Sunday, August 16, 2009


It’s hard to believe, but as of this weekend it has been fully forty years since those legendary Three Days of Peace & Music... & Adventurous Pharmaceuticals, & Mud, & Shit, & Nudity, & Alfresco Fucking... that was the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.

The “Music & Art Fair” was not, in fact, held in Woodstock, but rather at White Lake, in Bethel, New York. Max Yasgur’s dairy farm would never be the same... especially after something on the order of 400,000 people congregated upon it to hear thirty-four different musical acts.

There were some big names there: Janis Joplin, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shankar, Crosby Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone... and the Incredible String Band, one of my personal favorites. Plenty of well-known acts - Jethro Tull, the Moody Blues, and Bob Dylan among them - elected not to appear; most later regretted their decision when the sheer magnitude of the event became known.

Remarkably, given the size of the crowd, only two people died - neither by violence. One was a heroin overdose, the other a concertgoer who got squished by a tractor that accidentally ran over him as he slept. It would be another year before the Peace & Love scene would turn ugly at the infamous Altamont festival.

One of the performers at Woodstock was the amazingly twitchy Joe Cocker. I’ve never seen Cocker in person, although I once saw John Belushi do a spot-on impersonation of him at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, during the 1973 National Lampoon Lemmings tour. Belushi would later do that same impression on SNL... onstage with Cocker himself. Hysterically funny.

Alas, I did not go to Woodstock (a fact that my brother, the Other Elisson, was unaware of until only yesterday), although I know several people who did. Probably just as well, because now I can simply sit here in my comfortable suburban surroundings, click a button, and enjoy Joe Cocker’s vocal stylings (and amazing twitchery) at my convenience. And you can, too!

It’s almost as good as being there. Maybe better, because this clip provides a helpful running translation of some of Cocker’s less intelligible lyrics. Plus, no shit or mud!

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