As I’m sure you’ve heard more than once over the weekend, it’s the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival – originally due to be billed an “Aquarian Exposition”, but eventually labelled a much more suitable “Three Days of Peace and Music” instead – which took place on a dairy farm in the rural town of Bethel, New York between 15 and 18 August 1969 – some 70 miles away from Woodstock.
Close to half a million people turned up, although it wasn’t meant to be a free concert; organised by hippie capitalists who had sold about 200,000 tickets before declaring it open to those who were forcing entry anyway.
I’ll be very surprised if you haven’t heard something about it recently, so I ask you two things:
1. Which were your favourite performances from this historic event?
There were more than 200 songs, starting with Richie Havens and ending with Jimi Hendrix. The Who (the fringe-shirted Roger Daltrey being one of the festival’s most lasting images, surely), performed 24 of them.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young performed ‘Find the Cost of Freedom’ – as did David on his last tour, with David Crosby and Graham Nash – as part of a 16-song set split between acoustic and electric guitars.
Stand-out performances for me were:
– Joan Baez, ‘We Shall Overcome’
– The Band, ‘The Weight’
– Joe Cocker, ‘A Little Help From My Friends’
– Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Born on the Bayou’
– Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, ‘Long Time Gone’
– Jimi Hendrix, ‘Star-Spangled Banner’
– Jefferson Airplane, ‘White Rabbit’
– Mountain, ‘Southbound Train’
– Sly & the Family Stone, ‘I Want to Take You Higher’
– The Who, ‘See Me, Feel Me’
I’d also like to know what you think about Woodstock in general.
Nobody can argue that it symbolised the tremendous hope of a generation during a time of rioting, violence, racial unrest and unjust war.
Yet perhaps, as the New York Times suggested, it was also “a prime example of how coddled the baby boomers were in an economy of abundance. The Woodstock crowd, which arrived with more drugs than camping supplies, got itself a free concert, and when the people responsible could no longer handle the logistics, the government bailed them out. Some people took it upon themselves to help others; many just freeloaded.”
Is this fair… or even surprising? I mean, isn’t that what always happens? The close-to-half-a-million were mostly white kids who could afford to take time off work or college to listen to music and get high. As more youthful cynics are quick to point out, such a large part of the so-called Woodstock Generation would go on to sell their souls and build the exploitative world in which we live today. And if they didn’t build it, they allowed its construction, prospered from it, enriched themselves from its many evils – evils they once rallied against. There have been other unjust wars since Vietnam, more people killed at protests, more racially-motivated police brutality. So, what did Woodstock achieve exactly?
We discussed the significance, and also the disappointments, of Live Aid recently. For those born after the Sixties’ passing, Live Aid was this generation’s Woodstock (as Joan Baez declared from the Philadelphia stage), and that had a clear purpose, didn’t it? It was to raise money to feed the starving in Africa. What was Woodstock really about? Where was its direction? Did it even have one?
Perhaps all that should matter is the music and the scene, the latter, at least, has never been successfully repeated (the music has often; even musicians on the Woodstock bill admitted that their performances were below-par). Now concert-going is all about numbers: how much you pay (not least in assorted fees) for a numbered seat, to park your car, to drink an over-priced beverage from a plastic beaker and to be a part of a not-quite-but-almost homogeneous mass, where those demonstrating the greatest show of wealth may sit in the front, with the less comfortably off straining their necks to see from the back. They rarely take place out in the open any more, instead they’re usually held in bland arenas with familiar corporate logos emblazoned across every available flat surface.
It’s no wonder the ‘baby boomers’ are so nostalgic – some might even say smug – about Woodstock. Wouldn’t you have liked to have been there?
Some might even say it’s no wonder that Woodstock ’99 ended the way it did.
So, my second question.
2. Undoubtedly, the Sixties had a remarkable influence culturally, but was Woodstock yet another over-hyped piece in an over-valued tie-dye puzzle? Wonderfully idealistic, jolly good fun, yet rather… pointless?
(Yes, I’ve been away for a week, so I’m trying to get a reaction out of you.)