A 4-day concert and festival event wrapped up this weekend at the original site of Woodstock marking its 50th anniversary. For some people it was a sort-of homecoming, while others just wanted to get a feeling of the original, iconic event.
Just about everyone I talked to who was at the original Woodstock said, it was really about the music. So in looking back at the Golden Anniversary weekend and concerts, I wanted to go over the music.
The main touchstones to the past were John Fogerty, who performed Sunday, and Carlos Santana who headlined Saturday, Arlo Guthrie, who played Thursday and presented the Woodstock documentary movie, and a Friday showcase of keyboardist Gregg Rolie, who was featured during Ringo Starr and his All Star Band Friday; Rolie was on stage with Santana in 1969. Fogerty played with Credence Clearwater Revival and remembers things didn’t go exactly as planned for their set that was supposed to be at a prime 9:00 p.m. time, right after the Grateful Dead.
“It was 6:00 p.m. and there was still 5 more bands had to play before the Grateful Dead. The math was not working out. But you know this whole thing was being run by a bunch of hippies. (laughter and applause). … The Dead finally left and I was ready to come out, like a young buck. I was ready to set the stage on fire; it was 2:30 in the morning.”
Many agreed Santana’s set, mixing spirited versions of old hits, that he played back at Woodstock, with new material he’s still producing, was among the best musically.
Singer and Guitarist Murali Coryell has a great connection.
“My parents were of the Woodstock generation. That’s why I have a name, ‘murali’, which means divine flute in sandscrit. (just like) Carlos Santana’s spiritual name ‘devadip.’ (Santana) had such an influence on me, musically and personally. Ove the years he’s been so kind.”
Coryell, the son of jazz great Larry Coryell, got to play the grounds at Bethel this weekend. He’s also played in Syracuse.
“ I first heard Crosby, Stills and Nash’ sound for the first time live at Woodstock. That just totally turned me on. So much of that music will hold up forever. Especially the Santana performance is still one of the greatest things ever.”
Hoffman remembers playing another gig and couldn’t make it to Woodstock … but it influenced his career.
“I was in a band that was on the verge of getting a recording contract with Epic Records and we just kind of caught the crest of the wave and ended up opening for a lot of the bands that played here over the next few years.”
Of course, the other big image of the 50th anniversary event at Bethel Woods was the people. Half or more appeared as though they could have been at the first Woodstock, many wearing shirts or other indications that they were in fact members of the club. But there were a number of teens and 20-somethings, as well as families, even some with young kids. The most poignant were those with specific memories to share.
“… and then the rains came. Tony and I had gone to work Friday, driven up here Friday Night, had slept in a car for a few hours and walked 7.5 miles …,” recalled Jim Shelley of New Jersey.
He remembers the uncomfortable conditions , but also music by Joe Cocker, Jefferson Airplane, Santana,and all of it bonded people.
“I really enjoy running into people who were here because my sense is that when we were leaving here everybody felt a connection of some kind. And I always pint out at I didn’t really find that many other people who felt the same way about the music and politics – this was not a political event – but a lot of the people here probably felt the same way about Vietnam and the draft.”
The memories held by Sharon Ferguson can’t escape those politics. She came to Bethel just as she did 50 years ago, driving, 1024 miles, she tells me, from Iowa. Her memories are bittersweet as she had to make her pilgrimage back without any of the others that went with her in 1969.
“Our three men who drove were all drafted to Vietnam and did not make it back. And the other two girls, they have not survived either.”
Still her enduring memories are those of peace and comradery.
“I just wanted to come home. I just wanted to come back to the Garden. I really did; It was so important.”
And there were so many other stories: the guy who hitchhiked not even knowing about Woodstock – and has stayed the rest of his life; the two from New Jersey who parked 7 miles away with only a six pack and a can of tuna.
Ira and Maxine Stone played on the Woodstock stage along with songwriter Bert Sommer. None became quite the household names as other musicians and groups, but had music careers.
“It’s certainly easier to get bookings if somebody asked you what had you done, and I say, ‘I played in Woodstock.’
The two played this weekend on one of the smaller stages on the ground, and for Maxine, the return was summed up by a reaction she got from a fan.
“He said, ‘I just want to thank you, your generation, because you modeled for us that you can change the world. And without you having done that we wouldn’t really have that path to follow., So you can change the world.”
The Bethel Woods site has preserved the original grounds of Woodstock, with a museum and several concert spaces. They do 20-25 mainstage concerts a year, but also hold the candle for Woodstock and its generation.