Wednesday, August 26, 2009

40th Anniversary weekend

Last weekend (August 15th and 16th) marked the 40th anniversary of what is considered to be one of the finest moments of the 1960s counterculture. It is also considered to be the most famous concert in American History. For 3 days, America's youth came together for 3 days of peace and music, just as the promoters had advertised. Being the music and history fan that I am, this event has always been (obviously) of particular interest to me. I wasn't going to let the 40th anniversary weekend go by without trying to be a part of the anniversary festivities in some way.

While I had visited Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and the new museum last summer, we decided to make the journey there once again this summer for what I figured would be a special weekend. I also decided to invite my father up for the trek since the 60s really is his generation. We had absolutely beautiful weather for the event. The weekend featured a concert with 8 bands who either played the original Woodstock festival or have members who have a link to Woodstock. The event also featured a craft fair with all types of local artists who sold some really neat stuff. On Sunday, we made another stop off at the Bethel Woods museum. If you haven't been there, it really is a special place. The museum includes information not just about the significance of Woodstock, but also gives you a great backdrop to the turmoil of the 1960s. We had great weather to go along with the beauty of upstate New York. In addition, I have to say that the vibe of the weekend was just terrific. I have never been to an event where there were so many friendly, easy-going people. Everybody really understood the significance of Woodstock and seemed genuinely pleased to be a part of it.

Below is a USA Today review of the concert along with a few photos I took from the event:

Woodstock at 40: Everywhere a song and a celebration
By John W. Barry, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal

BETHEL, N.Y. — Playing an electric guitar that seemed as charged and as amped as the sold-out crowd of 15,000, 15-year-old Conrad Oberg of Florida opened the 40th anniversary Woodstock concert at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts Saturday by playing the instrumental version of The Star-Spangled Banner that Jimi Hendrix made famous in August 1969.

The crowd of mostly Baby Boomers stood for the national anthem, raised their arms and flashed peace signs with their fingers — a symbol of hope and defiance that has remained timeless for more than four decades.

Bethel Woods sits on the original Woodstock Music & Art Fair site in Sullivan County and launched a weekend of anniversary events Friday with two performances by festival veteran Richie Havens.

Big Brother and the Holding Company, members of which backed Janis Joplin at Woodstock, delivered a set that included riveting renditions of Down on Me, Piece of My Heart, Summertime and a singalong with the crowd on Me and Bobby McGee.

Another Woodstock veteran, Country Joe McDonald, served as master of ceremonies for the concert and introduced Big Brother, then returned later to read the names of local soldiers who died in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. McDonald, a U.S. service veteran himself, then delivered his Woodstock anthem, the I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag.

And just as he did at Woodstock — famously captured in the Woodstock documentary — McDonald opened the song by asking the crowd to spell out an expletive: "Give me an F." And just like in the movie, members of the crowd stood up, clapped their hands and sang along, putting particular emphasis on the lyrics, "Whoopee/We're all gonna die."

"It reminded me of the days when we were really protesting this sort of thing," said Paul Salzberg, 57, of Lake Huntington, N.Y.

Country Joe, in between Canned Heat and Ten Years After, played the 1960s protest anthem For What It's Worth, Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land and Coming Into Los Angeles, which Arlo Guthrie performed at Woodstock.

One of the big showstoppers of the day, a song that spanned the 40-year chasm separating Aug. 15, 1969 from Aug. 15, 2009, was Canned Heat's performance of Goin' Up the Country, which played during the opening of the Woodstock documentary.

"It was fabulous," said Jean Hannigan, 46, of Beacon, N.Y., who hopped to the beat. She wore flowers in her hair, peace-sign earrings, a shirt with a peace sign and sunglasses with heart-shaped lenses. "Awesome. Beautiful."

Asked why she turned out for the event, she said, "I was 6 when this happened, and I'm 46 and I'm here. This is the greatest ever."

At the beginning of the show, Sam Yasgur, son of Max Yasgur, who owned the farm land on which Woodstock was held, spoke to the crowd: "He would have been overjoyed that four decades later, you and hundreds of thousands of others continue to have fun and music, and nothing but fun and music, on this beautiful site. "

A mellow tailgate scene was underway in the parking lots hours in advance of the opening performance, and streams of people walked the roads on the perimeter of Bethel Woods.
Several dozen gathered at the iconic Woodstock monument at the corner of West Shore and Hurd roads, near where the stage sat during Woodstock.

Concertgoers spread out on blankets and relaxed in lawn chairs that Bethel Woods rented for $5 each. Some in the crowd seemed oblivious to the music, playing with children on a large field over a ridge from the concert pavilion, or simply taking in what seemed like an endless view of rolling fields.

Michael Lang, one of the promoters who staged the 1969 event, introduced his 8-year-old twin sons the site and took them to The Museum at Bethel Woods.

"I spent a lot of my heart and soul here," he said.

Interest in the anniversary has been "unbelievable," Lang said. "You know why I think this one is so big — because of what's going on in the world and the country. Because of Obama being in the White House, the similarities in the times and the wars, it's resonating pretty strongly for people."

Hours before he was scheduled to close the concert, Levon Helm, who played Woodstock with The Band, recalled, "The first time we came, it was just another gig.

"This many years later, it's an event — it's a historic event. I'm happy to get to play."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Woodstock at 40

Woodstock At 40

Associated Press

Forty years after Richie Havens sang and strummed for a sea of people at Woodstock, he still gets asked about it and he still gets requests to sing "Freedom."

He's not surprised.

"Everything in my life, and so many others', is attached to that train," Havens said.

The young hippies who watched the sun come up with The Who in 1969 are now eligible for early bird specials. Many of the bands are broken up or missing members who died. But Woodstock remains one of those events — like the moon landing earlier that summer — that continues to define the 1960s in the popular imagination.

Consider the bumper crop of Woodstock nostalgia marking the 40th anniversary. There's a new director's cut DVD of the concert movie, a remastered concert CD, director Ang Lee's rock 'n' roll comedy "Taking Woodstock" and a memoir by promoter Michael Lang. There are also performances scheduled by Woodstock veterans at the old site, now home to a '60s museum and an outdoor concert pavilion.

The Woodstock legend stems from big names such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin playing at a show where everything went wrong but turned out right.

The town of Woodstock didn't want the concert and promoters were bounced from another site at the 11th hour. Lang settled on a hay field in Bethel owned by a kindly dairy farmer named Max Yasgur. The concert did come off Aug. 15-18, 1969, but barely. Fences were torn down, tickets became useless. More than 400,000 people converged on this rural corner 80 miles northwest of New York City, freezing traffic for miles. Then the rains doused everything.
It should have been a disaster. But Americans tuning in to the evening news that weekend saw smiling, dancing, muddy kids. By the time the concert movie came out months later, Woodstock was a symbol of the happy, hippie side of the '60s spirit.

It still is.

Baby boomers are the "Woodstock Generation" — not the "Monterey Generation" or the "Altamont Generation." Bethel's onsite museum has logged more than 70,000 visitors since last summer, a fair number of them college students born well after Woodstock. A roadside monument there regularly logs visitors from around the planet.

"It's almost a pilgrimage," said Wade Lawrence, director of the Museum at Bethel Woods. "It's like going to a high school reunion, or it's like visiting a grave site of a loved one."

From Lollapalooza to All Points West, there have been plenty of big festivals focused on youth culture. The continent-hopping Live Aid shows of 1985 did that and more, enlisting top names such as U2 and Madonna to fight hunger in Africa. None have the cultural cachet of Woodstock. Who would ever ask a Generation X-er: "Were you really at Live Aid?"

People who went to Woodstock say the crowd set it apart as much as the music. The trippy anarchy of Woodstock has become legend: lots of nudity, casual sex, dirty (and muddy) dancing, open drug use. The stage announcer famously warned people to steer clear of the brown acid.
Many who were there recall Woodstock as an oasis of good vibes during a time of unrest over the Vietnam War. Ilene Marder, then an 18-year-old who hitched from the Bronx, saw people feeding one another and respecting one another. She knew she found her tribe.

"The music was nice, but it was being with so many people who looked like us, who looked like me," said Marder, who later moved to Woodstock some 50 miles away. "I remember telling myself 'Don't forget this! Don't forget they way you feel right now!'"

Former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten remembers hearing buzz that something special was up at the nearby hotel where the band was staying. The scale of the event sunk in when the band choppered in over the mass of people. While artists like Joe Cocker and Santana boosted their careers at Woodstock, the Dead were notoriously flat.

Jerry Garcia, the band's late guitarist, told interviewers that his guitar was being hit with bouncing blue balls of electricity — the kind that comes from bad wiring, not strong psychedelics. Constanten said he wasn't as bothered as his band mates.

"Actually, I had a wonderful time. The guitarists were not. Because of electrical problems, they were getting shocks from their strings and all," he said. "Aversion therapy like that, no one needs."

Constanten contends the music and spirit of Woodstock was not a revelation to the people there. But it was to the millions who saw the movie and listened to the album.
As they say now, Woodstock went viral.

"This juggernaut of a music scene burst in their awareness," he said. "It didn't feel different to us. It was their response."

Woodstock has been resurrected a couple of times since then, at least in name.

Promoters staged a 25th-anniversary concert near Woodstock in 1994 that was a musical success. But a 30th-anniversary performance at a former Air Force Base in Rome, N.Y., ended in disaster after crowds lit bonfires and looted on the last night. The unrelenting heat and $4 bottles of water taxed any vestiges of Woodstock spirit.

Yasgur's old farm, meanwhile, has gone establishment in recent years. Local cable TV billionaire Alan Gerry quietly snapped up the land in the 1990s and started a not-for-profit foundation to run a museum and concert space. The gently sloping hill that provided a natural amphitheater in 1969 is nicely tended and fenced in.

Concerts are regularly scheduled over the hill from the original stage at a modern, 4,800-seat amphitheater.

Constanten and Havens are among the 1969 performers returning to the site on the 40th anniversary weekend. Havens will play a solo show that Friday, a day before a larger show featuring other Woodstock veterans such as Levon Helm, formerly of The Band, Ten Years After and Canned Heat. Though long separated from the Dead, Constanten said he'll play the band's songs that weekend.

No electric shocks are expected under the multimillion-dollar pavilion, and probably no generation-defining magic either.

"Then is then," Constanten said, "and now is now."

Monday, August 10, 2009

40th Anniversary Week

This upcoming weekend marks the official 40th anniversary weekend. With that date looming, there have been dozens of articles written in the past few weeks. Here is one from the AP today:

40 years later, Woodstock, or at least its legend, rocks on
[10 August 2009]
By Glenn Gamboa
Newsday (MCT)

NEW YORK — The mythology of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair overtook its reality years ago.

Mountain’s Leslie West jokes, “If you count all the people now that say they were there, there had to be 10 million people there, not just 400,000.”

The magic of those three days of peace, love and music from the biggest and brightest stars of the time can never be recaptured because it was something unique.

All the massive festivals that have followed, all the attempts to link music with politics, all the plans to create “the next Woodstock” fall a little short because they lack the element of surprise.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Martin Perry, a business consultant from Massapequa, N.Y., who went to Woodstock more for the experience than the music. “Who could have expected all of that ahead of time?”

Perry says he attended other festivals shortly after Woodstock hoping for a repeat performance and was disappointed. “People were not as friendly,” he says. “The experience was much more brutal. Woodstock was really a singular moment.”

That may be why people get nervous about anything that might tarnish the Woodstock legacy.
Woodstock promoter Michael Lang recently dropped plans to celebrate the original festival’s 40th anniversary this year with a free concert in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, after he wasn’t able to find enough sponsors. (Considering the problems of Woodstock ‘99 in Rome, N.Y., which reportedly lost more than $10 million and ended in riots, fires and looting after four days of blistering heat and $4-a-bottle waters, the Woodstock plan of regular anniversary festivals every five years has been put on hold since 1999.)

It is a testament, actually, to how cherished the Woodstock Experience still is that so many are still eager to tap into that “singular moment.”

A walk through any bookstore this summer will find more than a dozen new books about the event. There will be a new Ang Lee movie, “Taking Woodstock,” about preparations for the festival, as well as a new VH1 documentary “Woodstock: Now and Then” from Barbara Kopple.

And, of course, there’s the music. Sony Legacy has a new 10-CD boxed set called “The Woodstock Experience,” while Rhino Records is offering the six-CD “Woodstock — 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur’s Farm,” which will include 38 previously unreleased tracks and the entire festival set list.

But it doesn’t stop there. You could put your Woodstock coffee mug on some Woodstock coasters made from the vinyl albums of Woodstock artists, while you fold some Woodstock psychedelic origami and put together a thousand-piece Woodstock puzzle, while wearing some Woodstock T-shirts, naturally.

Cocooning in that moment becomes important, since it didn’t last very long. What Woodstock succeeded in creating was idyllic, but it was also short-lived.

“It was a high point,” says Jim Henke, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s vice president of exhibitions and curatorial affairs. “For a moment, it was the center of pop culture. It showed a huge number of young people rebelling against the social norms of the time, and it showed the hippie movement to be as big as it was. And it all went off pretty smoothly. Then came Altamont, and that sent almost the opposite message.”

The violence at the Altamont concert, along with the substance-abuse deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison shortly after that, quickly overturned the “sex and drugs and rock and roll” idealism that Woodstock had built. Reality had overtaken the myth.
Slowly but surely, the balance began to shift again. Henke says all the attention that the anniversaries bring to the original Woodstock add to its importance, as does the recently rereleased “Woodstock” documentary.

“For many people, when that movie came out, that was the introduction for many people to that ethos, that lifestyle,” he says. “It all helps spread the word.”

And for artists like Mountain’s West, who became a star after performing at the festival and plans to return this week to play the 40th anniversary show at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Woodstock’s positive aspects will always outweigh whatever negatives that followed it.

“I’m really looking forward to the show,” says West, who plans to wed his fiancee, Jenni Maurer, onstage at the end of the band’s Woodstock set. “It’s such a beautiful place.”

West, like a lot of people whose lives were changed by the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, see the potential.

For three days, 40 years ago, 400,000 people joined together to show that the hippie ideals of peace and love and mutual respect could not only work, but could lead to an unforgettably good time. Since then, we have seen numerous examples of how this could break down. But it happened once. Maybe it could happen again.

Maybe that is the true legacy of Woodstock.

One of the Fab Four

Last week I had the opportunity to see Paul McCartney at Fenway Park. Again, the Beatles did not perform at the Woodstock festival, yet their music was arguably the most popular of the 60s counterculture.

Some people may question whether going to see a man who is 67 years old perform a concert is actually worthwhile. I can answer that with a resounding yes! Even at this stage in his life, McCartney still puts on one of the best concerts you could ever wish to see. He performed Beatles classics and plenty of his Wings and solo material. Getting the chance to see a Beatle live in person is a chance we won't have for much longer.
Here is a review from the Boston Globe as well as a few photos I snapped:

McCartney brings the whole package

The whole evening could have gone like this, and the entire stadium of cheering fans probably would have been tickled and content to sing along.

“Baby, you can drive my car.’’

“Hey, Jude, don’t make it bad.’’

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.’’

Instead, last night Paul McCartney kicked off the first of his two concerts at Fenway Park with a nearly flawless performance that played heavily to audience favorites while allowing him to stretch out as an artist who is obviously still vital and relevant.

Given his deep catalog, there was a lot of ground to cover, and McCartney balanced it beautifully in a 2 1/2-hour show with more than 30 songs that spanned his work as a solo artist and with the Beatles and Wings, right up to his latest project, the Fireman.

The Beatles’ legacy was alive and well in the set list (“Let It Be,’’ “The Long and Winding Road,’’ “Get Back’’), but McCartney made a point of giving his late band members their due. A photo montage of George Harrison unfolded behind McCartney as he played “Something’’ on a ukulele Harrison gave him. He later ignited a singalong of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,’’ complete with a sea of fingers flashing the peace sign.

McCartney couldn’t have picked a better time to be out on the road. In early September, the Beatles’ remastered catalog will be released, along with the anticipated arrival of the video game “The Beatles: Rock Band,’’ which fans got a sneak preview of during “Got to Get You Into My Life.’’

McCartney is not an ostentatious performer, but he’s a lovable ham. A few songs in, he removed his buttoned-up jacket to reveal a white Oxford shirt with red suspenders. On two occasions, he rallied the ladies to scream by casually mentioning how the Beatles could never hear themselves in the old days because of the deafening shrieks. You have to hand it to him: This guy knows he’s beloved and loves his fans right back.

Aside from a pop of pyrotechnics onstage and glittering fireworks in the sky during “Live and Let Die,’’ McCartney kept the focus squarely on his playing.

His taut, muscular band disappeared for a pair of songs, allowing McCartney to fingerpick a crisp and lovely version of “Blackbird’’ and “Here Today,’’ which he explained he wrote after Lennon died as an imaginary conversation they never had. “Everyone’s gone and left me alone with you,’’ McCartney remarked. “But it’s OK. I kind of like it.’’

MGMT had the unenviable task of opening, but the Brooklyn band, whose praises McCartney has sung in recent months, held its own. Amid the psychedelic, electro-pop confections, there were glimmers of the Beatles’ early, jangly songcraft, not to mention guitarist Andrew VanWyngarden’s mop of hair that resembled McCartney’s circa ’64.