Woodstock Memories

Woodstock – billed as “3 Days of Peace & Music” – happened exactly 50 years ago from August 15-18, 1969. A total of 32 acts performed there – some well-known, some on the rise, and some now mostly forgotten. It was a watershed moment for the 1960’s counterculture, and the music which was played there continues to resonate to this day.

Here are some Woodstock memories from the musicians who were there, from the archives.

Graham Nash

– performed with Crosby, Stills & Nash

Jeff Moehlis: I know everyone asks you about Woodstock. What was that experience like for you? Was it terrifying, or joyful, or a combination?

Graham Nash: I think we had to tolerate the conditions. I wasn’t scared at all. I’d already been in a rather famous band in England, The Hollies of course, and I’d already played pretty big shows. So I wasn’t particularly scared at all. I think Stephen [Stills] was a little nervous. It was him that said that “We’re scared shitless.” But it was an interesting event. But, quite obviously, if everybody was telling the truth when they came up to me and told me they’d been at Woodstock, the actually planet would’ve tilted.

For the full interview with Graham Nash, click here.

Jorma Kaukonen

– guitarist for Jefferson Airplane

JM: What was your Woodstock experience like?

Jorma Kaukonen: Oh boy. You know, we had been to the site two weeks before the concert, so we saw them sort of getting it together. We just went in for our day. I think the thing that really is very difficult to describe adequately is when you stood on the stage – and I do remember this – you stood on the stage and looked out and saw that sea of people. Nothing can adequately describe that. And that feeling that the world that was sort of evolving in that moment became “real”, if you know what I mean?

For the full interview with Jorma Kaukonen, click here.

Paul Kantner

– singer and guitarist for Jefferson Airplane

JM: What is your take on the original Woodstock?

Paul Kantner: It was pretty much fun. It was rainy and muddy, and had all sorts of problems. Again, the gathering was extraordinary, and everything that went on over and above the stage was extraordinary. Despite the rain and the mud and the this and the that, I personally had quite a good time.

For the full interview with Paul Kantner, click here.

John Sebastian

– folk singer

JM: I want to ask you about one of your big gigs as a solo artist – Woodstock. I understand that you weren’t on the program.

John Sebastian: Yes, that is correct. Not to belabor the point, because the story has been told 80,000 times. But yes, I wasn’t prepared. I went as a member of the audience, and when the rains came, I remember Michael [Lang], who was on the stage at the time, said, “You know, we’ve gotta find somebody with an acoustic guitar, who could hold them until we sweep off the water. We can have an acoustic guitar.” And I didn’t realize until I looked around that he was talking directly at me. So I had to go find a guitar. I said, “I didn’t bring anything. Maybe I’ve got a thumb pick – I don’t know.” He said, “Well, you’ve got a few minutes to turn one up.”

So I turned up a guitar from Timmy Hardin, who I had recorded with during days when I was an unknown. I was mainly a harmonica player with him. That was one of my first encounters with [producer] Eric Jacobsen, and very close in there my first encounter with Paul Rothchild, because of recording with Fred Neil, a marvelous and very influential songwriter in Greenwich Village during that era, who wrote “Everybody’s Talking” which was such a hit for [Harry] Nilsson, and also things like a tune called “The Dolphins”. Pretty cool.

JM: Besides performing, what stood out to you about Woodstock?

JS: Many of the performers, myself included, did not particularly consider it their greatest work [laughs]. There I was with a borrowed guitar. It was already muddy. I remember Crosby, Stills & Nash complaining, “Oh my God, we’re playing acoustic instruments here.” Alternately raining and not raining, so things were going out of tune like crazy. It preceded tuners, or anything like that [laughs] to be able to rescue that aspect of things.

Not to undercut the fact that there were some remarkable performances by Sly [and the Family Stone], and by Creedence Clearwater [Revival] that nobody’s really aware of. They were fantastic. But as a whole, Woodstock was about the audience. The audience was the star of that show.

For the full interview with John Sebastian, click here.

Jerry Martini

– saxophone player for Sly and the Family Stone

JM: Of course I have to ask you about Woodstock. What are your memories of that?

Jerry Martini: Every minute [laughs]! I have almost total recall.

Well, we never thought it was going to be that big. It was just another festival. When we got there it was utter chaos. There were cars everywhere. It was a big, giant, muddy mess. It wasn’t actually in Woodstock, it was in Bethel, New York. We got to the backstage. Back in those days, you only had one stage. They didn’t have two or three stages, or a moving stage like they do nowadays. We were supposed to go on at 10:00PM, and we were there early. We were there about 6:00 or 7:00. It was a mess going through. A lot of the people flew in on helicopters. I drove in in one of the limos through the forest. It was crazy, a maze.

So we came in and waited and waited and waited and waited, and finally about 3:00AM we came on, and people were laying down sleeping in their sleeping bags. After the first song and the introduction, we saw people starting to get up. And then they started jumping up and down, then they started lighting their matches or whatever it was. I think it was before BICs even [laughs], you know. They didn’t show their cellphones – there were no cellphones. It was one of the best, amazing crowds I’ve ever played for in my life. I remember the hair standing up on my arm when we played. We tripled, quadrupled our money after Woodstock. We went from playing the small casinos into the large arenas. It was fantastic.

For the full interview with Jerry Martini, click here.

Henry Diltz

– photographer

JM: One of your photography gigs was Woodstock. What struck you most about those three days of peace, love, and music?

Henry Diltz: At Woodstock I was lucky enough to be working for the producer, Michael Lang, so I pretty much could go anywhere I wanted to take pictures. But the best place was right up on the stage where the music was happening and where that immense crowd was best viewed. It went as far as the eye could see both left and right. It was the sheer number of like-minded hippy music fans all in that one place and having a great time that was most memorable. That and Jimi Hendrix playing the “Star Spangled Banner” so unexpectedly.

For the full interview with Henry Diltz, click here.

Larry Taylor

– bass player for Canned Heat

JM: Of course I have to ask you about Woodstock. What was that experience like for you?

Larry Taylor: Woodstock kind of went by really fast. We were on the road – I think we’d been on an eight week tour or something like that. It was the last gig of the tour. I was raring to get home, so my mind wasn’t there. I don’t remember much about it, except the audience hearing the song at sunset, which was the boogie we played, and the whole place went nuts. I mean, totally nuts. It was almost like a tidal wave of energy from the people. It’s kind of hard to explain. If you’d have been there you’d know what I mean. That’s what I remember now, of that.

And, you know, going in on the helicopter. We actually had to take a Cessna plane from New Jersey up to the airport in Bethel – I think it was Bethel – and then we got out and they took us in the helicopter over to the site. That’s kind of a memory.

JM: In the movie you see that sea of people – pretty incredible.

LT: Yeah, yeah. I actually had a camera with me and took a bunch of pictures of all that. And it turns out that I gave it to somebody to hold for our set, and I actually told them, “When you’re taking these pictures, here’s another roll of film. This is gonna run out.” The film ran out, and he put the other roll in. I got some pictures, but I lost that roll. I never got it back. The roll that I had was all the stuff from the helicopter.

For the full interview with Larry Taylor, click here.

David Crosby

– performed with Crosby, Stills & Nash

JM: You’re one of the few artists that performed at three of the watershed concerts of the 60’s – the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, Altamont. Why do you think those events are still holding so much fascination for us all almost 50 years later?

David Crosby: Well, they were big and adventuresome concerts. You know, they get larger with age. Things kind of aggrandize themselves as you move away from them in time – they get larger. They assume legendary proportions.

At least Woodstock was a lot of fun. Some of the others were not, at all.

For the full interview with David Crosby, click here.

Stu Cook

– bass player for Creedence Clearwater Revival

JM: Could you describe your Woodstock experience?

Stu Cook: [laughs] Well, we were in L.A. on Friday, we were recording either a Dionne Warwick special or an Andy Williams special [JM: Doug Clifford said that it was an Andy Williams special]. It was a television variety show. We took the red-eye to Boston, chartered a jet to fly to upstate New York, and it was just madness by the time we got there. You know, the gates had already come down. It was a free concert by then. We got to the Holiday Inn pretty wasted from traveling all night. The place was just a madhouse.

We got some sleep and they helicoptered us in a few hours later to the festival site. We hung out all day, mainly with the guys from Bill Graham’s organization, Barry Imhoff. He was there taking care of Carlos Santana and the Santana band. We all knew each other from the Bay Area, so we hung out at their trailer all day. We had a pretty comfortable experience backstage [laughs]. Way better than the folks out front.

Then the rain started, and it started to interfere with the timing of the event, and the equipment started becoming damaged by the elements. Some of the stuff got unsafe, the lighting got unsafe. The show was running late. Pretty soon, I think it was after midnight, one o’clock, maybe later when we finally got on. We were the headliner on Saturday night. We were supposed to go on at ten or something like that. By the time we got on, after a long set by The Grateful Dead, it was quite late. People [laughs] needed some rallying at that point. It was pitch black. All the spotlights were out, very few stage lights. We had very little direct contact with the audience because of the distance and the darkness. But we went out and I thought played a hell of a set. I just recently listened to the entire performance, and it was a great little concert that we played. I’m really happy with it. I wish we’d been included in the film, of course, but you know that’s water under the bridge as well.

For the full interview with Stu Cook, click here.

Doug Clifford

– drummer for Creedence Clearwater Revival

JM: CCR played at Woodstock. I’m curious, what was your Woodstock experience like?

Doug Clifford: For us, in retrospect it was great – peace and love and all of that. But on the other side of the coin it was a logistical nightmare. We were filming a TV special in L.A. for Andy Williams, and they kept having problems. Technical problems and problems with the union. So we stayed as long as we could. We finally got a decent track, and there was still feedback in it somewhere. It wasn’t our feedback, it was their feedback. We had to fly a red-eye to New York, which we hadn’t planned on doing. And then when we got there all the travel plans had changed, we weren’t going in a vehicle. All the roads were blocked – people just left their cars, abandoned them. So we had to fly into a small airport with a smaller plane, and then a little bubble two-man helicopter that ended up being a three-man helicopter flying in.

Then once we got there there had been rain and problems with electronics, and all of those things. We got on very, very late, and then had to get out. But there were moments when you could see everybody. You know, there was no violence. People didn’t have drinking water, they didn’t have food, they didn’t have shelter, they were soaking wet. But they managed to all share what they had, even with strangers. You could actually feel the energy, the positive energy. The hair on my arms stood up – I’ll never forget it. I hate to be corny, but you could feel the love that was happening there. A lot of people, naked, running around, covered with mud, some not covered with mud, just making the best possible situation out of a bad one.

For the full interview with Doug Clifford, click here.

David Sanborn

– saxophone player for Paul Butterfield Blues Band

JM: I have to ask because the 50th anniversary is coming up. You played at Woodstock – what are your memories of that?

David Sanborn: Wet. A mess. It wasn’t that out of character from a whole lot of other festivals that were going on at the same time. It just happened to be bigger and a little messier, and somehow it captured the zeitgeist of the world. It was a moment in time when everything seemed to come together. I think the fact that there was thirty to forty percent more people than had ever been at a music festival before, and there was no real violence, and it was relatively peaceful in the face of some difficult circumstances – you know, the rain, the mud, and the fact that there was no security. I think it was at that moment. It was kind of the apex of the ’60’s. It was 1969, right?

It was in so many ways the end of the ’60’s. I think it became very clear to corporate America that “Hey, this is something here. It’s something we can make a little money with.” Not that they weren’t aware of it before, in the mid-’60’s, but it just became clear that this was more than just a little section of the economy [laughs] as it were. This youth movement thing was something that they could really capitalize on, and in a way it kind of put the nail in the coffin of any kind of idealism.

Then we got into the ’70’s, and things were a little darker, you know? It was kind of the end of an era, in a way. And it was a great moment. All these great musicians were there, all this great music happened. I came up in the ’60’s, so for me it wasn’t this great moment, it was just kind of the evolution of things to that point. I don’t know, it’s very hard to talk about what that represented, if anything. I mean, I certainly didn’t think about it at the time. It just seemed like one more festival, and all of a sudden it’s like ca-ching, trademark [laughs]. It was thrilling and depressing, in equal measure.

JM: I think it was Arlo Guthrie who said about Woodstock, “I’m told I had a good time.”

DS: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. That was definitely a big part of it, but it wasn’t all of it. I mean, the drugs were there, but they hadn’t completely overwhelmed the movement and the idealism. But it was getting there, and then the ’70’s hit. The death of that, to me, was quaaludes [laughs]. Then we moved into the quaalude ’70’s. Oh boy, here we go. We’re not enlightened, we’re just sedated [laughs].

For the full interview with David Sanborn, click here.

Arlo Guthrie

– folk singer

JM: What are your “sober reflections” on Woodstock?

Arlo Guthrie: I saw the movie like everyone else. Even seeing it I can’t remember much.

For the full interview with Arlo Guthrie, click here.


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