Back to the Garden

And I'm not talking springtime planting, folks. The Fonz don't do gardening. As you might guess, I'm speaking of the legendary 1969 Woodstock Festival. Even if you're not into all that hippie music or the attendant counterculture, most observers agree with Wikipedia's assertion that "it is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history."

Me, I quite enjoy that hippie music; indeed, some of my favourites played Woodstock. There were also a few artists on the bill I could do without (hello Melanie, Canned Heat, Johnny Winter and Sha Na Na). But all told, I've been a fan of the mystique ever since I bought the original triple album back in 1980 or so.

Anyway, I recently dragged out my 4-CD box (released in 1994 for the 25th anniversary), enjoyed the highlights and wondered if there's more where that came from. Turns out there is. Much more. First, the fine people at Rhino Records issued a 6-CD box to coincide with the 40th anniversary in 2009, boasting 38 previously unreleased tracks. That same year came The Woodstock Experience, a reissue series featuring complete sets from Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone and Johnny Winter. If I'd had the cash back then I'd have bought three of the five, but as it stood I splurged for the Airplane and no more. Just last week, I scored a great deal on the Rhino box: $40 on amazon.ca.

Armed with all that, I decided to make the ultimate mix tape ... sorry, playlist. Off the top, I realized that the 6-CD box, comprehensive as it was, didn't include everything on the 4-CD set. That had 11 songs missing from the Rhino compilation (mostly due to rights issues or personal choice of the producers). And with that, I thought I was done until I checked YouTube, where I found a treasure trove of material that's not on either box set or the previous LPs. From there, I was able to fill out those sets I wanted more from: 22 additional tunes in all—more if you count some Woodstock Experience material I was able to slot in for Janis, Sly and Santana. And still more was available, but I weeded out iffy performances, material of dodgy quality and stuff I simply didn't want (more Canned Heat, etc.).

Assembling this mass of music into something listenable took a little finagling. For starters, the multiplicity of sources meant wide variation in volume levels. I used MP3Gain to make crude volume adjustments; beyond that, if things still weren't right I imported the mp3s into Audacity and tweaked them there. Audacity also proved useful for creating fade-ins and fade-outs as needed, and most crucially, pasting the stage patter where it belongs chronologically. See, the producers of both the big compilations (as they should) placed emcee intros before the first song and outros after the last song. That's fine, but the first/last songs on that particular compilation may not be true to how the set was actually played. This became an issue when I downloaded something off YouTube that came before or after the "first" and "last" song illusions created by the compilations' producers. How would I know? Well, Rhino's box includes each band's complete set, all in the correct order. And these guys got it from the source: their original intent was to put out a 30-CD box of every note played at Woodstock, so they've gone through the original recordings top to bottom.

I also used Audacity on occasion to EQ the material and spiff it up. I couldn't hope to match the quality of the official compilations, but a judicious touch of high- or low-end (sometimes both) helped the iffier tracks pale a touch less compared to the professional productions. In one instance (Keef Hartley Band), the only known source was an audience recording, so as you can imagine that required some serious sonic work.

Finally, I employed my sound-editing skills to help out a band I really didn't like: Quill. They'd never before appeared on a Woodstock compilation and it's easy to see why, as their two songs on the Rhino box are godawful. But, as I wanted to represent every act that played, I went on a quest to find something bearable. YouTube provided a middling track called "Waiting for You" which sounded like a poor man's T. Rex filtered through third-rate Frank Zappa. (Yes, that's Quill at their best, folks.) As is often the case with bands endowed with a bloated sense of their importance, they meander on and on. The original track was over 11 minutes and featured a clumsy and pointless percussion interlude. I found a good spot, counted off eight bars and chop: gone. At 8:30, the truncated version remains somewhat tedious but at least I've purged the song of its worst excesses.

While we're on that topic, the Rhino overlords saw fit to include a full-length version of Canned Heat's "Woodstock Boogie," a 29-minute snooze-fest to these ears. (I'm not a fan of da blooze, in case you've not gleaned that from my previous posts.) What gems could have gone on there in its place! Alas. Anyway, I trimmed that sucker to its rightful length of 0:00 by keeping it off my playlist.

Speaking of which, in its ten-hour glory, I proudly present ...

V E R N ' S   U L T I M A T E   W O O D S T O C K   P L A Y L I S T
(* = unreleased anywhere but YouTube as far as know ... though see addendum at bottom)

Day 1
  • Richie Havens: High Flyin' Bird*, I Can't Make It Anymore*, Handsome Johnny, Strawberry Fields Forever*, Freedom
  • Sweetwater: Look Out, Two Worlds
  • Bert Sommer: Jennifer, And When It's Over, Smile
  • Tim Hardin: Hang on to a Dream, If I Were a Carpenter, Simple Song of Freedom
  • Ravi Shankar: Raga Puriya-Dhanashri/Gat in Sawarital
  • Melanie: Momma Momma, Beautiful People
  • Arlo Guthrie: Coming into Los Angeles, Wheel of Fortune, Walkin' Down the Line, Every Hand in the Land
  • Joan Baez: Joe Hill, Sweet Sir Galahad, Hickory Wind, Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man, One Day at a Time*
Day 2
  • Quill: Waiting for You*
  • Country Joe McDonald: Donovan's Reef, Flying High*, The "Fish" Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag
  • Santana: Waiting, Evil Ways, You Just Don't Care, Jingo, Persuasion, Soul Sacrifice
  • John Sebastian: How Have You Been, Rainbows All Over Your Blues, I Had a Dream, Darlin' Be Home Soon*
  • Keef Hartley Band: Spanish Fly*
  • The Incredible String Band: The Letter, Gather 'Round*, When You Find Out Who You Are
  • Canned Heat: Going up the Country, On the Road Again*
  • Mountain: Blood of the Sun, Theme for an Imaginary Western, For Yasgur's Farm
  • Grateful Dead: Mama Tried, Dark Star
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: Born on the Bayou*, Green River, Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do), Commotion, Bad Moon Rising, I Put a Spell on You, Keep on Chooglin'*
  • Janis Joplin: Raise Your Hand, Try (Just a Little Bit Harder), Kozmic Blues, Work Me Lord, Ball and Chain
  • Sly & The Family Stone: Sing a Simple Song, You Can Make It If You Try, Medley: Dance to the Music/Music Lover/I Want to Take You Higher, Stand!
  • The Who: Amazing Journey, Pinball Wizard, We're Not Gonna Take It, My Generation*, Naked Eye*
Day 3
  • Jefferson Airplane: The Other Side of This Life, Somebody to Love, 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds, Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon, Eskimo Blue Day, Volunteers
  • Joe Cocker: Feelin' Alright, Let's Go Get Stoned, I Shall Be Released*, With a Little Help from My Friends
  • Country Joe & The Fish: Rock & Soul Music, Love, Silver and Gold
  • Ten Years After: I'm Going Home
  • The Band: Tears of Rage*, Long Black Veil, The Weight, Loving You Is Sweeter than Ever
  • Johnny Winter: Mean Town Blues, Johnny B. Goode
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears: More and More*, Somethin' Comin' On*, I Love You More than You'll Ever Know*, Spinning Wheel*, You've Made Me So Very Happy
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash (& Young): Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Marrakesh Express, Sea of Madness, Wooden Ships, Find the Cost of Freedom
  • The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Morning Sunrise*, Love March, Everything's Gonna Be Alright
  • Sha Na Na: Wipe Out*, At the Hop, Get a Job (Reprise)
  • Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child (Slight Return)/Stepping Stone, The Star Spangled Banner, Purple Haze, Woodstock Improvisation
The highlights you recall from the original triple LP are, of course, all present and accounted for: Richie Havens' wild strumming on "Freedom," Santana's incendiary "Soul Sacrifice," Sly's high-octane funk medley, Joe Cocker's soulful take on "With a Little Help from My Friends," Ten Years After's romp through "I'm Going Home," Hendrix deconstructing and reconstructing the US National Anthem. But the glut of unreleased material produced new revelations as well. The unknown Bert Sommer wrote some killer songs, and that shimmering organ accompaniment really made them shine. Santana's entire set smoked, top to bottom. The Dead, whose overall performance was sub-par and plagued by technical problems, rose to the occasion with a spacey "Dark Star." CCR cranked out their swamp-rock like a walking jukebox, and BS&T strutted their way through a tight, jazzy set. All in all, I can't help but wonder what else lies in the vaults. Five turkeys for every pearl, probably, but I pine for that 30-CD set. There is a 50th anniversary coming up in a few years; maybe then?

Addendum, May 2, 2016: If you want to seriously disappear down the Woodstock wormhole, try James Stafford's  The (Kind Of) Complete Woodstock series, an exhaustive compendium of bands, set lists and sources. It turns out that most of what I assumed was YouTube-only material has been pilfered from stray semi-official and official releases, mostly on DVD and VHS. See Stafford's posts for specifics if you're interested. A smattering of material unique to YouTube still remains.

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Photographs by Carol Witwicky. Instrument illustrations and GZ logo © 2017 Grinning Zone Studios.
Album and lyrics page artwork © 2017 Gabriel Altrows. Web design by Vern Nicholson.
Sour Landslide and Benvereens archival footage courtesy Neil Whitlock.
All pages and contents © 2017-2019 Vern Nicholson.