Monday, August 12, 2019

On Woodstock

Graham Nash: When David, Stephen and I flew out to The Hamptons for our first serious Crosby Stills & Nash rehearsals, we rented a wooden chalet by the lake and invoked the "no women" rule. We were finally free from our previous bands.

We had a hell of a time, cementing our friendship, getting wasted, working up the first CSN album – three hippies wired to their eyeballs in a snowbound cabin for a month. We recruited Stills's old bandmate Neil Young as our fourth member and played our first show in Chicago. Now, I know a few things about crazy tours.

At our height, the Hollies' shows had been insane: wall-to-wall teenage girls, screaming their heads off in a sexual frenzy at these young, good-looking guys playing loud rock 'n' roll.
At one of our shows in Glasgow, '75, girls fainted during the Hollies' set and had to be passed hand-over-head, like in a mosh pit. 

Some of those gigs had an eerie, war-zone quality. If a chick took a shine to the lead singer, you could bet he was going to get his ass kicked by her boyfriend and his pals after the show. I can't tell you how many buses I ran for after concerts. One time, I got three front teeth shattered.

Woodstock, however, was something else. We heard it was going to be monumental, transformative, a cultural flashpoint. As the festival approached, rumours told of 100,000 people there, then 200,000. By the time we headed to New Jersey to catch a helicopter on the Sunday evening, they were calling it a disaster, a revolution; they were calling out the National Guard.

We flew up along the Hudson River, and then it came into view. David said it was like flying over an encampment of the Macedonian army. It was more than a city of people – it was tribal. Fires were burning, smoke was rising, a sea of hippies clustered together, shoulder to shoulder, hundreds of thousands of them.

John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful met us. We went straight to his tent at the right-hand side of the stage and got incredibly wasted. It was such a tumultuous, smoke-ridden moment that it's hard to remember everything as it went down, but we played for an hour and we could hardly hear ourselves. 

The sound of the audience was enormous, their energy thrumming like an engine. We only knew we had done well. We could sense it. As we left, Jimi Hendrix was launching into The Star-Spangled Banner.

There’s no doubt CSNY were a political band. We were flame-throwers in the best democratic sense. We recorded Neil's song "Ohio" in response to the 1970 Kent State University shooting of four American students by National Guardsmen, and we put it out within two weeks. It was us at our best: town criers, saying, "It's 12 o'clock and all is not well."

David Crosby: I saw this girl. She was a blonde girl, pretty, short dress, good legs and she was walking in the mud barefoot. She cut her foot on a piece of glass in the mud and she was really bleeding. She was definitely really hurt. I saw this guy who was a New York State cop, and I noticed his shoes were polished and shiny. He looked at the girl and without any hesitation at all, walked right over to her into the mud and picked her up. He got the blood and mud all over himself while he carried her all the way to his car. He gently laid her down, showing care and compassion, and put her into his car to take her over to a doctor or somewhere she could get care. Fifteen hippies saw this and stepped forward to push that police cruiser out of the mud, to make sure she would reach the doctor as fast as possible. This is how it's supposed to be.

A thing happened at Woodstock where people were nice to each other, it was real. It was there, you could taste it and you could feel it all around you. There was a generosity of spirit to each other. That's what Woodstock was about, really. It wasn’t about half a million people, it wasn’t about naked kids in the mud. It was about the spirit of humans being nice to each other for once.

Neil Young: It was like a migration – I don’t know what to compare it to. We thought it was the first time we’d seen the group of people that we kind of knew, that we met around the country – the heads, the hippies, whatever – the first time that we’d seen them all come into one area and you could feel the strength of the numbers. But corporate America was watching too. And it was a lot of confused traveling, nervous people, a lot of different people going back and forth and kind of on-the-spot plans being made.
We were nervous- it was like our second show or something – and I was especially nervous because I didn’t know the rhythm section that well and we really didn’t have that much of a groove. I didn't allow myself to be filmed because I didn’t want them on the stage. Because we were playing music – get away, don't be in my way, I don’t want to see your cameras. I don’t want to see you. To me it was a distraction from making music, and music is something you listen to, not that you look at. So you're there, trying to get lost in the music, and there's this dickhead with a camera in your face. So the only way to make sure that wouldn’t happen is to tell them I wouldn’t be in the film so avoid me, stay away from my area. And that worked.
Hendrix is the best, nobody can touch him. I’m a hack compared to him, a hack. That guy — it slipped off his hands, he couldn't help himself. 

Stephen Stills: This is the second time we've ever played in front of people, man; we're scared shitless.

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