Destination Jam: Top 5 indelible songs from historic Woodstock 1969 as performed by some iconic music stars
The 1969 festival came in at number 19 on Rolling Stone's list of 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll, and the festival site was even listed on National Register of Historic Places
The legendary Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held at Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York, from August 15 to August 18, 1969. Described as "an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music", the iconic music festival reportedly attracted close to 500,000 concertgoers and anti-war hippies, and it is still considered a milestone event for the counterculture generation. In total, 32 different music acts were slated to play outdoors, and despite sporadic rains, an alarming number of drug overdoses, and last-minute logistic arrangements that were ill-equipped to deal with the sheer number of people in attendance, the concert is still viewed as a resounding success.
The 1969 festival came in at number 19 on Rolling Stone's list of the 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll, and the festival site was even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. So let's take a look at some indelible performances from this historic concert, with many of the popular names on the bill going on to be deified as musical icons of that era. So here's a playlist of our Top 5 songs and stars from the Woodstock 1969 music festival.
Destination Jam - Woodstock 1969
'We Shall Overcome' - Joan Baez
The sweet-voiced folk hero Joan Baez was slated to perform as the headlining act on day one of the Woodstock music festival. However, due to interminable delays and unforeseen changes, the singer didn't get to take the stage until the early hours of day two on Saturday, August 16, 1969. The restless crowd had already seen the day's opening act Sweetwater pull out after they were stopped by police en route to the festival (Richie Havens performed instead) and the Incredible String Band had also declined to play due to the torrential rain. But Baez, who was six months pregnant at the time, quietened the crowd with her gentle voice, steely demeanor, and resounding vibrato. She started off with 'Oh Happy Day' and followed that up with versions of 'Joe Hill' and her friend Bob Dylan's 'I Shall Be Released', the latter which was dedicated to her husband, David Harris, who was in jail for resisting the military draft. She closed out her set with the civil rights anthem, ‘We Shall Overcome’ and the anti-establishment crowd sang along as they clung on to her every word.
'Soul Sacrifice' - Santana
While many people know and revere Carlos Santana today as the hat-wearing, PRS-wielding guitar virtuoso, most people probably don't realize he was one of the star performers at the Woodstock 1969 music festival. When his band appeared on the afternoon slot of Day 2 at Max Yasgur's farm, Santana was still a relatively unknown commodity, even though his prodigious music talent had earned him a slot at the festival. That all changed once his wailing guitar transfixed the assembled crowd with an energetic, percussive 45-minute set of Latin-rock fusion that included Gregg Rolie on keyboards, David Brown on bass, Michael Shrieve on drums and Michael Carabello and Jose Areas on the hypnotic percussion. Thanks to their spellbinding performance, Santana and his cohorts became an overnight success story, and it launched their debut album 'Santana' to No. 4 on the charts soon afterward.
'White Rabbit' - Jefferson Airplane
Closing out day two of the Woodstock music festival were the psychedelic rock pioneers Jefferson Airplane, who like Joan Baez, were forced to wait till the early hours of the next day until they could finally take the stage. When they finally got to play, it was already Sunday morning on Day 3, but that didn't stop the incomparable Grace Slick and her headlining band from coming ready to rip the roof off the sky. Starting off with a promising introduction, Slick had announced, "All right, friends, you have seen the heavy groups, now you’ll see morning maniac music.” She went on to declare "It's a new dawn" before the band launched into a storming setlist, complete with improvised vocals, that included the hits 'Somebody To Love', 'Volunteers', and 'White Rabbit'. The latter song was thereafter immortalized in the iconic bathtub scene from the movie 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' and Jefferson Airplane would go on to deservedly seal a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
'With A Little Help From My Friends - Joe Cocker
The gruff-voiced UK singer, Joe Cocker, gave the assembled Woodstock concertgoers a musical gift when he doled out an incredibly soulful cover of the Beatles hit 'With A Little Help From My Friends', which he had previously topped the UK charts with. Performing as the opening act along with The Grease Band on Sunday afternoon, i.e. Day 3 of the music festival, Cocker woke up the weary and sleep-deprived crowd with an energetic performance that was complete with gritty soaring notes and husky screams of joy. He threw his entire body into the visceral, crowd-pleasing number and sporting a tie-dyed shirt, faded bell-bottom jeans, long sideburns, and a flowing mop of curly hair, he embodied the spirit and image of the counterculture movement that emerged in the late '60s and '70s. It's no surprise that many people considered this performance the vocal highlight of the entire festival in the aftermath of Woodstock 1969.
'Star-Spangled Banner' - Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix was already a recognized guitar wizard when he took to the stage to close out the final day of Woodstock 1969 on Monday morning. By then, most of the half-million-strong crowd had already dispersed, but the 200,000 people who remained will forever remember this moment as the day Hendrix became an anti-war icon with his enduring, inimitable rendition of the American national anthem. At this point in time, America was already dealing with the highly-publicized Vietnam War, and Hendrix held an entire crowd hypnotized as he launched into a visceral, howling, feedback-drenched version of the Star-Spangled Banner. Employing howling dive bombs and hysterical tones that verged on shrieks, the guitar god managed to perfectly convey the shell-shock horrors of the ongoing war, while still capturing the tangible pride of a patriotic nation. As one stunned viewer put it, "You finally heard what the song was about. You can love your country but hate the government." It was the greatest political statement ever made without a single word being uttered, and it remains one of the most defining moments of Jimi Hendrix's career.
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