August 15, 2019
It was a blueprint for Live Aid and every mega-festival since. We survey a new archive box set – in full – to uncover the real story of these ‘three days of peace and music’
Groovy, groovy, groovy: listening to Woodstock 50 years on – all 38 discs
A few weeks back, my Twitter feed was suddenly clogged with misty-eyed reminiscences of Live Aid. It is now generally regarded as a white saviour festival of mostly dreadful music. Still, there’s much nostalgic love for Tony Hadley’s leather trench coat, and Queen’s alarming “no time for losers” philosophy. I lived through it; I remembered how a bunch of craven, ageing rock stars fell over themselves to reboot their careers. OK, I was 21, and cynical, but I was there for it, watching it all unfold on TV. I understand it.Woodstock – which celebrates its 50th anniversary this weekend – was a primitive blueprint for Live Aid, and every mega-festival since. Its cultural weight has risen and fallen over the decades – depending on who you talk to, it was either the pinnacle of 1960s counterculture or the rain-sodden end of a dream. I was four years old. The soundtrack album would be in friends’ houses in the 70s, and the movie seemed to be on TV every year, so I’m part of a generation that thinks it knows Woodstock without having been there. But the movie is incomplete and out of sequence – some of the story is as fictionalised as Bohemian Rhapsody.
Out this month is a 50th anniversary archive box set – all 38 CDs of it – which presents the festival in something approximating real time. Folk-blues singer Richie Havens, who opened the event while almost every other act was stuck in traffic, would later claim he “played for nearly three hours … I sang every song I knew!” We now know he only played for 45 minutes. This is an audio vérité documentary, right down to the on-stage announcements: “Eric Klinnenberg, please call home … Dennis Dache, please call your wife … Karen from Poughkeepsie, please meet Harold at the stand with the blood pills …” I listened to all 38 discs in sequence, over three days.
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