Top Ten Woodstock Performances

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Yep, Woodstock was pretty epic. 400,000 pot smoking, bongo playing, crazy dancing hippies descended on Max Yasgur’s 600 acre farm to hear 32 bands amidst an air of peace and love. Sure some of the bands to this day are legendary, but it was a collection of crowning moments over the long weekend that defined how we view Woodstock, and some of these bands, today. Over 40 years later, the 1969 festival still stands as the greatest of all time, and here’s why:

10. Canned Heat “Woodstock Boogie”

Canned Heat always referred to their signature sound as “The Boogie.” No one really knew what that meant until Woodstock, when they cranked out a 30 minute song of rhythmic Blues that can only be described as, well, “Boogie”.

9. Richie Havens “Freedom”

Though it wasn’t the first song played at Woodstock, “Freedom” set the tone for the next three plus days of amazing music. Because so many artists were delayed at the start of the festival, ol’ Richie had to stretch his set out to over two hours, and eventually ran out of tunes. He improvised an old slave spiritual called “Motherless Child,” and it became one of the premier moments at the festival. Sadly, Richie passed away this year, but he certainly isn’t forgotten.

8. Crosby, Stills & Nash “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”

All the boys in CSN&Y were established musicians who had played in big name bands prior. Yet the supergroup had only played one gig together before Woodstock. That’s right, an audience of 400,000 hippies was their second gig. So they opened with Stephen Stills’ masterpiece, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” and just nailed it. Talk about rising to the occasion.

7. The Who “My Generation”

The signature tune and live medley were a stable at concerts for The Who from the 60’s on. At the time of Woodstock, they were at the peak of their career and an absolute juggernaut (big words are cool) live. I mean, they’re the loudest band of all time, sound decibel level wise (hey, it’s science).  So closing out their set, which included all of Tommy and other jamtastic tunes meant they were on fire by the time “My Generation” came on.

6. Country Joe McDonald “The Fish Cheer”

“Give me an F! Give me a U! Give me a C! Give me a K! What’s that spell?” Now that’s pretty badass right there. Joe was called on for an impromptu solo performance since he was planning on playing with his band The Fish later on in the festival. He got the crowd going with his black comedy anti-war tune, and the documentary even features the little lyric bouncy ball thing, so you can sing along and yell at home!

5. Ten Years After “I’m Going Home”

Alvin Lee and the boys started their set as unknowns and walked away as superstars. Lee’s lighting-speed fretwork and Blues jamming propelled the band into the mainstream and caused many a hippie jaw to drop. Lee passed away this year too as well, but he certainly won’t be forgotten.

4. Sly and the Family Stone “I Want To Take You Higher”

Sly was really the first of his kind, bringing killer Funk sounds in the late sixties, well before it was popular in the 70’s. He brought the whole fam along for the ride and just killed the crowd. Hippies were used to their signature weird hippie dancing until Sly showed them how its done. White people still can’t dance by the way.

3. Joe Cocker “With A Little Help From My Friends”

Joe and the ol’ Grease Band took a Beatles song and gave it a ton of soul. I’m talking about 2,000 pounds of soul (that’s a ton, right?) Then he presented it to the Woodstock audience by playing…air guitar? Yup. Dude had the most righteous air guitar axe slinging in history, no competition.

2. Santana “Soul Sacrifice”

Santana played their first gig outside of San Francisco…at Woodstock. They handed out some 2×4’s to the audience, got everyone clapping, and closed their set with “Soul Sacrifice.” Carlos and the boys became superstars after the festival, mainly for this performance. The original band was one of the tightest in history and didn’t miss a beat the whole festival (literally). The hippies also learned that bongo playing could be badass and not always weird.

1. Jimi Hendrix “The Star Spangled Banner”

No one has played the national anthem like Hendrix. Come on, who else can make “bombs bursting in air” from a guitar? There was a considerable amount of backlash for his performance, but in response on the Dick Cavett show, Hendrix explained, “I thought it was beautiful.” In the early morning light of Monday, far off schedule from the evening of Sunday night, the festival closer neared the end of his set with the most fitting song imaginable. Sure there were only 30,000 people still there, but they sure were lucky enough to witness one of the greatest moments in the history of music. Seriously one of the best. For the rest of the 370,000 slackers and generations after Woodstock, it’s a damn good thing someone had the tape rolling.

Did I miss something? Do you agree with the list? Send me your comments and let me know!

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3 Comments

  1. Steve

     /  August 27, 2013

    Have to say Airplane’s “Volunteers” (Good Morning People) was a better performance than Richie’s, otherwise you are spot on.

    Reply
    • I definitely like how Grace Slick yells out “Morning People!” after The Who just finished up their set around 6am. I would definitely agree with you, but there’s one caveat. She welcomes everyone at about 8, but what you’re hearing with “Volunteers” is slick editing. She greeted the crowd before their first song, “The Other Side of Life,” and “Volunteers” wasn’t played until the ninth song on their set. Their whole performance is amazing though, they really jam out for a few hours.

      Reply
  2. Rick Wunder

     /  December 23, 2013

    I completely agree with your list, although my favorite is Cocker’s With a Little Help… Also agree to your comments as to why certain bands copped out on the biggest show ever. I was only 15 at the time and mom sure as hell wasn’t gonna let me go to that thing.!

    Reply

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