Can one summer go by without a mention of Woodstock? Not in my summer it doesn't. I grew up near the site of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair across the river on the Canadian side of the 1960s. In a perfect world, as August 1969 approached, I would have been holding a much prized $18 advance ticket to the Festival. Three days of peace and music they claimed.
For me, the Woodstock experience had to wait till the release of the record and the documentary. All three + glorious hours of Woodstock nation.
Michael Lang, with his curly locks and cigarette dangling nonchalantly from his lip was hot. Riding his motorcycle through the stage construction site or sitting casually astride that horse. Hotter still. Always cool, never worried about everything being ready for the opening, exuding confidence. In the midst of scheduling chaos, torrential rains, he remained calm.
The visual excitement didn't stop there. Michael Shrieve, Santana's drummer, up there on the big screen was all sweaty, adrenalin pumped, with drumsticks flying. A true Soul Sacrifice as he drummed his way into the beat and backbeat of a peace loving city spread out in front of him on the hills of Yasgur's farm. In front, Carlos's face was pinched taut like the strings of his guitar.
Part of my summer tradition is a late night viewing of Woodstock: The Director's Cut, a gift from my son a few years ago. Each performance favoured for a different reason. The website Ultimate Classic Rock has their top ten picks. See if you agree.
The movie also provides a panoramic view of the audience. Fast Food Nation had yet to arrive and strike teens and young adults in the waist line.
Many years later down the psychedelic highway of life I read Michael Lang's book The Road To Woodstock. The cover is the iconic back view of John Sebastian who wasn't even supposed to play the gig. The snarled traffic meant there was show time to fill and he happened to be hanging out backstage.
The book takes you from the very beginning with Lang's baby steps into the world of festival organization to his place in this signature piece of rock and folk history. From the inception to fruition, the book describes a true 1960s approach to creating a"'happening."
It became increasingly apparent as the weeks and months progressed toward August 1969 that this might be a very big show. But big was a relative term at that point in the 1960's music festival scene.
For Woodstock aficionados like me, the book recounts a 'trip' that would eventually lead to the defining moment of a generation.
Ang Lee lit my heart with his poignant movie Taking Woodstock. The movie comprised a back story to the event. Vintage footage combined with the somewhat fictionalized story of one man who helped organizers make Woodstock happen.
Recently, I read Susan Reynold's book Woodstock Revisited: 50 far out, groovy, peace-loving, flashback-inducing stories from those who were there. She had me at the title and the stories delivered a festival goers inside view from the other side of the stage. Mosh pit to Wavy Gravy and The Hog Farm, these are the stories of a cross section of people who lived the experience of peace, mud, and music, all the way up the hill.
One story to highlight is that of Bob Brown, a Canadian whose journey getting there was almost enough, particularly, when he described his misadventure at the border crossing. The actual festival experience and return home pure icing on the cake of a story well told.
Worth noting in Brown's story:
"...the peace message rang loud and clear. I hadn't appreciated the American counterculture's anger toward an unwanted war..I now understand their activism and their burning desire for peace and love to annihilate war."
A serious observation in a piece that in other parts made me laugh out loud. The notion of being unaware of the anti-war effort struck home with me. Although I grew up a stone's throw from the American border, the actual depth of passion for the anti- war movement eluded me at the time.
Joni Mitchell decided not to perform at Woodstock but gleaned the essence of the event from her then boyfriend Graham Nash. She penned ...
I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm....
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try and get my soul free
Nostalgia drove Lang's initial vision of the final act for the festival. Roy Rogers singing Happy Trails. The idea was nixed by Roy's agent. No kidding?
Instead, Jimi Hendrix closed with his blistering Star Spangled Banner. A signature guitar solo still heard round the world.
Five hundred thousand people gathered together peacefully in August 1969.
"We are stardust.
We are golden.
And we've got to get ourselves.
Back to the garden..."
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