By Larissa Lytwyn
“Most people are prisoners, thinking only about the future or living in the past,” Carlos Santana famously stated. “They are not in the present, and the present is where everything begins.” Forty-one years after his Woodstock debut, Santana returned to the Bethel, NY site July 17, sharing his moment as a bonafide rock legend. The original Woodstock site is now home to a booming cultural center, including the Bethel Woods Museum and an annual summer concert series.
Santana took the stage to the opening chords of “Soul Sacrifice,” his career-launching tribute to Afro-Latino spirit. A montage of images from his Woodstock ’69 performance flashed behind him. Although Santana played the festival’s 25th anniversary in Saugerties, NY, this summer marked his official homecoming to the grounds that made him a music icon.
“It’s nice to meet again,” he murmured into his microphone.
Bodies jumping like flames, someone punched a beach ball overhead. It was Woodstock all over again: defiantly carefree. Santana opened his two-and-a-half-hour set with “Maria, Maria,” his 1999 number one hit from his smash album Supernatural.
The artist’s endurance is a testament to his spiritual philosophy. “We all have lights within us,” Santana remarked halfway through the show. These lights, he continued, feed God—and each other. “If it sounds like I am preaching,” he said dryly, “it is because I am.”
The guitarist’s inspiration from other performers is evident in his 2000 Grammy for Record of the Year for “Smooth,” featuring Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty. Santana’s magic also scored Billboard-toppers for Chad Kroeger of Nickelback (“Why Don’t You and I”) and Michelle Branch (“The Game of Love”). He has also collaborated with Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Sean Paul and Joss Stone.
Next, he wants to work on an album with 2010 tour mate Steve Winwood, a renowned fixture in the music industry for the last five decades. While Winwood’s solo hits include “Higher Love,” the Englishman also thrives on the power of artistic partnership. A highlight of his opening set July 17 was a soul-chilling rendition of “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” his hit with 1970s group Traffic.
In contrast to Winwood’s at times melancholy “blue-eyed soul,” Santana was a Latino dance party. Bodies throbbed under pulsating red, gold and purple lights to timeless hits including “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va” and “Evil Ways.” Santana also paid homage to classic rock groups with stirring renditions of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”
Santana’s ten-piece band stayed firmly in the spotlight, including lengthy solos from drummer Dennis Chambers and guitarist Tommy Anthony. Vocalists Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay slipped easily from African rhythms into rock n’ roll grit. In the end, “love, peace and freedom” were still the answer, Santana said. These values were the Holy Trinity of contentment in a world marred by the same social uncertainties of 1969: war, political divisiveness and economic struggle.
Part of the proceeds of the July 17 concert benefited The Milagro Foundation, Santana’s charity organization supporting underprivileged children worldwide. Since its inception in 1998, the Foundation has facilitated educational, social and medical support for youth in Africa, Haiti and the Americas. Milagro means “miracle” in Spanish. It was also the title of Santana’s sixteenth album in 1992.