On the weekend of August 16-19, thousands will be truckin’ up to Watkins Glen, New York, for the 50th anniversary of the most well known music festival of all time, Woodstock.
For those who don’t know, Woodstock was basically the amalgamation of everything that made the 1960s’ the 1960s’: hippies, drugs, the promotion of peace and love as the ultimate virtues, and some of the best damned music ever made. (There was also mud and nudity. Lots and lots of mud and nudity. Also, one dude got run over by a tractor.) For three days, a crowd of 500,000 flower children tripped their collective balls off to the music of Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who and numerous other iconic acts of the era. Some performances, such as Hendrix’s searing instrumental version of “The Star Spangled Banner” and Joe Cocker’s cover of the Beatles classic “With a Little Help of My Friends,” are some of the most significant moments in rock and roll.
Woodstock has taken an almost mythical status in popular culture, and it’s served as the catalyst for Coachella, Bonnaroo, Warped Tour, and numerous other multi-big name annual festival events that have taken place since. There have been two formal anniversary celebrations since, one in 1994 for its 25th and again in 1999 for its 30th. The first one was pretty good; Bob Dylan atoned for not playing in 1969, and Aerosmith, Green Day, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blind Melon, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and an all around eclectic lineup of well known names turned out for a respectable, if slightly hollow, celebration of the original.
Woodstock 1999 is infamous as probably the worst major musical festival in music history. Marred by various acts of violence, destruction of property, and a lineup that seemed to have been decided by throwing a bunch of darts at names and booking whoever was landed on (how else would James Brown and Limp Bizkit be in the same vicinity?), it served more as anniversary for Altamont than for Woodstock.
According to original promoter Michael Lang, the 50th anniversary will not make the same mistakes as the 30th anniversary and will try to recapture the spirit and message of the original festival, and also feature an eclectic mix of iconic acts ranging from legendary classic rock acts to modern hip hop and pop artists. This all sounds promising, but
Dead & Company
The latest (and best) incarnation of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead seems like a no-brainer; the band still embodies the free spirited values that the original lineup promoted, and with John Mayer fronting, younger audiences will have a big name to latch onto and ultimately introduce classics like “Uncle John’s Band,” “Casey Jones,” and “Dark Star” to a whole new generation. Plus, it would serve as a mea culpa of sorts for the surviving members, as the original band notoriously put on one of the worst sets of the original festival. Just no hologram Jerry Garcia.
Bob Dylan wasn’t living too far from Yasgar’s Farm in 1969, but was too wrapped up in his newfound laid back family life to perform at the original festival. He eventually performed at the 25th anniversary in 1994, putting on a memorable set, and the ultimate voice of the 1960s’ counter culture would seem to be an essential choice to have on board for the seminal 50th. Just one caveat: ditch all those Sinatra covers and play “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and numerous other anthems that defined the generation.
The Creedence Clearwater Revival legend is one of the major surviving participants of the original festival, so it would be disrespectful to not extend him an invitation. At 73, Fogerty’s voice is still in great shape and he puts on a hell of a show. With songs like “Proud Mary,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?,” and “Bad Moon Rising” in his repertoire, Fogerty will no doubt be a highlight who’ll have the likely thousands strong crowd singing along with every note.
Another notable survivor of the original lineup, Neil Young has not only cemented himself as one of rock’s most vital and influential singer songwriters, he remains one of its most exciting live acts. Constantly reinventing his own classics as well as writing great new material, a hypothetical set by the Canadian troubadour will no doubt be one of its most memorable. Whether solo acoustic or full band (or both), Neil will absolutely bring it if asked.
Even at almost 25 years into their career, the Foo Fighters still command a fresh, contemporary sound and have won the respect of not only younger crowds but of the old guard as well. Frontman Dave Grohl has cemented himself as a rock legend as much as anyone else on this list, and with an ample set list of crowd pleasing anthems, they’ll bring a youthful vitality to the festival while still maintaining the spirit of the original lineup.
Another band nearly thirty years old that somehow still feels almost contemporary, the last standing core grunge band of the early 1990s’ still packs stadiums and has amassed some of the most powerful classic rock anthems of the 1990s’. The thought of 500, 000+ naked people on acid singing along to “Betterman” already gives me chills.
The Boss is another legendary musician who made his mark post-Woodstock, but he’s in the same rarified air as Dylan, Young and other trailblazers in the singer-songwriter arena. At 69, he still has a seemingly endless supply energy, still putting on four hour shows with his equally spry E Street Band. Even if playing an abbreviated version of his marathon concerts, Bruce will give everything he’s got, leaving the crowd wanting more. Plus, Bruce has a history of disobeying curfews, so we’ll probably get a four hour show anyway.
The Rolling Stones
People can mock the aging rock gods as ‘relics’ and ‘dinosaurs’ all they want, they still pack ‘em in night after night and play the hell out of their hits. With a new album in the works as well as the 50th anniversary of “Let it Bleed” on the horizon, the self proclaimed ‘Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World’ has the opportunity to introduce a wide berth of material to a whole new crowd.
If hip hop is gonna be represented at the festival, it’s proclaimed king will need to be present. Lamar is already pretty much cemented as a legend in hip hop with two classic albums and several hit singles under his belt, and he is also an incredibly dynamic live performer. His rebellious, often politically charged lyrics mirror the attitudes of the anti-Vietnam sentiment that fueled much of the original festival, and with a similarly frought political landscape emerging now, we can expect something comeplling and controversial from him.
The only one of the core British Invasion bands to perform at the original festival, The Who’s surving members, lead singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend, are still going strong. With a new tour and album announced, they’re another band who’d benefit from debuting a wide range of material to a crowd of which many are hearing them for the first time. Also, there’ll be no Abby Hoffman to raid their set this time, so Pete Townshend won’t need to literally beat someone off the stage.
10 years ago, the idea of Lady Gaga appearing on the same stage as any of these artists would have sent everyone reading this into a flurry of blind range. However, ten years later, Gaga has solidified herself as one of the better pop artists ever. She now has wide ranging catalog of classic songs of various genres, her voice is at its zenith, and her sonic palette is wide enough to appeal to most everyone young or old. Having covered Zeppelin and the Beatles quite successfully in the past, there’s a good chance of her collaborating with any of the older artists on this list for a truly memorable cross-generational performance.
By 1969, The Beatles hadn’t performed live in three years and were on the verge of breaking up, so they too missed out on Woodstock. However, no band from the era has made a more lasting impact than The Beatles, and to not invite Sir Paul would be a travesty. He’s near 80, his voice isn’t what it used to be, but the soul and spirit are still there, and with a crowd who will no doubt know the words to every song anyway, the limitations of his age will be an afterthought.
The musical guest list is only one element of making the event a success; there also logistical factors and other components that are crucial in making it go off without a hitch. Here are just five:
- FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT LET ANY PERFORMERS USE FUCKING HOLOGRAMS. If I see Hendrix or Jerry Garcia or John Lennon out on that stage, I want it to be because of some good fucking acid, not cheap technology.
- Security: it’s a festival, shit happens. People get drunk, high, or just lost in whatever the moment seems to bring about. Hire security that is going to be vigilant and fair with festival goers. However…
- No Narcs. It’s a festival. People are gonna do drugs. People are gonna drink alcohol. Someone smoking a joint, swigging cheap vodka from an Evian bottle, or even doing a line in the confines of their camper, isn’t inherently going to harm anyone.
- A diverse lineup. Don’t make it a lineup of just classic rock acts and mainstream pop stars. I know, my list is exactly that, but I confess to not listening to a great deal of modern music. With three non-stop days of music, there is plenty of room for indie acts, current megastars, and elder statesmen to peacefully coexist.
- Bathrooms. For the love of God in Heaven, have a humane bathroom system. I’m not digging a hole.
All in all, I have no reason to doubt that Woodstock 50 will be at the very least enjoyable, but it has every chance in the world to be a spectacular gathering of the vibes to honor an era whose spirit still lingers brightly today.