Woodstock? Sorry. Can’t make it.

This weekend is the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival.

About which Steven Hayward writes:

Forget asking about citizenship status on the next Census. I’ve always wanted to have the Census ask: “Were you at Woodstock in 1969?” The event was such an icon for the appalling baby boomer generation (to which I sadly belong) that I estimate that you’d get 5 million Yes responses to the question. Maybe that many people believe they were there by astral projection during an acid trip or something.

There was an attempt to organize a 50-year anniversary festival at Woodstock for this weekend, but the effort fizzled. One practical problem, I imagine, is that no vendor could be found to produce enough LSD suppositories.

It is a good time to go back and take in the nonsense written about Woodstock by the mainstream media at the time, and reflect how nothing has changed when it comes to media idiocy and superficiality.

Woodstock set off a fresh round of self-congratulation about the idealism of the young generation.  The absence of destructive chaos was taken as evidence of the moral superiority of the counterculture’s rejection of middle class materialism.  It was, in Abbie Hoffman’s words, “the birth of the Woodstock Nation and the death of the American dinosaur.”  “This festival will show,” Woodstock organizer Michael Lang said, “that what this generation is about is valid …  This is not just about music, but a conglomeration of everything involved in the new culture.” The New York Times thought Woodstock was “essentially a phenomenon of innocence,” while Time magazine chirped that Woodstock

may well rank as one of the significant political and sociological events of the age. . . [T]he revolution it preaches, implicitly or explicitly, is essentially moral; it is the proclamation of a new set of values … With a surprising ease and a cool sense of authority, the children of plenty have voiced an intention to live by a different ethical standard than their parents accepted.  The pleasure principle has been elevated over the Puritan ethic of work.  To do one’s own thing is a greater duty than to be a useful citizen.  Personal freedom in the midst of squalor is more liberating than social conformity with the trappings of wealth.  Now that youth takes abundance for granted, it can afford to reject materialism.

“To do one’s own thing is a greater duty than to be a useful citizen”?? Yup—that pretty much sums up the ethos of modern liberalism. Or as Harry Jaffa put it more bluntly, the core principle of modern liberalism is “every man his own tyrant.”

The New Left was not thrilled with the spin surrounding Woodstock because it suggested that the revolution of youth was far less political than cultural.  After all, the New Left has struggled to get a mere 10,000 to come to Chicago the summer before. “Our frivolity maddened the Left,” one concertgoer remarked.  “We did not even collect pennies for SANE [Society for the Abolition of Nuclear Energy].” Abbie Hoffman had been booed when he attempted to offer some political remarks: The Who’s Pete Townshend whacked Hoffman with his guitar to get him off the stage. But the ever-protean ideological Left managed to adapt.  Leftist writer Andrew Kopkind wrote that Woodstock represented

a new culture of opposition. It grows out of the disintegration of old forms, the vinyl and aerosol institutions that carry all the inane and destructive values of privatism, competition, commercialism, profitability and elitism. . .  For people who had never glimpsed the intense communitarian closeness of a militant struggle—People’s Park or Paris in the month of May or Cuba—Woodstock must always be their model of how good we will all feel after the revolution … [P]olitical radicals have to see the cultural revolution as a sea in which they can swim.

A surprisingly sympathetic account of Woodstock in National Review noted that Woodstock was “a moment of glorious innocence, and such moments happen only by accident, and then not often. . .  [T]hese accidental bursts of aimless solidarity do not last forever.” In fact the purported innocence and new moral world of Woodstock would prove as evanescent as the summer showers that cooled off the concertgoers at Max Yasgur’s farm. A few months later the attempted sequel to Woodstock at California’s Altamont Pass ended violently when the Hells Angels hired as stage security proved they were not yet ready to be part of the Age of Aquarius. The Hells Angels beat a concertgoer to death just a few feet in front of Mick Jagger, who was in the middle of singing “Sympathy for the Devil.”  In contrast to the encomiums to Woodstock, there was little media commentary suggesting that Altamont showed a dark side of the counterculture.

Good riddance to the whole scene I say.

P.S. I do recall a line from Jay Leno back when there was a 30th anniversary concert at Woodstock: “They had to fly in five helicopters of food. And that was just for David Crosby.” Heh.

A more current statement about Crosby would be that they would have to make accommodations for his second liver.

One of the comments about Hayward’s piece:

Two friends were discussing the summer of ’69. One mentioned he attended and enjoyed Woodstock. The other said he didn’t go as he was kinda busy at the time. “Oh, doing what?”…. “Vietnam.” I swear there was then an audible Pacman death sound effect.

And …

I almost made it to Woodstock. I got within around 50 miles from the farm but detoured and entered West Point on July 3. It was very hot and humid in Beast Barracks but they let us Plebes eat a real meal the day of the moon landing. Yeah, it was a great summer.

Be that as that may (I didn’t go; I was 4), I do not write today to denigrate Woodstock, because there is one aspect I find slightly outrageous and considerably more humorous — the bands that did not go to Woodstock, and why they didn’t.

The list begins with Chicago, which certainly would have fit …

… but didn’t get the chance because promoter Bill Graham booked the group into one of his clubs. That made them unavailable, and Graham substituted the group he was promoting, Santana. As bass player/singer Peter Cetera later put it, “We were sort of peeved at him for pulling that one.”

Graham did make it up to the group later:

The rest of the list starts with Ultimate Classic Rock:

Jethro Tull

Reason: Fear of Naked Ladies

“I asked our manager Terry Ellis, ‘Well, who else is going to be there?’ And he listed a large number of groups who were reputedly going to play, and that it was going to be a hippie festival,” Jethro Tull‘s Ian Anderson once told SongFacts, “and I said, ‘Will there be lots of naked ladies? And will there be taking drugs and drinking lots of beer, and fooling around in the mud?’ Because rain was forecast. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ So I said, ‘Right. I don’t want to go.’ Because I don’t like hippies, and I’m usually rather put off by naked ladies unless the time is right.”

Jeff Beck Group

Reason: They Broke Up

Jeff Beck and an all-star band that featured Rod Stewart, Nicky Hopkins, Aynsley Dunbar and Ronnie Wood were actually scheduled to play — only to split up just before Woodstock. Seems Beck simply disappeared on a plane back home, according to Rod Stewart in his autobiography ‘Rod,’ because he was worried about a possible marital infidelity. Not that Stewart was that concerned about missing out. “Ah, well,” he writes. “Seen one outdoor festival you’ve seen them all.”

Led Zeppelin

Reason: They Had A New Jersey Show

Led Zeppelin was invited, of course. But manager Peter Grant apparently decided that headlining their own concert was preferable. Instead, the band headed off to the Asbury Park Convention Hall in New Jersey, just south of Woodstock, for two of the festival’s four days. Grant, in ‘Led Zeppelin: The Concert File,’ said “I said no because at Woodstock we’d have just been another band on the bill.

Iron Butterfly

Reason: They Wanted a Helicopter

Riding the popularity of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Iron Butterfly decidedly overreached with its pre-appearance demands — supposedly asking for such niceties as a helicopter ride in from a New York airport, an immediate start time on stage upon arrival, complete payment upon completion of set and an immediate return helicopter ride for airport departure. The story is they were told that promoters were considering it, but ultimately it seems nobody ever called Iron Butterfly back. “Apparently the agent had a real attitude,” festival co-creator Michael Lang has said, “and we were up to our eyeballs in problems.”

The Beatles

Reason: Yoko?

Bob Dylan

Reason: Sick Kid

Another huge star, another raft of innuendo. Bob Dylan reportedly said no because one of his kids fell ill. There was also a rumor that he had become annoyed with the gathering hippies around his home, which stood near the town of Woodstock. Whatever the reason, it didn’t keep him from playing another huge festival — and just two weeks later — at the Isle of Wight. Dylan reportedly left for England aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 on August 15, 1969, the day the original Woodstock Festival started. Dylan then moved away from upstate New York, complaining that his house was being beseiged by “druggies.”

The Rolling Stones

Reason: Filming a Forgotten Movie

The Rolling Stones declined because Mick Jagger was in Australia that summer, filming a forgotten movie called ‘Ned Kelly.’ You don’t remember ‘Ned Kelly’? It’s the poorly received 1970 Tony Richardson-directed biopic of a 19th-century Australian bushranger. Also, Keith Richards‘ girlfriend Anita Pallenburg had just given birth to son Marlon that week in London.

Joni Mitchell

Reason: Silly Scheduling Issue

Joni Mitchell reportedly wanted to play Woodstock, but was dissuaded from making the trip by manager David Geffen, reportedly because he wanted her fresh for an appearance on ‘The Dick Cavett Show.’ In a twist, she would end up performing on that TV program with two other participants in the Woodstock festival – David Crosby and Stephen Stills of Crosby Stills and Nash, and Jefferson Airplane. Worse still, she’d be forced to write ‘Woodstock,’ one of her better-known songs, based on boyfriend Graham Nash‘s account of the event.
The Doors
Reason: Thought Monterey Was Better
The Doors apparently gave Woodstock strong consideration, only to decline the invitation. Not because of a scheduling conflict, however. Robby Kriegerwould later say, “We never played at Woodstock because we were stupid and turned it down. We thought it would be a second class repeat of Montery Pop Festival.” John Densmore, however, had other ideas. He was actually at the festival. Densmore appears side stage during Joe Cocker‘s set in the concert film.

Roy Rogers

Reason: Hated the Idea

The revelation that old-timey TV cowboy Roy Rogers had actually been invited, as well, remains something of a shock. Apparently, as Michael Lang relayed in an interview for the expanded Woodstock DVD, the idea was for Rogers to close out the festival with a rendition of ‘Happy Trails.’ It didn’t happen, of course, but only because “his manager didn’t think it was such a great idea.” Hard to argue with that, isn’t it?
Rogers may sound crazy, but remember that Sha Na Na was there.
11 Points contributes a few more, including alternate explanations:

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention – too much mud

Zappa turned down the gig last minute because he heard rain was coming and didn’t want to play around all that mud. (Bad for the festival, good for one of his future children who no doubt would’ve gotten a name like Runny Soil Zappa or Muddlicious Orthopedic June Caralarm Zappa.) …

The Doors – fear of getting shot by someone in the crowd

Apparently, by 1969, Jim Morrison had such a raging case of agoraphobia that he refused to play outdoors because of a genuine belief that it would give snipers too good of a shot. Really. And, at that point, he still wasn’t The Saint so he couldn’t just roam around in disguise.

The Beatles – Yoko wasn’t invited too

One of the biggest questions in music history is “Why weren’t the Beatles at Woodstock?” It’s up there with “Who was so vain that they probably thought this song was about them?”, “Did Rob Base just say he ‘can’t stand sex’?” and “Did New Kids On The Block really think people wouldn’t notice that Hangin’ Tough and You Got It (The Right Stuff) are the same basic song?” And there are three theories why the Beatles didn’t end up as a part of the festival…

(1) John couldn’t get a visa to come to the U.S. because of his drug arrests. (And Nixon didn’t like him.) (2) Other than their B-Sharps-inspiring rooftop concert in January of 1969, they hadn’t played a show together since 1966. (3) John agreed to play but only if Yoko’s Plastic Ono Band also got an invite… and the Woodstock organizers said hell no.

I’d say #1 is the most boring theory, #3 is the most entertaining theory… and #2 is probably the most accurate theory. …

Eric Clapton – in England with Steve Winwood working really hard on getting their new band off the ground

Woodstock caught Clapton at an awkward time. The Yardbirds were long dead, Cream was recently dead, and Clapton decided to pour all of his effort into launching his new supergroup, Blind Faith. So, rather than play Woodstock, Clapton and his Blind Faith bandmade Steve Winwood decided to have a retreat to really work on their music. It didn’t work — Blind Faith would barely last another few months.

I will draw a parallel to this in a few years when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade skip the 2012 Olympics to practice working together over the summer when they realize their results produced by their superteam is less than the sum of its parts.

Woodstock Story adds:

Procol Harum were invited but declined because the festival was happening at the end of a long tour and the impending birth of band member Robin Trower’s child.

The Moody Blues were included on the original Wallkill poster as performers, but decided to back out after being booked in Paris the same weekend. …

Tommy James and the Shondells declined the invitation, Tommy James would later say “We could have just kicked ourselves. We were in Hawaii, and my secretary called and said, ‘Yeah, listen, there’s this pig farmer in upstate New York that wants you to play in his field.’ That’ s how it was put to me. So we passed.”. (Linear notes to “Tommy James and the Shondells: Anthology”).

Arthur Lee and Love declined the invitation, but Mojo Magazine later described inner turmoil within the band which caused their absence at the Woodstock festival.

Free was asked to perform and declined.

Spirit declined and instead launched a promotional tour.

Mind Garage declined because they thought the festival would be no huge deal and they had a higher paying gig elsewhere. …

Joni Mitchell was recommended by her agent to appear on the Dick Cavett show rather than at the Woodstock festival. It is also believed that Mitchell was discouraged from performing at another festival after a particularly nasty crowd at the Atlantic City Pop Festival who actually made her cry. …

Lighthouse the Canadian band was booked to play, but backed out for fear that Woodstock would be a bad scene.

Rock Pasta adds another:

The Byrds

Like majority of the bands who passed on Woodstock, The Byrds turned down their invitation to play, assuming that Woodstock would be no different from any of the other music festivals that summer. And like most bands who turned it down, they regretted their decision.  Financial reasons were also cited for declining the invitation. Bassist John York recalls,

“We were flying to a gig and Roger [McGuinn] came up to us and said that a guy was putting on a festival in upstate New York. But at that point they weren’t paying all of the bands. He asked us if we wanted to do it and we said, ‘No’. We had no idea what it was going to be. We were burned out and tired of the festival scene. […] So all of us said, ‘No, we want a rest’ and missed the best festival of all.”


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