inadequate, as was the availability of food and medical care. At least two fatalities were reported, one a drug overdose (yes, they may have used illegal psychotropic substances at Woodstock, I'm shocked to report), and one person asleep in a nearby hayfield was run over by a tractor. To balance things out, two births were recorded at the event. Sadly four miscarriages were recorded as well.
By watching the movie you would think that the music stopped every evening, then began again the next day, with only one band, Jefferson Starship, obviously beginning its set early in the morning and waking the slumbering crowd. That was not so. It was a 24/3&1/3 concert, with top name bands playing one after the other, around the clock (weather permitting, it rained a couple of times).
Creedence, for some reason only known to John Fogerty, wanted a 3AM slot, and insisted on not being included in the film.
Other artists included: Joan Baez, one of the few acts my lovely case manager, Erin, would be familiar with, was the last scheduled act of the first day's performances; Santana, and The Who, which I've seen both in concert here in L.A. The Who was great... Santana, not so much; The Grateful Dead (not included in the film, although shots of Jerry Garcia holding up a joint (marijuana cigarette) are in the movie); Janis Joplin (who died just 13 and a half months later, 16 days after Hendrix, both of drug overdoses); Sly and the Family Stone, who I once partied with in a hotel in Hollywood (long story); Joe Cocker; The Band (also not in the film); Ten Years After; Crosby, Stills, and Nash (their second public performance, and without Neil Young, despite what Wikipedia says), Hendrix and 21 other acts.
Notable acts of the time that were invited to attend, but declined, were The Doors; my favorite, Led Zeppelin (although I will always admire them for their work in the studio, rather than their live performances); another favorite, Jethro Tull (too many "unwashed hippies," for Ian Anderson, strange sentiment for the writer of "Aqualung"); Joni Mitchell, who wrote a song commemorating the event, aptly titled, "Woodstock," which became a major hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; The Byrds; The Moody Blues; and Bob Dylan, who's recently been burglarizing houses in New Jersey, so I'm told.
They've cleaned up the mess left by concert's attendees over the years, and a plaque has been placed in the field where the concert took place in honor of the historic event, as well as memorials for Hendrix, Joplin, and Jerry Garcia (who passed away in 1995). Wikipedia tells us: "The Museum at Bethel Woods opened in June 2008. The Museum contains film and interactive displays, text panels, and artifacts which explore the unique experience of the Woodstock festival, its significance as the culminating event of a decade of radical cultural transformation, and the legacy of the Sixties and Woodstock today."
I will offer a copy of the film, "Woodstock," to my lovely case manager, as I believe her to be a little hippie girl at heart (her "Free Love" blouse proves it), and quite possibly a reincarnation of one of the lovely ladies who attended Woodstock, forty years ago today.
Even though I don't believe in reincarnation.

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