The History Of The Woodstock Festival - Part 4

The History Of The Woodstock Festival - Part 4
Authored By John Nicholson

As the rain came down and turned the whole site into a quagmire, the dirt that had covered the main electricity cables was washed away, leaving them exposed.

Gradually the insulation on those cables got worn away by the ceaseless trudging of the masses. So now there were thousands of wet people set to be fried. pressure man, but we need to make that not happen.

The dude who was the chief electrician and thus responsible for the whole site not turning into an electric fire got hold of Joel Rosenman and told him that they'd have mass electrocution on their hands here unless they cut the power and fixed that cable. No ifs, not buts, this was time to grow up and get real, you mutha.

But Rosenman didn't want 400,000 people sitting in the dark with no music. The vibe had been good, but for how long? What if the beautiful people turned ugly? So what to do? Every minute that passed was a minute closer to a disaster. Yer man Joel made his decision. Err...listen, how about fixing the insulation on the cable without turning off the power?!

What?!! You'd better wear some gloves to do that, buddy. And so the electrician must surely have said a prayer, cursed the day he ever decided to be an electrician and was dispatched to do what he had to do. Would he return or would there be an almighty orange flash followed by the smell of deep-fried human? This was serious schizzle.

Whoever he was, he was an unacclaimed hero of Woodstock. Somehow, he ran the power from the exposed cables to other lines that were still underground, without so much as an errant spark. Well done that man. 

And the bands played on. And what music was played.

Saturday dawned and with the exception of tie-dyed, ex-Lovin Spoonful dude, John Sebastian, it was all rock 'n' roll. Canned Heat, Janis, Country Joe and the Fish, The Who, the Grateful Dead, Keef Hartley, Sha Na Na, local Boston band Quill, Santana, Mountain and Sly and the Family Stone made up the bill.

Saturday gave the festival and the movie some of it's most iconic and thrilling performances. Santana were especially breath-taking featuring a young Michael Shrieve on drums with an expression somewhere between disbelief and ecstasy.

These bands had all played festivals all summer and were tight and together and man, did it show. What it sounded like out in the fields, who knows, but on record and in the movie it all sounds magnificent, from Carlos's piercing guitar, to Leslie West's steamroller riffs.

A fewer hours before sunrise, Sly and the Family Stone took the stage by storm, whipping up everyone into a frenzy and they were followed by the 'orrible 'Ooo all the way from Shepherds Bush.

Hitting the stage just as the sun was rising, they turned in a performance that, even now, beggars belief. For a start they'd all been dosed up with acid, against their wishes. Daltrey looks incredible in the fringed jacket, Townshend leading proceedings with a performance of such physical and musical prowess that it is scarcely believable.

He writhes and slams and beats the guitar, wrestling amazing noises out of it. Moon, unfazed by anything, gives it 100 percent rock n roll as per usual. All pinned down by The Ox's resolute bass.

At one point, Yippie leader, Abbie Hoffman gets hold of a microphone to protest about MC5 manager John Sinclair being in jail. From the blackness you can hear Pete shouting, in a distinctly London accent, 'get off my f*cking stage' and whacks him with his guitar. You don't get in the way of The Who when they're working. Of course, it's all pure rock 'n' roll, raw and magnificent and crackling with intensity. These were defining moments of the classic era of rock music. By the time they return for an encore, Townshend's eyes betrays the acid. He looks wrecked but still turns in a magnificent rendition of My Generation. 

It was now Sunday. The last day. Wavy Gravy was on stage. "What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000...we're all feedin' each other. We must be in heavin' man! "here's always a little bit of heaven in a disaster area."

OK so brown rice and beans might not be your idea of good breakfasting, or maybe it is, but I'm sure it was welcome nonetheless. Thankfully, the toilets had been cleaned out - just as well with all that brown rice in the collective digestive systems.

Jefferson Airplane kicked off the 'morning maniac music' playing Volunteers, they were followed by Joe Cocker with the much underrated Grease Band who delivered a performance of unreconstructed hypnotic tie-dyed magnificence. As he did so, thunder rumbled in the distance. Oh man, here it comes, this is The Big One

The infamous chant went up. No rain, no rain, no rain did it help? No, of course not. You can't stop or start weather by chanting, any more than you can alter it by wearing a hat.

This time, the downpour was torrential. The road crew tried to cover the stage and equipment as much as possible. Everyone hunkered down and waited for it to be over. As Lang and Kornfeld are interviewed in the movie, both starry-eyed, stoned and understandably astonished by what they have helped create here, helicopters drop dry clothes and, of course, flowers. Because when you're living like a refugee, flowers are what you need. Edible flowers, preferably.

The thing is, despite the desperate circumstances it is, in a very unique way, beautiful. It did prove that a large of group of people can get along and don't need to be policed. OK, you need helicopters to drop food and clothes and flowers but hey, better they do that than drop bombs, man.

Eventually, when the big storm had passed through, many decided that, man...that was enough mud and precipitation now. Even the most dedicated festival-goer can only stand so much rain. A steady stream of people began to leave the site and in doing so, missed the legendary CSNY and Ten Years After performances along with The Band and Blood Sweat and Tears.

As Alvin Lee stands at the microphone to announce 'I'm Going Home' (by helicopter) his breath comes out in steamy gulps, the air sodden with the remnants of the storm. He proceeds to tear it up in a performance that would become the absolute defining moment of his life.

By the time Jimi Hendrix took the stage on Monday morning, only 25,000 were left to see him wrestle 'Star Spangled Banner' out of his Stratocaster. It was a performance of great symbolism and power but was witnessed by relatively few people. The movie made Hendrix At Woodstock into A Thing. On the day, though, the feeling that it was all over and the vibe had gone, was powerful.

Remarkably, for such a huge event, it was over quickly. By Monday afternoon, Yasgur's farm was little more than a giant litter heap. Volunteers moved in to start the clear up, while the 400,000 went back to normal life. Woodstock was over...except it wasn't.

This wasn't the end, it was just the start. Immediately, the myth and magic of the event became entrenched in popular culture. It's significance was poured over and discussed. What lessons could it teach us all? The industry of Woodstock was just beginning.

Part 5 will be published on Friday

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