Next week marks the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock folk festival. I was not in the US at that time and my only encounter with it was reading about it in the newspapers and seeing the documentary when it came to Sri Lanka some time after 1970. Since Sri Lanka did not have TV until 1977 (we skipped the entire black-and-white age and went straight into color) documentaries like this were the only means by which we could see rock musicians playing, so the film was quite an experience.
Even if I had been living in the US I would not have gone to the festival. My parents would never have agreed to let me go, besides which I was too strait-laced and would not have relished the drug use and the thought of camping out in a muddy field with filthy toilets.
But the film was fun to watch then, both for the music and to vicariously experience hippies having a good time.
I watched the film again last week. There is a new director’s cut that has added 40 minutes more so that the film, already long, now runs to almost four hours.
I did not enjoy the film that much the second time around. It seemed to drag. Some of the musical sets, especially the one by Jimi Hendrix, went on way too long for my tastes and I was never a fan of his style of guitar virtuosity to begin with. This is a common problem with ‘director’s cut’ versions of films. They are too self-indulgent. My lowered enjoyment is also probably because the experience of rock concerts is not the same when you are old.
But I thought that that I would share those moments that still had magic.
Richie Havens got the festival off to an electrifying start with his Freedom/Motherless Child.
A favorite moment in the film was a very young Arlo Guthrie singing Coming into Los Angeles, and using the quaintly dated slang of that time when he talks to the concertgoers.
Country Joe McDonald and the Fish singing the Vietnam protest Feel like I’m fixing to die rag was also another high point.
One of the oddest acts was a very brief song by the 50’s nostalgia group Sha Na Na, which seemed totally out of place.
Their campy performance reminded me strongly of the Village People who came along about a decade later.
I have posted this last clip before, of Joe Cocker’s rendering of the Beatles’ A little help from my friends, a gentle song sung by Ringo Starr, which Cocker turned into an over-the top, weird, air-guitar-playing, frenzied, incoherent performance that looked like he was having some kind of seizure. Throughout it, you kept wondering what the hell he was singing since the lyrics seemed to have only a passing resemblance to the original.
Some helpful soul has now provided captions for Cocker’s words.
It all makes sense now. Or maybe not.