Happy 40th, Woodstock!

Written by Music

Hippies, mud, and music! Woodstock celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend, and we’re celebrating with a day full of festival-themed content.

Jefferson Airplane - The Woodstock ExperienceIn the early morning hours of Sunday, August 17, 1969, forty years ago this Sunday, the Jefferson Airplane took the stage at Woodstock. As the first band booked to play the festival, they were supposed to have played a headline slot on Saturday night, but like so many other artists, their set was interminably delayed. The Airplane had the unenviable task of following the Who, but they were at the peak of their powers, with their original lineup still intact, and the great piano player Nicky Hopkins sitting in.

The Airplane’s latest album, Volunteers, would not be released until November of that year, but that didn’t stop the band from previewing several songs from the album that morning, including the rousing title track, and a riveting, previously unreleased 21 minute performance of the Crosby/Stills/Kantner song “Wooden Ships.” In addition to “Wooden Ships,” the live portion of Jefferson Airplane: The Woodstock Experience (RCA/Legacy) includes four other previously unreleased songs (plus Grace’s introduction) from the band’s Woodstock set.

Grace Slick called it “Morning maniac music” in her introduction before howling “Good morning people!” to kick off the Airplane set with a screaming version of Fred Neil’s “The Other Side of This Life.” If that didn’t wake up the Sunday morning crowd, nothing could have. They didn’t ignore the hits either. There were powerful live renditions of their two biggest songs, both of which came from their classic Surrealistic Pillow album. “Somebody to Love,” sported a dramatically different reading which featured drummer Spencer Dryden, and of course the psych classic “White Rabbit.”

“Sorry about those that got the green. We got a whole lot of orange, and it was fun. It still is fun. Everybody’s vibrating,” intones Grace midway through the set, just before the Airplane launch into an incendiary version of “Plastic Fantastic Lover” that features a great lead vocal from Marty Balin.

Aside from the killer version of “Wooden Ships,” the two other highlights are two songs that are somewhat related. “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil” first appeared on After Bathing at Baxter’s. It gets the extensive jam treatment here, featuring some stellar guitar work from Jorma Kaukonen. “The House At Pooneil Corners” comes from Crown of Creation, and gets an equally intense, though a bit shorter, workout. These have always been two of my favorite Airplane songs, and to hear them in these previously unreleased live versions seals the greatness of this package for me.

The shadow of the still escalating Vietnam War looms ominously over the Volunteers album, which is also included in this package. The Airplane spoke out in a way that has apparently gone out of fashion, since so few artists seem to be willing to take on the powers that be today. They could always be counted on to take a stand, and their integrity and passion was unquestioned. From “We Should Be Together,” the stirring call for unity among the dissident community that starts off the album, to “Volunteers,” the earth-shaking call to the streets that closes it, the album is as profound and devastating a critique of U.S. foreign policy as any ever recorded by a major artist.

The Airplane’s version of the anti-war classic“Wooden Ships”, which pre-dated the more well known version by Crosby, Stills, and Nash, is a moving plea for peace in a violent and volatile world. For me, the Airplane’s version has always been the superior one. What do you think?

A great American band at the top of their game. An incendiary live set at the most important musical event in American history. Six previously unreleased live tracks. One of the band’s most important studio albums. A nicely put together package that includes a Woodstock-related poster. No-brainer.

Epilogue:

A few months after Woodstock, Marty Balin was severely beaten by Hell’s Angels when he jumped from the stage into the crowd to try to protect a fan at Altamont. Not long after that, Balin and drummer Spencer Dryden left the band. The Jefferson Airplane was never the same. –Ken Shane

sly-and-the-family-stone-the-woodstock-experienceAs part of Epic/Legacy’s commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, five classic albums released in 1969 by festival headliners are being reissued in packages that include the original albums coupled with complete festival performances by said headliners. The newly designed, eco-friendly two-disc packages contain mini replicas of the original LP jackets, as well as a two-sided 16-by-20 foldout poster (a waste of space, in my opinion — I’d prefer legible liner notes).

Sly & the Family Stone: The Woodstock Experience includes their breakthrough fourth album, Stand! — which contains the hits “Everyday People,” “Sing a Simple Song,” “Stand!,” and “I Want to Take You Higher” — along with their entire eight-song Woodstock set, of which seven of the tracks were previously unissued.

To me, Sly & the Family Stone’s appearance at Woodstock was one of the festival’s handful of “Which of these is not like the other?” moments, along with such other sore-thumb stick-outs as Sha Na Na and Blood, Sweat & Tears. But what a performance! If you’ve only seen the Woodstock documentary (1970) or heard its soundtrack album and you already thought Sly & the Family Stone’s performance was legendary, hearing the full set will take that notion even higher, to paraphrase their then-new, since-classic song.

Released in May of ’69, Stand! brought Sly & the Family Stone’s groundbreaking synthesis of funk, soul, gospel, psychedelia, and rock to a whole new level — and their appearance at Woodstock helped them reach a whole new audience, to boot. Not bad for a 3 AM gig!

Framing his powerful songs with tight musicianship and messages of hope and harmony, Sly Stone captured much of the zeitgeist of the late ’60s, encompassing the social, cultural, and political threads of the times in his music. “Everyday People,” in fact, became a crossover smash, shooting to the top of the Billboard pop and R&B charts. Upheaval was de rigueur in the Family Stone’s music, but the group’s vision was fully consummated on Stand!, which set the standard for the rest of their career.

Fans whose heads were turned by the all-too-brief set that appeared in the movie and on the soundtrack album can rest assured the full set is even more transcendent and powerful, and it’s never been released until now in all its butt-shaking, head-bobbing, politically aware glory. While the vocals are a little raw and the live mix isn’t as potent as the studio recording, the energy is there, jumping out of your speakers and showcasing a band at the height of its innumerable talents. –Ed Murray

512m3sgrWUL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]After Janis Joplin left Big Brother and the Holding Company, the anticipation and hype only soured the original reception of I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama. With only eight songs and with the Stax/Volt soul engine groove of the Kozmic Blues Band backing her up rather than the funky streetwise swagger of Cheap Thrills, people wondered if Janis made the right move.

Listening to it now? Kozmic Blues is nothing short of incendiary. It’s an album so sexually charged and oozing with passion, desperation, and heartbreak. It’s definitely a transitionary work, a place for Janis to experiment with covers (The Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody” gets a sweet treatment and there are two songs written by her former colleague Nick Gravenites), and to find her footing with a new ensemble.

But seriously, the umpteenth reissue of Kozmic Blues isn’t why we’re here (it’s missing the bonus tracks from the Sony reissue), we’re really here for the Woodstock set. For 40 years we were told Janis’ set was too uneven, too stoned, too drunk, whatever. I first heard the Janis set 20 years ago on a scratchy old bootleg…get this…EIGHT TRACK!!! (It was a muddy sounding cart that my girlfriend’s mom’s boyfriend’s dealer’s roommate’s cousin copied off a bootleg LP.) This long-awaited CD reissue sounds fantastic – a huge improvement over whatever Woodstock bootleg you’ve heard before.

Janis sounds gloriously high and she breathlessly speaks to the crowd and nervously giggles. Snooky Flowers takes over the microphone for a rave up on “Can’t Turn You Loose.” The band cooks, breaks down, gets all over the place, comes back, dials it back in, gets sloppy, but Janis leads them to ecstatic heights. “Work Me Lord” and “Kozmic Blues” are glorious readings, and the incendiary “Raise Your Hand” and Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain” bookend the show.

I can’t imagine anyone alive today being able to make music that is so sexually charged and rife with passion in these fucking pasteurized times. While neither disc in this set truly captures Janis at the top of her game, they serve as a poignant reminder of her passion, power and presence as a performer. A girl from Texas who came, saw, and brought us all to our knees with a husky blues howl unlike any other woman before or since. Losing Janis was more than another rock and roll tragedy, it was an absolute fucking shame. One look at that Texas sweetheart smile will break your heart every time. –Ben Wiser

johnny-winter-the-woodstock-experienceAs part of Legacy’s commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, five classic albums released in 1969 by festival headliners are being released in packages that include the original albums coupled with complete festival performances by said headiner. The newly designed, eco-friendly, two-disc packages contain mini replicas of the original LP jacket, as well as a two-sided 16×20 fold-out poster (a waste of space in my opinion – I’d prefer legible liner notes).

Johnny Winter – The Woodstock Experience includes the debut Johnny Winter solo album, with the Texas-born albino guitarist’s homages to Robert Johnson (“When You Got a Good Friend”), Sonny Boy Williamson (“Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”), Lightnin’ Hopkins (“Back Door Friend”) and B.B. King (“Be Careful With a Fool”). The live Woodstock set comprises eight songs from Winter’s Sunday evening set at the festival, seven of which are previously unissued, and three of which feature is brother Edgar (pre-“Frankenstein” fame, of course), supplying keyboards and sax, and the lead vocals on a fiery “Tobacco Road.”

Winter’s ’69 debut – perhaps his single best album – set the stage for a pretty remarkable career as one of the foremost and best-known practitioners of blues-rock. Winter and his band, which included his brother Edgar on keyboards and bassist Tommy Shannon (later a member of fellow Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble band), were signed to Columbia Records for the then-exorbitant sum of $300,000. Recorded in Nashville, the record was a blistering set of smoking originals and incendiary covers of venerable blues chestnuts, and was one of the first truly fully rocked-out takes on the blues. One can only imagine the looks on the faces of blues legends Willie Dixon and harpist Willie Horton, both of whom made guest appearances on the album, when this skinny white (literally!) Texan scorched his way through this impressive and authentic set. No wonder Johnny Winter enjoyed major commercial success and established his reputation as a guitar slinger of the highest caliber.

One listen to Winter’s set from the Woodstock festival and you’ll be amazed that music this white-hot sat in a vault for 40 years! It’s also fairly shocking that not one song from his performance appeared in the movie or the soundtrack album – it’s that good! Winter simply burns during his appearance, and given his talents and the nature of the music itself, it’s a much purer, rawer, honest performance than much of the other folk-tinged psychedelia on hand that summer.

If you’re at all a blues fan, this release – both pieces! – are an instant must-own classic. –Ed Murray

Let us cut to the chase, first of all. If you own the 2004 Legacy Edition of Santana’s debut album, you do not need this new Woodstock commemorative edition. Yes, it includes one more cut from their performance, their hit “Evil Ways,” but if you decide to buy this new version while owning the older version, you’re a damn fool. More on this later.

When you think of Woodstock, what images come to mind? Audiences swimming in mud, tripping out to the proto-classic rock, folk and blues, or something less sentimental? For me, I side on the part of the stage where Pete Townshend clobbers Abbie Hoffman with his guitar. If I had attended Woodstock, it would have been for the music and, to be blunt, all the shenanigans that would have been swirling around me would have ruined everything.

Call it the angst of the children of 1969 who had to suffer through the reminiscence of teachers, guidance counselors and, worse, parents who were former hippies. We’d love to be as starry-eyed and flowery about all of y’all coming together to get stoned get laid get drunk get arrested get muddied listen to music, but it’s incredibly hard. You’re trying to sell us on the merits of Wavy Gravy and Country Joe and the Fish and, frankly, we’re not buying. But you are. Even today, the buying power of the Baby Boomer Stroll Down Memory Lane is formidable. Were it not, record labels wouldn’t be hosing you on a regular basis for the sake of your proclivities.

At any rate, even though there were music stars at Woodstock who were only stars because they were at Woodstock, there were still plenty of notable names in that roster’s mix, yet in retrospect, one has to be surprised by Carlos Santana and his band, in amongst all the folkies, rockers and rabble rousers. His Latin-inflected licks lifted up what might have been ordinary psyche-rock jams and gave not just this, but many audiences a fresh, different sound. Leaning on the tracks from Santana 1, his band’s performance could actually be called electrifying and not have it dismissed as misty hyperbole.

You could have the audio portion of that performance, as well as the studio album that introduced them, if you bought The Woodstock Experience. You’d get mini-LP sleeves ensconced in a slipcase and a double-sided poster which, I’ll admit, is kind of nifty. You also get “Evil Ways” – but you lose the nine, yes nine, tracks that were on the Legacy Edition. That’s six original album sessions, two alternate takes and an untitled studio jam. You lose the booklet that actually gives you detail on the Santana phenomena, but you get that Woodstock logo. The kicker is that the first edition is a two-CD set and so is the second. This isn’t about not having the room to include those tracks, but about double-dipping the market to capitalize on the warm fuzzies of the post-Flower Children.

The irony of this could be that the folks at the record labels organizing these projects may well have been attendees of said show, espousing dogmatic ideals about peace, love, and simplicity. While they’re hooking you on the foundation of joining together in the celebration of this big, grand show, the real show is that their true aim is something they would have berated you over way back yonder. It’s not surprising and maybe it’s a little unfair to have them drawn and quartered for their decision. The Boomers are one of the few markets still buying physical product. Of course you target them, if in fact they’re the only game in town, but it still smells a tad crass and hypocritical.

If you don’t actually own Santana 1, then The Woodstock Experience isn’t so bad an option, but it’s still scant when compared to the previous Legacy Edition. Go with your wallet, and your head, and leave your heart back in the fields of Max Yasgur’s farm. You’ll thank me when the room stops swirling. –Dw. Dunphy

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