|From: William F. Wager, Jr.||8/14/2009 10:04:18 AM|
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|*OT* Woodstock: But How Was the Music?...Wobbly performances, technical problems marred the festival|
As a music festival, Woodstock was pretty much a bust.
The promoters couldn't get some of the artists they wanted—John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, the Jeff Beck Group, the Doors and Roy Rogers among them. Managers insisted on booking their unknown artists as the price to get their famous clients. Iron Butterfly didn't show up. Not enough talent was contracted for three days and nights. Hired to perform with his band the Fish, at the last minute Country Joe McDonald was asked to do a solo set to fill time. Paul Butterfield, a Woodstock resident, was an 11th-hour addition.
Drugs diminished the musicians' skills. Tim Hardin was too disoriented to open the festival. John Sebastian, also pressed into service to fill an empty slot, couldn't remember some lyrics. Expecting to perform hours later than he actually did, Carlos Santana took a hit of mescaline that kicked in while he was on stage. The Who were unaware their drinks had been dosed with LSD; Roger Daltrey called their set "the worst performance we ever did." Jimi Hendrix, already hampered by a new, under-rehearsed band, seemed a bit wobbly.
Despite heroic efforts by engineers and stage personnel, at times the sound equipment failed. Amplifiers buzzed, guitar cables crackled, microphones cut out. The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir were jolted with electricity when they approached their mikes. Ten Years After had to stop their opening number twice before they could continue. Stephen Stills, whose guitar was out of tune for Crosby, Stills & Nash's nine-minute opening number, complained about the monitors. So did Blood, Sweat & Tears. Sly Stone told the audience that some of the equipment wasn't working properly.
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Woodstock's Forgotten Man (08/06/09) From the Archive
Read the editorial on Woodstock and the 'so-called generation gap' that ran in The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 28, 1969 Often considered the start of a musical revolution, Woodstock celebrated music that would soon be thought of as part of pop's past: The opening day was dedicated to folk, which, four years after Bob Dylan went electric at Newport, was on its way out. A snippet at the very beginning of Mr. Stone's set in which he, guitarist Freddie Stone and bassist Larry Graham toy with a little funk is the rare nod to the emerging changes in soul and R&B. And in a year in which James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Muddy Waters and Stevie Wonder were active, African-American music was woefully underrepresented.
Producers of the three-disk album "Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More," released in 1970, and "Woodstock 2," issued 14 months later, intentionally disguised some of the flaws in the music, thus advancing the myth that Woodstock was a musical milestone too. Hendrix's lovely solo that concludes the original album was culled from a longer, less effective piece, as was the celebrated drum solo by Santana's Michael Shrieve. The live version of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Wooden Ships" on the original "Woodstock" album was recorded elsewhere, as was Arlo Guthrie's "Comin' into Los Angeles." So were two songs by Mountain on "Woodstock 2." Another discrepancy: The wild cheering and chant-along to Sly and the Family Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher"? Actors were brought to a Hollywood recording studio to augment the shouts from the crowd.
How Woodstock Changed the Music Business
Woodstock had an undeniable impact on the music and the culture of its day. But its ripple effects through the business of music continues. Festival co-creator Michael Lang, Metropolitan Talent Co-CEO John Scher and WSJ music critic Jim Fusilli talk about Woodstock's legacy.
But who knew? Many as-they-happened performances from the festival's 33 sets haven't been available until now. Rhino's "Woodstock—40 Years On: Back to Yasgur's Farm," out this week, contains 38 previously unreleased recordings, including unedited performances and the Guthrie and Mountain songs as they were played at the festival. Sony Legacy issued CDs of the entire Woodstock sets by Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Santana, Sly and Johnny Winter. The latest version of the documentary "Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music" includes 18 previously unreleased performances by 13 bands. D.A. Pennebaker's documentary "Woodstock Diary 1969 Friday Saturday Sunday," available as an import, contains about two-dozen performances that weren't part of official releases.
One day, music fans no longer under the sway of the marketing of Woodstock as a cosmically significant cultural event will have access to every song recorded at the festival. (Rhino considered releasing a 30-CD boxed set of Woodstock music and stage announcements.) After they plow through the dross to enjoy the few moments of musical magic that occurred during those three days and nights, it's likely they'll shrug, fully aware that a great many festivals held after Woodstock presented much better rock & pop music.
—Mr. Fusilli is the Journal's rock and pop music critic. Follow him on Twitter: @wsjrock
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