I didn't actually hear any music by Jefferson Airplane until after the band had changed its name to Jefferson Starship sometime in the 1970s. As was the case with most of my music, my first exposure to them came through my older brother. The first album of theirs that I bought on my own was a double album retrospective that came out in the mid to late 1970s which covered their career from their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, through to Red Octopus by the Starship.
Even though there was some great stuff from Crown Of Creation in this set, it was the rough edged anthem "Volunteers" and their eerie version of "Wooden Ships" from the Volunteers album that made the biggest impression on me. Compared to what was being played on the radio at the time, these songs from some eight years earlier were a breath of fresh air. It wasn't until I heard the Clash for the first time a couple of years latter that anyone was able to match the intensity of the call to arms for social change of Volunteers.
Ironically, about a year earlier I had first seen the movie Woodstock in one of the second run theatres scattered around Toronto Canada. The version they were showing in those days didn't include the footage later added to the director's cuts, so I had no idea the Airplane had even played at the festival. I had listened to the triple album that had been released as a soundtrack a number of times before seeing the movie – thanks again to my brother – and they hadn't been included on it either. It wasn't until years later I found out they had been there, and it was only when I got hold of a copy of a director's cut a few years ago that I even heard any of the set they performed.
Now, forty years since the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival and the release of Volunteers, Sony's Legacy Recordings have released a series of five numbered, limited edition, re-mastered recordings featuring performer's complete sets from Woodstock and the album that they released the year of the concert. Jefferson Airplane: The Woodstock Experience contains all thirteen songs Jefferson Airplane performed that Sunday morning in August of 1969 when the sun was coming up over Yasgur's farm and a copy of Volunteers. Disc one of the two disc set includes the ten tracks from the studio album and the first five cuts from their Woodstock set, including Grace Slick's slightly trippy greeting to the crowd. As well as including a second disc containing the rest of the band's live set, in a throwback to the old days of albums, the package comes complete with a poster of the band on stage at the festival.
When I first heard the Airplane's set had been left out of the movie and the soundtrack album, I had figured it was because the sound quality just hadn't been good enough to warrant including it. Remember technology in 1969 was primitive compared to what we're used to today. It was quite possible that because of the rain and other problems, the sound for their set had sucked. However, when I saw what had been included in the director's cut of the movie, I knew that couldn't be the case for the sound was as good as anything else included in the earlier version. What makes their exclusion even odder is, as the packaging says, in 1969 Jefferson Airplane was "the" headlining act for festivals.
We might look at a line up including the Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Santana, and think one of them might have been bigger. However, Santana had just released their first album that year and the Who hadn't broken through in the States yet. It was their appearance at Woodstock that jumped started both bands' careers. According to the liner notes of this package, Jefferson Airplane had been the first group that the festival's organizers had booked for the weekend. They were included on the far less popular Woodstock Two album, along with other bands who didn't appear in the original movie or the soundtrack, but that's an odd way to treat your headliner, don't you think?