The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: Thoughts On Woodstock, 'The Ultimate Rock Festival' by Barney Hoskyns
"It was too big," says one old local shopkeeper of the festival that turned his town upside down in August 1969. "Too big for this world..."
The question now is: is Woodstock still too big for the world to comprehend and contextualize? It remains the defining assembly of rock's half-century lifespan, an unprecedented gathering of at least 300,000 young, longhaired, raggedly-clad Americans "going up the country" in New York's Catskill's mountains, searching for answers, hoping for transcendence... and finding what, exactly?
The most famous song about Woodstock was, of course, written by someone who wasn't there. So were the 300,000 "stardust" and "golden," in sister Joni's lovely phrase, or were they exhausted, hallucinating inhabitants of a middle-class disaster zone? Watching Michael Wadleigh's original 1970 documentary--and all its enhanced 40th anniversary extras--will probably have you concluding that the truth lies somewhere in between (unless of course you were there, with your own unreliable memories to share).
There is much euphoria and jubilation on offer here--and sundry musical delights--but there are also telling echoes of footage from the Vietnam war: helicopters and medical tents, young men looking dazed and confused, the muddy chaos of it all. And of course Vietnam hangs over the event like a shroud, infusing everything from the mess call that follows Wavy Gravy's famous breakfast invitation to Jimi Hendrix's ceremony-closing deconstruction of "The Star-Spangled Banner." One of the most significant interviews in the whole film is with the jovial Port-a-loo guy who has one son in 'Nam and the other at the festival itself.
Coming two years after Monterey Pop signaled that rock was destined to do big open-air business, Woodstock is still "the big one," even if 1973's Watkins Glen drew significantly more people to upstate New York and on the strength of just three bands (the Band, the Grateful Dead, and the Allman Brothers). Woodstock is where the overheated rhetoric and psychoactive disturbance of the 1960s hits fever pitch, with Altamont as its wretched aftermath just four months later.
....to be continued
David Ackert - LA Times, wrote:
"Musicians are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime. Every day, they face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get real jobs, and their own fear that they'll never work again. Every day, they have to ignore the possibility that the vision they have dedicated their lives to is a pipe dream. With every note, they stretch themselves, emotionally and physically, risking criticism and judgment. With every passing year, many of them watch as the other people their age achieve the predictable milestones of normal life - the car, the family, the house, the nest egg. Why? Because musicians are willing to give their entire lives to a moment - to that melody, that lyric, that chord, or that interpretation that will stir the audience's soul. Musicians are beings who have tasted life's nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another's heart. In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes."
The head of a six-piece band is asked, "What do you billing me, if you play at my wedding?" "2000 euros," says the musician. "How much?" asks the customer. "For MUSIC only?" "Listen," said the musician, "Call for six plumbers and ask them if they could work on Saturday from six clock in the evening until one in the morning in your home - and 300 miles to your house and back - whatever they demand in wages -. We play for half amount -Is this an offer? "