As the song goes, by the time they got to Woodstock, they were half a million strong…
Over the next few weeks and months you’re going to start seeing a lot of stuff about Woodstock both on the internet and elsewhere. That’s because the 1969 rock festival — considered by most music historians and other Rockologist types, like yours truly, to be the greatest concert of all time — is turning forty this year.
As the Byrds would say, it seems like only yesterday — particularly if you were actually around back when it happened. Woodstock is not just the stuff of legend, but also of tall tales told from barstools by aging rockers and other hippie types at the sort of musky watering holes you’ll find in most any major city in America. You know the ones that usually start with "I remember Woodstock?"
In my own case, the only thing missing is the grey ponytail.
So, to commemorate this anniversary, there are no less than something like 587 remastered, remixed, and otherwise repackaged Blu-ray, DVD, and CD versions of the concert coming out this summer. Okay, so I’m exaggerating just a little bit. But not by much.
Remastered versions of the original Woodstock and Woodstock Two soundtrack albums are already in stores on CD now, as is a fresh, new version of the Director’s Cut of the original film. The latter item is available both in a single DVD and Blu-ray version, as well as in a full-on boxed set which features loads of previously unseen footage by artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead along with additional unreleased, archived performances from bands like the Who and the Jefferson Airplane.
There’s also a brand new interactive website which you’ll find by pointing your browser towards Woodstock.com. Still to come are another boxed set, as well as a series of individual double discs from Sony Legacy capturing the Woodstock Experience with the complete festival performances of Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Sly And The Family Stone, Johnny Winter, and Janis Joplin. Each of these will also couple the concert recordings with a classic album by each artist from about the same time period. My own reviews on these will be forthcoming here on BC in the days ahead (although I can tell you now that the sound is a bit disappointing on a few of them).
It’s all enough to make your world-weary Rockologist seek out some of that infamous brown acid for himself. Well almost.
One thing they don’t appear to be doing this year — thankfully — is another concert. Although I didn’t attend either of them, the last couple of big Woodstock reunion shows (in 1994 and 1999) actually bothered me quite a bit. To me, that sort of legacy is simply something that is not to be screwed with.
I mean did they honestly think they could feature bands like Nine Inch Nails and Metallica playing on some god-forsaken mudpit of a farm out in the middle of upstate nowhere and not have the fans riot and generally go ape-shit? Who were they kidding?
This, after all, was not the same group of peaceful, pot smoking hippies decked out in flowers, beads and patchouli oil. Nor was it artists like mellow sixties lefties Joan Baez, John Sebastian, or for that matter, even Grace Slick inciting the faithful to revolution with the Jefferson Airplane in 1969.
Hell, even if Grace herself were there, had she sang such incendiary lyrics as “Up against the wall, motherfuckers” (as she did back in 1969), you can’t help but think that these knuckleheads would have taken it as an invitation to burn down the campground. As it turns out they didn’t need Grace after all; they did it anyway. It’s like, what were they thinking, ya’ know?
Anyway, this brings us back to that brand new deluxe boxed set from the original 1969 concert and subsequent film. The challenge here being, how do you improve upon the perfection of the original without completely screwing it up? In most cases, the answer would be that you don’t.
Which is why you’ve got to give the folks at Warner Video some credit for this set, which is billed as the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” of Woodstock. Not that there won’t be another one of these things ten or so years down the line, because there probably will. But for what it’s worth, they actually did a pretty nice job here.