Three Woodstock Veterans to Honor the Heroes in Flagstaff
Even more than 40 years later, no musical period is more influential to today's rock 'n' roll than the '60s and early '70s. Young bands on modern Top 20 radio may not be able to cite a single artist from the 1960s, but it's still there in their influences from the '90s, even if they're unaware of the music that shaped their own ideas of originality.
We're all tempted to believe the time in which we grew up somehow was musically special, but those who came of age in the '60s can make the strongest case for their era. The late '60s marked the moment musicians deviated from a well-worn commercial path to forge something new. At that time, the United States was divided by a controversial war overseas and civil rights battles at home, and music from that period still is the best cultural expression of the unrest. A sense of immediacy gave the music its magic.
Survivors of the '60s counter-culture can relive a piece of it at the Flagstaff Honors the Heroes Festival this weekend. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation to benefit the families of the 19 fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots. Performers include Rick Derringer and Canadian blues singer Pat Travers, along with three rock and blues legends from the original 1969 Woodstock: Ten Years After, Canned Heat, and Edgar Winter in his '70s act, the Edgar Winter Band.
"To me, this festival [in Flagstaff] is reminiscent of early festivals like Woodstock, because of the amazing variety of music," Winter says.
A central point in rock 'n' roll history occurred August 15 to August 18, 1969, when half a million people converged on a farm near White Lake, New York. The Woodstock Music & Art Fair was never meant to happen as it did, let alone to be looked upon today in the light that it is, but it launched the international careers of several dozen musical acts who shared the stage with established artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Grateful Dead.
"I date the beginning of my career from Woodstock," Winter declares. "It marked a complete change in my perspective and attitude toward music.
"When I walked on stage, I'll never forget that moment. I was looking out over this endless sea of humanity, and seeing those people united in such a unique way made me realize how much more there was to music."
A documentary titled Woodstock was released in 1970, and Canned Heat's song "Going Up the Country" became the unofficial theme for the movie and the festival. Major music corporations took notice and attempted to duplicate Woodstock once they saw the money-making possibilities.
"Woodstock was the first and last festival of its kind," says Ten Years After drummer Ric Lee. "It was exactly what it was said to be: three days of peace and music. The downside was people trying to re-create it. To me, it marks the end of peace and love and the beginning of music as a business."
Woodstock tried to duplicate its own success in 1999, 30 years after the original, and the festival imploded. Amid a breakout of riots and fires, an uncontrollable wave of violence brought the festival to an end. The bands that had harnessed love and peace through music during the tension of the '60s sat back and watched their dream burn. Canned Heat drummer and vocalist Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra offers an interesting perspective on the event.
"They were right to riot. They were expecting something different, not to pay five dollars for a bottle of water. Kids went to the last Woodstock and were disappointed because they were looking for a Woodstock like ours. They wanted the feeling of freedom and brotherhood, and instead found Woodstock Inc."
Musicians like Ten Years After, Edgar Winter, and Canned Heat are walking encyclopedias of musical history. These bands have a blues musician's mentality of playing music forever; none of them have considered announcing a farewell tour.
"Musicians are not athletes or movie stars," says de la Parra. "With good musicians, the older they get, the more interesting they become. It's very different than normal pop culture. Music will stay with us until we drop dead. Musicians don't retire — they just die."
After weathering the music industry for nearly 50 years, these artists can regale enthusiasts with details from every major shift in music along the way. A common historical thread runs through their reminiscences, first with the coming of MTV and again with the digital age of music.
"The beginning of the degeneration of music was MTV when people started relating to what they saw," says de la Parra. "The music business started selling youth and looks instead of music."
With an industry centered on image rather than talent, Edgar Winter says, "The integrity and the quality of the music suffered remarkably . . . It became more about how cool they appeared on video."
"I'm an analog guy," Winter says. "It's all MP3 music now, so you sacrifice the quality."
In spite of not necessarily liking the evolution of their business, these artists have found ways to adapt and continue making music. Bands that don't figure that out just fade away.
Ten Years After replaced singer Alvin Lee in 2003 with Joe Gooch, who is nearly half the age of the band; the youthful spark keeps them going. Lee is proud to say that many bands have refused to go on stage after them, because they drain an audience. The point will be moot in Flagstaff — they're headlining. They continue to tour internationally, while sustaining individual side projects. Ric Lee's Natural Born Swingers released their debut album, Put a Record On, in the United States on July 16.
Canned Heat put out its 32nd studio record last year, a compilation album titled Revolution. The entire Canned Heat story is in de la Parra's book, Living the Blues, he says, but the focus with this album was "a compilation of anti-establishment, revolutionary and subversive songs." It features such tracks as "Sick of Them Pigs."
Perhaps the most diverse musician at the Flagstaff Honors the Heroes Festival is Edgar Winter, who extended his success into television and film through his music. My Cousin Vinny and Wag the Dog feature original tracks recorded by Winter, who also performed soundtrack work in Dazed and Confused and Wayne's World 2. Edgar Winter is possibly the only person in existence who can tell a first-hand account of sharing the stage with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock and immediately follow it up with a story about collaborating with Eminem on the song "Dying to Live," for the 2003 documentary Tupac: Resurrection.
For all their stature and experiences, these musicians hold a fond memory of what once was but maintain an optimistic view of the future. All three of them believe good music is still out there, being created, whether it's being listened to or not. Fans will find a rare entry into those fond memories in Flagstaff this weekend — and when it's gone, it's gone.
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