Monday, August 19, 2019

Woodstock No Shows


While the immensity and importance of the Aquarian Exposition (Woodstock) cannot be denied, from a critical standpoint and with few exceptions, Monterey exceeded expectations whereas Woodstock, due primarily to the weather and technical difficulties, was oftentimes underwhelming. Some artists like Creedence Clearwater and the Grateful Dead had such lackluster performances that the bands were excluded from both the film and the soundtrack. Obviously, we didn't celebrate the 50th anniversary of Monterey the way that we've looked back on Woodstock and there is no Monterey Pop museum, it's the spirit of Woodstock, therefore, that enraptures us, alongside a handful of standout performances from Joe Cocker, Santana, Hendrix, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. But what of those artists who didn't get to Woodstock?

Putting the pieces together in the rock era is a hit or miss undertaking in that so much of it is speculation, as much of it, hearsay. At the book signing for Miles From Nowhere last week, I met a Woodstock attendee who insisted that Tiny Tim was the first performer on Day 1 of the festival. No evidence supports this; Tiny Tim wasn't at Woodstock, despite how real the memory may have been to this gentleman. And so, when we look at who didn't play Woodstock, we're faced with the same kind of sketchy speculation. John Lennon, for instance, was asked if The Beatles would consider performing. Many insist that Lennon said The Beatles would only appear if Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band were also on the docket. Again, there is no record of this. The more likely story is that, based on Lennon's issues with Richard Nixon, there was no way for Lennon to re-enter the United States in August 1969.

Led Zeppelin declined the offer to appear and instead launched a successful tour of the U.S., playing at the Asbury Park Convention Center over Woodstock weekend and then in Framingham, Massachusetts at the Carousel, which was hopefully, faithfully, brought to life in Miles From Nowhere. (An interesting aside is that Zeppelin was one of the premier bands at an obscure amusement park's summer concert series. Other performers in the series included Jethro Tull, The Dead, The Doors (!) and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.)

It was thought the Dylan would appear at the exposition but based on his son's illness and a distaste for the hippies who'd been congregating outside his home in Woodstock, Bob declined the invitation.

John Densmore said that the Doors didn't play because Morrison didn't like to perform outdoors. Both the Moody Blues and Procol Harum appear on the original roster with each dropping out of the lineup just a few weeks prior. The Jeff Beck group broke up a week before the festival and Tommy James said that someone approached him and said, "Yeah, listen, there's this pig farmer in upstate New York that wants you to play in his field." The Shondells subsequently passed up the invitation.

Most significantly, Joni Mitchell was advised by her manager to appear on the Dick Cavett program rather than attending Woodstock feeling that it would be more beneficial to her career. In the history of rock, the only decision that I can think of that may be worse than Joni's was Pete Best leaving the Beatles. What's interesting to note is that Joni, despite not being at the festival, wrote the festival's unofficial anthem shortly thereafter, a track that would be included on her album Ladies of the Canyon in 1970 and made famous by Crosby stills Nash and Young on their LP Déjà Vu.

Last, Iron Butterfly were scheduled to appear but were stranded at the airport. While acts like CSNY got lifted in by helicopter, the Iron Butterflyhowever, weren't offered the same courtesy and never made it to their Gadda Da Vida.

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