Woodstock performers share their memories

by  Peter Lindblad

Woodstock was a nightmare for The Grateful Dead. Dealt a bad hand with dangerous technical problems, a deluge of rain and a stage that seemed on the brink of giving way throughout their show, their performance could be generously described as “uneven.”

Though Woodstock was not an easy gig for anybody, The Grateful Dead experienced more than their fair share of disastrous problems. For most of the other artists, though, the event was cause for celebration, a monumental moment in human history when thousands came together to celebrate peace, love and music.

With this year marking the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, Goldmine asked a number of artists who were there to share their memories of those three days (Some are included in the new Krause book “Woodstock: Peace, Music & Memories”).

Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart

“Oh, I don’t have very favorable memories of Woodstock, musically speaking. It was a very terrible moment for us. We didn’t play very good. The stage was collapsing. It was raining. Jerry (Garcia) and Bob (Weir) were getting shocked at the microphones. There was screaming. The stage is sinking; there were too many people on the stage. And it was intimidating for us, seeing 400,000 people out there. It wasn’t our day.

“I remember getting off the stage and Jerry … he said to me, and I was almost in tears, and he said something like, “At least this won’t affect our career (laughs).” That’s why we weren’t in the movie. We wouldn’t let the music out, but, actually, I saw it about six or eight years ago, and it wasn’t that bad … But the high point was Santana and Sly (And The Family Stone) — those guys took it away. That was their moment. Sly, and especially Carlos … I mean his guitar turned into a snake. He was brilliant.

“ … It was wonderful that all those people got together. It was kind of a culmination of our trip in the park, ‘free in the park.’ That’s what made it so painful. It was like our party, and we didn’t come to the party. … This was one of those confluences of music and people and the need to get together and to be a group to say, “Look at the group power we have here. This is really electric.”

Canned Heat drummer Fito de la Parra

“One of the things that is funny is that I didn’t want to go. I was really exhausted. I didn’t know how important the gig was going to be. To me, it was just another gig…

“So, that night, I was really tired. I didn’t want to go, and I fought it, but Skip Taylor, my manager, actually got a key for my room; if he hadn’t been in my room, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed. So he got a duplicate key and started turning the TV on, and [he said,] ‘Look at this. There’s all these people there. This is going to be a great gig. Come on, let’s go.’ And I even quit. I said, ‘F**k you, I’m quitting. I hate this shit.’

“I hate to play when I’m exhausted. And when you’re on the road, you seem to always be exhausted … So he basically pulled me out of bed, made me get dressed up — I mean, I put on my Levis and a T-shirt.

“When we were in the helicopter finally, a few hours later, when we managed to jump in a helicopter and make it to the festival, that’s when I realized, ‘My God.’ I said, ‘Look at these people.’ It was just the amount of people we were looking at, and that’s when I realized, ‘I’m glad he got me out of bed so we could play the gig.’

And then, later, we played. We were a little bit tense. I was a little bit tense, but the energy was there, and we played. We got a great ovation … I think we got the best ovation of the festival.”

Carlos Santana, guitarist for Santana

“The Woodstock event was a catapult. Before that, it was Monterey and a bunch of other ones, but for us, it was Mr. Bill Graham [who got us to go to Woodstock], who was one of my early mentors, along with Tito Puente and B.B. King … so, we didn’t know [how big it would be], but Bill Graham knew it was going to be historical, and so, we surrendered and deferred to him, because we didn’t have an album out or a record out, and he really, really hustled to get us in there.”

Mountain guitarist Leslie West

“We didn’t know what the hell it was going to be. We were out at the Fillmore West and Winterland, and we heard about what was going on back east, and we knew we were going to it. And we knew that we had to rent our own helicopter, because there was no way we were getting upstate. You know, the freeway was closed and all that, so I didn’t know what to make of it.

“Well, we were in the helicopter and we flew over it. I looked down and said, ‘Jesus Christ.’ I remember there was a first aid kit [onboard] and it had some amyl nitrate in it, which are called “snappers.” And I said, ‘What the hell?’ And I opened one up and cracked it open, and I sniffed the “snapper” and I almost fell out of the helicopter when I saw all those people … it was like, all of a sudden in the middle of nowhere you saw a city. It was something else.

“We played around 7:30 p.m., I think. We got going at a pretty good time. It was just getting dark when we were on, I think, and it was the middle of August, and it was a Saturday night. I remember when we got out of the helicopter, our manager came up to us and said, ‘Look, don’t all stay together because they’re having so much trouble getting acts in there, they said if they see a group all together, they’re going to try to get you on.’ And we didn’t want to go on in the afternoon. So we just walked around, f**ked around, and then came back at a certain time, and we got a good time to go on.

“(Laughing) I don’t remember (much about the performance). I was really nervous. I did know that when I did my guitar solo, I had my four stacks hooked up and Felix (Pappalardi) [had his] stacks hooked up. I think I had eight stacks of amps, so it sounded pretty loud. I was wondering how those people in the back were going to hear … how are they going to hear me, you know? But, I guess they did.”

by  Peter Lindblad

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