Graham Reid | | 2 min read
My guess is that more journalists have written about Woodstock in the past four decades than there were people in attendance: the analysis started within a week of the August 1969 event when Time gave over a couple of pages to an essay (insightful even today) and a photo spread to address and try to interpret what had just happened at a farm in up-state New York.
That essay starts: "The baffling history of mankind is full of obvious turning points and significant events: battles won, treaties signed, rulers elected or deposed, and now, seemingly, planets conquered. Equally important are the great groundswells of popular movements that affect the minds and values of a generation or more, not all of which can be neatly tied to a time and place . . ."
The article went on to suggest that future historians looking back on the Sixties might search for meaning in Woodstock. As indeed they have done with almost tedious repetition: mention Woodstock and you seem obliged to mention Altamont and Charlie Manson. Or note the obvious ironies: here was a hippie festival thought up by a couple of entrepreneurial guys on a golf course; at the height of anti-Establishment sentiment the people on the ground relied on men in suits beyond the perimeter when the area was declared a disaster zone. And so on.
That fewer people mention the music -- other than the obvious reference point of Hendrix's version of Star Spangled Banner as a cultural touchstone -- may be down to the fact that many people who went to Woodstock couldn't see the musicians and the sound was mostly awful if you were at any distance (as most, by the sheer logistics, were).
And as Time observed, "The good vibrations of good groups turned out to be the least of it. What the youth of America -- and their observing elders -- saw at Bethel was the potential power of a generation that in countless disturbing ways has rejected the traditional values and goals of the US."
Well it is, in countless disturbing ways, "situation normal" again and Woodstock can be seen as perhaps the first and last flowering of that mass sentiment which, in subsequent decades, diminished, turned its energies and attention to perhaps more direct action (various revolutionary groups) or into well-organised and often highly effective organisations (Amnesty, voter coalitions, anti-war protest and so on).
Or just got the mortage and settled down in the suburbs.
But there was of course a soundtrack to Woodstock and that is what these two re-issued and remastered double discs offer: the first is the CD-expanded version of the original double album from 1970 (the soundtrack to the movie plus other songs), the second from the double album of 1971 which expanded on the sets of those on the first volume and added Melanie and Mountain.
Certainly much here will be familiar: Richie Havens' Freedom, Country Joe's Fish Cheer, Joan Baez as the social conscience singing the union ballad Joe Hill, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Joe Cocker, Jimi and so on. Terrific for the most part.
Then there are those seemingly oddball inserts like Sha Na Na who are easy to dismiss for their retro-rock'n'roll on At The Hop -- but the cheer which they received (and they were the most popular act on the subsequent Festival Express train tour of Canada) just reminds you that although the audience saw itself as the children of the revolution they had also grown up on pre-Beatles rock'n'roll and were maybe as nostalgic as any for a more simple time.
Still, you can analyse Woodstock until there is nothing new left to say (actually there hasn't been since the much recommened Woodstock: The Oral History was published in '89) and -- if you can put aside all the interpretations, even this facile comment -- much of the music is still worth playing very loudly indeed.
And if these two double-discs aren't enough for you there is the six-CD box set, the director's cut of the movie, various other repackagings and reissues, books, original tickets being sold on e-bay etc etc.
Welcome to the post-revolution. I think is called . . . capitalism?