Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Woodstock • Day 1

Woodstock Crowd
Richie Havens Ravi Shankar Arlo Guthrie Joan Baez
Top: The Woodstock crowd. Bottom, left to right: Richie Havens; Ravi Shankar; Arlo Guthrie; and Joan Baez.

Forty-three years ago, one of the incredibly important dates in history kicked off. In 1969, from August 15 to August 17, the rural hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel, New York, opened up for a size of a crowd no one expected. The show was scheduled for 3 days, although, in truth, it spilled over to the fourth day, Monday, the 18th. The organizers were expecting around 200,000 people to show up, and perhaps less if the weather did not co-operate. Well, despite some rain during the weekend, about a half-million music fans attended the free concert. One of the reasons people thought fewer would attend if you take into consideration the list of stars who declined the invitation. The stars of the day NOT in attendance included Bob Dylan, The Beatles and/or John Lennon, Jeff Beck Group, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, The Byrds, Chicago, The Moody Blues, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Joni Mitchell, Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, and Roy Rogers, who was asked to close the show singing "Happy Trails". However, the list of those performing on the first day was pretty impressive as well. The show was opened up by Richie Havens, the Brooklyn-born Folk singer and master guitarist. He started the music festival just after 5PM on Friday night, electrifying the audience. He covered a few songs, including some by the Beatles, making sure their presence was felt at the event. He ended the first set of the show with what has gone one to become an iconic song, "Freedom".

After that amazing performance, Indian religious teacher Swami Satchidananda came out to speak, welcoming the audience and giving the invocation. Next up was the band Sweetwater, the Los Angeles-based band who had pioneered the psychedelic rock sound earlier in the 1960s that bands like San Francisco-based bands like Jefferson Airplane rode to fame. They were followed by folk singers Bert Sommer and Tim Hardin. Hardin was more known as a writer, with songs like "If I Were A Carpenter" and "Reasons To Believe" in his catalog. Then came Indian musician Ravi Shankar, an influential musical and spiritual man of the time. He played his sitar when the first of the rains came.

Shankar was followed by Melanie Safka. She would later be better known as just Melanie, with hit songs "Brand New Key" and "Lay Down", neither of which she performed at the festival. Then came the incredible Arlo Guthrie. He was Folk royalty, being the son of the great Woody Guthrie. Both men were known for singing songs of protest as well as taking part in civil rights protests. He went on around midnight, and played a couple of songs, including a stunning "Amazing Garace". He also took on a song by Bob Dylan, and here is the clip of Arlo singing "Walkin' Down The Line".

The final act to take the stage was the queen of Folk, Joan Baez. She went on about 1AM, which was pretty amazing, considering she was 6 months pregnant, and must have been tired. But it did not stop her, for she gave a brilliant performance, including a beautiful song, "One Day At A Time".

Joan Baez continued the legacy of the great Folk artists of years past, and continued to fight for equality for all. She was one of the first artists to take a stand for the rights of LGBT people in the 1970s. She continues to be an amazing woman. As for Woodstock itself, I will recap the second and third days in posts as well.

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