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By the Time I Didn't Get to Woodstock

John Sebastian performs at the Woodstock Art & Music Fair in 1969.

With the 50th anniversary of Woodstock on August 15-18, many people are reminiscing about their experiences at the famous "Music & Art Fair" that took place in Bethel, NY during the summer of 1969.

I was just 15 at the time and did not attend (even though I lived about two hours away in New York City). I was too young to go and honestly was not really aware that it was happening. The festival was simply not on my radar.

But it nevertheless proved to be an awakening for me. I woke up that Saturday morning, August 16, to the news of a huge event that was happening upstate. Radio and newspapers said the Thruway was closed and hippies were inundating the small Catskills farm community.

Back then word spread a lot slower than it does today. We had TV, radio, papers and magazines, no Internet of course. It would take until the movie and soundtrack album came put for me to fully understand the true importance of the event. 

Woodstock: The Movie

I went to the opening of the movie, directed by Michael Wadleigh and released by Warner Brothers, at a Manahattan theater on March 26, 1970, seven months after the festival took place. First we got stoned in the bathroom, then settled into our seats for the next two hours and 25 minutes.

My jaw dropped with excitement as I watched performance after performance by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Santana, the Who, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Sly & the Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Ten Years After, Joe Cocker, Country Joe & the Fish, John Sebastian, Canned Heat and Sha-Na-Na.

The movie also told the story of the event with multi-screen visuals, terrific crowd shots, fan interviews, stage announcements, local scenery, friendly cops, rain, mud, pot, nudity and skinny dipping. Boy, did I miss a good time.

The movie has been re-released several times as different director's cuts. The first cut in 1994 added 40 minutes and morer songs by the Hendrix, Joplin, the Airplane and Canned Heat.

The second cut in 2009, Three Days of Peace & Music, has 18 more songs, including additional performances by Santana, the Who, the Airplane, Country Joe, Baez, Cocker and Sha-Na-Na, and ones by groups that never appeared in the first two cuts: the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Mountain, Paul Butterfied Blues Band and Johnny Winter. They total another 183 minutes.

The third cut in 2014 includes three discs - one is the 2009 version. The second includes never-before-seen performances by Hendrix, the Dead, the Who, the Airplane, CS&N, Santana, Baez, Country Joe, Butterfield and Sha-Na-Na, and one other performer who had yet to be featured, Melanie. The third contains eight featurettes about the making of the festival.

Woodstock: The Album

The original soundtack was released by Atlantic Records on their Cotillion label on May 11, 1970. It contained three albums and ran a total of 139 minutes. It has 21 tracks and 25 songs. The bands and artists included are Hendrix, Joplin, Santana, Sly, the Who, the Airplane, CS&N, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Ten Years After, Cocker, Country Joe, Baez, Havens, Guthrie, Sebastian, Canned Heat, Butterfield and Sha-Na-Na. It also has stage announcements. The album hit No. 1 on the charts.

Woodstock 2, a double-album released July 12, 1971, has 16 additional songs by Hendrix, the Airplane, CSN&Y, Baez, Butterfield, Canned Heat, Mountain and Melanie.

In 1994, a four-CD set, Three Days of Peace & Music, has a mix of 50 previously issued and never-before-issued tracks. The latter includes Creedance, the Band, Winter and Tim Hardin.

In 2009, Rhino released a six-CD set, 40 Years Onfor the completist. It includes never-before-issued tracks by Blood, Sweat & Tears, Ravi Shankar, the Incredible String Band, Sweetwater, Quill, Bert Sommer and John Morris. There are a total of 99 tracks. Disc 4 features Abbie Hoffman's political speech and his tiff with Pete Townsend before the Who went on.

The latest, Back to the Garden, released in 2019, goes even further. This 10-CD set compiles 162 tracks, adding Keef Hartley Band, Hugh Romney (a.k.a Wavy Gravy), Ken Babbs and Max Yasgur to the already long list list of performers and speakers.

Post Woodstock

Since I wasn't there I decided to make up for that by seeing as many of the Woodstock performers as I could in concert. In 1970 and 1971 I went to the following shows:

• Santana at Fillmore East

• Ten Years After at Fillmore East 

• Jimi Hendrix, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Richie Havens, Winter Festival for Peace, Madison Square Garden

• Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Havens, John Sebastian, Johnny Winter and Sha-Na-Na, Summer Festival for Peace, Shea Stadium

• The Band, Schaefer Music Festival, Central Park

• Melanie, Schaefer Music Festival, Central Park

• Arlo Guthrie, Schaefer Music Festival, Central Park

• John Sebastian, Schaefer Music Festival, Central Park

• Mountain, Schaefer Music Festival, Central Park

• Sha-Na-Na, Schaefer Music Festival, Central Park

• Blood, Sweat & Tears, Schaefer Music Festival, Central Park

• Sly & the Family Stone at Madison Square Garden

• The Grateful Dead at Gaelic Park

Woodstock '94 (25th Anniversary)

I covered the 25th anniversary Woodstock festival in Saugerties, NY on August 12-14 for High Times. That was a huge event, with rain, mud, food shortages and a greal musical lineup. The performers played on two stages and included Aerosmith, Metallica, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, The Band, Santana, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Allman Brothers Band, Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Joe Cocker, Traffic, Neville Brothers, Jimmy Cliff, Green Day, Cypress Hill, Primus, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Blind Melon, the Cranberries, John Sebastian, Country Joe McDonald, Gil Scott-Heron, Henry Rollins, Youssou N'dour, Arrested Development, Salt 'N Pepa, Porno for Pyros, Collective Soul, Violent Femmes, Orleans, Aphex Twin, Deee-Lite and the Orb.

Woodstock '99 (30th Anniversary)

Thankfully, I did not attend this event in Rome, NY, which devolved into riots, looting, fires and sexual assaults.

Woodstock 2009 (40th Anniversary)

In 2006, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, an amphitheater concert venue, opened on the original Woodstock festival site. In 2009, it hosted the 40th Anniversary. I attended that show. Ten Years After, Mountain, Canned Heat, the Rascals and other bands performed.

Woodstock 2019: (50th Anniverary) 

After many attempts, the Woodstock 50 event planned by original promoter Michael Lang never got off the ground. Instead, the anniverdary is being celebrated at Bethel Woods. Here's the schedule:

• August 15: Arlo Guthrie and a screening of the Woodstock movie (director's cut)

• Ringo Starr & His All Star Band featuring Blood, Sweat & Tears and Edgar Winter

• Santana and the Doobie Brothers

• John Fogerty, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Grace Potter

I'm covering the shows for Variety. All these years later I'm going back to the garden.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf, co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness, and the former editor of High Times.