Friday, August 14, 2009

Going on Down to Yasgur's Farm - 40 Years After Woodstock

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, 'Where are you going?'
And this he told me
I'm going on down to Yasgur's Farm
I'm going to join in a rock n roll band
Joni Mitchell - Woodstock, 1970

Forty years ago today they gathered, almost half a million of them, at the dairy farm of Max Yasgur in Bethel, New York, for three and a bit days that helped define a whole generation. The Woodstock Festival was, from all members of my generation can gather, a total one-off. Glastonbury may once have had a hippy vibe, still there but now hugely diminished, but as an event it happens almost every year, and its legend is spread across several decades. There may now have been six Woodstock Festivals, but the word itself means only one of them - the original 1969 edition - still, as far as many people are concerned, the only one worthy of the name.

There will never be another festival like it. Trying to recreate it is hopeless - all we can do is imagine, which is what this playlist is designed to help you to do.

Richie Havens - Freedom/Motherless Child (Woodstock, 1970)

He kicked off the festival on the Friday morning, so there's no other slot to give him here than first on the bill. Havens was originally supposed to be up fifth, but opened instead. The fans wouldn't let him leave as he received endless ovations, and he eventually ran out of songs. Good thing he did, as he instead improvised this before finally departing the stage, having set the bar high for the rest of the weekend.

Canned Heat - Going Up The Country (Living The Blues, 1968)

Canned Heat were a blues band that over the years ended up having almost as many different members as people in the audience the day they performed this at Woodstock. The song would become the unofficial anthem of Woodstock, thanks in part to its role in the soundtrack to the film.

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Bad Moon Rising (Green River, 1969)

Creedence's set was dominated with tracks from the then newly-released Green River, highlighted by this. CCR played somewhere in between Saturday and Sunday, deep into the night, with John Fogerty complaining the Grateful Dead had overrun so long most people had gone to bed. We struggle to believe the Woodstock crowd were the sort of folks to be asleep by midnight, but then we weren't there...

The Who - Sparks (Tommy, 1969)

As if to further condemn Fogerty's complaint about CCR's "late" slot, the Who played for a little over an hour, starting at 5am on Sunday morning. By this point in the festival, all notion of night and day seems to have been pretty much lost, but it's hard to think of a better way to hear Tommy played live in full than to have the sun rising in the background.

Jefferson Airplane - Volunteers (Volunteers, 1969)

If The Who soundtracked the sunrise, Jefferson Airplane had breakfast covered with an 8am slot. This, for anyone counting, was officially the headline slot for Saturday (And to think Bruce Springsteen got fined for playing past midnight at Glastonbury this year...). Grace Slick came on stage to introduce what she called the band's "morning maniac music", before they unleashed their particularly spectacular brand of psychedelia. Volunteers was then a brand new song - we can only imagine what it sounded like totally fresh.

Country Joe & The Fish - I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag (Woodstock, 1970)

Country Joe McDonald had already played a solo set earlier in the weekend, but he appeared with his band on Sunday evening to get things back under way after a thunderstorm ripped through the site. It was a pretty short set, but was highlighted by this ripping performance of their classic anti-Vietnam protest song. "GIVE ME AN F..."

The Band - The Weight (Music From Big Pink, 1968)

At the time of Woodstock, The Band had only the one album, Music From Big Pink to lean on. What an album it is to have to lean on. The Weight is in the Top 10 Greatest Songs Ever Recorded. This is a fact.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Wooden Ships (Crosby, Stills & Nash 1969)

This was only the second gig for Crosby, Stills & Nash, who in the three months since the release of their first album had also added the incomparable Neil Young, Stills' former band mate from Buffalo Springfield. He wasn't on stage at the start, but joined them in time for renditions of his own wondrous Mr Soul and, a little later, this timeless classic from the first CSN album.

Jimi Hendrix - The Star Spangled Banner/Purple Haze/Woodstock Improvisation (Woodstock, 1970)

Jimi Hendrix's so-called Sunday night headline slot opened up at 9am on Monday morning. Some folks had already left by then, but those who hadn't caught one of the defining moments of the festival. Many have said Hendrix was far from his best as he worked with a realigned backing band, but his biting rendition of the national anthem, kicking in here just before the two-minute mark, was the most angry and effective he ever delivered and has fuelled the legend of Woodstock ever since.

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