At the Woodstock Festival that occurred 50 years ago this coming July the performers included Creedence Clearwater Revival; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Jefferson Airplane; the Grateful Dead.
For reasons that probably have more to do with lucre than love, there is Woodstock 50 planned for this summer. There has been a considerable amount of more notoriety of this event as regards the financing than the acts, but the roster is nothing if not robust.
If we go back to the opening paragraph of this, know that among the performers are John Fogerty; David Crosby; Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Casady (a.k.a., Hot Tuna); and Dead & Company.
Fogerty is 73. Crosby, 77. Jorma, 78. Casady 75. And just to pick one still there and still alive, Bob Weir 71.
At this point you might expect one of my typical rants about old musicians hanging it up.
But I’m not going to do that.
Rather, it simply strikes me that back in 1969 there was an event that had a certain music-changing magnitude (I’d argue that all of the variants of the “Star Spangled Banner” that are now heard at NASCAR races and sporting events go back to Hendrix taking what had theretofore been something of an untouchable icon and molding it into something completely different) that has never been equaled. It was a phenomenon. While it certainly wasn’t the first music festival, nor will it be the last, it was something that had far more cultural resonance than anything that was there before or after, and much of this has to do with the spontaneity of the events on the ground as they transpired and changed the entire dynamic of what was to be into something that was more representative of the age: a whiff of anarchy.
Yes, there are music festivals. Yes, there should continue to be music festivals.
But what are the organizers thinking is going to happen? Are they going to catch lightning in a bottle, or are they going to be working out—as seems to be the case right now—how much they’re going to be able to capture in terms of monetary value? Is this a music festival or a payday?
But—and you knew I was going to get there—what about those who’d played at the original and who are on the bill right now?
I can see it all now, when the old acts are sprinkled in among the contemporary ones. (One reason for doing this would be to maintain at least a certain number of people looking at the stage. Look: it is one thing for someone on stage who is in his 70s, and another entirely for someone in her 70s to be getting to a venue in a field and having to endure the porta-potties. And should the weather not cooperate—a la 1969—it is somewhat unpleasant to think of those people having to deal with the actual conditions on the ground because they’re not going to deal with it as they did when they were in there 20s or younger. So let’s assume that the age of the audience is going to skew much, much younger than that handful of vintage acts. And how interested are they going to be hearing David Crosby singing a song by Joni Mitchell?)
Perhaps there will be film from ’69, showing Creedence and CSN&Y and Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead on giant screens above the stage and throughout the venue when those acts take the stage in ’19. Here they are when they were young. Here they are when they aren’t. Here they are when they had range and facility. Here they are when they’ve lost the ability to hit those notes or make their fingers dance.
It will be like one of those baseball games when they trot out players from a World Series winning team, hobbling out and hitting what really amount to fungos.
Which borders on the bathetic. But even for them it will be a payday. And I can’t begrudge them that.