By the Time We Got to Woodstock...40 Years Later

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Unlike everyone else alive at the time I wasn't there, but I remember the news reel images of happily stoned hippies soaking up the rain and the music. Here are my top ten favorite performances from the festival:

1) "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" - Crosby, Stills and Nash. Harmony personified, and this was only their second gig. Stills is a shaman, playing his acoustic like a sitar and singing with power and confidence.

2) "Theme from an Imaginary Western" - Mountain. Felix Pappalardi's stirring, leather-lunged vocal is an ideal complement to Leslie West's full-bodied soloing. Mountain could be large and loud at times, but this quieter piece showed that underneath the volcanic volume Pappalardi's bass held their sound together and organist Steve Knight did more than just play chords.

3) "I'm Comin' Home - Ten Years After. In terms of entertainment, this was the definitive Woodstock performance, with "Captain Speed Fingers," a shouting, wailing, head-bobbing Alvin Lee, in a fire-breathing fugue as he ad-libbed a twelve-minute history of rock n' roll, conjuring up Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," and Elvis' "Blue Suede Shoes." Recreating the sounds of B.B. King, Freddie King and other blues legends transformed Lee into the king of boogie. It's a solo showcase that made and ultimately destroyed the group - it catapulted Ten Years After to stardom in the U.S, made Lee the focal point, and forced him to try and recapture the magic for the next 40 years. Alvin Lee leaves the rest of the band in the dust, save jack-hammering bassist Leo Lyons who flies alongside Lee's mach five madness for a few minutes. Lee's performance was so dominant, few people realized the band had a keyboard player (poor Chick Churchill who can be seen in the movie standing off stage clapping to the beat).

4) "Soul Sacrifice" - Santana. The band had been around for less than a year, and had just released their first album. By the time they left the stage, their innovative Latin/rock fusion has established the band as stars. Guitarist Carlos Santana, one of the many artists performing under the influence of his favorite mind expanding drug (in his case, mescaline) made his guitar scream, keyboardist/vocalist Greg Rolie was masterful on the Hammond, and drummer Michael Schrieve reinvented the drum solo.

5) "Sea of Madness" - Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Neil Young pounding away on the organ, singing with energy and conviction, with Stephen Stills producing exhilarating solos on guitar.

6) "Coming Into Los Angeles" - Arlo Guthrie. Guthrie proudly announced during his set, "The New York State throughway is closed man!" Arlo was about as addled as many of the other artists, but pulled off an acoustic anthem for the Woodstock generation that proved he was more than a one trick pony: "Comin' into Los Angeles, bringin' in a couple of keys. Don't touch my bags of you please, Mr. Customs man."

7) "Rainbows All Over Your Blues" - John Sebastian. Armed with just an acoustic guitar and tripping his toes off, Sebastian bravely accepted the offer to be a fill in act until other groups could arrive. He wooed the audience with his aw shucks congenial manner and self-effacing humor: "I been waiting my time, just to talk to you. You've been looking all down in the mouth, and down at your shoes. Well baby, I've come here to give you the news, I'll paint rainbows all over your blues."

8) "Volunteers" - Jefferson Airplane. Grace Slick labeled this morning manic
music - she was right. Singer Marty Balin got his inspiration for this anthem for the hippie revolution by watching garbage men at work outside his window - "Look what's happening in the street." Grace wails with reckless abandon (yes another victim of the drug of her choice). Not to be outdone, Balin sings like he wants to incite a riot. The combative Airplane could be chaotic and downright horrible, but they pulled it together for "Volunteers."

9) "See Me, Feel Me" - The Who. Yes, "Tommy" is one of the most overrated schlock operas of all time, but Moon's rumbling drums, Townsend's chicken chocking guitar, and the Daltrey/Townsend/Entwhistle angry choral work could indeed make a blind boy see.

10) "With a Little Help From My Friends" - Joe Cocker. Like Santana, Joe was an unknown commodity in America when he stepped on stage. People were sympathetic because they thought his twitching and jerking about was the result of some sort of affliction. The people we should feel sorry about are those who've never heard Joe mythic reworking of this Beatles classic. This cat could wail!

Peace, brothers and sisters.



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