It was three days of peace, love and music — as well as mud and mayhem.
But this summer, Woodstock will turn into a procession of product that’s just beginning. The landmark 1969 music festival, which was actually held in Bethel, N.Y., not Woodstock, will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year with a series of commemorative CDs, DVDs, feature films, books and other projects. It won’t quite take us “back to the garden,” as Joni Mitchell (or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) once pined, but by the time its true anniversary arrives Aug. 15-18, there will be no problem re-experiencing the sights, sounds and sordid stories of the most famous of all rock festivals.
“It’s always interesting how much it resonates today and how present it still is in so many people’s lives,” notes Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang, whose event showcased superstars such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who and Jefferson Airplane and helped launch the careers of Santana, Sha Na Na and CSNY. “I knew that we were all freaks and there were many of us out there and we were disbursed around the country and around the world, really.
“So it was like a gathering of the tribes, if you will — the youth of the world coming together to hear some great music and be together, peacefully. It was a kind of utopia, and think people still yearn for that.”
Cheryl Pawelski, a Rhino Records vice president who’s been overseeing some of this year’s CD projects, calls Woodstock “a flash point in time” that made history and, in its wake, a continuing appetite to remember and commemorate the festival.
“Half a million young people peacefully assembled to enjoy their music ... and it all worked out and nobody got hurt — I feel like that’s the allure,” says Pawelski. “It was a moment in time that sort of validated the whole counterculture, youth movement at the time.”
There was, of course, a side of Woodstock that wasn’t idyllic. Held on a portion of Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, the festival was a financial disaster and survived heavy rains, technical problems and the defection of the official security force. Conditions at the site were also squalid — what “Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music” director Michael Wadleigh has referred to as “a war zone.”
“I don’t like when I read articles that say it was the greatest place on Earth,” says Steve Bartley, 60, of Bloomfield Township, who attended Woodstock just before his senior year at the University of Michigan. “People tend to forget that most people didn’t bring food or water, that it was hot, humid and muddy, that there weren’t enough toilets.
“But,” he adds, “everyone got along. Maybe that’s what made it so magical — but it wasn’t the Garden of Eden.”
The music, meanwhile, is the enduring legacy of Woodstock for Howard Lesnick, who had just finished his freshman year at the University of Michigan.
“I saw everybody, Hendrix to ... everybody,” recalls Lesnick, 58, of West Bloomfield Township, a 36-year veteran of the music industry who now works for Atlantic Records. “The thing that drove me there was to see Bob Dylan; lo and behold, I did not know Bob Dylan wasn’t on the bill, but I certainly was not disappointed.”
The coming weeks will bring plenty of souvenirs for those who were there or for those who weren’t and want to experience what Woodstock was all about. You might just want to dust off the tie-dyed credit card for ...
Coming Tuesday is a new, refurbished edition of the “Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music” director’s cut, expanding the original documentary — which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and was assistant directed by Martin Scorsese — with two additional hours of performance footage, including groups such as Creedence Clearwater Revival who weren’t in the theatrical release. It also includes new interviews with festival principles and artists, as well as a spotlight on The Museum at Bethel Woods.
A Woodstock 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition also includes memorabilia such as ticket replicas and comes packaged in a fringed suede box.
VH1 Classic and the History Channel, meanwhile, will air a Woodstock documentary in August directed by Barbara Koppel.
And director Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock,” due out Aug. 14, takes a comedic look at Elliot Tiber, an artist and interior designer who helped bring Woodstock to Bethel after the festival was booted from nearby Walkill, N.Y.
Part of Yasgur’s farm is now home to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, an amphitheater that’s become an active concert venue in upstate New York. The facility also houses the Museum at Bethel Woods, which celebrates both the festival as well as the general experience of the ’60s counterculture — though, interestingly, co-producer Lang has opted to throw his support behind (and contribute items to) a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum Woodstock exhibit that’s opening in early July.
Bethel Woods, meanwhile, has scheduled the only official (so far) Woodstock anniversary concert, titled “Heroes of Woodstock,” taking place Aug. 15 with performances by Jefferson Starship, Ten Years After, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Mountain, Country Joe McDonald, the Levon Helm Band and Tom Constanten.
Information is available by calling (800) 745-3000 or visiting www.BethelWoodsCenter.org.
Rhino has just released remastered editions of the “Music From the Original Soundtrack and More: Woodstock” and “Woodstock Two” albums. But the real excitement surrounds a six-CD set due out Aug. 18 that taps the vaults for previously unreleased (and in most cases unheard) performances by the Grateful Dead (a 19-minute “Dark Star”), Jefferson Airplane (“The Other Side of this Life”), Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming Into Los Angeles” from the festival (the film version came from a subsequent concert in Los Angeles) and Canned Heat’s full 30-minute version of “Woodstock Boogie.”
Rhino’s Pawelski says the set also will include stage announcements and other sounds of the festival “to make as authentic an experience as possible. It feels like dirt. It feels like a field. We wanted to take you there.”
SonyBMG’s Legacy division plans a June 30 release for “Woodstock Experience” editions of seminal albums by five of the festival’s acts — the Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers,” Janis Joplin’s “I Got Dem ‘Ol Kozmic Blues Again Mama!,” Santana’s debut album, Sly & the Family Stone’s “Stand!” and Johnny Winter’s self-titled effort. Each will include a second CD featuring the acts’ complete Woodstock performances for the first time ever.
Lang’s own memoir, “The Road to Woodstock” (Ecco) — co-written with Holly George-Warren and due out June 30 — leads the plethora of books taking advantage of Woodstock’s anniversary. “It was really enjoyable,” says Lang, adding that his memories were jarred by Warren’s additional research.
“You do this for 40 years and you have your spiel and you never really think about it,” he explains. “So I panicked and I started to rewrite, and that opened up the floodgates and suddenly I was reliving it, and it was a great adventure again.”
Other notable titles on the way include: “Woodstock — Peace, Music & Memories” by Brad Littleproud and Joanne Hague (Krause Publications, July 3); “Woodstock: Three Days That Rocked the World” by Mike Evans and Paul Kingsbury (Sterling, July 7); and “Woodstock Revisited” by Susan Reynolds (Adams Media, June 18).
A children’s book called “Max Said Yes! The Woodstock Story” by Abigail Yasgur and Joseph Jipner (Change the Universe Press), came out in May.
Woodstock Ventures — still owned by Lang and one of his festival partners, Joel Rosenman — and Sony Music Entertainment have teamed to launch a new Web site, Woodstock.com, to celebrate not only the 1969 festival but also its successors in 1994 and 1999. The site has a variety of interactive social networking components that allow users to share their Woodstock memories and also post information about current live music, social and political issues, environmental initiatives and events going on around the country.
Another Woodstock? It’s all “speculative” according to festival co-founder Michael Lang, who still operates Woodstock Ventures with one of his original partners, Joel Rosenman.
Lang’s vision is “a free event ... a very (ecologically) green project,” possibly in New York City.
But, he adds, “It’s got to be sponsor-driven. It’s free, but it costs a lot of money. That’s kind of what we’re in the middle of right now. Depending on how successful we are in raising that sponsorship (money) will determine when and how we do this event — or if we do this event, frankly.”
He adds that reports of a concurrent Woodstock festival in Berlin, possibly at Tempelhof Airport, were “premature” but “still is kind of a thought.”
Lang says that musically a 2009 Woodstock would go “back to its roots ... There would be a lot of legacy bands — The Who, Santana, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joe Cocker, maybe. And it would be people like Steve Earle and Ben Harper. There’s certainly room for the (Red Hot) Chili Peppers and Dave Matthews ... That would be the shape of the music.”
The Chili Peppers, of course, closed the ill-fated 30th anniversary concert in 1999, which was marred by complaints about the facilities, food and water prices and ended with a fiery riot.
But Lang says he’s confident that the Woodstock brand was not permanently damaged.
“I think it always hearkens back to the ’69 event, somehow,” he says. “When people think (of Woodstock) they don’t think ’99 or ’94. They think (of) the ’69 event. I think (1999) has its ramifications, but I don’t think it did any real damage in that sense.”
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