Now that the 50th anniversary of Woodstock is upon us, we thought we should measure whose careers got a big boost from appearing at Max Yasgur’s farm, who didn’t, and who emerged to be virtually synonymous with the festival itself.
Woodstock Bump: The subsequent 1970 Woodstock movie release catapulted Havens to a worldwide audience, which led to his first and only U.S. Top 30 album and only Top 20 hit, a cover of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” in 1971.
No Woodstock Bump: Before Woodstock, Sweetwater’s most popular track was a cover version of “Motherless Child.” Richie Havens made it his signature song because the band, who were scheduled to go on first, were running late. In December 1969, lead singer “Nansi” Nevins was in an automobile accident, which damaged her brain and vocal cords. The incident ended the band's momentum faster than appearing on The Red Skelton Show.
No Woodstock Bump: See the profile of Sommer by Robrt L. Pela.
No Woodstock Bump: Before and after the festival, Hardin enjoyed lots of royalty checks from the cover versions of “If I Were a Carpenter,” “Misty Roses,” and “Reason to Believe,” but he is barely remembered for playing the festival. His live shows were known to be erratic under the best conditions, but surely the combination of heroin and stage fright should’ve gone over better than expected at 3 a.m.
Woodstock Bump: George Harrison made raga all the rage when he became a devoted pupil of Shankar, which led to The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. Shankar received rapturous applause just for tuning up. By the time he toured with Harrison in 1974, the peace and love crowd, who had moved on to pills and booze, had become testier. Perhaps the reason he is less remembered for his Woodstock set was his choice to begin the evening’s recital with a raga that he introduced as having “11 beats divided four-four-three.” These kids came for three days of peace and music. Why did Shankar make them do math?
Woodstock Bump: Melanie gained attention as one of three solo female performers at Woodstock, but her set was not included in the film. Her song “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” which describes performing during a downpour, was her first U.S. Top 10 hit. Melanie was also the first female performer to start her own record label. She reached the top of the charts with “Brand New Key” in 1971.
Woodstock Bump: “Alice’s Restaurant” had already made him a celebrity. The Arthur Penn movie adaptation of his epic talking-blues monologue opened in theaters the day after the Woodstock festival. In 1972, Guthrie had his highest-charting record with a cover of Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans.”
Woodstock Bump: She scored her first and only Top Five hit in 1971 with a cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Her Woodstock set gave her a platform to talk about her then-jailed draft resister husband, David Harris, and sing politically charged songs like “Joe Hill” and “We Shall Overcome.” It was the most overtly political showing by any performer that weekend, notwithstanding Hendrix’s “The Star-Spangled Banner” and The Who’s Pete Townshend bashing Abbie Hoffman in the face with his guitar.
Woodstock Bump: Santana’s debut was released two weeks after Woodstock. They scored their first Top Five album and Top 10 hit in early 1970 with “Evil Ways,” which was used with altered lyrics as a jingle for Winchester Little Cigars when the record was still on the charts.
Woodstock Bump: Having split from The Lovin’ Spoonful, Sebastian hadn’t yet released his first solo album. He was at Woodstock merely as a spectator. When Santana’s set was delayed because there were too many rain puddles on the stage, Sebastian was enlisted to perform an impromptu set. He was so in demand after Woodstock that two different record labels released the same debut solo album. He later scored his only solo chart-topper with the theme from Welcome Back, Kotter in 1976. Because of his “far out, far around, far down, far up” between-song banter, Sebastian is perhaps remembered as the most stoned of any performers at the mic. In fairness, he’d already dropped acid expecting not to perform, not because he was.
Keef Hartley Band
No Woodstock Bump: Drummer Keef Hartley replaced Ringo in his pre-Beatles band Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, and spent several years playing in John Mayall’s band. The blues band’s appearance at the festival only marginally helped sales of their debut album, Halfbreed. None of their music at the festival has ever been commercially offered on any Woodstock album or movie edition.
The Incredible String Band
No Woodstock Bump: This British psychedelic folk band’s 1968 album The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter was said to have influenced Led Zeppelin’s acoustic work. It was also a favorite of both Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan. The group’s co-founder Robin Williamson claims he can hear the band’s influence in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and by default, The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request. But they refused to go on during a rainstorm on the all-acoustic first night. Melanie went on instead and became a star. Going on the second day, sandwiched between boogie and blues bands, didn’t endear them to the Woodstock crowd, leaving no movie or disc opportunities to “audit” their set in perpetuity.
Woodstock Bump: The band had already scored two Top 20 hits with “Going Up the Country” and “On the Road Again.” The former song became the unofficial anthem of the festival. The band performed it at the Woodstock Reunion in 1979 and the Heroes of Woodstock Tour to celebrate the festival’s 40th anniversary. Harp player Al Wilson, suffering from depression, became the first of Woodstock’s “27 Club” to die at age 27 of a drug overdose, just weeks before Jimi Hendrix and later Janis Joplin.
Woodstock Bump: The band were immortalized with two tracks on Woodstock II, but fans maintain those tracks were recorded at a later show when Corky Laing was their drummer. He received gold records for Woodstock II and didn’t even play the gig. That same year, “Mississippi Queen” (you know what I mean) was a Top 20 hit.
Woodstock Bump: Their albums didn’t start charting in the Top 30 until after Altamont, where they at least got some screen time in the Gimme Shelter documentary. The jam band were in a considerable jam for much of their unmemorable set, with the rain making the stage one big electrical hazard. The shorting out of amps, which was combined with substance-induced lethargy, led to a 40-minute version of “Turn On Your Love Light” that was endless even by Deadhead standards. Of course, it’s not in the movie.
Creedence Clearwater Revival
No Woodstock Bump: With two Top 10 albums and two Top Three singles in the last eight months of 1969, CCR were the most commercially successful band leading up to Woodstock. The band’s mercurial success would continue for another year and a half before infighting stopped the reign. The band are remembered for “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” an elegy to the Woodstock generation, but not their own Woodstock appearance. Lead singer John Fogerty refused to allow their music to be used in the Woodstock movie and albums, deeming their set subpar.
Janis Joplin with the Kozmic Blues Band
No Woodstock Bump: Joplin left Big Brother and The Holding Company the previous fall when people like Columbia records’ president, Clive Davis, and Joplin’s manager, Albert Grossman, urged her to go solo and hire session people who could play. She arrived at Woodstock with a band of session cats and an intravenous heroin habit already in progress. But she’ll always be synonymous with the Monterey Pop Festival, not Woodstock. Pete Townshend, who was there for both festivals, wrote in his 2012 autobiography, “She wasn’t at her best, due, probably, to the long delay, and probably, too, to the amount of booze and heroin she’d consumed while she waited.” The album with The Kozmic Blues Band released a month after Woodstock received mixed reviews. The band lasted till the end of the year.
Sly and the Family Stone
Woodstock Bump: The only interracial group with male and female members to play Woodstock that mattered (we’re willing to forget Sweetwater, if you haven’t already), Sly and his charges were coming off their most successful album to date, Stand! Clearly a highlight of the festival, “I Want to Take You Higher” was rereleased as a single to coincide with the release of the Woodstock movie in March 1970.
Woodstock Bump: The Who finally reached a mass audience in a big way with Tommy, the rock opera they released in May 1969. It became the centerpiece of The Who’s live set for the next year and a half. Roger Daltrey called it “the worst gig [The Who] ever played,” even with an actual sunrise backlighting him during ”See Me Feel Me.”
Joe Cocker and The Grease Band
Woodstock Bump: Once the movie played in theaters, Cocker finished out 1970 with two Top 20 hits. He became even bigger with the subsequent Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour the following year.
Woodstock Bump: Going into the festival, The Band had a lot of critical buzz but not a lot of mainstream name recognition. You can imagine the festival organizers inviting The Band the way someone would have invited Joe Piscopo to a party in 1982 in the hopes that he might bring Eddie Murphy along. If they thought putting the festival in Bob Dylan’s backyard would pull him out of retirement, they were right. He flew to the U.K. to play the Isle of Wight Festival with The Band accompanying him. They represented their hometown alone at Woodstock with a fine set that wasn’t commemorated on celluloid or vinyl in The Band’s lifetime, but they were on the covers of Rolling Stone and Time by 1970.
No Woodstock Bump: Winter’s manager, Steve Paul, made sure that Winter got his contracted $3,750 fee, but begged off allowing Winter to be filmed because he didn’t think there would be any future cash windfall from it.
Blood, Sweat & Tears
No Woodstock Bump: The band’s manager ordered the cameras off the stage because no agreement to be filmed was made beforehand. So these horn dogs had to settle for three Top Five hits.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Woodstock Bump: The festival was only their second gig, and Stills admits to being “scared shitless.” It’s not the 400,000 people, but the jury of their rock ’n’ roll peers who came to see if they sang harmony as well as they did on the debut album. In 1970, with the addition of Young for Deja Vu, they were the world’s biggest supergroup. They recorded Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” which became a hit when the movie was released. Although Crosby, Stills, and Nash are seen in the film, Young is not. He told the cameramen, “One of you fuckin’ guys comes near me and I’m gonna fuckin’ hit you with my guitar.”
Paul Butterfield Blues Band
No Woodstock Bump: The band that made whites playing traditional Chicago blues believable was already on the way down, having lost Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop prior to the festival. They are featured in the film performing “Love March,” which is as far from the blues as Robert Johnson is from John Philip Sousa.
Sha Na Na
Woodstock Bump: It was Hendrix who suggested Sha Na Na be added to the festival bill after seeing them at Steve Paul’s Scene Club in New York, in much the same gloriously mismatched way The Monkees caught Hendrix’s act and gave The Experience an opening slot on their 1967 American tour.
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Their 90 seconds in the movie singing “At the Hop” led to the band’s getting a record deal. Eventually, they would score a popular syndicated TV show and an appearance in the movie version of Grease. Even though the throngs of hippiedom didn’t leave the festival chanting “Grease for Peace,” America was now suitably primed to live through a ’50s revival for the next 10 years.
Jimi Hendrix / Gypsy Sun & Rainbows
Woodstock Bump: Hendrix was the reigning king of the Aquarian Age, but he was at a career crossroads. The guitarist broke up The Experience to form the short-lived Gypsy Sun & Rainbows. (Word to the wise: It’s best not to name your group after the contents of a box of Lucky Charms.) He closed the festival, leaving a burning impression with his version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that couldn’t be touched for its incendiary nature until Roseanne Barr tackled it in 1990.