Soon it will be 50 years since Woodstock.
Not sure what surprises more: the fact that seminal cultural event is coming up on a half-century or that some of its featured acts are still touring. Wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll a youth movement? Didn’t The Who’s Pete Townshend write the immortal line “Hope I die before I get old?” and sing it at Woodstock?
Answers: Yes but not anymore. And yes Pete did, indeed, sing that line from “My Generation” on the third and last day of Woodstock on Aug. 17, 1969.
This week, The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts with Live Nation Concerts and INVNT announced a 50th anniversary edition of Woodstock for August 2019.
The new “3 Days of Peace & Music” at Bethel Woods, a concert venue built on the original dairy farm grounds that hosted Woodstock in New York on Aug. 15-17, 1969, will run on almost similar dates: Aug. 16-18.
According to Bethel Woods, the “performers will include prominent and emerging artists spanning multiple genres and decades” and TED-style talks and other events.
Original Woodstock promoter Michael Lang, whose Miami Pop Festival in 1968 was a warmup, won’t be involved with this Bethel Woods anniversary festival. But he told the Poughkeepsie Journal earlier this month that he planned to host his own anniversary concert at another unspecified site.
So, with Woodstock ready for a a reboot, will prominent acts from the past play a part?
This got us thinking who, from the original Woodstock, could conceivably still play this golden anniversary version? Not festival opener Richie Havens as he died in 2013. Ravi Shankar, Tim Hardin, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin and the event’s closing act, Jimi Hendrix, have also passed on.
And who, among the living, would you pay to still see at Woodstock 50?
Here are some of the artists who played the first Woodstock and what condition they are in now:
▪ Melanie. Distinctive-voiced flower child Melanie Safka was a relative newcomer when she sang a seven-song set on Woodstock’s first day. She went on because another act, The Incredible Sting Band, refused to perform Friday because of the rain. (The group went on the second day, Saturday, instead.) Melanie was so inspired by the fact concertgoers lit candles during her performance she wrote “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)“ and in 1970 the song became her first of two Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. “Brand New Key” in 1971 was the other. Melanie is now 71 and still performs.
▪ Arlo Guthrie. Also 71, Guthrie still performs. Every Thanksgiving, his 1967 talking blues classic, “Alice’s Restaurant,” and its parent album, pops back onto the iTunes sales chart.
▪ Joan Baez, 77, released her latest album, “Whistle Down the Wind,” in March 2018 and promoted it on her Fare Thee Well Tour. How symbolic would it be for her to make Woodstock 50 her true final concert performance?
▪ Country Joe McDonald sang the Vietnam-era “The Fish Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” at Woodstock. In 2017, McDonald, 76, released an album called “50.” How could he not figure in Woodstock 50?
▪ Santana. Carlos Santana’s fledgling band brought Latin rock to the Woodstock stage before many people knew who they were. The set included songs from the group’s eponymous debut LP released soon after on Aug. 30, 1969, including “Evil Ways,” “Jingo” and “Soul Sacrifice.” The classic lineup splintered but guitarist Carlos Santana, 71, tours and records as Santana to this day.
▪ Canned Heat. Two members from the hippie-era lineup that played “Going Up the Country” at Woodstock — Larry Taylor and Adolfo de la Parra — still tour the oldies circuit with new members as Canned Heat.
▪ The Grateful Dead ended with leader Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995 but various members of the ever-shifting lineup formed splinter groups like The Other Ones, RatDog and Dead & Company. In 2015, four core members went on the Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead tour. These men — Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart — are all in their 70s and still perform in various endeavors.
▪ Creedence Clearwater Revival disbanded acrimoniously in 1972 and guitarist Tom Fogerty died at 48 in 1990. His younger brother John Fogerty, now 73, the chief songwriter and the group’s voice, would have to go it alone.
▪ The Who is down to guitarist Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey. Drummer Keith Moon died in 1978 and bassist John Entwistle in 2002. The group that practically coined “The Farewell Tour” concept in 1989, but went on numerous tours since — including 50th and 51st anniversary tours as half a Who in 2016 — can’t be ruled out.
▪ Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship in the 1970s and Starship in the 1980s and Jefferson Airplane again in 1989, before carrying on as Jefferson Starship: The Next Generation in the 1990s and plain Jefferson Starship again in the 2000s is now down to just Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady — the Woodstock veterans. But Slick, 79, retired from the stage for good after the 1989 reunion. Casady, 74, and Kaukonen, 78, continue on as Hot Tuna. Marty Balin died in Tampa at 76 in September and Paul Kantner died at 74 in 2016.
▪ Sly and the Family Stone disbanded in 1983 but namesake Sly Stone, now 75, has done some cameos with a reformulated Family Stone, as recently as a 2015 date in Tampa, and at the 2006 Grammy Awards.
▪ Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are all, surprisingly given all of their reported bad habits, still touring and making new music. Except not as CSN or CSN&Y — and judging by his active and brutally honest (or sometimes caustic) Twitter feed, don’t expect David Crosby, 77, to partake. Of course, what better event for “peace and love” and good harmonies to regroup?
Memories of a previous Woodstock anniversary — its 25th
The Miami Herald sent then-pop music critic Leonard Pitts Jr. to cover Woodstock ‘94, the 25th anniversary festival that was held in Saugherties, New York. That sequel featured performances by Metallica, Aerosmith, Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, Allman Brothers Band, Bob Dylan, Melissa Etheridge and Woodstock vets including Joe Cocker, Santana, Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
The 1994 event was promoted as “2 More Days of Peace and Music.” There was, once again, a lot of mud.
Here’s one of Pitts’ reports, originally published on Aug. 13, 1994.
She sat cross-legged in the grass, on a field far from the stage, wearing a face like reflection and peace.
“I ran away from home at 15 to go to the first Woodstock,” said Vicci Mims, a horse trainer from Glenallen, Mo. “My father was chief of police. . . . He apprehended me at the city limits with my thumb out and put me in jail for the weekend. So I missed Woodstock. Now at 40, I came and I brought my 15-year-old niece with me. It signifies finally getting here for me.”
Police estimated that about 100,000 people arrived here by nightfall Friday. Based on ticket sales, organizers expect almost twice that by today, when the better-known groups are scheduled. The latecomers will find surprisingly light traffic, a handful of minor injuries, more drugs and alcohol than promoters (who had adopted a clean and sober policy) will readily admit and, with apologies to the Beach Boys, a surfeit of good vibrations.
But that’s just one interpretation, and on the day it finally sprang to life in a squall of distorted guitar, Woodstock ‘94 seemed to carry at least as many meanings as attendees.
It was a zoo. It was a commercial grotesquerie. It was the coming of age of that generation named, without its permission, X. And it was a blast.
After months of speculation and hype, the battle for the soul of Woodstock was finally joined here Friday morning — the climax of months of debate over what Woodstock meant in 1969 and what, if anything, it can mean in the ‘90s.
The general verdict?
“I think it’s extraordinary,” said Phil Kutno, a 29-year-old artist from Garberville, Ca. “When I first got here, I was real skeptical. I thought it was going to be a real commercial fiasco. But now that I’m here, I think there’s going to be some good vibes here. It’s going to be good music and a good time.”
Residents of this quiet farming community watched the invasion of their Catskill Mountains town impassively from their windows and front porches. Some had tacked up emphatic “No Trespassing” signs. The more enterprising sold parking space on their lawns.
The actual site was a scene of friendly chaos. A carpet of humanity spread itself before the southernmost of the two stages where Friday’s action took place. They clustered shoulder to shoulder and blanket to blanket listening to sets by local bands like Lunchmeat and Three and national bands like Goat and Jackyl.
The big names are scheduled today and Sunday — Aerosmith, Arrested Development, Bob Dylan, the Spin Doctors, Peter Gabriel, among others. They queued up to exchange cash for scrip — the coin of the realm at Woodstock — and used that to buy pizza that came in boxes marked “Peace and Love.”
They washed that down with Pepsi from cups emblazoned with the famous “two doves” logo. Perhaps this is what Kutno and others mean when they decry the commercialism of the event.
In fact, Artie Kornfeld, a producer of the original Woodstock, passed on a chance to be involved with this one for just that reason. And yet even he had to concede that something impressive was happening here. He said, “I feel like it’s so big that I can’t comprehend it.”
Big. Way big. Eight hundred forty acres big. And people everywhere. Snoozing in their tents. Plucking T-shirts and other memorabilia from the shelves of the vendors whose booths line the field.
Painting themselves brown with mud and topping it with straw. Massing before the stage, packed tighter than any self-respecting sardine would. Gasping in scandalized delight when Jesse duPree, lead singer of Jackyl, bared his genitalia onstage. And, off in a quiet corner of the field dubbed Serenity Village, fighting the good fight to stay drug and alcohol free in an atmosphere that doesn’t exactly encourage them.
Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous will be holding meetings there around the clock for the duration of the festival.
This is a good thing, said a recovering alcoholic who identified himself only as John: “We know what it’s like with the drugs and the alcohol, and we’re all supposed to be free. People that have a problem, they come (here) and they go to meetings and this is how we stay sober.”
Against the backdrop of what is unfolding, the detractors who criticize the commercialism of the event and argue that the children of the ‘90s don’t deserve a Woodstock begin to sound tinny and shrill.
John Scher, 44, president of Polygram Diversified Entertainment, has little patience with the complaint that this festival can never be what the original was, coming as it does in the post-Nixon, post-Vietnam years.
“These kids are faced with things we were never faced with. Many, many more people have died of AIDS than ever died in the Vietnam War. These kids don’t have the opportunity to go to Canada or stay in college and go to graduate school. They’re faced with that plague right now. I think everybody ought to open up their eyes. Stop worrying about what the comparison was to ‘69. It was a magical time in ‘69. These kids are going to create their own magic.”
Sitting out in front of her tent, Laura Schueller, a 19- year-old college student from Fairlawn, N.J., nodded her head in agreement.
“We have a war on drugs and sexual diseases, and we’re afraid to walk outside our doors because we don’t know what’s going to happen. We live in a violent society. Twenty-five years ago, when Vietnam was going on, that was violent, but that wasn’t here. It was across the world. We’re living in our own war.”
As she spoke, aging hippies and children of a generation as yet undefined met on a field of discovery and barriers fell like rain — which didn’t.
Friday, the battle was joined for the soul of Woodstock.
And you know what? Everybody won.